23 May 2009

The Labour government has failed on child poverty. It will not meet its target of halving it by next year and the target to abolish it by 2020 will sink. The numbers of children in poverty actually went up in 2007/08, the last year for which figures are available.

Some good work has been done, especially before 2005, as Labour half-heartedly tackled the leftover misery of an uncivilised version of Toryism which doubled the number of children in poverty after 1979. Labour had to balance on one hand the need to encourage enterprise and justly enable the reward of achievement and on the other hand the need to redistribute wealth to help those with life’s short straw. That takes skill and resolve and the disagreeable truth is that the Labour government lacked them. It also lacked the courage to challenge the self-absorbed to see beyond themselves and see a society; and it did not understand, for all the chatter of a moral compass and religion, the difference between rewarding success and indulging greed.

It didn’t have to be like this. There has been enough money since 1997 to achieve the noble ambition. Yes, it might well be impossible to persuade most of the wealthy that the children of the poor deserve a break. It takes political and moral skill and determination to persuade middling workers, who are the vast majority and who often struggle themselves, that children in poverty should be a major priority, that there is a bill that must be paid. It takes courage to make them a priority. A supine Labour government wasn’t up to the task.

At the same time we learn that income inequality, different from but related to poverty, is at its highest since the 1960s; yes, higher than when the Thatcher Tory government deregulated and encouraged me-now greed and set Britain on the course to the present financial miasma. The Gini coefficient is at its highest since records began. Three terms of Labour are ending like this with only the minimum wage and perhaps Sure Start as lights in the dark, though the latest increase in the wage is derisory.

This government was supposed to be about the many not the few, about opening up the possibilities of life for everyone, about helping the vulnerable. However, overshadowing the good and hard work of the party and its councillors and candidates in Cornwall and locally elsewhere, Labour 1997-2009/10 will be remembered for timidity, failures, and a bathplug. I am vastly disappointed.

Note on the mandatory minimum wage

From October the mandatory national minimum wage will be £5.80 an hour for people aged twenty two and over, an increase of 7p an hour over the October 2008 rate. This is the smallest money increase since the wage began in 1999 and is a 1.2 percent increase. For people aged 18-22 it will be £4.83, an increase of 6p an hour, and for people aged 16-17 it will be £3.57, an increase of 4p an hour. The recommendation of the Low Pay Commission that people over twenty one (rather than twenty two) should be entitled to the full wage will be implemented from October 2010, after the next general election. See Hansard 12 May 2009 column 40WS.

Related post: Work for peanuts in Cornwall . The second reading of the Tory bill is due 12 June 2009.