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...

...Hope.

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.



Thursday, 27 November 2014

Working Class: Narrowed Horizons

I had a moment of complete and utter clarity as I arrived at a hotel in Cardiff to attend a course recently. As I booked in, I could hear the hustle and bustle of other hotel guests going on around me, the anniversary couple, the pensioners coach outing, the afternoon tea goers. It hit me like an arrow.

These are people enjoying their lives. These are people enjoying a leisure break.  These are people for whom there is more to life than grinding poverty and getting by.

It really was like having a light switched on. The fact is that the less money you have the more your horizons narrow down. For the unemployed and carers, horizons may be as narrow as your own front door. As a Carer myself I know there are days when you don't venture outside, due to caring duties but also due to lack of money. Getting by is an all consuming, draining struggle. I have noticed that even when you explain to people continuously that you can't afford a meal out, you can't afford a trip to the cinema, somehow they don't quite believe it. But for those existing on benefits, and increasingly for those of us who are working poor, horizons are being narrowed like never before.

Somehow you yourself don't feel your horizons being narrowed until you do something completely different like I did, and go on a course to a hotel and see what other people are doing. Or you look at friends and acquaintances on Facebook and see photos of the weekend break,  the football away trip, the birthday party, the big shopping expedition and you feel a pang of envy. You say to yourself "When was the last time I did any of those? I can't remember. But there are people out there with lives doing all these things week after week. I should be doing those things too. It isn't fair." A friend spoke about how she was going to splash out in the January sales after Christmas, and I honestly thought to myself that in 25 years since I had my children, I never had a penny to my name to go sales shopping in January. Every effort has been made to pay the December bills and do what I can for Christmas presents, often heaving a sigh of relief when I had managed both without missing a bill!

But the pangs of envy in me subside and turn to guilt, when I see those sanctioned on benefits, where Christmas will involve an emergency Foodbank parcel, or charity gifts from strangers, or indeed seeking shelter and a roof over their heads on Christmas Day. A child caught up in a domestic abuse situation will wish for nothing more than peace over Christmas time, whose horizon is so narrowed that being at home for 2 weeks is a terrifying prospect. A particularly cold December will see many households turning their heating off and wrapping themselves in quilts and going to bed early in a desperate attempt to keep warm. The most vulnerable, the poorest people in our society have no horizons at all. Everything has been taken from them in a vicious pursuit by this ConDem government where the poorest pay the price for the greed of the robber barons, the robber bankers and the posh boy millionaires governing Britain.

Each day becomes a fight to feed yourself and your family, a fight to keep warm and a fight to "appear" like you are living a normal life. For many trying to appear as if nothing is wrong to relatives and friends is a completely draining experience which takes up as much energy as the fight to feed yourself. You become a master of deception. An illness faked as you can't attend a relatives wedding due to cost, the birthday card with money you posted to a sister but somehow it must have got "lost" in the post, the invitation to a child's party your own child receives, but it has to be turned down because "we are doing something else that day unfortunately" as you see the £ signs mount for a birthday present and party outfit and know it is beyond you.

Horizons shutting down are like lights going off one by one, especially for the working poor. I am not demeaning the poor here, but I am focussing on issues I have heard many working poor discuss with me this year.  The ConDems "Them v Us" campaign has been hugely successful pitting Working Poor v Poor. Many people working either part time or on minimum wage actually experience jealousy when seeing those existing on JSA get their full housing benefit paid. Many working poor
 took out mortgages in better times and are now struggling like hell to keep the roof over their head.
"If only we could get housing benefit to cover part of the mortgage" is what I hear. Others feel resentment they are working and paying rent, while the poor have their full rent paid. Horizons narrow to not being able to move house as you can't get another mortgage or being constantly on the look out for cheaper rented accomodation due to the benefit cap and bedroom tax. Both poor and working poor are experiencing the merry-go-round of annual house moves in many cases, where tenancies are often for 12 months. Sometimes tenancies are terminated after 6 months. The horizon is narrowed to having no stability and moving into one property before being on the look out for another. People feel no need to make a house feel like "home" because it won't be home for any great period of time. The stress to children in particular is great. Often a frequent house move can mean a change of school.

The disabled and carers are probably the most targeted and vulnerable group under this governments pernicious regime. Here, horizons are being narrowed to one day at a time. Huge cuts to services disabled people rely on like public transport ,libraries, leisure facilities and support services are seeing disabled people become more and more isolated. Those living in rural areas are hardest hit. Local councils are starting to cut the unthinkable. My local council is proposing a £25 charge for parents of severely disabled children to access respite care. How low is this? It  beggars belief that whilst rich millionaire pensioners enjoy a winter fuel allowance grant, rich children of multi millionaire parents can get a free school lunch age 5-6, disabled children's parents will be charged to
access respite care that is so desperately needed to ease the strain; not just for parents but also the NHS.

So while Cameron and his cronies attend a circus of Christmas drinks and dinner parties, spare a thought for those who wake each morning in dread of the day ahead, where fear, stress and strain are their daily diet, and getting beyond their front door an immense task. This government are guilty of not just narrowing working class horizons, but shutting down working class lives.

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Dear Sir Bob Geldof...

...of course back in 1984/85 you were just plain Bob Geldof. You and your band The Boomtown Rats were adorned across many teenagers walls; myself included. In a time of Thatchers tyranny, you angrily fronted a band of  young skinny men with something to say and a whole heap of attitude. Your marriage to Paula Yates and exotically named eldest daughter Fifi Trixiebelle just cemented your reputation as a modern punk couple living the rock n roll lifestyle we all seemed to find so glamourous and exciting.

At 17/18 years old you were one of my idols, a rebel against society, but a passionate family man with always something to say. You saw the hunger, the poverty, the starving people in Africa and you wanted to change the world. Through your passion, through your unshakable self belief that music could indeed change the African people's lives, we teenagers and also parents and grandparents, stood alongside you Bob, bought "Do they know it's Christmas?" in record numbers and clamoured to get tickets for the unbelievable Band Aid concert on 13th July 1985 at Wembley. You believed and we believed, that if we raised  such a vast amount of money never seen before, we could cure African hunger in one swoop. The images of starving children on the news and in every programme charting the Band Aid phenomenon, was never apologised for. It was necessary. When you coined the phrase 'Give us your f***ing money" we loved you more and contributed more. While we were at it, could we cure world hunger in your name?... Such was the sheer passion of the cause. And you were our rebel leader Bob. You made it all happen. No one said no to you. The pop royalty of the day turned out at your request to perform in a concert in London and a simultaneous concert in Philadelphia, USA. Seeing Phil Collins perform on stage at Wembley then take Concorde at supersonic speed to the USA and perform in Philadelphia on the same day was unforgettable, trailblazing and downright  unheard of. Bob Geldof had thought the unthinkable, and made it happen. We had anointed you Sir Bob, way before you recieved your knighthood.

As for the record 'Do they know it's Christmas?" back  in the day  not many people analysed the lyrics or questioned the way in which money was being raised. Bono rasping out 'Tonight thank God it's them instead of you" may have been a line he didn't like singing, but to us it was simply Bono actually putting our thoughts into song. With the harrowing TV footage, we really did thank God it wasn't us. As for the image of the benevolent West deciding what was in Africa's best interests, I never heard anyone question that matter. Again it was a case of those who have, giving to those who were starving of hunger. Put that in context against a Thatcher government backdrop and we were just happy that we were helping to alleviate the incredible suffering in Africa. Our government was responsible for the start of the "I'm alright Jack" society, but we were the rebels with a social conscience, bucking what was going on in our communities, giving hope to Africa and perhaps even thinking we were giving hope to ourselves too. Bob Geldof and the pop stars involved were giving us a feel good about yourself factor - "Hey we may be skint, struggling or one of the millions of unemployed, but hell there are people starving out there we must help."

Fast forward to the recent events. Sir Bob got together another batch of 2014 pop singers to appeal to this generation of  kids. He had brought Band Aid together for a second version in 2004 which was successful at raising funds for famine relief. It was again a time of  following Sir Bob and euphoria prevailing-we were helping out again. But for this third campaign -a new version of "Do they know it's Christmas "with wording changed to raise money for the new cause - fighting the deadly disease Ebola - questions have been raised, reasons analysed and Sir Bob's halo starting to slip.

It's a very different Britain to 84/85. It's much worse! Thatcher drove much of the working class into poverty, but there were not wide spread cases of starvation and dying due to benefit sanctions as there are now. Foodbank was a term we had never heard of and certainly branches of the Trussell Trust were not seen in thousands of our towns and cities as there are now. So perhaps although this new record is to raise money for Ebola rather than starvation in Africa, many are questioning why money
cannot be raised to ease our own plight in Britain.  Alongside this we live in a very different world than we did in 1984.  We are asking more questions about charitable donations. Who is benefitting? Where is the money going exactly? What are the admin costs? How much money is going to the people actually suffering? Can't we help Africa help itself in a different way? Do the white western people feel smug about helping black Africans?

 We have seen millions of pounds spent on famine relief in Africa, but no structural change in making sure mass starvation does not occur again. Money has gone missing on the African continent to corrupt government officials, thus prolonging their own countries suffering. Feeding the starving simply is not enough. Global changes were needed to make sure the "benevolent West" doesn't have to revisit these scenes every few years, but that structural change has not happened.  Many countries in Africa are still as poor as they were in 1984/85. Now Ebola which is killing people in Africa is being used emotively, as it could soon be on the doorstep of the West in vast numbers. Fling enough money at it and we will make sure the USA and UK do not have to suffer, is what is coming out of this charitable effort.  The record is a third run out which is is also a bit desperate - the thing  has been done and is frankly looking as tired and pained as Sir Bob himself. Adele didn't respond to Geldof as she is raising a family - even  my kids could not name everyone on the new video of the song.

At first I felt admiration for Sir Bob. Over the years he has lost his ex-wife Paula and his own daughter, Peaches to drugs and has had unimaginable personal loss in his life, while stepping in to bring up Paula and  Michael Hutchence's daughter  Heavenly Hirrani, Tiger-Lily. But in one expletive  this week he literally threw off his saintly halo and dashed it to the ground for anyone of  socialist, humanitarian leaning, and threw the shards of glass straight through our hearts. Whilst being interviewed about the re-release of the song for Band Aid 30 he was asked would it simply have been better if the pop stars in the room all,paid their taxes?

"B***ocks" said Sir Bob. When asked again he repeated it - B***ocks

Probably basking in the notion by being taken off air and the interview halted he would be plastered all over the evening news bulletins, thus raising awareness and more money for the record, Sir Bob probably had no idea of  the change of heart from many people 45+ who had been around in 84/85 when he could do no wrong.

Oh Bob. What an awful reply. It was such an opportunity to have a go at the big corporations - Vodafone, Amazon etc. you could even have side stepped pop stars if you needed not to cause offence to your profession. You could have said something along the lines of -

" Lets get the big corporations like Vodafone and Amazon paying their dues in taxes, the multi millionaires paying mansion tax, the bankers being held to account and paying fines for the recession they led us into and f***ing hell we would have the money to fight Ebola within 24 hours!"

Instead whilst indeed you got the kids to download the record in droves, just as I did in vinyl back in 1984 without question, the scales dropped from my eyes and sadly tarnished your image for me and
other Band Aid originals for ever. Why should honest, decent ,struggling working class people pick up the tab to fight Ebola, Sir Bob, when we are the ones struggling like hell to make ends meet in a country where corporations pay next to nothing in tax, pop stars live abroad with their money tucked safely away and a government turns a cold stone heart to its own people?

I have sadly waved goodbye to Bob Geldof: hero, rebel leader, humanitarian, doting dad.
SIR Bob Geldof is part of the Establishment, part of the very force striking daily terror into my working class world.

All I can say is " Tell your compatriots to pay their f***ing taxes Bob and find a cure for Ebola. It can't be down to ordinary people to "dig deep" into empty pockets again. Let this cause be funded by those who have, for the majority of us working class simply have not."

Friday, 7 November 2014

It's our Labour Party: Own it, Campaign for it, Fight for it!

There is  an excellent article written by Jon Wilson on the LabourList site saying that ordinary Labour members as well as MPs have caused the current leadership crisis within the Labour Party. Why? Because we have allowed successive Labour leaders to have, or appear to have, sole power of OUR party.

On this I have to agree wholeheartedly.  Back in the 70s and 80s the Labour Party housed a myriad of opinion from centre left to militant  and we all aired our views - activists, PPC's and MPs - roared our opinions and fought at conference to get our say on policy. At times it felt there were so many opinions and so many views they could not possibly fit into one Labour Party. But when we came into the 1990s and had spent so many years sitting on the opposition benches,  Blair and the doctors of spin (good name for a pop group!) felt the Labour Party needed total reorganisation.

In 1994 when Blair gained the Labour leadership, a process began of gagging the activists, halting MP dissent and a new Presidential style of politics took over. The vision was a Labour victory in 1997. We got it of course and subsequently two further election victories, but the cost to both the party and the wider political arena has been huge, and often detrimental. What we have now  is a party that is gagged by spin. Any other ideas emanating from grass roots activists or MPs is filtered through the spin doctors sieve and analysed like a dissected rat, before being presented to Ed Miliband if it is considered fit for him to see. The cautious back room team, hellbent on getting Labour elected in 2015 on a 35% "just over the line" approach, allow nothing to come to the leaders ears that has not been chewed over continuously.

The back room team and the spin doctors are so woefully out of touch with working class labour activists, so out of touch with anything happening outside of the Westminster bubble, and so cautious about keeping the 35% target in sight, some bewildering "barely there"  policies have been presented to Labour Party members. A whole party therefore has policies made for it in the hands of a tiny percentage of out of touch apparatchiks; making the party look afraid of its own shadow on many occasions.

No MP is permitted to put their head over the official party line, unless they have no personal political ambition within the party, debate with  the left of the party and trade unions is scaled down as worried spin doctors have no answer to the right wing press harping back to the "bad old days" of 70s strikes. A constant worry of appearing to be a socialist party has succeeded in alienating a loyal core working class vote, who have looked to Ukip to provide answers; something  the back room boys had not anticipated.

But we are at fault! It is OUR Labour Party! Instead of tearing our membership cards up in annoyance at the way the party is going, we need to be more active and more vocal and act to shape our party. We moan at MPs who have gone straight from university to politics and have no idea of the way ordinary people feel. Then we need to sit down in our CLPs and elect more diverse parliamentary candidates; more working class, more ethnic minority, more disabled people who live our lives!  So what if a candidate doesn't have the in depth political science knowledge that we have come to expect from potential MPs. We no longer need identikit Labour MPs. We need MPs who passionately believe in the issues affecting ordinary people and seek to work to improve the lot of the working class. We moan we no longer feel able to debate policy at conference. Then we need to make it known within our CLPs we want to change our stage managed conferences and debate the issues and set policy the majority of the party want to see. We don't have to keep matching the Tories in the way we import political styles from the USA. We don't have to put up with being the equivalent of social democrats in America. Our party is still as diverse as it was thirty or forty years ago and still has a myriad of views that need airing. But we need to wrestle back control to Labour activists. Let's hear personal opinions from our MPs, instead of them looking cautiously over their shoulders in case they speak slightly differently from the official party line.

I have heard  people from our own number criticising some candidates as they "don't have the in depth knowledge required" Maybe not, but they will learn soon enough and can let their own life experiences be their guide. The frontbench have their speeches written by back room media staff. Well let's have some personal input and some of their own soul put into their speeches. Let's hear their opinions and not a soulless, gutless party line, devoid of life and colour.

It is OUR Labour Party. Let's ungag it, breathe new life into it, own it, campaign for it, shape it and
fight for it. Its leader should lead it on behalf of us all, representing all the different shades of red within it and welcome its unique diversity and sell it to the electorate on that basis. In turn we get behind our leader and do all we can to ensure he is elected as the next Prime Minister of the Labour Party. His loyalty to us will ensure our loyalty to him.

Monday, 3 November 2014

My CLASS Conference Speech 1st Nov 2014 - Working Class Woman Representation

Imagine a working class woman, educated at the local comprehensive, bright enough to go on to A levels but then marriage and a family come along; not University. One of the children is autistic so any hope of a decent job is plucked away as a full time carers role is the only option. Then picture a car accident that leaves this working class woman disabled with a mobility problem, but nonetheless a burning desire to climb into the political arena and change the narrative. But being outside the ‘political bubble’ it is like being led to a pitch black, dark alleyway with closed doors leading off and told to navigate down it with various hazards on route. Whichever way she turns, she can’t work out the trick to make the doors open because they are controlled by the political elite, politicians and the right wing media who can unlock the doors as they have the correct contacts, the passwords and the secret handshakes.

Then enter Unite the Union and Len McCluskey. With the birth of the new concept of Unite Community that opens up union membership at 50p pw to people who don’t work in the traditional unionised workplaces like carers, the disabled, students, the self employed and retired, the working class woman is opened up to a world of new education: public speaking courses, community activism, setting up a community branch, and access to Unite tutors to help her navigate the political representation route. Unite help out with all the travel costs that previously held this woman back from participation and education. Unite give the woman self belief and self confidence that she WILL be able to change the political narrative and enter the arena, as the courses provide a toolbox of skills she can use.

That woman is hungry to change the austerity story. That woman is me.

In 1979 in Westminster 40% of elected Labour Mps were from a manual or clerical working class background. In 2010 this had dramatically decreased to 9%. Where I live in Wales well over two thirds of the 30 assembly members come from a middle class background of law, PR and heads of public bodies. It is time for change.

While the Labour Party recognises the under representation of women in Westminster, by using All Women Shortlists. It certainly does not recognise the woeful under representation of working class people and disabled people. Watching from the sidelines while people applaud all women shortlists is frustrating. Most of the women selected are from middle class backgrounds. This may even be acceptable if some of the women had working class values. But there is nothing worse than seeing these women and indeed shadow female ministers, lamenting the opportunities and the way in which austerity is effecting the working class, then driving home in their Chelsea tractor to the nanny who has put the kids to bed as she relaxes with a nice glass of claret and looks forward to dinner parties at the weekend!

WALK A MILE IN OUR SHOES. Have your day interrupted by school who want you to turn up ASAP as your child is having a meltdown. It’s the third time in as many weeks and your employer is more than annoyed. Fear of losing your job is a daily worry. My husband and I are self employed and low paid. I have a regular features column in the Morning Star covering topics on working class austerity and political representation. We have 4 sons and we are on working tax credits as a top up to our low pay. Income fluctuates a lot. Now walk round the supermarket with £40 to feed the family for a week. You get innovative, but there is no room for treats or fripperies.

There are working class people living lives the Westminster elite can’t begin to guess at. Not for a month or 6 months but day in and day out all year round on a Tory enforced austerity that affects us the most, the people at the bottom. The Tories have been successful at pitting people against each other; old v young, working poor v poor, able bodied v disabled, men v women. The politics of a selfish, ‘every man for himself’ society. And women are bearing the brunt of austerity the most. But we hate being represented by people who only seem to empathise but have no idea at all what it is like to live our lives.

With the help of Unite I am able to lift my personal barrier to political representation and unravel what is essentially an upper middle class jigsaw to becoming an MP or in Wales an AM. I have this week been accepted onto the list for an AM seat in 2016.

But there needs to be a wholesale cross-party change into how ordinary people can gain access to political representation; how candidates are selected and indeed financial barriers removed entirely as this is what makes it so near impossible to enter politics for working class people of both sexes.

There has been much said in my paper The Morning Star about opportunities for women in politics to job-share on a part time basis. Caroline Murphy the leading businesswoman in construction on the left and campaigner is a huge advocate of the part time job share MP. Cameron and his party are just about to dismantle the Access to Political Office fund in May 2015 for disabled people wishing to enter politics. What was damned hard will be near impossible if this rung of the ladder is taken from us.

My union mentor me and are always there at the end of the phone or by email should I need specific advice. Personally I have made connections via twitter and at the events I attend with many of the trade union group of MPs like Ian Lavery and Grahame Morris who are always happy to offer advice. But that help is not available for women outside of a union environment. There are no courses or mentoring or explanations of the almost impossible political navigation process by the Labour Party. Whilst our selection is undertaken as democratically as possible by CLPS, is this always the right way? For example many disabled candidates are being overlooked the minute they come through the selection door as many of the panel see their health as an issue and a barrier to selection. CLPS are selecting some working class candidates but not enough. However there are more 1st generation university people who still hold dear working class values of solidarity and the strong helping the weak.


For the private school educated Eton boys it’s a smooth stroll to that safe seat in Parliament. For this woman there is Everest to climb. I will do it with the help of my union behind me all the way. Working class people in working class communities deserve to be represented by one of their own. The House of Commons does not look or even think like the electorate. It’s a democratic deficit to be addressed and resolved. Now it’s time to stop talking and time to start acting for the Labour Party.  Let Labour MPS reflect the people who built the party; the bricklayer, the miner, the nurse, the shop worker, the carer. Political reward waits if the party acts; political wilderness if it refuses to listen.

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!