UNISONActive is an unofficial blog produced by UNISON activists for UNISON activists. Bringing news, briefings and events from a progressive left perspective.

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Make 2012 the year to tackle poverty

The excellent piece on UNISONActive (Review of 2011) rightly provided an analysis of the challenges that we face as an organising union. For 2012 the overwhelming issue has to be tackling the poverty that is creeping and blighting the lives of our members and our communities throughout the UK. It is children in particular who suffer the consequences: http://www.jrf.org.uk/sites/files/

Almost all households in the bottom tenth by income are in fuel poverty, as are half of households in the second bottom tenth. The proportion of children living in low income households that were going without ‘essential’ items for reasons of cost was higher in 2009/10 than in 2005/06. For essential items you can read this to be a warm coat, a mattress to sleep on or shoes that fit,

Over 1 million UK children do not have access to the internet causing them to fall behind in school work increasingly reliant on web-based learning for homework and projects. And poverty doesn’t just affect families. Accordingly to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation the poverty rate for working-age adults without dependent children is now 20%, the highest since 1997, and an increase of 5% in a decade.

The coalition government panacea policy of a universal credit system will make matters worse not better; Poverty needs to be tackled not only by fair taxation and regulation on fuel and other pricing mechanism but by an effective industrial policy that recognises the value of a living wage and employment. The Government is failing on every count. The take-home pay of our members and our ability to protect them from spiralling into further poverty and hardship will be our critical fight of 2012.

On the issue of poverty we have to take on Miliband as well as Cameron and Clegg. UNISON has always championed the underdog and tackled the sometimes controversial or complex issues that have not always enjoyed the overwhelming support of our members. The failure of Miliband has been to allow the Tories to shift the debate onto one of economic austerity instead of a political debate about the social issues that effective economic policy can tackle.

UNISON's labourlink needs to remind Labour that whilst it should be humble about its failures on many counts of poverty we should celebrate, instead of hiding from the victories on key indicators in tackling poverty, such as raising the living standards of pensioners, improving the gaps between educational attainment of the highest earners and the poorest and the impact of some progressive taxation in tackling poverty amongst the lowest earning families. These were not accidents of policy they were social strategies that were starting to have a real impact.

The austerity measures of de facto wage cuts and job losses in the public sector will catapult us back into the economic madhouse and chronic poverty of Thatcher’s Britain. UNISON needs to continue the fight for our members and those in working class communities across Britain and take the political territory back onto the issue that matters. But Miliband and the [still] new labour cronies need to wake and smell the coffee and do the same. We must tackle poverty and get it back at the heart of the political agenda. To do that we need to start the battle on pay and jobs today.

Anna Rose

More posts on child poverty