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

Sunday, 3 February 2013

Combating Poverty - What is to be done?

The study of poverty and its impact on working people is not new. Phillips Kay-Shuttleworth was a doctor practising in Manchester when in 1832 he produced his report “Condition of the Working Classes”. A humane and enlightened social reformer he laid bare the degradation suffered by working people in England - “the most pauperised country in Europe”.

The wheel turns and 180 years later we now see report after report from Islington, York, Manchester, Liverpool and Newcastle describing a society where large inequalities of income are divisive and corrosive. A society where grinding poverty is destroying the hopes and aspirations of working people.

In the North West of England UNISON made a detailed submission to the Greater Manchester Poverty Commission and former Regional Secretary Frank Hont was a member of the Liverpool Fairness Commission. In the North East UNISON and TUC Northern Region have been involved in the work of the Newcastle group.

The reports from all these commissions include personal testimonies of the day to day problems austerity brings.

Employment is more insecure and job change is widespread; men and women working over their contracted hours; working hours cut; household income frozen as expenditure rises and working families “squeezed” by their obligations to the next and previous generations.

Most people express real fears about the future for their children and for young people in general.

All important, all relevant but what about recommendations, solutions, practical steps?

Almost without exception they recommend introduction of a Living Wage of £7.45 per hour - and a Living Wage that reaches beyond the public sector.

Detailed recommendations are made on affordable energy; on the promotion and support of credit unions; on tackling food poverty; on cheaper public transport and affordable childcare for working families; and the need to restrict the activities of pay day loan sharks.

Poverty breeds fear, loneliness and depression. It means insecurity, lack of control and uncertainty.

Here and now our movement has to continue the struggle. We have to keep on keeping on in the tradition of those who went before us.

UNISON has always been a campaigning trade union and if there is a time to step up it is now. Recommendations, proposals, calls to action are published on a daily basis in the name of fairness and we have a duty to have our say - to speak up for working people.

There is a narrative of compassion and a sense of unity in the air but it won’t last if people don’t see some action. Our challenge as a progressive trade union is to make sure that if the long promised economic growth materialises it does not come at the expense of progress on social issues.

We owe that to UNISON members and previous generations of activists. There is such a thing as society and we helped create it. We are not about to give up on it now.