Wage War On Poverty And Cuts

SIX YEARS of New Labour has done little to narrow the huge gap between wealth and poverty in Britain.

Cllr Dave Nellist, leader, Socialist Group, Coventry City Council

The government’s latest scheme, of Child Tax Credits and Working Tax Credits, has left thousands of families worse off. As one system of family support ended at the beginning of April its replacement staggered in – a badly organised, poorly funded, complicated means-tested way of subsidising low wages and badly paying employers.

Local councils up and down the country are also grossly underfunded – the legacy of 18 years of Tory starvation of local authorities, coupled with six years of New Labour’s love affair with private business at the expense of local services. Social services, education and housing are stretched, often to breaking point.

What new capital funding is on offer, for urgently needed modernisation or refurbishment of schools and other essential services, is tied to complex private finance initiative (PFI) schemes. These are designed to guarantee profits for Labour’s big business friends, whilst shackling communities with private companies dominating essential public services for a generation.

PFI is outrageously expensive, and it leads to cuts in services. Hundreds of thousands of pounds is being spent on each scheme on consultants designing complex 25 year contracts. These have built in profit margins for the unelected private companies who will own, operate and determine the shape of local services.

Once established on a PFI basis, much of the openness of local authority finance will disappear on the grounds of ‘commercial confidentiality’. Public services should be publicly owned, democratically run and accountable.

Socialist alternative

But there is a socialist alternative. Socialist Party members are standing candidates in the local elections on 1 May in several areas and for the Welsh Assembly (see page 2 for full details). They are determined to fight cuts and closures, and to campaign for more resources for hard-pressed communities.

It’s not a lack of money that prevents things “getting better”. Gordon Brown pledged a “blank cheque” for the invasion of Iraq, and so far £3 billion has been identified. That’s over £50 for every man, woman and child in the country. For a city the size of Coventry, for example, that’s equivalent to £15 million – money that could have made a serious dent in the years of cumulative underfunding of social services, recently branded by the National Audit Commission as one of the worst local services in the country.

It’s not that Britain is a poor country – its economy is supposedly the fourth richest in the world. But, given a choice, New Labour would rather support George Bush’s empire building in the Middle East, invading and recolonising Iraq on behalf of the oil multinationals, than conduct a serious war on poverty in Britain.

The war may be over – but the ballot box is still open.

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