Jan Royall on why the latest Cameron-Clegg love in will do nothing for those struggling in our country
A new year and a new Coalition love in at the top. It’s all good theatre and even sounds good but, as my Mum used to say, “warm words butter no parsnips”. And that really sums it all up. Six areas of reform were highlighted by the happy couple, but rather than new policies that could bring about real change in people’s lives, the Prime Minister and his Deputy just offered warm words, reannouncements or a new spin on existing policy. In the ‘national’ interest? I think not. Rather that of two parties whose common interest is power.
How many times can you announce new plans to improve infrastructure? Money has even been allocated by the Treasury but government inaction together with industry’s lack of confidence in the economy means that progress is simply not being made. Meanwhile output in the construction industry fell by 2.5% in the third quarter of 2012.
Young people searching for jobs, those having to make do with part-time work on low pay, families whose living standards are being squeezed, small businesses needing a loan and women juggling the demands of full time care because day care is no longer available for their loved ones: all are desperate for change and desperate for hope. They deserve a government that understands their needs and is on their side.
Mr Cameron and Mr Clegg say that they “were elected to serve the common good” but evidence shows that they have failed on growth and jobs, the cost of living is soaring and the benefits bill is set to soar by £13.6bn higher than forecast. All the while society is struggling, with social services shrinking, youth services decimated and the voluntary sector over-burdened at the same time as its funding is slashed.
Sadly one of the fastest growing sectors is food banks. I pay tribute to the organisations and their fantastic staff, but the growing need for their services is an affront to our country in the 21st century. It isn’t that people want to rely on food banks – they can’t, as only those in crisis can be referred by front line care services; but on occasion a food-box is a lifeline that sustains a family. I recently popped into the Gloucester food bank, where the number of people being helped has risen exponentially. Tangible proof that more people really are struggling to feed themselves and their families for a variety of reasons – redundancy, illness, benefit delay, domestic violence and debt – and with the rising cost of food and fuel, unemployment and benefit changes the situation is likely to get worse.
It is not only those who are out of work who need the help. In many cases it is people on low wages who simply haven’t been able to budget for the latest utility bill. And it isn’t only in the larger towns and cities where the need is growing. In my own area, in addition to the one in Gloucester, there are already food banks in Stroud, Cheltenham and Cirencester and we are about to open one locally in the Forest of Dean. Of course I will do everything that I can to help them, but I am ashamed that it is necessary. I also know that the people who will be referred will go there as a last resort because they are in crisis and want to support their families.
Food banks, no matter how good, do not provide an answer to the growing problems of poverty. They provide invaluable help for people who are hungry and on the edge of their capacity to cope.
These people need a Labour government that will stimulate growth in our economy leading to jobs but which will also provide support for those who cannot work. A government that will take action to rebuild our economy and our society and give people hope rather than fear for the future. People don’t want relaunches from those whose policies have led to despair and division. They want a One Nation government that will listen, act and bring our country together to overcome the challenges we face.
Baroness Jan Royall of Blaisdon is Labour’s Leader in the House of Lords
Published 8th January 2013