What Kind Of Shared Society Looks Like This?
14 Jan 2017It’ll take more than a speech for Theresa May to convince people that she wants to tackle division in society, writes Diane Abbott MP
WHILE Theresa May made a speech in favour of a “shared society” on Monday, spiralling inequality and division remain in Britain.
Talking of “burning injustices,” the Prime Minister said she will heal the divisions “between a more prosperous older generation and a struggling younger generation; between the wealth of London and the rest of the country; between the rich, the successful and the powerful, and their fellow citizens.”
If these are the standards they have set themselves, then the Tories should be judged on what they have done in government.
Over the last six years, they have systematically failed the majority of people and they have no plan to change course on the key issues that matter.
Under the Tories those at the top have been given tax breaks while everyone else suffers, working people have had vital support cut and our NHS, local government services and others are being run into the ground.
In particular, they have systematically failed in their pledge to “make work pay.”
One in eight workers — 3.8 million people — are now living in poverty. More than half of those in poverty (a total of 13.5 million) are in working households — a record high for in-work poverty, with the number of workers in poverty up 1.1 million in five years. This figure includes 2.6 million children.
Theresa May also failed to lay out a vision of a shared society for all, and her government continues to outline a divisive agenda.
As the journalist Polly Toynbee pointed out in response to the speech: “With nearly 4 million poor children, most in working families, her pleas for the plight of the just about managing above that working tax credit level is unpleasantly divisive, though politically cunning.”
And then are the people who through no fault of your own are not working yet still may get a benefit of just £73 a week (about a quarter of the minimum wage for a 40-hour week.)
We saw the difference between Labour and the Tories clearly at Prime Minister’s Questions this week, where Jeremy Corbyn quizzed Theresa May on what the Red Cross has termed a “humanitarian crisis” in the NHS.
These warnings from the Red Cross join others from the Royal College of Nurses, the British Medical Association and Royal College of Physicians in recent weeks about the severe and growing pressures on our NHS.
Yet just days after committing to the shared society, the PM buried her head in the sand about the crisis in one of the most treasured and enabling institutions in our society, saying the Red Cross statement was “irresponsible and overblown.”
As Jeremy put it: “Earlier this week the PM said she wanted to create a shared society. We’ve certainly got that. More people sharing hospital corridors on trolleys […] more people sharing in anxiety created by this government.”
To take a further specific example, Theresa May promised a new focus on mental health in her speech as part of creating this shared society.
Yet, as Andrew Gywnne MP, Labour shadow minister without portfolio said: “Mental health is a case study in Tory failure. Repeatedly the Tories give speeches saying they will give mental health parity with physical health, but their record is dismal: spending on mental health fell by £600m in the last parliament, money intended for children’s mental health goes to other priorities and there are thousands fewer mental health nurses than when the Tories came to power.”
We are sharing the diminishing of other public services than the NHS too — be it in the provision of social care; education where school budgets will lose £477 per secondary pupil per year; the lack of resourcing of our police; the closure of libraries and children’s services due to the squeeze on local authorities and so forth.
The truth is you can’t have continuing austerity — as Chancellor Philip Hammond’s Autumn Statement pledged — and the state giving the extra help needed to enable a more shared society.
In contrast to this approach, Labour is calling for the scrapping of the government’s plans to slash corporation tax and extra investment to boost growth in our economy.
The corporation tax cut of is worth almost £15 billion by 2021 and is equivalent to the cost of employing 10,000 teachers, 10,000 police officers and 12,000 nurses, full-time, every year, for a decade.
And particularly worryingly, alongside this new slogan of a shared society, there is also the continuing from the Tory benches of a toxic narrative of scapegoating some of the most vulnerable in society for our problems.
Rather than develop an agenda which can address the chaos in British society and the economic challenges following the EU referendum, they have engaged in an anti-foreigner, anti-immigrant distraction.
The crisis of NHS funding? Blame foreigners. How will we secure funding for our universities? Blame foreigners. How do we address the crisis of productivity and low wages? Blame foreigners.
But in reality this approach is a dead end — it will be catastrophic for our trade, for public services and for our economy.
They are putting a politically toxic agenda, focussed on attacking migrants, ahead of the needs of our economy and public services.
As Jeremy Corbyn has put it: “Drawing up lists of foreign workers won’t stop unscrupulous employers undercutting wages in Britain, shutting the door to international students won’t pay young people’s tuition fee debts and ditching doctors from abroad won’t cut NHS waiting lists.”
In contrast to the Tories, Labour is the party of our public services, of people’s rights and of protecting living standards.
The Tory plans outlined since May became Prime Minister will continue to damage all three and we will vigorously oppose them all the way.
* From https://www.morningstaronline.co.uk/a-2dec-What-kind-of-shared-society-looks-like-this