By Gail Cartmail, Unite assistant general secretary
Every day we can see the stark effects of austerity Britain. Up and down our high streets once thriving centres are now the preserves of betting shops, charity shops and the most iniquitous of all ‘money’ shops.
And it is not just the internet that has driven retail shops from our high streets. It is the grotesque impact of austerity and misery caused by this callous, heartless Tory-led coalition government.
We are a rich country yet we are told that Labour spent too much on public services. And because of that Britain can no longer afford them. Well I have a simple question ‘how can we afford not to? How can we continue to have a society where a CEO of a blue chip company can earn £4.3 million while a UK worker gets just £26,500?
We can and should mourn the grossly unfair impact of the austerity addicted government's policies on the health and wellbeing of our children and young people. Britain cries out for skilled workers yet the government scrapped the Educational Maintenance Allowance (EMA). The EMA was a lifeline for young people from low income families, enabling many to stay on at further education. Now it’s abolished, gone. Killed off by the Tories with the collusion of the Liberal Democrats.
We know that the Tories are determined to use the economic crisis as an opportunity to shrink the welfare state. And we are feeling the impact not only in education but also health. Inequality is on a scale not seen since the 1930s.
We are also back to long waiting lists and our accident and emergency departments are being put under enormous strain. The NHS - one of our proudest achievements – will be increasingly driven by profit and not healthcare. Andy Burnham, shadow secretary of state for health has committed a future government to repealing the Health and Social Care Act. Today Ed Balls, shadow chancellor, reaffirmed this commitment. We welcome this. But we’d also like to see the market taken out of the NHS.
When knocking on doors out campaigning before the last election one of Labour’s most popular policies was Sure Start. David Cameron, remember before the election pledged to keep them. He broke that pledge. Now there are 500 fewer Sure Start centres across the country and a 40 per cent reduction in early intervention funding.
We now have one of the most expensive childcare systems within the OECD. Well here is a pledge Labour will keep. Ed Balls announced that a future Labour government would expand free childcare for three and four year olds from 15 to 25 hours per week for working parents. With childcare costs having almost doubled since 2003 this policy will start the process of making childcare affordable.
The assaults on working people have continued unabated. School nursing service have been greatly scaled down. Professional youth workers have been cut. We’ve had the widespread removal of universal youth services and while pundits talk of economic green shoots youth unemployment stands at almost one million. That’s a disgrace.
With less than two years before the election there are the policies that we believe will be popular as well as being the right ones for a Labour government to bring in. We need to turn this tanker around and create hope and confidence - for children, young people, their parents and carers. Unite is calling for:
- The reinstatement of EMA
- Universal free access to higher and further education
- Ringfenced funding for Sure Start centres
- A school nursing service to promote healthy lifestyles and support young adolescents to help them make choices that will prevent early unwanted pregnancy
- A statutory and universal youth service
- A universal system of good quality childcare supported by a qualified workforce
The cost to our country of neglecting the health, welfare and development of our children and young people is immeasurable.
We can do it. We’ve done it before. After the second world war the Labour government under Attlee brought in the NHS and gave birth to the welfare state for all. There are simple things we can do. We should not hesitate to use procurement to lever in high quality apprenticeships. A future Labour government could introduce a levy on companies not pulling their weight in offering apprenticeships for young people to earn as they learn. And a future Labour government would benefit from the introduction of an independent careers advice service offering face to face interviews to young people
Austerity is not working for our country's children and young people - we cannot abandon a generation so let us pledge to end the raw deal and bring in a 'real deal' – that replaces despair with hope.
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