Kicking the poor

LABOUR leader Ed Miliband last Monday issued a statement on future Labour policy and admitting Labour has made mistakes in the past. Then went on to show he’d missed the biggest mistakes (Iraq, Afghanistan, retaining nuclear weapons and so on) by saying the party had given the impression it was soft on the irresponsible people at the top of society — the bankers — (correct!) and the irresponsible at the bottom of society (not correct).

And he followed Blair, Brown and Cameron by taking another kick at those at the bottom of society — those least able to defend themselves who are currently being kicked from all sides in the media.

Miliband said that in future under Labour those who make a contribution by working or by volunteering would be given priority in social housing. No one would argue that workers need and deserve priority. But the implication was that people on benefits would have to wait longer.

Miliband did, to his credit, admit that the disabled should also have priority and that more social housing is needed — but this was buried deep in his statement and was not taken up by the media.

He utterly failed to make a stand on behalf of those at the bottom of society who are now being demonised and assaulted from all angles.

He failed to attack the Con-Dems for cutting away the support services — like affordable childcare — that allow the vulnerable to seek for work. And he failed to attack the Con-Dems for cutting so many jobs and throwing hundreds of thousands of workers on to benefits — and into the ranks of those being demonised.

He also failed to point out that all the Government’s pressure on long-term benefit claimants to get into rubbish low-paid jobs will make no difference at all to the total benefits bill. Every time these schemes get one person into a job it means someone else does not get that job so the total number of claimants remains the same.

The Con-Dems and the media have also been demonising council tenants in general. A pundit in the London Evening Standard recently declared that “no one has a God-given right to a home” — implying homes should be the prerogative of the well off.

No one has a “God-given right” to anything. Human rights are awarded by human society. The concept of human rights, protected in law, goes back to the Persian Emperor Darius but in modern society the right to enjoy one’s home is enshrined in the Human Rights Act.

Miliband also failed to defend council tenants’ rights to enjoy their homes and not to be falsely accused of being spongers on taxpayers. The level of rent paid by most council tenants — even those who get some housing benefit — more than covers the costs of construction and maintenance of their homes. The older a council house is, the more revenue it will have garnered for the local authority over the years. Council with lots of council houses have a permanent reliable source of revenue from them.

The reason why private rents are so much higher is to do with the housing market, the shortage of homes and with greedy landlords. This is not the fault of council tenants.

The proper way to cut the housing benefit bill is to pass a Rent Act to curb the charges that private landlords can make — they are the ones who actually get the benefit money, not the tenants. And of course a huge council house building programme is needed to provide good homes for people who need them.

This would, of course, burst the over-inflated housing market bubble and bring down the price of homes making them more affordable for workers. But it would deprive landlords, speculators, banks and mortgage companies of the opportunity to make a fortune out of the desperate need of working people for a roof over their heads.

Miliband should stop trying to please everyone, continue to stand up for the “squeezed middle” but more important he should make a stand for the utterly crushed at the bottom.

Better still, the Labour Party should replace Miliband with John McDonnell who will stand up for the growing numbers of workers who find themselves on the scrap heap and at the bottom.