Seeing Red is my regular column in The Isle of Thanet News. This opinion piece was first published on October 13 2019.
The Labour Party succeeded in taking back control of Thanet District Council on October 10. Whilst we obviously welcome this, we are keenly aware of the enormous challenge on our hands to start to deal with the complicated issues and challenges in Thanet that concern so many, and sadly blight lives. We are up for that challenge. We know, for instance, in some wards child poverty is running at historically high rates. In Newington 51% of children live below the breadline. This must be reversed.
Thanet is caught between a rock and a hard place. A very hard place. It’s the poor relative to the rest of largely wealthy Kent. Our County Council do not choose to use their phenomenal £1.1b budget to assist us, nor to help boost our local economic outlook. For instance, there was no financial assistance forthcoming to save Montague House, a privately run home for the elderly in Eastcliff.
This means vulnerable and aged residents will have to be moved. Local jobs may be lost. Nor are Thanet contracts offered to local companies to help create local jobs. The recent Margate Turner prize has seen lucrative contracts and much needed work being awarded to companies outside Thanet. Labour favour a community wealth building approach where we create wealth in our own local economy that more directly benefits residents.
Nationally we know the picture for many people is bleak. 14 million people are living in poverty. The United Nations rapporteur on Poverty, Philip Alston stated in his report “British compassion for those who are suffering has been replaced by a punitive, mean-spirited and callous approach”. UK food banks have warned that its users are “on the brink of starvation” as demands for their services soars and supplies run low.
Combine this with falling life expectancy and shockingly, rising infant mortality, not to mention central government cuts to public spending, which mean we have seen 60p cut from every pound of funding to local authorities. Labour have a huge task and I believe we must return a Labour Government at the next election in order to reverse these trends and to implement a transformational manifesto which will restore hope and decent standards of living and that will create jobs aligned to the climate emergency.
During the eventful TDC full council meeting on 10th October. I spoke out about some of the issues that are prevalent across Thanet. Overflowing bins, the housing shortage, East Kent housing safety problems, rough sleepers, the very many families struggling to make ends meet, and the need to value and support our council staff. I tried to point out that much of what we are struggling with has been bought about by austerity. I fully believe that austerity has caused great hardship and pain and was a political choice not a necessity.
As politicians we need to recognise that dealing with the inevitable crushing impact of poverty, seeking the means to support residents in keeping the basics together is a big ask. I’m heartbroken at seeing so many struggling. From dealing with the nightmare of trying to find and keep a decent home, to fighting for PIP, for our disabled residents whose need for this ‘welfare’ payment, the struggle and pain is blatantly obvious.
At the same time, there’s no doubt in my mind, that there is a huge appetite from the public for politicians of all colours to understand the need to work together, collaboratively, imaginatively and purposefully to tackle Thanet’s myriad issues.
I’ve had conversations with many of my fellow councillors who all have compassion and a sense of decency and we are determined to pull our weight together.
But, we must not minimise what has happened with the introduction of Universal Credit, the lack of strategic investment to boost our local economy, the devastating impact of removing the disability living allowance, the introduction of the bedroom tax, the rise of zero hour contracts, coupled with a moribund local labour market.
Recently I was at the local tribunal court in Margate to represent a family who have been massively disadvantaged by moving onto Universal Credit, which has ensured they have been suffering and living in poverty for the past 12 months – unnecessarily. I have met so many families struggling and getting into housing debt, sometimes ending up homeless. I’ve met mothers who being unable to cope with the demands of the ‘system’ have placed their children into foster care. Absolutely unbelievable in this, the fifth richest nation. (And please no judgements). We are seeing more and more people to driven to desperation. The despondency is palpable.
The Conservative record is frankly appalling, 700 Youth centres closed, along with 1000 Sure Start Centres, 100 NHS walk-in centres and 500 libraries across the country. At the same time we have seen 2000 food banks opened and 1.4 milliion families using them to survive. All these changes have led to an increase in homelessness, hunger and even suicide. We’ve seen that tragedy hit hard locally.
So the challenge now must be to work together, to thrash out a plan for that protects our most vulnerable, that boosts our local economy, that delivers improved services to Thanet residents and that balances the budget.
We need all hands on deck! No game playing, hard work and utter determination to get this job done.
My commitment is 100% You elected me and I will payback your trust and confidence. But to make this work we need to recognise the remit of Thanet DC only covers so much and that there is reliance on County Council and Central Government to provide infrastructure and funding for roads, education and health etc. All vital elements of a thriving society.
Labour now being in control of TDC is a stepping stone. The change we need can only be achieved with a Labour government at Westminster.
This article was first published on 13th October 2019 in The Isle of Thanet News.