In My View… by Lesley Carty, Secretary, South East Cornwall Labour
When there’s an injustice which has reached such proportions that the Archbishop of Canterbury himself speaks out about it, isn’t it time to sit up and take notice? In a much-reported speech, he said “We now know about 45% of people who attend food banks have at least one person in work… and when Universal Credit comes into a local area” there is a “heightened risk of hunger, debt, rent arrears…”
Since the growth of the gig economy, zero-hours contracts and high levels of self-employment – a particular problem in South-East Cornwall – more and more people are trying to manage without job security or adequate hours, earning so little they are unable to save. Archbishop Welby called this “the reincarnation of an ancient evil”.
It is not so very long ago – within living memory for some – that the ideal of a welfare state was something we were proud of in this country. Social Security, as it used to be called, was just that. Any one of us can fall ill at any time; any family might find themselves with a disabled child to support; any of us might suddenly be made redundant; and in the ordinary course of nature, all of us will grow old. Knowing that there is a safety net there for such times is vital if we are to live without constant stress and anxiety; and that safety net is no longer there.
The recent changes to the welfare system particularly penalise disabled people, many of whom have seen incomes cut, help to live independent lives taken away, and are forced to go through humiliating examinations carried out by people who do not have adequate medical qualifications.
Here in South-East Cornwall, where Universal Credit was introduced last December, there are some fabulous local initiatives doing their best to help. One of those is the new Wesley Online Centre, providing computer support for people who need to be online to apply for Universal Credit. Another is the children’s clothes bank run by Liskeard Community Action, where a group of young parents who know just what it means to bring up children under the conditions of this government’s austerity programme, cheerfully sort, swap and share children’s clothes, and support the most vulnerable in a variety of practical ways.
All this is important. But it’s not enough. As Archbishop Welby said “Today I dream that governments, now and in the future, put church-run food banks out of business… genuine living wages that enable people to save… an end to the days when replacing a fridge or a car tyre is a household crisis…”
Many of us joined the Labour Party because we want to do more than just fire-fight the frightening levels of poverty in our community. SE Cornwall Labour is calling for an end to austerity, for an end to Universal Credit, and a return to a Social Security system which values everyone and is fit for purpose.
First published in The Cornish Times, 11/01/19