There are many reasons why our country and communities across Mid-Bedfordshire would benefit from a Labour Government. I could draw up a very long list but, for me today, one of the most pressing reasons is what is happening to our children and young people under the Conservative Government.
Child poverty stands at the highest level since Labour was in Government in 2009/10. There are four million children in the UK now living in relative poverty and figures show that in-work poverty continues to grow.
This in one of the world’s wealthiest economies is immoral and unacceptable. It does not have be like this. Under the last Labour Government child poverty was falling. It can and should fall again. It should be eradicated. The current situation is a deliberate policy choice by the Conservative Government.
The Government is cutting tax credits; introducing Universal Benefits in cack-handed way; imposing benefit caps and benefit sanctions; and cutting housing benefit entitlements. These actions are political choices. They are harming children, young people and their families.
In addition to these measures the Government has overseen and continues to oversee cuts to critical public services such as Sure Start, children and young people’s mental health services, youth services and much more. School budgets are being cut with teachers and other critically important school staff being made redundant – as if the state sector had better funding and a better teacher to learner ratio than the ‘independent’ schools favoured by many Conservative politicians. These cuts, and the underlying policy, harm children and young people. They also damage the long term economic prospects of our country.
There is a serious lack of affordable housing and decent social housing across the country and in Mid-Bedfordshire.
Good housing, excellent health services, access to open space and leisure services and a decent family income are all critical to children and young people, their educational achievements and their future life choices. Labour is right to campaign for all of these and in our manifesto we set out how we would make significant improvements to all of these and how we would invest in our schools.
Labour is also committed to re-introducing the Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA), which was one of the many progressive policy initiatives of the Tony Blair Government. Of course, the Conservatives together with the Liberal Democrats scrapped EMAs at the same time as scrapping the Child Trust Fund initiative and trebling university tuition fees.
No objective commentator could describe the current Conservative Party as the friend and champion of children and young people.
As a party Labour must be continuously campaigning. There are many issues on which to campaign – not only against the harsh reality of the Conservative programme but even more importantly for Labour’s progressive alternative.
I suggest that one important set of issues for us to campaign are those that impact on children and young people.
We can mount a campaign in Mid-Bedfordshire based on
· reducing and ending child poverty
· investing in Sure Start, schools, health services for children and young people – especially mental health services, the development of skills, apprenticeships and FE
· building affordable homes and social housing
· abolishing university and FE fees and re-introducing maintenance allowances
· restoring the EMA for 16 year olds
· extending the franchise to 16 year olds
· putting VAT on ‘independent’ school fees
· introducing free school meals for all primary age children
· making all local schools integral to local communities and accountable to them
Personally, I would go further and advocate a wealth tax levy to fund a new Child Trust Fund scheme.
I am sure that Labour will evolve its policies over the coming period but meanwhile we have a very credible and exciting set of policies for a campaign aimed at fairness equality and opportunity for all children and young people.
We know that our agenda was popular in the recent general election. Let’s get back out there and campaign!
John Tizard, Mid Beds Labour