Having been in the cut and thrust of politics for a little while now, I suppose I should not be surprised by anything, but one story that has made me really cross is the bunkum spoken about the failure to tackle poverty in the UK.
The National Equality Panel’s report was greeted with glee by the Opposition and by some parts of the media who chose to portray the report’s findings as confirmation that the gap between rich and poor is widening.
The Opposition was quick to jump on the report claiming that “after 13 years of a Labour government inequality has grown to the highest level since the Second World War” and that “Labour's failure has been a result of a one-dimensional approach.”
This is a complete misreading of the report– the real story is so much more complex than can be described in a sound bite or a headline.
The report actually said that since 1997 the Government has stopped the trend of inequality rising, a trend that started in the 1980s. Income inequality fell in the UK, from the mid 1990s to the mid 2000s, whilst it rose in Germany, Italy, Sweden and the USA. Compared with other EU countries we have high employment rates and we have made progress reducing child and pensioner poverty.
This Government’s record over the past 13 years stands in stark contrast to the 1980s and 1990s when unemployment and the recession was considered by the then Tory Chancellor as a price “well worth paying” to get inflation down, and when our schools and hospitals were simply not fit for purpose.
When this Government got in to power it inherited levels of poverty that will take more than a generation to reverse. We have made progress but there is still much more to do.
Improving the life chances of people takes money, commitment and a long term plan.
Since 1997 the schools budget in Newham has increased by a staggering 71%. There are 740 more teachers in our schools, and they have delivered results with 54% more children going onto higher education.
The facts are that nearly one million less pensioners live in relative poverty than in 1997 and the poorest pensioners are £2,100 a year or £41 a week better off.
We’ve built 24 Sure Start Centres in Newham and invested in our schools to give children the best possible start in life. We’ve built new hospitals and health centres – like the Newham Gateway surgical centre and Vicarage Lane health centre – to give everyone in our community the access to the best possible healthcare. We’ve introduced Pensions Credit, increased pensions for women and carers and spent £2.7 billion this year alone helping pensioners to pay their fuel bills.
This is hardly the “one-dimensional approach” the Government is accused of.
The message of those who want us to believe that things have got worse since 1997 is that the money has been wasted – that we should not have built new schools, better hospitals, raised pensions, employed more doctors, nurses and teachers, introduced the cancer guarantee, tax credits, the minimum wage, raised child benefit to record levels, introduced the winter fuel allowance, and much more.
If we believe this message and that all of this was a waste of money – we won’t mind when they are cut or taken away.