Philip Hammond’s ‘Millennial Railcard’ is an insult to a generation he doesn’t actually intend to help

In tomorrow’s Budget, Chancellor Philip Hammond is expected to announce that free railcards will be offered to millennials, as part of an attempt to court younger voters.

First published by The Independent

In tomorrow’s Budget, Chancellor Philip Hammond is expected to announce that free railcards will be offered to millennials, as part of an attempt to court younger voters.

According to the Resolution Foundation, millennials are the first generation in modern times to be worse off than their parents. Wages outstripped by inflation, degrading living standards and a worse quality of life is the reality for millions of young people across the UK. We struggle to make ends meet, we’re unable to save anything from our pay checks – and not because we’re feckless or lazy, or obsessed with avocado toast and Pret sandwiches.

Sure, we’d like to stop pouring our wages into the pockets of private landlords who charge rip-off rents, but the average deposit for a first home is currently £49,639 and in London it’s £106,500. How can you save when everything you earn goes towards simply existing? Unless you have extremely well-off parents, or are able to live rent-free in your family home for years, you haven’t got a chance.

The UK is in the grip of a severe housing crisis. House building has stagnated due to the irresponsible and avoidant approaches of both New Labour and Conservative governments. A lack of affordable homes means that people are forced to rent for longer, often at astronomical prices, and the coffers of landlords are too regularly topped up from the public purse through housing benefit payments.

What’s more, a third of all privately rented homes in Britain fail to meet the Decent Homes Standard, because landlords are more interested in taking money than ensuring that their tenants live in safe conditions. I’ve lived in eight different privately rented properties since I was nineteen and I’ve had enough eczema, chest infections, mouldy wallpaper, lukewarm water and wet plug sockets to last me a lifetime.

Millennials are more likely to be working insecure jobs than previous generations of young people, and those in unstable work have a higher risk of suffering from poor mental health. Due to a lack of graduate jobs and opportunities, young people who are overqualified or underemployed also report higher levels of anxiety and depression.

Conservative policies have left an entire generation behind. Some of us are “just about managing” – but many of us are not managing at all.

But, this will all be solved by a brand spanking new railcard, apparently. The lack of understanding of what is happening to young people in the real world is astounding. When 30-year-olds need a railcard to travel, that’s a definitive sign of a failing economy.

Philip Hammond claims ‘there are no unemployed people’ ahead of budget

A “Millennial Railcard” will not solve years of austerity. It will not solve the housing crisis, the employment crisis or any other crisis, for that matter. The free railcard is a sticking plaster solution. It’s laughably weak at best, and downright insulting at worst.

Labour under Jeremy Corbyn is the credible alternative for young people who have been successively victimised and undercut by Tory policies designed to appeal to a wealthier older generation. Corbyn’s Labour has stripped austerity of its invisibility cloak and represents a choice wholly separate from the Tories’ failed neoliberal agenda.

The 2017 Labour election promises of a much-needed house building programme, the scrapping of tuition fees, and the introduction of a real living wage showed young people that Labour was listening to them. This Tory attempt to woo young voters away from Corbyn with a shiny freebie is woefully inadequate.

(Also, if we renationalised our inefficient and overpriced railways, young people wouldn’t need a railcard to be able to afford to travel. Just a thought!)

Millennials want stable, quality jobs where we can receive reliable hours, a living wage and some form of career progression. We don’t want to spend our adult lives saddled with tens of thousands of pounds of student debt and insecurity.

We need to be protected as private tenants, pay reasonable rents and live in accommodation that’s fit for human habitation – something the Conservative government doesn’t think is necessary.

We want to be able to buy our first home, even if we don’t have the bank of Mum and Dad to rely on. If we’re unemployed or too sick to work, we want to be treated with dignity.

A railcard just isn’t going to cut it. Sorry.

 

Michael Fallon’s plan to introduce cadet units into state schools isn’t a real solution to the UK’s education crisis

After seven years of Tory rule and the brutal ravages of austerity, we are a country in desperate need of a clear programme to boost social mobility. Fallon’s laughable plan is not the answer to our deeply segregated school system.

First published by the Independent

Today’s announcement from Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon that 31 new cadet units have been approved in state schools is yet another example of the Conservative Party’s short-sighted and disingenuous approach to tackling inequality in Britain.

After seven years of Tory rule and the brutal ravages of austerity, we are a country in desperate need of a clear programme to boost social mobility. Fallon’s laughable plan is not the answer to our deeply segregated school system.

Speaking at the Albion Academy, Fallon said: “Cadets help instil values of discipline and loyalty. They develop leadership skills and confidence. For too long cadet units have been the preserve of independent schools but thanks to this Conservative Government more children in state schools will reap the benefits.”

t might be news to Fallon, but children who attend independent schools are not 2.5 times as likely to go to a top university than their state school counterparts simply because they had access to a cadet unit.

Surely if the Conservative government was truly committed to matching the advantages of a private education, the conversation would be around reducing class sizes, ensuring access to nutritious breakfasts and lunches, raising aspirations and preparing children for Russell Group universities.

In the UK, our education system is one of the most socially divided in the developed world. The reading age of children from disadvantaged backgrounds lags a shocking three years behind that of their wealthier peers. While only 7 per cent of the general population went to a private school, fee-paying school leavers are vastly overrepresented in top professions including law, politics, media and the financial sector.

Private institutions are finishing schools for our future MPs and CEOs, and while a private school education isn’t an indicator of intelligence or academic prowess, attendees are five times as likely to attend Oxbridge as those who didn’t attend a fee-paying school. And I would bet my bank balance that this isn’t because they can enjoy a weekend of mountain biking or archery with their cadet unit.

As more middle class parents decide that local state schools are “undesirable” after poor Ofsted results, (Ofsted is a highly-politicised, Tory-introduced and controversial departmental process in itself), they ensure that their offspring are accepted into the nearest grammar or business-backed academy, or pay to go private.

Every parent wants the best for their child, but those with the money for school fees or private coaching ahead of the 11+ are automatically able to place their kids in a more advantageous position. As children from better-off families are “skimmed” out of state schools, we see a lack of socio-economic diversity in many comprehensives up and down the country.

To boost social mobility and help disadvantaged children reach their full potential, we should address the Tory cuts that have widened the chasm of inequality in our schools. Cuts to Sure Start centres, cuts that force parents to crowdfund for whiteboards, computers and crossing attendants, and cuts that leave comprehensives with no choice but to make their school days shorter must be reversed as a matter of priority.

Perhaps private schools, raking vast amounts of money in yearly fees, should be forced to give up their charitable status and be expected to pay the full rate of tax? Just an idea.

The Conservative Party is incapable of clearing up the mess they’ve made of education. Even their summer election pledge to inject £4bn into education was found by the National Audit Office to actually result in 9,000 more schools facing extreme cuts.

Fallon’s plan to introduce cadet units into state schools isn’t a real solution, or even a flimsy sticking plaster. It’s just another example of the Tories’ inability to recognise the true causes of educational inequality.

Two years on from his election, I support Jeremy Corbyn because he continues to voice inconvenient truths

Like it or not, Jeremy Corbyn has fundamentally altered the discourse of British politics. In 2015, he stood for Labour leader on a clear anti-austerity platform. He tore the wool from our eyes regarding the supposed “inevitability” of brutal welfare cuts and benefit sanctions.

First published by The Independent, 12th September 2017

Two years ago today, Jeremy Corbyn was elected leader of the Labour Party. He won a landslide victory with 59.9 per cent of first-preference votes in the first round of voting, despite securing the lowest number of nominations from fellow MPs. Corbyn received more votes than any of the other candidates (Yvette Cooper, Andy Burnham and Liz Kendall) put together.

Since then, Corbyn has been transformed from an unkempt backbencher, quietly voting on the right side of history over Iraq, LGBT marriage, climate change and tuition fees, into a true statesman. He has proved himself more than worthy as Leader of the Opposition, combating the jeering and bullying behaviour of Tory MPs during Prime Minister’s Questions with his characteristic dignity and control.

During the election campaign, he managed to clearly highlight Theresa May’s contempt for the public she’s expected to serve, simply by doing what he does best – connecting with people. On each campaign stop, he spent time talking to people of all ages, from all backgrounds and walks of life, unfiltered and with clarity and compassion.

As Theresa May’s presidential-style election campaign descended into an embarrassing farce during the general election she promised not to call and then did, and as she refused to even debate Corbyn face-to-face, young people and first-time voters gained a renewed sense of purpose and energy. The disillusioned and the disinterested were revitalised by the prospect of a Labour government. The tireless campaigning of Labour activists all over Britain saw Labour take back historically Conservative seats like Canterbury and gain 40 per cent of the popular vote.

The next morning, many seasoned political pundits were forced to acknowledge that they hadn’t been listening to voters and they hadn’t been listening to the alternative Jeremy Corbyn offered. They’d been stuck in the past, insisting that there was no way Corbyn could be elected while ignoring the basic facts about actual voters in 2017.

In the aftermath of the devastating terror attacks in Manchester and London this year, Corbyn was brave and principled enough to acknowledge the inconvenient truth that Britain’s support of foreign wars is inextricably linked to the rise in terrorism at home. His sobering assessment that Conservative cuts to policing have left us vulnerable was worth more than any empty platitudes from Theresa May, who presided over these cuts as Home Secretary.

Like it or not, Jeremy Corbyn has fundamentally altered the discourse of British politics. In 2015, he stood for Labour leader on a clear anti-austerity platform. He tore the wool from our eyes regarding the supposed “inevitability” of brutal welfare cuts and benefit sanctions.

Theresa May: Corbyn continually asks for money to be spent on “this, that and the other”

He exposed austerity as the ideological decision to place the burden of the global banking crisis and subsequent recession on the shoulders of the most vulnerable people in our society, and presented a fully costed, economically viable manifesto in the 2017 general election that would eradicate the need for cruel and unjust austerity measures.

Jeremy Corbyn might not be in Number 10 yet, but I’m proud to have voted for him in two leadership elections and for a Labour government under him in this year’s general election. Britain needs a leader with Corbyn’s principles, his vision and his unwavering sense of compassion.

Forget bigoted throwbacks like Jacob Rees-Mogg, who uses Catholicism to justify the idea that women who have been raped shouldn’t get abortions.

Corbyn is our Prime Minister in waiting. Bring on the next general election.

Theresa May, either take a stand or get the hell out of office – Britain doesn’t want a PM who can’t condemn Donald Trump

If Theresa May continues to stay quiet about Trump, she will be seen as an appeaser and an enabler – our entire country will.

First published by The Independent, 16th August 2017

A refusal to denounce evil is an evil in and of itself. In the wake of the violence in Charlottesville, President Donald Trump has drawn a moral equivalency between the white supremacists and neo-Nazis, one of whom murdered a civil rights activist during the demonstration, and counter-protesters standing against fascism. And Theresa May has failed to condemn him.

The President of the United States laid blame principally at the feet of the “alt-left” and described them as “very, very violent”. This was the side which saw a car plough into protesters, seriously injuring many and killing one innocent woman. Of the other side – with their torches and Nazi salutes and screams of racist, sexist and transphobic abuse – he said: “Not all of those people are neo-Nazis, not all of those people are white supremacists, by any stretch… You have to ask yourself, where does it stop?” Where indeed?

It’s safe to say that Trump has shown his hand more shamelessly than ever before. Is he afraid of upsetting a key fan base or just incapable of hiding his true colours? Whatever the truth is, we know that white supremacists celebrated after his speech. David Duke, former leader of the Ku Klux Klan, tweeted: “Thankyou President Trump for your honesty and courage to tell the truth about Charlottesville and condemn the leftist terrorists in BLM/Antifa”.

Theresa May, in refusing to condemn this joke of a President, is now a limping embarrassment to her country.

When asked about Trump’s comments, May evaded the question. Speaking to reporters today in Portsmouth, she chose instead to say: As I made clear at the weekend following the horrendous scenes that we saw in Charlottesville, I absolutely abhor the racism, the hatred and the violence that we have seen portrayed by these groups.”

There was no mention of Trump, of his blatant courting of a fascist minority and his description of those protecting the statue of a Confederate soldier as “fine people” who have been “unfairly treated” by a press reporting “fake news”. No, Theresa kept remarkably quiet about her friend Donald, whose hand she so willingly held on a visit to the White House.

What kind of a leader – indeed, what kind of a person – do you have to be to falter when asked to condemn someone who thinks that a group of torch-bearing fascists in Nazi uniforms and Klansman robes are “very fine people”? May is now no better than the weedy sidekick, holding the coat of the playground bully while he grinds another kid’s face into the dirt. Her weakness and moral deficiency is a stain on the office of Prime Minister.

This is no longer about Brexit trade deals or keeping that “special relationship” intact. It’s about simple ethics. We do not shy away from openly condemning those who are apologists for Nazism and fascist ideologies in Britain. We give ourselves over to fighting them and opposing their vile agenda.

If Theresa May continues to stay quiet about Trump, she will be seen as an appeaser and an enabler – our entire country will. Her refusal to stand up to the orange bully in the White House defiles the memory of every single British citizen who lost their lives fighting in the Second World War. Our grandfathers went to war against Nazis, but in 2017 our Prime Minister cosies up to someone who turns a blind eye to their existence in his own country for votes.

In the words of Theresa May’s own Cabinet minister Sajid Javid on Twitter today: “Neo-Nazis: bad. Anti-Nazis: good. I learned that as a child. It was pretty obvious.”

Enough is enough, Theresa May. It’s time to take a stand or get the hell out of office.

When even a High Court judge says Tory policy causes ‘real misery for no good purpose’, you know it’s crunch time

Today, the High Court ruled that the benefits cap, one of the Tories’ flagship welfare policies, is unlawful, because it amounts to illegal discrimination against single parents with small children.

First published by The Independent 

Today, the High Court ruled that the benefits cap, one of the Tories’ flagship welfare policies, is unlawful, because it amounts to illegal discrimination against single parents with small children. It’s likely that the Government will be forced to alter or completely scrap their benefits cap, a policy that limits the total amount a household can receive in benefits to £23,000 in London and £20,000 elsewhere in the UK.

High Court judge Justice Collins described the benefit cap as causing “real damage” to single parent families and said “real misery is being caused to no good purpose”. This is the fundamental truth at the heart of Tory welfare policy – misery without progress or reason.

Welfare reform as part of the coalition government’s austerity measures has driven thousands more people into poverty and in many tragic cases, some deaths occurred after individuals were declared fit to work. Austerity was not inevitable. It was an ideologically-motivated programme designed to force the poorest and most vulnerable in our society to shoulder the burden of a financial crisis that they had less than nothing to do with creating.

Four claimants brought this case to court. Two of them had been made homeless as a result of domestic violence, and were trying to work as many hours as possible while taking care of children under the age of two.

Imagine fleeing an abusive partner, seeking support from a domestic violence service that’s had its funding brutally slashed by the Tory government, trying to work and look after a small child, then having your benefits cut, again by the Tory government, until the situation you find yourself in is so bleak and awful that you can hardly face another day.

The claimants are not alone. The benefits cap has inflicted a massive amount of suffering, with 200,000 children from the very lowest income families affected, as their parents’ income has fallen drastically.

In real terms, this means that these children’s lives have become even more difficult, and they weren’t easy to begin with. This means a colder house, less food to eat, more shame at school due to unwashed clothes, uniforms that are too small, worn-through shoes. It means stressed, unhappy and increasingly desperate parents, and in family, children can’t fail to pick up on this mood of misery.

It becomes out of the question to invite friends round for dinner or to play. Invitations to other children’s houses are declined, because it’s embarrassing not to be able to return the courtesy. Holidays are out of the question. School performance falters and declines.

In this wealthy, highly developed country, poverty is the single biggest threat to the wellbeing of children and families. Poverty affects a quarter of all children in Britain, a massive, disgraceful, inexcusable proportion. one in five parents are struggling to feed their children, and 50 per cent of all parents living in food poverty have gone without meals in order to give their children more to eat.

If this sounds Victorian to you, that’s because it is. Despite the Conservative Party’s claims that Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour manifesto would “take Britain back to the 1970s”, it’s abundantly clear that we’re currently mired in the 1800s. The seventies seem progressive in comparison, and Corbyn has consistently called for the scrapping of the benefits cap.

Today’s ruling is welcome, but Tory ministers, far from pleading mea culpa and consigning this cruel policy to the rubbish heap, are reportedly preparing to appeal the High Court’s decision, calling it “disappointing”.

This Government is so flagrantly uncaring about the wellbeing of its citizens that it hears the testimony of those lone parents living in poverty, turning to food banks, suffering due to the Tory benefits cap, and decides “no that was a pretty good policy, let’s appeal to keep it”.

There is no progress in austerity. It brings nothing good, only pain and degradation. It is a sustained attack on the most vulnerable families in Britain, punishing the poor by inflicting further poverty and humiliation on them.

The Conservative Government is a shambles, lacking leadership, floundering towards a deal with a bigoted party of climate change deniers, and yet cracking on with their agenda of fiscal absurdity and rampant social cruelty. The ruling on the benefits cap should only be the beginning. They have twisted and gouged at this country for long enough. They have to go.

Sarah Vine’s desire to be wolf-whistled really does show how women have learned to cope with street harassment

Sarah Vine wishes she’d taken the time to appreciate street harassment when she was younger because now she’s old and ignored, she misses men leaning out of vans and shouting “big titted bitch” at her.

First published by The Independent

Another day, another poorly-articulated column designed to appeal to the kind of people who love carping on about how sensitive the younger generation are, but get upset when they realise that you’re referring to them when you talk about suffering the “racist uncle” at Christmas dinner.

In this particularly delightful epistle, Sarah Vine tells us in her column how foolish she was as a young person, choosing the evils of socialism, feminism and cider over what I’m only assuming are now her current preferences for widening inequality, reinforcing the glass ceiling, and quaffing down champagne mixed with the tears of refugee children.

Sarah Vine wishes she’d taken the time to appreciate street harassment when she was younger because now she’s old and ignored, she misses men leaning out of vans and shouting “big titted bitch” at her.

Honestly, who can blame her? I think all women will agree that one of the greatest joys in life is waiting for a complimentary catcall, like “nice arse” or “sit on my d**k”. And if you fail to respond appropriately, the shouting switches seamlessly to “f**king whore” or “stuck-up slag”, because it was never really about giving you a compliment in the first place. I can see why she pines for those halcyon days.

As the founder of Everyday Sexism Laura Bates writes so accurately, “street harassment is no more about compliments than rape is about sex”. Street harassment is about power. It’s about how men who engage in jeering, cat calling and groping are taking ownership of the public space. They’re saying: this is ours and if you enter it, you and your body are fair game.

Everyone should be able to go about their daily business free from the fear and shame that often comes with being harassed. It’s hard to feel sufficiently “complimented” when you’ve gone back home to change after a charming stranger calls you a slut for wearing shorts in summer. Or you’re walking home at night with your keys between your fingers or pretending to make a phone call so the group of men walking behind you will leave you alone.

Women of all ages and from all walks of life have contributed to the Everyday Sexism project in their hundreds of thousands, to recount disturbingly quotidian instances of street harassment. Sadly, LGBT women and women of colour face more systematic abuse than their straight-presenting white counterparts due to the ugly mingling of sexism, racism and homophobia.

Nevertheless, Sarah Vine’s point that she doesn’t receive the same attention now as she did when she was younger is perhaps one worth addressing. Women are too often written off as they get older, seen as asexual and matronly. A very basic example of this is the sexism in Hollywood towards older female actors, receiving fewer choices of roles and fewer lines of dialogue in those roles. At 37, Maggie Gyllenhaal was already deemed “too old” to play the love interest of a man 18 years her senior. It’s also true that in film and TV, the stories of older women are not often seen as worth telling.

Vine is right to be dismayed that she has to practically “light a flare” in order to get served in a bar (although that might be because the bar staff are not long out of the education system that her husband Michael Gove systematically gutted). However, the invisibility of older women is precisely due to the sexism Vine feels she was silly enough to believe in as a university student. It’s only when we judge women solely on their physical attractiveness and their fertility that young women become more valuable and more worthy of notice.

The answer is not for young women to somehow appreciate being harassed during the bloom of their youth, it’s to challenge sexism and dismantle the culture in which your choice is between being groped and shouted at, and being ignored.

Street harassment is part of a culture of sexism where men believe they are entitled to the bodies of women, starting with intrusive personal comments and jeering, and ending with abuse, rape and, tragically, deadly violence enacted by intimate partners at the other end of the scale.

In Britain, 87 per cent of women have been forced to take a different route when travelling to avoid harassment, and 67 per cent have felt they needed to change their clothes as a result. Street harassment creates a hostile, unwelcome environment for women, where we feel scrutinised and uncomfortable just for stepping outside. It’s not a compliment, and it needs to stop.

I’m sickened by the RAF bomb with ‘Love from Manchester’ written on it – how dare you drop that in my city’s name

The words written on the bomb are an unpleasant example of everything that’s wrong with our current approach to foreign policy and our penchant for funding chaotic conflicts that further destabilise countries and create the conditions ideal for extremism to flourish.

First published by The Independent

An image has surfaced of a bomb with the words “Love from Manchester” written on it, confirmed to be genuine by the Ministry of Defence (although, perhaps because of how outrageous the sentiment seems, it was originally dismissed by many as “fake news”.)

After the appalling tragedy in my hometown of Manchester on Monday night, the photograph sickens me. It utterly disrespects the people of my wonderful city by slapping our name on a missile, an instrument for causing death and destruction, mere days after a terrible loss of life occurred where we live.

The people of Manchester have pulled together in a time of crisis, showing incredible strength in supporting one another, regardless of religion, ethnicity or background. Manchester is grieving. We want healing, not more violence and horror.

The words written on the bomb are an unpleasant example of everything that’s wrong with our current approach to foreign policy and our penchant for funding chaotic conflicts that further destabilise countries and create the conditions ideal for extremism to flourish. It is the very embodiment of “an eye for an eye”, which we all know leaves the whole world blind.

Speaking in central London today, the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has given voice to something many of us have been privately thinking. The wars that our Government has fought and supported abroad are linked to terrorist incidents at home in Britain. They are not the sole cause, but they are part of the story.

As headlines across the media scream “Corbyn says UK policy caused Manchester attack!”, it’s definitely worth reading his full speech instead. He doesn’t blame our foreign policy for causing these things to happen, perpetrated as they are by violent and unforgivable individuals, but rather addresses the fact that the “war on terror” isn’t working because it isn’t keeping us safe in Britain. What happened at the Manchester Arena this week is proof enough of that.

He said: “The responsibility of government is to minimise that chance [of a terrorist attack], to ensure the police have the resources they need, that our foreign policy reduces rather than increases the threat to this country, and that at home we never surrender the freedoms we have won, and that terrorists are so determined to take away.”

UK foreign policy does not give those who commit acts of terrorism and barbarism an excuse for doing so, but it’s important that we are brave enough to recognise that something is not working in terms of our approach to military involvement abroad.

In the 2010 Chilcot enquiry, Dame Eliza Manningham-Buller, the Director General of M15 from 2002 to 2007, confirmed unequivocally that the invasion of Iraq in 2003 led to a “substantial” increase in the threat of terrorism in Britain. Our involvement in the Iraq war had a direct impact on the number of threats, and forced the security service to request that their budget be doubled.

As an employee of a humanitarian aid charity working in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Palestine, I see the effects of missiles like the one in the photograph every day. I know that Isis holds civilian areas under siege, denying innocent families food, water and basic medical care. These besieged locations are the most difficult to work in, as it’s hard to access those who desperately need aid.

When foreign bombs target Isis-held areas, they often cause a massive loss of life for frightened families who are just trying to survive in a shocking humanitarian situation. No one with any compassion or humanity could take pleasure or satisfaction in seeing children in other countries with their arms and legs blown off, or parents with their little ones dead in their arms, white with dust from collapsed buildings. These are the images that my office receives from conflict zones, many of which have some form of UK and US involvement.

Killing and maiming people abroad will not bring back the Manchester victims. It won’t help the city or the devastated families of those who died to heal or find comfort. It won’t punish the man who committed the atrocity. It’s not guaranteed even to punish those involved in Isis.

Keep your bombs; don’t drop them in my name, and not in the name of Manchester.