Sunday, 28 December 2014

A Nation Divided in Headlines

We end 2014 as we started it, but with an evermore unequal society. A Britain that is more divided, a Britain where the haves are laughing at the have-nots, a Britain where it does no good to be poor, sick, young or working class.

In the final death throes of 2014, never has this division became more apparent than with recent newspaper headlines. I thought I had woken in a parallel universe when The Times named Nigel Farage as  potentially "Briton of the Year". Seriously. Briton of the Year. I thought maybe Simon Cowell was the chief  panellist and he wanted a Briton that would go on to make him the most money! Nigel Farage- a leader of a racist, bigoted, homophobic, sexist party who feels breast feeding mothers should sit in corners and has numerous parliamentary candidates who try to outdo each other for over the top, outlandish, diabolical comments.

Briton of the Year in my opinion is 91 year old Harry Smith, the NHS fighter who stood up at Labour Conference and told Cameron " Keep your mitts off my NHS" in a barnstorming speech no MP could  match in its passion as he warned us all what it was like prior to the conception of the NHS where his own sister died of TB in 1926. For the Rupert Murdoch owned Times to even contemplate Farage as Briton of the Year when we have Harry or indeed the inspirational Steven Sutton suffering from cancer himself who raised nearly £5m from his hospital bed for teenage cancer sufferers, before dying earlier in May this year. Of course there was the hostage Alan Henning who was beheaded by terrorists who was a volunteer humanitarian aid worker. These are the real true heros and Britons we should be applauding not the "pound shop Enoch Powell" that is Nigel Farage.

And showing up our divisive society further, the Mail showed us pictures of the Royal Family Christmas, complete with photographs of all the ornate Christmas trees in many of the royal palaces and articles on the cost of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridges apartment refurb in Kensington. Costs to the taxpayer are spiralling it seems, yet we are assured the Cambridges are buying all their own carpets and curtains! A collective sigh of relief then....

While the Royals enjoyed their Christmas, news of the utter tragedy of  a couple from Sussex with 2 disabled children made the headlines briefly. The parents had celebrated a Christmas Eve dinner with family and left the children with relatives overnight. The couple were thought to be in deep financial trouble but kept it all to themselves. A neighbour found them on Christmas morning in an apparent suicide double pact.  Without speculating too much, it is obvious their money worries had reached a stage when they felt unable to cope or reach out for help. Caring for 2 disabled children probably had taken an immense toll on them too. People have no idea just how financially crippling it can be if you have a disabled child. Even with both parents, one often has to give up work to become a full time carer. In this very sad case, caring for two disabled children was literally double the burden. Yet this poor couple felt there was no way out of their financial problems and nowhere to turn.

How many times have we seen the headlines in the past few years of  people committing suicide who have been stripped of benefit entitlement through the sanctions regime? People so desperate the only way out is to take their own life to prevent further suffering. The DWP have been urged to come clean on the numbers who have committed suicide where a death has been related to "DWP activity". 60 cases have been looked into and this is only the tip of the iceberg. Sanctions for  sick people claiming Employment and Support Allowance have risen a staggering 470% in 18 months pushing the most vulnerable to the brink. This is our divided society.

Richard Bransons Carribean Island of Mustique playground of the super rich revealed its secrets of guests eating caviar off a beautiful woman's stomach and shooting golf balls at human targets dressed in sumo wrestling suits. The mind boggles.  Lives so removed from the ordinary world, yet our newspapers think we are interested and want to know about the pursuits of the rich and famous. On a slightly lesser scale Farage dresses up in his customary tweed and goes down to the Boxing Day Hunt. Not exactly the pursuit of the leader of the "Peoples Army" eh Nigel?

Meanwhile back in reality my 15 year old son had co-ordinated his schools appeal for donations to the local Independent Foodbank. Independent Foodbanks rely totally on local donations as they are not part of the Trussell Trust network and so don't benefit from being linked to Tesco who do a few store collections every year to aid Foodbanks in the area. The use of Foodbanks will go through the roof when the latest stats are published shortly. Over 1m people have been to a Foodbank in 2014 and that is just to Trussell Trust ones. There are no stats collected from Inde Foodbanks.

A 22 year old councillor from Merseyside co-ordinated and ran Christmas Dinner at St George's Hall in Liverpool on Christmas Day for elderly and lonely people and people who could not afford a Christmas lunch. Thanks to Jake Morrisons Herculean efforts 500 people enjoyed each other's company and a Christmas Dinner that they otherwise would not have had. This is what is going on in the real Britain we live in and not in Rupert Murdochs narrow vision of it.

While the gap between rich and poor gets ever wider under this ConDem government, it will be the duty of the Labour Party should it get elected in May 2015 to reduce the gap. It will be an immense task and certainly won't happen overnight. Cameron and his henchmen have done so much damage to policies affecting this wealth divide, it will take some time to challenge and reduce the gap. But it has to be done. In the meantime ordinary people like us will continue to prop up our Foodbanks so people in our communities can eat.

But we want titles like "Briton of the Year" bestowed on those who truly deserve it. People who
have made a huge contribution to our lives, not stood at the bar pint in one hand and fag in the other, laughing at us. We won't get that from Murdoch and his right wing media cronies. The Harry Smiths, the Steven Suttons will be lauded by the Peoples Paper, your Morning Star. The only paper that fights to pull down the class and wealth divide and expose the real truth to its readers.

Friday, 26 December 2014

2015: The Year we change things

Forgive me while I raise a glass of my £2.49 Tesco bottle of Lambrusco. I am toasting my last Tory Christmas and heralding in  a new year of hope that we have seen the last of this vicious idealogical, power crazed right wing government, aided and abetted by the traitor that is Nick Clegg and the Lib Dems.

Things have to get better for the working class don't they? Things have to improve for us. Going into our fifth year of Tory imposed austerity has given me a real campaigning zeal to ensure we don't face five more years! I have a definite firm belief that only people like me can make change happen. I have listened to all sides of the argument. The apathy for all political parties making people think it's not worth voting, the anger directed at Labour for not  appearing to understand working class lives, the lure of  Ukip and it's  "laddish" leader Nigel Farage, the worry about our ecological future and so a surge in Green party interest.

We are indeed going through a major change in how we do politics and it's no longer a 2 party system. For people struggling on zero hours contracts and agency employed it feels like no one is speaking on your behalf. For a generation of young people priced out of affordable homes with  huge university fee debt hanging round their necks, it appears that no one is bothered from any party. But I have said previously, change has to start with us. People like you and I have to shout for change. And it's no use thinking that no one will listen! It make take a bit of persistence as change is never achieved overnight but it can be done. I've done it myself a few times during 2014. One example was the price of Labour Party conference. I felt at £63 for a pass it was pricing out working class members and carers and the unemployed. I lobbied the General Secretary Iain McNicoll, tweeted him, got other MPs on board and behind me, and received a letter eventually telling me prices for 2015 will now be lowered and budget accomodation booked for delegates. It's a start, but that start was only achieved by shouting, lobbying and asking Labour to look again. Labour listened and acted. That's the power of  the people working.

There will be many previous Labour voters disillusioned by the party. I feel many policies have been clouded that do provide real hope and real change. Perhaps Labour have not been as successful in getting these real policies out there and known about: Free 25 hour a week childcare for all 3-4 year olds, a repeal of the NHS Act that will stop privatisation of our NHS, an end to routine zero hours contracts by employers, an energy price freeze, new technical apprenticeships for young people, public rail being allowed to compete with privatised rail companies for contracts,  and for me and other women, women's issues - pay, caring responsibilities etc being looked at and acted upon. These are the politics of hope. A hope that a vote for Ukip or any other party cannot give.

And there are brilliant Labour candidates out there who are offering something different if elected. There are men and women from working class backgrounds who want to change the look and direction of the party so that it represents us more. From Lee Sheriff in Carlisle, Lisa Forbes in Peterborough, Lara Norris in Great Yarmouth to Chaz Singh in Plymouth there are working class candidates determined to swell the Labour MP ranks to join the other great MPs and the Trade Union Group of MPs and push for change. The more of them the better that get elected!

But if we preach the politics of apathy to each other and give up trying then we will end up with potentially a Con-Kip coalition government in May 2015. Osborne is promising a further £12billion of welfare cuts. These cuts are not the "easy cuts" done since 2010. These cuts are on working tax credits for working people.There is an idealogical war going on against the poor and the working poor. We live in a land where money is in the hands of priveleged millionaires, where the horror of hundreds of Foodbanks in every town to feed the working classes, is right here and right now. A land where paying less tax is deemed ok while disabled and vulnerable die from benefit sanctions. The late Tony Benn was probably prophetic in his thoughts when he said "There are two ways to control people. First of all frighten people and secondly demoralise them" never more true than with this ConDem government.

Tax credits prop up low paid workers both employed and self employed. From April 2015 Osborne is taking away all working tax credits for any self employed person earning less than £156 per week. This will effect people like us; Hairdressers, handymen, sales reps, Avon and Kleeneze sellers. This is the reality. And Ukip support all the policies the Tories do and more! Ukip want maternity pay taken from women in small businesses. Ukip want workplace rights slashed for employees. Ukip want to take us out of Europe. What will that mean? In my neck of the woods in NE Wales that means thousands of jobs at Airbus gone and closure of a highly skilled factory and its workforce.  It's not all about "sending foreigners home" as Farage likes to spout about. Coming out of Europe means vast unemployment for British workers in our communities who rely on European orders for all kinds of equipment and produce.

Look at all the recent bigots, racists and homophobes Nigel Farage has had to remove from standing for public office. Where was Farage on Boxing Day? Down at the local fox hunt, fag in hand, Barbour jacketed and hunting boots on chatting to his own class. The upper middle classes he is at home with. For on e not pretending to be "one of us"!

Ukip is the "rice pudding" party. Take away its laddish leader and the whole party drowns in a swamp of  nasty ultra right wing  people who have no right in seeking positions in public office to represent us.

For those of us who are union members or even former Labour Party members, our vote in May is just too precious to use for a quick protest. Unless judged wisely we will end up with some kind of  Tory coalition again. None of us surely want that? What we do need is more Labour MPs with the passion, drive and fervour to demand change within the Labour Party and seek to influence future policy.

So my New Years message to all readers of the Morning Star and my articles is -

Hang on in there. I have been disillusioned myself in the past with Labour, but after having met Ed Miliband myself, I know he listens and he does act in response to ordinary people. He does want the change we want too, but his position is a difficult one as he seeks to act as the Labour leader in a time of unprecedented austerity. If Labour win in May it will take a few years to even begin to reverse the hurt caused by the Tories in areas like  our welfare state, our NHS, our education system, our work practices. You will notice I said "OUR". That's because all these things belong to us; ordinary citizens. They are not possessions of  this  Tory government to be sold off  to the highest bidder resulting in poor services for us. We've had Thatchers and Cameron's sell offs and are our vital services - gas, electricity, rail, water any better run? Of course not! We are paying a damned fortune
for all these privately run essentials, so much so our wages can't afford our monthly bills any longer!

So use your vote in May to make it a Happy New Year. A new start. A new launch. A final wave goodbye to Tory imposed austerity for us and tax breaks for millionaires. Let's make 2015 the year  the working class in Britain took charge of our futures, used our vote, had our say and placed our demands on a Labour table.

Thursday, 11 December 2014

Working Poor Women: Over the breadline, but under the radar

Working Poor women, those technically who are living an inch over the breadline, are a forgotten army, but one of the most targeted groups by this sexist, anti-women, coalition government. These women (and I am one of them myself) go about their daily lives in a perpetual state of struggle and fight. Many are juggling low paid, part time work with caring duties. Since time began, and we have not moved very far forward in reality, women have been the carers. Whether that involves bringing up children and abandoning careers to take part time work, or giving birth to a disabled child and knowing your own life has changed forever in order to become a full time carer; or having the career then turning into a carer to look after elderly parents whilst juggling a less well paid job to fit it all in, women have had to face up to caring realities that can often choke their own lives.

It often feels since 2010 that Cameron and co have got round the table and discussed budget cuts and then decided they will fall on the working poor woman's shoulders. Take school lunches for example. If a woman takes a part time job and has a few kids, then free school lunches are stopped completely. If like me, who had  four children at school together, this equated to a whopping £2.50-£3 per day per child totalling at its least £10 per day. Hence why you will find many children of working poor parents taking sandwiches or even missing lunch altogether when times are hard.  Likewise the school uniform grant in many areas is reserved for those on income support only. I have often envied poorer families having access to a school uniform grant, especially as our high school has a blazer as part of its uniform. Finding the full costs of uniform in my household used to start in May before the September return to school date. It is the working poor families in this situation who fall through the gap. Once your part time nose lifts over the breadline of poverty, it is soon shoved back down as you become liable for a host of new costs that you didn't have when you were technically too poor.

Many women with caring duties for a disabled child are invisible. The £61.35pw Carers Allowance is a total insult and a stubborn scar on the face of what is supposed to be a compassionate society where the vulnerable and their carers are looked after. No Government feels the need to tackle the injustice of it. Carers are so way down on the target voters list beloved of spin doctors, no party feels a desperate urge to change the plight of carers. Carers exist in this invisible sphere of caring duties that save our social services and NHS millions of pounds every year. I often fantasise of a 1 day carers strike that would bring this country to a grinding halt, but Governments know the bulk of carers are women who would never abandon their caring duties and they rely on this to keep us in our place. Again the working poor carer who feels desperate enough to supplement the £61.35pw with a part time job,is immediately punished by one of the most pernicious rules that states if you earn a penny over £102 per week your entire carers allowance is stopped. How the hell can any government say this is fair?  This rule is deliberately targeted at keeping women "in their place" subdued and in poverty. You can't start a Carers Revolution when you are constantly stressed, juggling caring and work, and wondering where the next meal is coming from! In my case when my autistic son was a baby I yearned to be able to stand for political office and change the narrative, but caring and poverty held me back. Politics and outside interests became flickers of light within me, but they were never extinguished. Paradoxically, this ConDem government have fanned the flames within me, and now my son is older I am able to speak out on behalf of the legions of women who are in this "locked down" position of caring and low paid work. We deserve a voice and it must come from someone who has experienced being a carer for many years. Shouting from the rooftops and screaming for change at every turn, is something I take very seriously.

Freezing child benefit and freezing working tax credits have to be two of the biggest targeted policies towards women in general ,but especially hard on the shoulders of working poor women. This government shows a callous indifference to whether they actually want working class women to vote for them at all! It is this show of disregard by the Bullingdon Boys on the Tory front bench that is punishing the "hardworking families" this government rants on about on a weekly basis. Is there anyone more hard working than a woman with children working on a zero hours contract, agency employed, not knowing how many hours she will work from week to week or what her take home pay will be?! Answer me that  David Cameron! I can think of no one more deserving than  struggling working poor women for whom life may just be a bit easier if child benefit and working tax credits were increased every year as they should be. Thatcher froze child benefit for 3 successive years and was given the boot! I'm no fan of John Major but he recognised just how much damage had been done to women and children by this cruel policy and immediately increased child benefit.  Working tax credits are necessary due to the years employers have been aided and abetted by government to pay poverty wages. Minimum wage has come to mean the wage at which all working class part time workers need to be paid at. This has had a huge impact on women, who may be the sole breadwinner in a family. By freezing working tax credits this rancid government have laughed in the faces of the working poor. Duncan-Smiths policies at the DWP openly imply those on working tax credits simply are not working enough hours and need to work longer and harder to somehow "lift themselves out of poverty wages". A blind eye is turned to employers and an open door to exploit women especially who will keep quiet on zero hours contracts, desperate to hold onto any job.

This government in particular have an appalling attitude to women, the like of which we have never seen before. They rely on us working poor women to be compliant, subservient, fearful and obedient. The fightback starts here. Whose joining me?

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

In the 4th year of austerity The Tories took away...


Forget the 12 days of Christmas, although there are many Lords-a- leaping.. It's the 4th year of icy Tory imposed austerity and Cameron looked around and realised there really isn't much else he can take from the poor except one thing; hope.

Since 2010 Christmas has been a time of wondering what Cameron and his gang of robber barons will take from the poor and working poor at Christmas. We have seen freezing of benefits and working tax credits; sanctions routinely handed out for the wildest of reasons by Job Centre staff, the disabled and chronically sick being denied access to disability benefits; Iain Duncan-Smith decides he now has a medical degree and feels those with Parkinson's disease and lifetime health conditions are capable of work. It really has echoed the 12 days of Christmas  "In the first year of austerity Cameron took away..." Then add on the swingeing cuts inflicted on the poorest in society.

This year however after Osbornes autumn statement, and with a General Election looming next May, the Tories and their tinpot leader took the final thing they could from us.. Hope. Hope that austerity would end soon, hope that zero hours would be a thing of the past, hope that wages would increase enough to pay the bills and allow ordinary people some kind of life. With typical Tory rhetoric we have been told to expect 5 more years of the same austerity medicine, but only for working people and the poor. Millionaires will be exempt from austerity and rake in more tax cuts. A vote for the Tories or indeed their extreme right wing mates Ukip, will see more enforced austerity, charges to see GPs when we're ill, and employers continued promotion of low wages on zero hours contracts.

Hope when you're poor or working poor is what keeps you going. For many of us who lived through Thatcher's Britain, hope was all we had to cling to at times. A hope that she would be deposed, and that the Labour Party would rise from the ashes and look after the working class was uppermost in our minds. I was reminded of this when Gordon Brown announced his departure as an MP recently. While never a fan of Blair, I knew Brown was a man of deep integrity. I felt sure he would change things.Whatever anyone thinks of Labour during the Blair/Brown years, with Iraq being Blairs epitaph,  Gordon Brown looked after the working poor with tax credits and built Sure Start Centres. He brought hope.

Where is that working class hope today? It never fails to amaze me just how much of the Welfare State and support systems have been dismantled with brutal savagery by the ConDems in 4 years. Back in early 2010 most of us wouldn't have known what a zero hours contract was, if you worked for an agency it was because YOU wanted flexible employment that didn't tie you down, part time work meant roughly 16 hours a week, and if you were ill you rang for a doctors appointment and waited 2-3 days maximum. Poorer children going on to sixth form benefitted from the education maintenance allowance payment, tuition fees of £9k p/a were unheard of, and the term "working poor" had not been invented. These are but a few things that are now the norm after 4 years of  ConDem rule. Such was Nick Cleggs embarassment at being part of this unholy alliance he could not bring himself to sit with the front bench during Osbornes recent autumn statement. The electorate know Clegg is guilty as charged and Clegg knows the LibDems face MP wipeout next May, due to his complicity in allowing the worse of Toryism to be voted through the Commons.

With the promise of more than 60% of austerity cuts to come and they will be shouldered yet again by the poor, hope is thin on the ground for the working class. But we shouldn't be our own enemies. Nothing makes me sadder than to hear people saying they will vote Ukip due to immigration. While immigration is a topic that concerns many working class people, we shouldn't take our eyes off why we are blaming the immigrant running the local corner shop, and not the damned bankers who have pinned us to the wall of austerity and have got off Scot-free due to their Tory minders. Ukip is a one-
policy-blame-the-immigrant party. Farage a leader who believes breast feeding mothers should sit in
corners and not be entitled to maternity pay. A third class party treating people as second class citizens. There is no hope there at all for us. Ukip preach the politics of  racism, sexism
and divide and rule. They want to bring back the grammar school. So working class kids will be turfed into the Ukip secondary modern like the old days. Everything in Kipper vision is  a return to 1950s Rule Britania, where the likes of Farage lord it over the working class and we doff our caps and know our place.

The Labour Party are offering hope, but in a bit of a red tape way. Mixed messages gag some great policy ideas. When Ed Miliband throws off the spin doctors, we hear the message of hope, and recently that message has become stronger, but it needs to be clearer. Lucy Powell the new campaign
co-ordinator recognised this immediately. Ed has been engaging with people on social media and answering our burning questions.  To me hope lies within the Labour Party. People moan that the party is too centre left, but listen to the messages being  shouted out by the Trade Union Group of MPs and there will be more of them post May 2015- MPs with working class backgrounds and values. The roar of social injustice by Ian Lavery, the drive of Grahame Morris to get Palestine recognised as a separate state. This is where our hope lies. The more MPs we elect that look like and represent us, the more we can change the face of the party, and put more working class policies on the table.

So while Cameron takes all hope from working class people, our key aim is that the ballot box will take his hope of another 5 years of power away. So use your vote in May 2015. There is nothing more hopeless than a non voter.