Karen Constantine asks where does Starmer’s refusal to commit to ending the benefits cap leave Labour’s anti-poverty drive
Many activists were aghast to hear that the Labour Party isn’t removing the pernicious Tory two child only Universal Credit cap. Under the Conservatives it’s basically “tough” if you have a larger family – apart from twins and where a child is born as a result of a rape, the third and fourth child can suffer. It’s a heartless and costly policy in the long term.
With a 20% poll lead Labour are on course for a General Election victory, but caution is needed. Labour might win a battle but lose a war. To be really successful we need to win at least two if not three terms in office to eviscerate the right wing, and to undo the financial and social damage. It’s the biggest challenge we face – and we need every vote we can possibly attract at the next and successive elections.
The Times reports that “about 75 per cent of those switching from the Tories to Labour say their main motivation is unhappiness with the government rather than enthusiasm for opposition plans.” We need to attract voters to our policies and ethics and not merely gain a win based on the undoubted unpopularity of the Conservatives. That’s a business model approach, but we are about values – aren’t we?
Labour has always been the party of equality, it has built its reputation on championing the poor and those who have suffered under thirteen years of austerity, and has traditionally been innovative in rolling back poverty. It’s why we developed Sure Start Centres – which proved so popular. During the Blair years, Gordon Brown as Chancellor and Labour leader had specific objectives to reduce poverty amongst families with children and drove ground-breaking legislation to achieve this aim. Brown was the determined architect of policies that led to a dramatic decline in child poverty at a time when more than 2.8 million children lived in poverty. Brown lifted a million kids off the breadline. Had Labour remained in power, that trajectory towards our zero child poverty target would have continued. Compare that to the current Conservative record – in 2021/22 4.2M children were in poverty – 29% of all children.
For a large section of our community the cost of living crisis isn’t new. In a recent survey the ONS revealed: “One in 20 adults report running out of food and being unable to afford more as prices soared. Single parents were particularly vulnerable.”
The Joseph Rowntree Foundation have also detailed the scale of the problem, “nine in ten (87%) low-income households on Universal Credit have gone without at least one essential for the third survey in over a year.”
That’s 7.3 million households going without…
Child poverty impacts a child on a physical and socio-emotional context. It shortens life expectancy and undermines quality of life, including educational attainment and career success, it causes depression and anxiety that lasts into adulthood. People living in the most deprived areas will die nine years younger than that those in the richest.
Poverty affects more than one in four children in the UK today. And any family can suddenly find their circumstances so changed that they fall on hard times, and making ends meet becomes difficult. It’s easy to fall foul, little wonder many heartland voters are baffled by Keir Starmer’s policy on the two child cap, describing him as “gripped by timidity”.
Is Labour so determined to be seen as balancing the books that it will do so by continuing acceptance and implementation of the austerity measures imposed on the most vulnerable by the Conservatives? Justifiably earning criticism of being Tory light.
I had hoped that at the recent National Policy Forum this decision would have been reversed, not only because it’s morally the right thing to do (as Harold Wilson said, “the Labour Party is a moral crusade or it is nothing.”) but because I, like many others, will find it difficult to knock doors in those wards in my division where child poverty is running at fifty per cent and growing. How can we enthuse people to vote – because what difference will Labour actually make? I’m not at all sure I have an adequate response.