I AM responding to Andrew Stephenson’s comments on benefits (January 18th).
The biggest measure of a civilised society is how we look after our most vulnerable. And in a rich country like ours, we cannot claim to be responsible citizens unless we accept they are our responsibility. The language coming from the Government is scapegoating the vulnerable, as if they were responsible for the crisis that hit the world’s largest economies in 2008. It was your rich and greedy supporters in the city that caused that, Mr Stephenson, as well as people like your financial backer, Lord Ashcroft, who avoid paying their taxes.
When we hear the expression “women and children first”, we tend to think of lifeboats. However, our Conservative/Lib-Dem Government has decided to use this criteria for those who are going to bear the brunt of their attack on the poorest members of our society. Women will be hit harder than men as they tend to have the less secure jobs, very often part-time and on the lowest wages. And most important of all, many have the responsibility of child-care. A large number also have to do this on their own. They are described as “single or lone parents”. I hate that expression as it disguises reality. I prefer “children with only one parent”. It makes it clearer who is being targeted and who is going to suffer.
In figures published by the Department for Work and Pensions, there are 3.6 million children living in poverty in the UK today. That’s 27% of all children. Of course, work can provide a route out of poverty, but it can’t guarantee it, as 62% of children living in poverty are living in a working household. Unfortunately, the minimum wage is not sufficient to support a family even working full time.
Child poverty blights childhood and has clearly measurable long lasting affects in terms of educational achievement, health and not surprisingly, earnings. In other words it costs society more in the long term than it saves in the short term, as well as being immoral. Or are the Tories blaming the child for being born to the wrong parents? It also hits local economies, like Pendle, because the money that families receive in benefits gets spent locally.
Historically, child poverty increased dramatically under the Thatcher government, and was brought down by over a million under the Labour government. Last week a Work and Pensions minister was forced to report that the decision to increase some benefits by only 1%, instead of inflation, would place an extra 200,000 children in poverty. No wonder she didn’t want to publish it. The Institute for Fiscal Studies, using government figures, predicts that when all the benefit change, including the new Universal Benefit, are implemented, 4.2 million children will be living in poverty by 2020.
And this is while the richest 2% get a tax cut from 50p in the pound to 45p costing the Government £3 billion, far more than is being saved on benefits. Are we really all in this together? How much of that will get spent in Pendle? Most of it will go to offshore tax havens. We all want people to be better off in work, Mr Stephenson, but with 2.5 million unemployed and many more unable to get enough hours, we have a duty of care to minimise not maximise the suffering.
Mr Stephenson’s wording is dishonest and designed to stigmatise and divide and it sickens me. And what of the political party I have supported all my life? With a few honourable exceptions like Sarah Teather, former Minister for children (sacked for sticking up for them) who voted against this attack on innocent children, the Lib-Dem MPs have dutifully voted with the Tories. I feel a deep sense of personal betrayal and yes, shame.