Wednesday, 29 October 2014

A free education? Not for Working Class Kids

There is a lot of talk in the papers of the rising cost of sending children to school. This wouldn't have been much of an issue pre-2010, but with the last 4 years of ConDem rule it is a burning issue for the poor and the working poor.

How have we got to the situation when sending your child(ren) to school with the correct uniform,  lunch money and the occasional school trip is now a source of  trepidation and nerves for parents?

Take my situation. With 4 children with a 10 year age gap between eldest and youngest, there have been some very tough times with all four in school. Four school uniforms to buy for September always meant starting to buy items at Easter. Buying the cheapest was always, (and still is) false economy as trousers would rip within a few weeks if they were made from the thinnest cheapest material. But often there was simply no choice as 2 pairs of trousers per child were needed. The real headache came with school jumpers and in my sons cases school blazers. All had to be bought from the school supplier as they had the school logo attached. There was no option to buy badges and see them on yourselves like my parents did when I was at school. The mark up on these logoed items is astronomical. Take this years jumper for my 15 year old. A mans size 40 inch chest means I pay VAT on his jumper. With the logo it was £26. A plain navy jumper of good quality in a high street chain was £15. A big difference when you have more than one child. School games kits are frequently personalised with the school badge too and in a certain colour. Football and hockey boots plus trainers and plimsolls all have to be bought in many cases.

School lunches and the Nick Clegg con are my own pet hatred.  Have gone through many adjustments on school lunches trying packed lunches for all 4 sons, hot school lunches , and then a combination of packed lunches for my sons at high school and hot lunches for my sons at primary school. Whichever way I and millions of working poor turn we cannot get away from the school lunch cost. The older children get the costlier the lunch. Nick Cleggs scheme for all 5-6 year olds to receive a universal free school lunch is anathema to the working poor. While millionaires 6 year olds get a free lunch the working poor 7 year olds do not. The simple rule is that if you currently receive working tax credits your children are not entitled to a free school meal.  I have always believed this was due to the fact that free school meals are an indicator of poverty. The Government would not be allowed off the hook if the working poor were able to claim free school meals as the poverty indicator would go through the roof! I am a firm believer in a hot school lunch for children whose parents earn under £25,000 p/a. I am also a firm believer that children in high school deserve a free lunch the same as a 5-6 year old. But then Clegg is applying the ConDem policy of Divide and Rule Politics -Us v Them.

Books have always been provided by school, whether handed over or borrowed from the school library but this is no longer the case. Even in the dark days of Thatcherism where I shared my English literature textbook between 3 of us, school was still the provider. My sons are doing GCSES and A levels this year. Last year I had to buy Geography textbooks as there were only 8 to go around a class of 23 and the teacher reluctantly asked parents to buy a textbook if they could, to give their child use of it at home for homework and research. This year as my son has started A levels, every subject textbook has had to be bought as the new school he is attending does not permit pupils to borrow them from the school library to take home. They are only allowed to use them in the library during school hours. I have resorts to ploughing through eBay to buy them second hand, but one subject teacher actually forbade pupils to buy second hand textbooks as she did not want them seeing pencilled in notes from previous owners. So far in the past 6 weeks I have spent £180 for A level textbooks. Already I am wondering how the poorest pupils cope. It is a financial nightmare for families and bright children from poor backgrounds in England have had EMA taken away from them which used to ease the burden a little.

School trips are loved by the children but increasingly dreaded by parents. In primary school the  local trips to nature reserves, castles and such like used to be frequent outings and a nominal cost was charged. But now due to our pre-occupation with red tape, more health and safety rules than what is needed, a fear of being used by schools, many if these local visits have been curbed or stopped in many instances. The cost of hiring a school coach is  now huge as is the cost of entry to many of these places. Once children get to High School the trips abroad are frequently advertised. A recent school trip to Paris at my sons school for 4 days was priced at £350 and that was by boat not plane! I have noticed just how many children are not going on these trips due to the sheer cost involved. It is not just the trip cost but the inevitable new clothes and spending money too that is needed for participation. But peer pressure is also great and when a child from a poor family consistently keeps saying they will not be going on the school trip, they are pitied and singled out for being poor and unable to go. In some cases bullying then occurs.

There are other hidden costs many schools are now charging too. Hire of laptops and hire of school
 lockers are frequent. My sons new school charges £15 per year for a school locker for example. Another hidden fee was the 'resource fee' charged on Day 1 for A levels. This was £15 and was to cover photo-copying for the year and such like. This will have to be paid again on the second year of the course. I have heard from friends with primary age children that on top of school dinner money they have the option to pay for  "Fruit and biscuits" for the week - an extra £1.50 which is given to children at break times. Those who don't pay - mostly the working poor - don't get.

Under this government it is actually worse to be "working poor" than poor. The very people who used to be the "strivers" are being penalised by the ConDems for striving! Even millionaires with 5 year olds are being protected more than we are.

I would urge Labour and Tristram Hunt to take a look at the raw deal children of the working poor are getting and indeed all children from ordinary working class backgrounds. Don't make school something to be priced out of. The concept of a free education has been eroded to the point of no return by the ConDems. Labour should call time on the stealthy privatisation of our education system as children from poor and working poor families are starting to be second class within the state education system. It is frankly abhorrent and has no place in a decent education system. But then the Tories and LibDems  have sold decency. It is up to us and the Labour Party to fight for our children's future. A future and education that does not depend on the amount of money in your purse.


Friday, 10 October 2014

Immigration : Time to listen, hear and act....

While our right wing media screams out the Ukip headlines, while the BBC falls over itself to devote hours of  TV and debate to Carswell and the Clacton by election result, while media analysts and teams of  spin doctors and party leaders dissect and pick their way through the fall-out, one thing stands out a mile for me:

Who is listening, hearing and ultimately acting for the working class?

Liz McInnes  the new MP for Heywood and Middleton will be a superb voice for her constituency. But Liz has to be given time to do her job and not be spun by the party machine. It is quite a task becoming an MP and then fighting for your seat again in 7 months at a General Election. Granted, Liz won by a slim majority, but comparing a rainy day's by-election turnout in October to a 2010 spring day turnout for a General Election is a touch farcical.

I spent a day in Heywood campaigning for Liz and listened to many voices of concern from the local community. Many of the parents picking up their kids from the local school were delighted that Labour will be offering 25 hours free childcare for all 3 and 4 year olds, but the subject on almost everyone's lips was immigration. They feel it is not enough for Labour to weakly say they will restrict numbers coming into the country. Many said they would support Ukip because of their immigration policy.  When I asked what they thought of other Ukip policies, they either didn't know of them or simply didn't care.

Having immigration headlines in all the right wing newspapers on a daily basis has in no uncertain terms fuelled the politics of fear. Even when  we give the actual facts on immigration and the stats etc people only see the headlines and Ukip play to this fear. However, I have come to the conclusion after hearing people's concerns over school places, community facilities, jobs etc that Labour need to sit down and listen to these concerns and not write working class people off as bigots.

I am no academic. I can't quote lofty ideology and reel off stats on immigration, but I am working class and I will write what I heard. Fear of the new mosque being built on your street is because we don't understand Muslim culture.  Fear of  your child being in the minority of white faces in the classroom is because we have for centuries been used to our communities being white, English and working class. Whilst not bothering over the immigrants of the 1960s/70s settling into our area, the sudden surge  and quantity of new arrivals over the last few years has felt like an overwhelming tide and so we feel threatened by cultures alien to ours and lash out in fear.

If only immigration was talked about openly in our community centres by people of all races without fear of being labelled a racist. I am certain that dialogue and de-mystifying cultures would go a long way to calming the fear of immigration. By bring able to understand another cultures religion, dress, way of life, we will break down the barriers of fear surrounding the whole immigration issue. And that goes for both sides of the debate. Immigrants need to hear indigenous working class peoples fears too without labelling us as racists. We need to air our views frankly but calmly in a community arena that promotes working together. Let's get the fears out into the open and aired on both sides. Let's bust those myths!

As a Labour Party member I am appalled at the rise of Ukip. But whilst I am appalled I understand why. Ukip thrive on our fear. Rather than beginning constructive dialogue in our communities they peddle the lie that immigration is to blame for all our woes in the UK. Backed by the media, the working class are being conned and spun to believe it.

It is the stockbrokers like Nigel Farage, the crony banker mates of David Cameron and the millionaires who are benefitting through our fear. We focus our fear on immigration and let these posh boys off the hook!

As for the Labour Party, now is the time to stop spinning, stop the caution.


 Listen, hear and act on behalf of  our working class communities. 

Not voting at all is our other enemy. The politics of fear needs slaying. Let it be Labour who lead the way.


Sunday, 5 October 2014

Shouting loud and proud in Socialist Wales!

Every week at PMQs David Cameron never fails to sneer, attack and denounce the Labour led government in Wales. Like a petulant child who is secretly rather envious of the kid next door, he resorts to petty point scoring and frantic finger pointing whenever  his envy spills over  for the exciting initiatives going on in Wales.

Bereft of ideas, the ConDems look on as spectators at a Welsh Labour administration that is delivering;even though currently being shackled by a Westminster imposed budget. So how are socialist Wales doing things differently and what are our successes?

Whilst the Tories swept in and destroyed the aspiration and  further education of our poorest children aged 16-18, Wales defiantly stood up for our children and retained Education Maintenance Allowance. The £30 pw allowance pays for books, travel and lunches and is a lifeline for  children whose families are existing below the breadline. It will be interesting to see in the next few years the difference between England and Wales in the numbers of  children from the poorest families who are staying on at 6th form or college, and the numbers who drop out due to unaffordability.

Going to the opposite age range, Wales has the Flying Start scheme for under 4s in the most deprived communities of Wales. A package of support including more input from Health Visitors, parenting classes, early language development and play skills and part time childcare has resulted in £180m of funding from 2007- present. The results are impressive and are changing lives. 76% of children were fully immunised at age 4 and 82% of children in the Flying Start areas  reached or exceeded their developmental norms at the benchmark age 2. Investment from birth is reaping dividends.

One of the jewels in Welsh Labours crown is our envious scheme of  Universal Free Prescriptions. Whatever age you are and however chronic a condition you have free medicine is there when you need it. My own son aged 22 was ill recently and was worried about work as he is agency employed on a zero hours contract. A free antibiotic prescription got him back on his feet quickly and a swift return to work. No worrying about the affordability of medicine. My husband suffers from chronic asthma and is a lifelong condition. He is eternally grateful for the free prescription service here in Wales. Indeed many of our friends living just over the border in places like Chester and Hereford are rushing to sign up with GP practices in Wales. It is not as costly an exercise as many critics suggest as it is a fraction of the health budget  in Wales, yet has such positive outcomes.

Jobs Growth Wales is a shining example of offering  young people a 6 month work experience but paying them the minimum wage while they are doing it. A total opposite to the sapping pointless workfare the Tories in England support wholeheartedly.  Such is the success rate that 82% of young people taking up a work placement then go on to secure a sustainable job after the initial 6 month period. An exceeded target of 13,000 people in jobs in the first 3 years of the scheme is testament to its success. A complete  stark contrast to the crippling youth unemployment in England with no hope on the horizon as one thing the Tories destroy is hope for young peoples futures.

Wales is incredibly rural and our rural areas have suffered more than most with freak weather conditions and seasonal, casual work.  The Agricultural Wages Board was abolished by the ComDems in England in October 2013. It was responsible for setting the minimum rates of pay for agricultural workers, terms of employment and often rents on tied cottages etc. Wages were always higher than the minimum wage. Wales decided  to challenge the Westminster government and  were successful in the Supreme Court in summer 2014 to set up a new Welsh Agricultural Wages Board. 14,000 far workers will benefit and be kept out of rural wages poverty, unlike farm workers in England.  Holiday and sickness pay will now also be protected here in Wales, unlike England. In fact unlike England, Wales values the skills of our agricultural sector workers and will always fight to defend them.

Even on issues like Healthy Living Wales takes the lead. Banning smoking in cars where children are
 present, and the Future Generations Bill are on the agenda here. The Wales we want by 2050 is
A "healthier, happier, more equal, prosperous more bilingual economy with a resilient environment."
Future development and discussions on this way forward are being held in early 2015. Wales does not stand still. It plans ahead.

Carwyn Jones leads from the front in Wales, and I include him on our list of Welsh successes. I urge you to watch First Ministers Questions in the Sennedd on the Parliamemt channel on TV. Whilst the Tory leader, Andrew R T Davies continually flusters, Carwyn uses his considerable intellect and wit to shoot him down in flames every time. Carwyn Jones is Labours Socialist Statesman. Instrumental in bringing new business and world class sports events like the Ryder Cup in golf and Ashes Test Matches in cricket to Wales, Carwyn is a big name on the international scene. He has been successful at promoting Welsh businesses in the USA also. He is now passionately campaigning for more devolved powers for Wales, so we can unchain ourselves from the shadow of the ConDems in
Westminster.

My family are proud and frankly relieved to live in Wales while the coalition wreak havoc in England. My son has just applied for EMA, my husbands asthma means we don't have to bankrupt ourselves to pay for a long term health condition, my youngest disabled son had excellent early years speech and language therapy for his autism. Whilst my grandfather was from Tonypandy in South Wales, my mother from Bridgend; I live on the Coast in N Wales, I will never forget my grandfathers stories of grinding poverty before  Clement Attlee came to power. In modern day times I am delighted that a  socialist Wales  under devolution wants more devolved power, so we can set our own rules, use our compassion to look after our most vulnerable Welsh citizens and not be at the mercy of the nasty party in England.

It's time socialists in Wales shouted much more loudly about our successes and on going future plans when faced by Westminster arrogance.  Like a modern day Cromwell, Cameron rules over his vision of England in tyranny, where the people are pushed noses to the grindstone in hard low paid work, and leisure and fun are things to be derided. I am  proud to live in Wales; proud to be a Welsh socialist.


Saturday, 4 October 2014

We've got the IDS blues!

Stop your child's birthday cake, put down that dog food can
The Benefit Card is here,
Courtesy of that IDS man
Stop the laughter
That keeps you sane
The poor prescription is misery and pain.

Forgo that biscuit
Give up that pint
Preserve of the rich now
Out of spite
No more cream cakes, he's closed the door
It's the Benefit Card for all the poor.

Embarassment at the check-out
Is our fate
Rooting through food
Going out of date
IDS views us as a running sore
Punishment for the crime of being poor.

In 2015  put on your coat
Down to the polling station
To use your vote
To boot out the Tories who "work so hard"
Give them life on a Benefits Card!



Sunday, 28 September 2014

Time to be proud of being a 21st Century Trade Unionist!

I grew up in the 1970s in Worcester with a grandad who worked for British Leyland at Longbridge in Birmingham, the heart of the car industry in the Midlands. A staunch union man a socialist -he was married to my gran a property owning Tory! There were always  good "debates" in their household. My memories however were of Grandad coming home early.. "On strike again" my gran would stand and accuse him. "Not enough sugar in their tea and they're off on strike again!" Obviously her own Tory exaggeration at the time but it had a ring of truth, as strikes were happening on a regular basis, on some issues that would appear trivial these days.

My Uncle worked for a small machine tool factory in Worcester. They were never on strike, but as Thatcherism hit home hard in the early 1980s my uncle was first on a 3 day working week, swiftly followed by the ludicrous 1 day week as more and more workers in the factory lost their jobs. Union bosses fought hard but in vain against its closure. The company shut for good in 1985, like thousands across the UK.

Two very different  experiences, but part of my early memories of Trade Unionism. I spent a week with miners wives in the food kitchens as an 18 year old politics student at college which has been an abiding memory for me, and haunts me to this day.

Trade Unionism and belonging to a union became a dirty word under Thatcher and  the myth peddled that under unions, workers were always out on strike took hold and flourished in working class communities. Just like today when Cameron peddles the lie of austerity that must be imposed on the working class, we have fallen for it, hook line and sinker and taken our eyes off the real culprits; the robber barons, the bankers, the Tory elite, Ukip and the millionaires.

Time to shake off the shackles of the 1970s! I believe firmly however that the dark cloud hanging over the Trade Union Movement is lifting. I want to see it being not only fashionable but imperative to belong to a union. This is all down to Len McCluskey opening up Unite the Union to members of the community, not working in the traditional unionised workplaces. Other unions will be certain to replicate the new way forward. As a Unite Community member myself you can literally hear new breath being breathed into the unions lungs, new energy and new working class people coming forth to take up the fight against Tory imposed austerity.

Community members shout loud and proud they are members of Unite. I walked round Labour Conference with my Unite lanyard holding my conference pass on proud display. I travelled the Manchester trams and proclaimed to all that would listen "I am a member of Unite the Union". The time to go unseen or casually not to mention union membership when talking to people is being banished. The sleeping giant of trade unionism that has taken an almighty kicking since the '70s is emerging into a new dawn in the 21st century.

Why? Because people in communities and workers in our factories, schools, hospitals and  public sector are sick to death of taking a battering from the ConDems, the right wing media and the emergence of the extreme right wing Ukip. For us in community we are seeing social services slashed, libraries and swimming pools closed, carers and disabled voices going unheard. Workers are being battered into accepting zero hours contracts and agency work is the norm. Let's face it, the Tories have put the power directly with the bosses. They hold every card without a crumb on the table left for the workers. Cameron quite openly tells us of his plans to literally eradicate trade unionism should the Tories be elected in 2015. Never has the time been riper than to belong to a union or join a union. Education is the key too as we talk to the younger generation about workplace rights. And this education has to begin at age 14+ as young people, brainwashed by right wing TV, need to know there is a union there, a band of people willing to protect them from the onslaught of  the worst excesses of capitalism.

But the future of a new modern era of Trade Unionism can only gain momentum by slaying the other
major opponent; apathy. In a Tory society of "I'm alright Jack" it is imperative we change the selfish
narrative and list the benefits of belonging to a union and the history of success we have had. I bang the gong on the following Trade Union successes: The Weekend, Maternity/Paternity Leave and Rights, Sick Pay, Workplace Pensions, Paid Holidays, a Minimum Wage, Health and Safety at work. These are the workplace successes. Imagine the community successes we will be able to list within the next five years! With constant attacks by the Tories and now Ukip creeping up on the working class disguised as sheep in wolves clothing by announcing they will ensure those on minimum wage pay no income tax, we must stand united against this right wing extremism. While Ukip make these soundbite policies they still back zero hours contracts, agency employed staff and a huge slashing of the workplace rights so hard fought for by unions. They are on the side of the bosses even more so than the Tories.

So If you're in a union already, have that talk with friends, relatives and workplace colleagues. Let them know you belong to a union. If it's possible, encourage others to join themselves. Unite Community for example only costs 50p p/w. Let's show the bosses, and Cameron and Farage that you "really don't get me; because I'm part of the union!"**** -

A 21st century modern trade union fighting to protect the rights of the working class against  greedy capitalism.

***1973 song by The Strawbs for those who can't remember it!


Thursday, 25 September 2014

My Labour Conference 2014

Being working poor with a large family, I could not afford the cost of Labour Conference. The pass was £63 for the low paid/unwaged and £109 for everyone else. Accomodation was quite frankly extortionately priced for budget accomodation. £120 per night plus on average. Wanting desperately to go I crowd funded my way there and I am eternally grateful to the many people ( including MPs) who put their hands in their pockets and paid for me to attend. I then began a campaign which I will continue to take up with Labour Gen Sec Iain McNicoll entitled #ForTheManyNotTheMoneyed
The campaign was to give a voice to every person who simply could not afford the best part of £1000 to attend conference week. The campaign continues for 2015 as Mr McNicoll looks into it.

Attending Labour Conference is an experience like no other. Every member rich or poor should be given the opportunity for a "seat at the table", a chance to engage with their party, meet people, smell the politics and in my case most importantly, learn from the event and come out wiser than when I went in! Of course it is useful to sit in the main conference hall and listen to the speeches by the party leader and shadow cabinet, but the fringe events on a wide variety of topics from What makes a working class MP, to the Cuba and Venezuela Solidarity campaigns are where you have to be to learn the most. I was like a political kid in a sweet shop! Scouring the days events in my conference book and making a list of MPs and other speakers I wanted to hear from most, made the entire conference all the more enriched. Of course while I was there I had my own article coming out, announcing my intention to stand for Parliament in 2020 and that it was truly a time for working class MPs who have compassion and the human touch to be  elected to change the make up of the current establishment. I had a terrific response to my Morning Star piece, with one lady rushing to the Morning Star stand to subscribe to the paper having read the article!

People make conference. A wide variety of people though, not just suits who can afford to be there. I met with  some grandmothers in their 80s who told me of their experiences after the war when the welfare state was being set up, I met with a young man whose mum was being hounded by the DWP and faced sanctions as due to her mental health she couldn't understand the letters being sent to her demanding her constant appearance at assessment centres, I met a whole array of feisty disabled people demanding change from the Labour Party and fighting to mould disabled policy within the party. These experiences were my education. Of course I also met with my own Unite the Union General Secretary Len McCluskey for the first time, and was delighted to meet up with the MPs I admire most, Ian Lavery, Grahame Morris and Ian Mearns. These four men have something in common more priceless than diamonds; the ability to connect, engage and care about what you are saying. No one feels the hurt of austerity on their people and constituents more than these guys believe me! And they are not just empty words. They act immediately. When you have heard  Ian Lavery deliver a hell raising speech on how children at a school in his constituency are stealing bread from the school kitchens as they are hungry and how there is simply no need for austerity in one of the richest countries on earth, you can be damned sure that speech will be seared in your brain forever! Christine Blower from the NUT telling delegates that teachers are hoarding cereal snack bars and the like to feed hungry pupils in school, the realisation from newly qualified and perhaps middle class young teachers that teaching is only part of their job, and social worker and feeding children is also part of their remit wrenches your insides literally. Kevin Macguire of the Daily Mirror sitting alongside 91 year old Harry Smith at a fringe event when he weeps as he tells of his sister dying from TB aged 10 because there was no NHS. These speakers told the real stories of conference. The stories that were happening to ordinary people. To me these were far more important than any policy announcements taking place in the main hall as they told the real story of what is going on under the watch of Cameron's Britain.

I was also involved in an incident concerning myself and other disabled people prior to the leaders speech taking place. Huge queues had formed and all disabled people were allowed in first, but the queuing system was pretty haphazard as of course there were people on mobility scooters and  in wheelchairs as well as the "walking wounded", the deaf  and blind. All week long  on the front row of the floor level balcony seating, stewards reserved seats for the disabled who couldn't climb the
balcony. I was among them. However, when stewards showed us to this front row, 2 party officials insisted we could not sit there as they were reserved for other party members. Despite vehement protestation from the stewards and also myself, I was told to move up to the balcony seating. However by this time a lot of the upper seats were occupied so there were quite a few stairs to climb. The stewards did their best to assist but I lost my footing with my crutch and fell. Thank you to the steward who picked me up and saved me! On seeing the scene, the party officials quickly urged stewards to fetch chairs from outside the hall and put us seated next to the wheelchair users in the main part of the hall. Myself and a few others who had attempted the balcony climb were very angry and of course shaken and in disbelief this was happening to us at Labour conference.  We felt frankly like 2nd class citizens, a bit of a nuisance to the female party suits desperate to avoid a scene and get their people seated in the reserved disabled seats.

At the end of conference all became apparent as Ed Miliband and his wife Justine walked to the back of the hall and shook hands with the long line of party members sitting in the reserved seats. Of course Ed himself would have been oblivious to the fact we had been ousted from this area, and the feeling of somehow not being good enough or photogenic enough for the cameras following him pervaded our thoughts.  I was very angry on leaving the hall and gave my account of what had taken place to a Morning Star reporter. Whilst Luke James reported the facts, another Tory paper copied the story and added its own right wing twist for public gain. Not what was intended.  Labour got it wrong for disabled people, but it was a time for bringing this to the attention of Kate Green, shadow minister for the disabled and not for Tory rags to gain politically from it. Both Kate and John McDonnell MP are raising the issue seriously with Ed Miliband and  looking into the behaviour of party officials. For the record it is up to people like me to speak out and ensure that at future events this is never repeated. With the arrival of Disability Labour as a new group I will work with them as a voice to  improve procedures for disabled people at conference. It is not enough to moan. Change must come by fighting for it personally.

The  conference centre foyer was packed full of stalls ranging from Unions to the Campaign for Real Ale (popular with delegates for samples!) and all had stacks of information; leaflets, free pens and fridge magnets etc. I have much to read in the coming weeks! The sheer volume of stalls and causes made me swivel- headed but again enriched the experience for me.

Finally I would like to thank the cleaners, the stewards, the  workers providing us with food and drinks, the centre receptionists, the centre guides. These were the unsung heroes. People like us on minimum wage and perhaps  a short term contract, all working to 200% to ensure conference was enjoyable to all. A special mention to the security guards on the gate who always opened up the main gates when they saw myself and other disabled people coming along, rather than the turnstiles for others. They were cheery every day and always glad to welcome us. The Manchester police were obviously present but again did their jobs and directed us to taxis etc when needed. The taxi drivers were animated and asked lots of questions about conference and what Labour would do in certain areas, and I hope I converted a few!

I marvelled at the cheapness of the tram tickets (£3 return)  and how safe and welcoming Manchester was to a lone female. Thank you Manchester, a truly great city.

Labour now has to knuckle down with a huge job of work leading up to May 2015. Trying to change the narrative and how  the right wing media perceive the party and leader will be a difficult task, but we have it in all of us grassroots members, us the people, to campaign to ensure a Labour victory next May. Just view the alternative on offer: Cameron, Clegg and Farage, or a combination of all 3, for the next five years. Stand with Labour, and campaign for change from within.

Sunday, 14 September 2014

IDS wants Obese Poor on Celebrity Diet Plan...

You have to wonder what  goes on in the Duncan-Smith country estate at weekends. Like a scene from a James Bond film you can picture IDS in his "lair" pondering how to rule the world and what dastardly plan he can hatch out next to humiliate, degrade and punish the poor. Never in the history of British politics has one man, backed by his leader, and even worse turned a blind eye to by the LibDems, been allowed this much freedom to  target his own personal hatred onto one section of society; the most vulnerable. Backed up by a willing right wing media who have conned the working class into actually believing a lot of IDS' rhetoric we are now never shocked by what this right wing maniac will do next.

I use maniac willingly and in context.  "An obsessive enthusiast" " A person exhibiting wild or violent behaviour" "a person suffering from mania" "a deranged person". IDS is certainly an "obsessive enthusiast" over his plans  for the poor, sick and disabled. His latest wheeze probably would have shocked us a few years ago, but such is our "unshockability" at  what he does, his latest idea barely raises an eyebrow, as we have come to expect demonisation of the poor as a daily occurrence, both from Duncan-Smith and his propaganda machine the DWP.

IDS has written to Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt in a cunning plan  to ask if  poor obese people claiming JSA and ESA could be put on the celebrity diet "The Cambridge Plan" - a £45pw liquid diet. Now many people radicalised by right wing media may well see nothing wrong with poor obese people being given "help" this way. But with the Tories and particularly their hatchet man IDS, you have to peel back the layers to find the hidden truth and reality of the situation. IDS' constituent Ruth Barber is the brain-child of The Cambridge Diet. "All in this together" certainly rings true. As with ATOS being handed multi million pound contracts and various Tory cronies having more fingers in pies than the nursery rhyme figure Little Jack Horner, it seems IDS is keen to put a huge  NHS "diet contract" Ruth Barber's way. Of course were the scheme to become reality, there is always a stick with Duncan-Smiths harebrained ideas and you don't need a crystal ball to know there will be an element of compulsion to participate if you are obese, and in receipt of JSA/ESA or the inevitable sanctions will be applied.

Putting aside, that this is the latest in a whole range of punishments  from a man so dim his own party derides him, let's look at the facts of  obesity and being poor.

Poverty and being on benefit is a vicious grinding cycle. While many of us would like to put some portly MPs, obese due to lavish subsidised lunches and expensive champagne receptions, on one of these celebrity diet plans, yet again the spotlight falls on the very poorest, who in Tory eyes, are not permitted to be obese like their richer "betters". While lardy Cameron parades his belly chillaxing on the various beach holidays he enjoys each year, this is simply not permitted to be poor and fat and scraping by on £71pw JSA.

Those of us whether poor or working poor have very limited incomes which have to be stretched like never before due to Tory imposed austerity. When I have the electric bill to pay or one of the kids comes home with torn trousers which needs replacing immediately, the food budget is where I , and thousands of other people turn to in an effort to find the money needed. To cut down means to go without or replace with  bulky cheap food the kids will eat. Simple as that. I know I can go to Iceland and pick up a pizza for £1 and frozen chips for £1. As much as I would like to , minced beef and fresh  vegetables are a lot more expensive. I have fed a family of 6 on £30 for a weeks meals when desperate, but I know how to as I was taught practical cooking skills by my parents and by school. Many people are not so fortunate.  The school GCSE for example is full of  theory based health and safety questions rather than how to feed yourself on a strict budget.

Once someone like IDS has lived for a year controlling a food budget week in week out on JSA of a total £71pw income or on a Carers income of £61.35pw, then he can speak with authority of how poor obese people should be truly helped. Imagine your food budget as a single person on JSA is £10pw every week, every month which thousands are living on. Now imagine doing a weekly food shop in the supermarket. Out goes the nutritional more expensive food like meat, fresh vegetables; in comes the bulky highly processed foods like frozen pizzas, chips, and value bread. In fact everything becomes the supermarkets value brand; the lowest common denominator. Now after weeks of living on this cheerless bulky high sugar diet, your health starts to suffer you feel lethargic, less motivated, sapped, stressed with the anxiety of wondering where the next meal is coming from, so your mental health takes a bashing. You feel cooking is a chore, you feel less motivated to cook, less motivated to go out. The walls and your horizons start to narrow as your life consists of one long huge effort to survive. And the inevitable thing is that your weight  increases on this high sugar diet and lack of  outdoor exercise and obesity occurs. Obesity brings its own demons of higher  blood pressure, diabetes and other related health problems. Then a man comes along earning £100k a year plus and tells you the answer is a celebrity liquid diet, a cure for your obesity and poverty in one, and that by going on this diet, you will be fit for work, off benefit and your life improves with a wave of the IDS magic wand!

What utter tosh!  GPs will tell you of the complex array of health problems caused by poverty. Poverty and a lack of education and life skills go hand in hand and have done for decades. Successive governments have never found the cure. Likewise GPs will also point to the excessive lifestyles of the rich where their obesity is caused by too many rich foods and lavish dinners. But IDS is not pushing a celebrity diet  onto his cronies is he?!

So stuff your liquid diet IDS. Stop trying to award big fat privatised NHS contracts to your chums. And get off the backs of the poor who can't carry the weight of austerity any longer. Fat chance Cameron will sack you sooner, but  I very much think that like your party, you will be history in May 2015.

Thursday, 11 September 2014

A new era for Labour requires a new kind of Politician

Many of you who regularly read my articles in the Morning Star, will know just how deeply concerned I am about the lack of working class candidates and MPs in the Labour Party. So as well as writing and campaigning on the issue I am putting my (lack of money) where my mouth is, and throwing my hat into the Westminster ring as a potential candidate. Albeit I am a little too late for 2015, but will use the time until 2020 to keep campaigning and standing up for the working class people of this country.

You see it is time for a different politician and a different way of 'doing politics'. For every phone conversation at our local CLP, for every door knocked upon you hear time and time again. 'They're all the same. They are all in it for themselves and haven't got a clue about the lives of ordinary people' And apart from good solid working class MPS like Ian Lavery, Dennis Skinner, Ian Mearns, Grahame Morris, Katy Clarke and co I have to agree.

If ever there was a time for compassionate politics it is now! If ever there was a time to stand on the door step or at the Labour local office and say to worried anxious people "Why don't we have a cuppa and talk about the problems you are facing a bit more." Ordinary people want MPs and candidates and door knocking volunteers like me, to shut up for a minute and listen. Listening skills are missing from many MPs. They stare dreamily over your shoulder, check their watch and start walking away, because the bedroom tax does not affect them, the fact you can't afford petrol for the car for the entire month for work and the worry that causes you, is a million miles away from anything they have encountered, caring for a disabled child or elderly relative is an experience alien to them.

It's not 'weak' to be compassionate. Neither is it weak to listen and show empathy. Ordinary people want their MPs to understand how bad things are in their day to day lives thanks to Cameron and particularly Iain Duncan-Smith. But before all Labour MPS grab their tissues and run to their constituents, I have to point out, its something you either have in you or not. Compassion and empathy cannot be learned or you will end up looking a fraud either on the doorstep or on TV, as working class people are too canny to fall for 'pretended compassion' (I refer you to Cameron and the Hug a Hoodie campaign he ran.)

Dennis Skinner is a genuine compassionate politician who 'won't take the MPs payrise until all working class people have had a payrise.' He refuses to drink in Westminsters subsidised bars as he feels deeply just how wrong this is, while many are suffering the welfare cuts. Ian Lavery when speaking about the bedroom tax said 'We should never forget that these properties are not just statistics these are people’s homes'. He understands because he listens.

I chat to people all the time as a member of Unite Community; a proud arm of Unite the union no longer confined to workplace members but people from all walks of life in our communities. All I hear is the plea ''We need MPs who have done a factory job, worked in a supermarket, cared for a disabled relative, shop in our shops, don't just try to look like us but ARE one of us.' Indeed recently an elderly lady complemented me on my dress as she had her eye on the same £14 dress in Matalan but felt it was a bit too young for her!

Compassionate MPs are needed urgently in our communities. Our working class people have born the brunt of this austerity going into a fifth year in 2015. We are austerity-battered, weary, frightened and trying to hang on in there as best we can often living from week to week on zero hours contracts and a pay day away from losing our homes. I know this because its happening to me too. Last week as my third son started 6th form, HMRC already cut to the bone with staff shortages, cut all tax credits from every family in the UK with a child starting 6th form or college or a training course. It meant a £50 immediate cut in income that week; a week when every penny counts as you kit your child out and spend money on bus fares, lunches for their first week on a new part of their lives. HMRC acknowledged the huge error which they are putting right 'shortly'. That error made me panic over what to cut down on that week, alongside all the thousands of other families affected too. These 'errors' can tip us over the edge into financial peril, such is our grip on the cliff edge of austerity.

Alongside compassion and empathy for our fellow man/woman people are fed up to the back teeth of corrupt politics, corrupt politicians and morally bereft government. Its time for honest politics. You may laugh and think me naive but I believe there is an honest way to do politics and an honest way to be an MP. If you make an error of judgement for example, if you make a big cock-up, tell people. 'I'm sorry but I got it wrong'. Again don't say it  if you don't mean it as the people will see through you. Don't say things that sound insincere or out of the normal kind of way you say things or it all sounds false and forced. Take Dave over Scotland saying 'its not about giving the effing Tories a kicking.' False written all over it. Likewise if I was ever to say Nigel Far-raj talking about Nigel Far-idge leader of Ukip then give me a kicking too! If as a Labour MP cuts have to be made, be honest, tell people why and explain the situation. Don't ignore people on twitter or facebook asking you polite pertinent questions that mean a lot to them, unless they abuse you. Our concerns MUST be the Labour MPs concerns too, or why are you in politics at all?

Whilst I have decided it is right for me personally to enter the political ring, I understand how daunting that could be for others. It's the reason the working class is so under represented in Westminster. We are too busy battling to survive to devote time to campaign or try to change things. This is what Cameron and the Establishment rely on.

Labour have shown the way on All Women Shortlists, perhaps it will be time to go further after 2015 and develop a few working class shortlists, disability shortlists etc.Although there is a small financial pot to help future candidates this needs to be taken to the next level, as finance and giving up work to campaign to become a candidate is probably the prime reason working class candidates are woefully under represented in Parliament. If you are a Carer for a disabled child as I am, arranging appropriate childcare may be a struggle. Other candidates I know are struggling with sleepless nights caused by gangs on their estate, one is constantly back and forth to school as their child is being bullied, another can't afford the transport costs of campaigning in their rural  constituency. Let's act as a party and support candidates who are struggling. The Labour Party needs the drive, will and sheer determination of candidates who are working class themselves. It's a much higher cliff for us to climb into the political arena than for others.

I believe in this toxic sea of  austerity when people are crying out for change, the Labour party must use that vital sense; listening. Its not enough to say 'We hear you'. Now is time to say 'We hear you, we will listen to you further, we understand you entirely and we will act.''

I hope ordinary people will one day have enough faith in me to vote, and send me to Westminster. It's a priveledge to represent people. It's vital that their views, their lives, their struggles are represented by a politician who cares deeply for them. Time for the compassionate politician.

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Britain needs a Pay Rise; But Women are desperate for a Living Wage

In TUC conference week much of the talk will revolve around low pay and the curse of zero hours contracts and rightly so. Since Day 1 of the ConDem government, employers have been positively encouraged to put the lid firmly on any pay increases and demand massive flexibility with their staff, to the point where workers are no longer employed directly but through agencies in many cases. Sacked on a whim, laid off on the spot for a week or two, scrambling for any extra hours the employer has to offer is now general. Even the Tories own manipulated figures on the economy are showing a skewed 'recovery' yet the lid remains firmly closed at the whisper of any increase in pay for the workers. Four years have passed with no pay rises, despite big bonuses for the bankers continuing, while austerity has virtually broken the backs of the poorest.

Those most bearing the brunt are women. Successive governments have urged and pushed women to the brink in a swift return to work after the birth of a child, economic forces have removed a woman's right of choice to work flexible hours, or take a few years to stay at home and care for her child should she wish, single mothers have been villified and not even a tax break given to couples, but a pernicious culling and freezing of child benefit at a time when it is needed more than ever.

 We have ended up with a situation where nurseries have become daycare warehouses for babies under 2, while mum desperately tries to find work that will cover the bills, let alone provide a few luxuries like holidays. Its all very well if the woman is a high flyer and can afford nannies and au pair help but the majority of us cannot. On top of this, although in theory a woman can request flexible working hours to care for a disabled child or elderly relative, in practice employers do not want an employee who may have to leave work at a moments notice. Being female under this ConDem government has meant hardship on every front and none more so than on pay.

A recent survey in the north west by the TUC revealed 2 in 5 part time jobs in the UK pay less than the living wage. However in Pendle Lancs, 3 out of 5 women - 61.5% are paid below the living wage. There is a 34%part time gender pay gap! A toxic mix of zero hours or ridiculous low hours contracts like 4 or 7 hours a week only add to the problem. In an effort to combine caring with work, women will often take any low paid factory work or supermarket job to make ends meet. Pressure is being mounted by unions to see councils adopt the Living Wage and this is having some success. But lets get into the private sector companies and show them the benefits of both the Living Wage but also Living Hours and employing staff directly. It is definitely a case of going back to the future, but without stable employment on a Living Wage, women and all workers face a future of slave labour.

A new generation of young women are emerging from school having spent the last 4 years perhaps watching their own parents struggle on low pay. A new generation of women who think zero hours, low pay and no workplace rights is the 'norm'. We have to work fast to change that narrative. There will be many women who go onto careers, but there will be many who will shift between one low paid job to the other and this government have so far been successful at brainwashing people into thinking this is their lot in life. A zero hours low paid job where renting a house is beyond them. We cannot allow Cameron and co to have this kind of blanket power across the working class. We need to empower women and all young people through education in high schools that it is a basic human right that a Living Wage and Living Hours are theirs to demand from employers. When they feel too vulnerable to stand up to an employer as a member of a Trade Union they have the right to representation. Education is the key.

The concept of in work poverty is alarmingly, slowly being absorbed and accepted. When a woman returns home from work in a low paid, unskilled, zero hours job she often then has to turn to household chores, childrens activities/ homework and caring duties. Having the time and strength to campaign against in work poverty alludes her. That is why it is absolutely imperative we campaign within our unions and take to the streets in demonstrations to show society and employers and companies we are not prepared to accept low pay and less than the living wage and living hours. A Labour government post 2015 must also put an end to in work poverty and Ed Miliband has pledged to free us of the scourge of routine zero hours contracts.

A mandatory Living Wage would be the cherry on the cake Ed. Lets do it!


Monday, 28 July 2014

Letter to Iain McNicol: Don't price the poor out of Labour Conference

Dear Mr McNicol

I am writing to you as General Secretary of the Labour Party to look at an issue that is causing many grassroots Labour members, concern, anger and upset over the cost of attending this years Labour Conference in Manchester.

In recent years the cost for attending conference has risen to the point where it is now more than the cost of 1 weeks Carers Allowance. The cost for carers, the unemployed and disabled is £63 for the conference week, whilst Carers Allowance is £61.35pw. Even if we decided to go for one day of conference the cost is £28 per day.

Firstly, I completely understand the Labour Party have no option but to raise funds for the 2015 Election Campaign by charging a fee for Conference entry. The Labour Party does not have huge millionaire banker donors like the Tories and it is harder for Labour to raise funds. Secondly I also realize CLPs send delegates to conference. However my CLP is low on funds and sends the same person every year, so other people do not get the chance to attend.

What I would like to get over to you is the following: Please try and find a way for the working poor, poor, carers, disabled, retired, unemployed to attend conference without it costing a whole weeks income. There are many working class members like myself who are eager to participate, eager to get involved, have as much right as other people to hear Ed Milibands vision post 2015, yet sadly cost prohibits us attending.

I know you have no control over accomodation costs in Manchester in September but even Premier Inns are charging £600+ for four days. Once conference pass, food and transport have been added on, the four days are the cost of a family holiday! Labour could, and in my view should, make it clear it wants to hear our voices too - the voices of the working class loud and clear, supporting Ed Miliband and the party in its drive to victory 2015. Does Ed merely want his words to echo around a room of MPs, and people who can afford to attend?

Money should not be the price the poor pay for being locked out of participation.

I urge you to seriously look at how the Labour Party prices its conference passes to those for whom £63 is a weeks income or more. £5 per day or £20pw would be a lot more comfortable for the majority of poor Labour members.

Please make this change. There are thousands of Labour members out there depending on you to let their voices be heard.

Yours faithfully

Bernadette Horton
Carer and Proud Member of the Working Poor and Labour Party.


I am sending this in written form to Mr McNicol today. As soon as I have a response I will update this blog.