UK must keep aid promise

Cameron needs to show leadership on poverty

AT THE Make Poverty History march five years ago, almost a quarter of a million people marched through my constituency of Edinburgh East to demand more action on fighting global poverty.

Before the election the Labour Government had draft legislation committing 0.7% of national income to overseas aid. In January 2010 David Cameron said he would honour this commitment to overseas aid, as well as holding other governments to their commitments. These promises were made regardless of the Budget deficit.

As the first session of Parliament drew to a close, Nick Clegg made a very quiet announcement that blamed the deficit for breaking the international aid promise Edinburgh campaigned for in 2005.

With Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell, he admitted the new government is backtracking on its promise of early legislation to lock in the 0.7% aid spending commitment from 2013.

The promise to a generation by Labour – that our country would play its full and committed part in Making Poverty History – was quietly dropped by its Tory/Lib Dem successors.

DFID Aid

David Cameron has already let us down. At the G8 and G20 meetings in Canada, our Prime Minister was supposed to be showing leadership but instead he stood by whilst other members went back on their word to honour the Millennium Development Goals.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon will host a crucial ‘Review Summit’ in New York in September, where there will be a stock-take of progress towards meeting the Millennium Development Goals. David Cameron has the opportunity to ensure the goals are met.

I hope my constituents, and all those who marched in 2005 to ensure the promises of the Millennium Goals were made, will now join me in demanding that when he attends the summit, the new Prime Minister ensures they are kept.

Published in the Edinburgh Evening News Mouthpiece Saturday 7 August 2010.

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Recycling – Tory style

The Tories are good at recycling – recycling of old policies that is!  This week Cameron was suggesting that council and housing association tenancies should not be ‘for life’ . To justify this we get talk about people living in ‘subsidised’ housing who are well enough off not to need the subsidy.  Back in the early 1980s exactly this argument was used to justify removing the direct subsidy to council house rents – anyone else remember the tales of ‘people in council houses with Jags at the door’?   Rents did rise as a result of this, although because the subsidy was never that huge on the whole council and HA rents remained ‘affordable’.  Since then the subsidy has only come to assist new build housing, but that does help with all rents since it makes it possible to build more houses without having to raise existing tenants’ rents too high. The other ‘subsidy’ made is to people to help them afford rent ie Housing benefit – but that’s a subject worthy of a post of its own.

And don’t imagine that this was just Cameron talking off the top of his head as some of the Lib Dems in the Coalition have tried quickly to say. The current English housing minister Grant Shapps was on the Today programme one morning explaining and defending the policy. He and others have been floating such policies through Tory think tanks and policy papers for some time. Maybe the LibDems should have had a look at some of these before ‘signing up’.

Grant Shapps

Tory Housing Minister Grant Shapps

I know that even if introduced this wouldn’t apply in Scotland – but it’s yet another pointer to where the Tories are headed.

As a solution to housing supply shortages it would have limited effect anyway – in Edinburgh (and many English cities will be similar) over three quarters of  council tenants are on housing benefit. Some of these are in work but with incomes so low that they qualify for HB.  Many of those not on HB are retired people with modest works pensions which make them ineligible for HB – and surely even Cameron & Shapps aren’t proposing moving this group on?

The people who really need a subsisided affordable rented house most are actually those who are in work or who want to get into work. In my last post I mentioned how often the Tories talk about ‘making work pay’.  Having access to affordable rented homes is a big help. As so often at the moment with coalition policy announcements it’s not clear that the left and right hands are talking to one another (and that’s inside the Tory party itself).

If  those who ‘work hard’ or are fortunate enough to find employment are pushed out of council and HA housing it will further reduce the sector to being a ghetto of ‘welfare housing’ – something the sector has been working hard to get away from in the last few years with the emphasis on mixed tenure communities.

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Looking glass world

Sometimes listening to the Coalition Government’s pronouncements it sounds as if they really do care about poverty and disadvantage, about inequality and so on. For instance they sound off about how important it is to make work pay and that being able to work is a route out of poverty. So far so good, and little different from various policies that Labour pursued in power. But then you look at the small print – literally the small print in the case of the Budget Red Book where one of the tables shows that the proportion of people who suffer a 90% marginal ‘tax’ as their income increases (tax is in inverted commas because most of this effect is caused by loss of benefit) will actually increase under their proposals!

The proposal to stop tax credits at a much lower level of income might sound good on one level (why ‘waste’ benefits on people who don’t need it say the Tories) but the ‘taper’ on tax credits was deliberately set high in order to help people with families be better off in work than not.   Whatever the ‘warm words’ the actions head off in a different direction.

MoneyMuch coalition eloquence has been given to saying that people should not be abandoned to long term out of work benefits like invalidity benefit and the Labour Government is blamed for creating this situation. However this very much started with the last Tory Government which used invalidity benefit as a way of reducing unemployment figures.  To hear some of the Tories speak you would think that Labour was actively encouraging this – whereas in fact the Labour government was actively addressing this – too actively in the view of many critics from voluntary organisations and disability groups who accused Labour of being ‘too tough’.

So what is all this rhetoric about?  I suppose no Government of any political hue would nowadays say anything other than that they want to reduce poverty and disadvantage . But I think something else is going on – a softening up of the public for substantial changes.  Talk a lot about ‘making it worthwhile to work’ and everyone will nod in agreement – but maybe not notice if this is achieved by reducing out of work benefits rather than improving the lot of those in work. Talk a great deal about  far too many people unnecessarily on invalidity benefits, and maybe people will swallow some serious reductions in benefits for people with disabilities.

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