By Jill Mountford
Last week, in the midst of teenage gun murders and a UNICEF report on childhood in the richest 21 nations that placed Britain firmly at the bottom of the league, the one time bully boy Stalinoid National Union of Students’ President, now a Government Minister (I know, it beggars belief), Jim Murphy announced a welfare reform to “tackle poverty and support aspiration” for lone parents.
Has Jim had a double politics and personality by-pass? Or is this just another nasty little package wrapped up in shiny paper and sparkly ribbon? Due to the limitations of science we can rest assured Murphy hasn’t had the double by-pass he so desperately needs; so it must be just another nasty little package. Well if it is, it’s nasty because of what it doesn’t do rather than what it does right now. It doesn’t live up to the promise.
It’s a fact that 48 per cent of children in lone-parent families are living below the poverty line compared with 20% of children in two parent families. Just as it’s a fact that children of lone parents who are out of work are five times more likely to be in poverty than children of lone parents in work. Yet after 10 years of Labour in power and a period of overall significant economic prosperity no real progress has been made in resolving the central issues of lone parent family poverty (and indeed two parent family poverty) — low pay and affordable quality childcare.
Pro rata it’s the poorest who pay the most in taxes, the most for childcare and the most of rent and mortgages, as well services such as electricity, gas and telephones. The trouble is Murphy’s package to “tackle poverty” for lone parents is not knitted together with a rise in the minimum wage or anything near adequate affordable childcare for working parents — lone or otherwise — never mind it tackling the many and varied “stealth” taxes that directly rob the poor and subsidise the rich that have been introduced by Gordon Brown over the last ten years.
And then, of course, there’s the astonishing attacks Labour have made on further and higher education further ensuring the poorest in society remain just that.
It was Labour’s backroom boys who gave us the term “joined up thinking” but this latest announcement is as far away from joined up thinking as the earth is from the moon.
Insisting lone parents on benefit attend more frequent interviews at the Job Centre and come under more pressure to take paid employment earlier than is presently the case (the present threshold is when the youngest child in the family reaches the age of 14, it is likely to be reduced to 12, though there are some in government who think it could be reduced to as young as 3!) is not the answer to tackling poverty or supporting aspiration for lone parents. Addressing low pay, childcare needs, training and higher education opportunities, progressive taxation and decent social housing not the ghettoisation of the poor are the real ways to tackle poverty and support aspiration – for these we cannot rely on a Blair or Brown led Labour government. For these we can rely only on a confident and organised working class insisting on real reforms, and for now that means making propaganda and agitating in the unions against the reactionary policies of Labour.