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

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

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

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

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.

I’ll never forget what Jeremy Corbyn whispered in my ear at a campaign event last week

First published by The Independent, 16th May 2017

Last week, I went to hear Jeremy Corbyn speak as part of his official election campaign launch in Greater Manchester. On the tiny Wythenshawe high street, where balloons outside a card shop urge voters to choose Labour, Corbyn and the incumbent MP Mike Kane stood on a bench to address the crowd. When Corbyn stepped down, people rushed forward to meet him.

Jeremy Corbyn seems at his most comfortable interacting with the public, unfiltered, permitted to be himself and to meet people one-on-one. He held countless babies, took selfies with schoolchildren, chatted to a woman in Spanish, met NHS staff and a local headteacher, and spent extra time with two disabled members of the public. His aides were having a tough time keeping him on schedule.

When I shook his hand, I told him that I work for a charity and freelance as a journalist, writing on politics and social justice issues. I expressed my disappointment that Labour (and particularly Corbyn himself) doesn’t get a fair hearing from many news outlets. He spoke in my ear: “If you do what you believe in, you’re strong. It’s when you don’t do what you believe in that you’re weak. And we are strong.”

The unveiling of Labour’s manifesto today was a display of strength. Labour is promising a Britain that works for everyone, where whole swathes of society aren’t left behind. The transformative manifesto will take the financial burden from the shoulders of those who can least afford to carry it, and place it upon the top 5 per cent of earners and arrogantly tax-dodging corporations.

Jeremy Corbyn unveils Labour manifesto’s plans to raise taxes on corporations and highest earners

The Britain we currently live in is untenable for young people, university students, teachers, NHS workers, policemen, the disabled, people with long-term illnesses, people who can’t find work, first-time buyers, and those living in rented accommodation. Britain is working for a wealthy few, and Labour’s manifesto highlights the fact, often forgotten, that this is not inevitable.

At Bradford University, a huge cheer went up when Corbyn promised to scrap tuition fees and end hospital parking charges. The scandal of zero hours contracts would be a thing of the past under Labour, as will NHS cuts and rises in VAT and income tax for 95 per cent of earners.

The manifesto is a document filled with long-overdue, common sense policies. It addresses the important questions that accompany the Brexit process, including concerns about the protection of jobs and hard-won workers’ rights. It puts children and young people first, promising to invest in them through a National Education Service rather than rely on the failed academies experiment or a ridiculous and divisive reintroduction of grammar schools.

In-work poverty is unacceptable. My partner and I both work two jobs and we struggle to make ends meet. We don’t indulge in avocado toast but finding enough for a deposit on a mortgage is sadly out of reach. The pledge to build one million new homes and introduce a £10 living wage by 2020 is crucial for young couples and for anyone working in poorly paid or part-time jobs, notably in care work and service industry roles.

Labour’s manifesto is much more than the “radical and responsible” soundbite. It’s actually an answer to the question of why, as one of the wealthiest and most developed nations on earth, are we constantly accepting second best?

Our antiquated approach to our railways, the Victorian cruelty of the bedroom tax, benefit sanctions and the increased use of food banks, and the swift disappearance of social housing are all symptoms of a wider inability to look forwards. European countries are laughing at Britain, enjoying efficient, cheap public transport while buying up our rail companies and charging rip-off prices for poor service. Britain should be leading the way, not lagging behind, weighted down by underinvestment, poverty and ingrained inequality.

If Labour’s manifesto and the promise of more public ownership will transport us to the 1970s, where do we currently live? 1870, perhaps? Labour’s vision for the future can heal the wounds inflicted by the last seven years of governance, where nurses cannot afford to buy food and ex-servicemen die sick and alone after their benefits are sanctioned.

Labour’s plan is costed and the policies are popular. It’s a manifesto of hope, and that’s what I’ll be voting for.

If you want the Tories out, only one man can show them the door: Jeremy Corbyn

First published by International Business Times, 21st April 2017

How many times did Theresa May or her aides deny the possibility of a snap general election? Enough to make it clear that she has no problem telling lies.

Her cynical decision to call an election should be a warning to all of us. May has seized upon a moment when Labour is polling poorly and there is still enough inner-party division to potentially hand the Tories a sweeping victory. Once she has this, Theresa May will set about driving exactly the kind of Brexit that she wants through Parliament, without argument and without accountability.

May is a perfect example of why public trust in politicians is low, making U-turns on key issues (like Brexit) with impunity and delighting in saying one thing then doing another – all in the name of pure self-interest.

On 8 June, I will be casting my ballot for Labour and for Jeremy Corbyn. Unlike Theresa May, Jeremy Corbyn has proved to be a man of his word. Since becoming an MP in 1983, his principles remain virtually unchanged. He has championed the rights of women and LGBT people, campaigned for peace and diplomatic solutions, fought against inequality, and found himself on the right side of history time and time again, voting against the Iraq War and campaigning to end Apartheid in South Africa. No moats or duck houses for Jeremy, instead he was thelowest expenses claimer in the country in 2010, after spending just £8.70 on an ink cartridge.

More importantly, Corbyn is fronting a set of common-sense election pledges that will benefit wider society, not just the frosting of privilege on the top. Britain needs a government that will commit to providing affordable housing, full employment and cheap, efficient public transport. We need leadership that will take initiative when it comes to the environment, by investing in carbon-neutral solutions and green technology, and creating jobs while they’re at it. We need to tackle inequality by providing free, high-quality education for every single child, not just those born into more fortunate circumstances.

I don’t know about you, but I want to live in a country where rich people can’t decide to just not pay their taxes in full, because they can afford an army of slippery accountants who exploit loopholes in the law. I want tackling violence against women and girls to be a priority, as two women in Britain are killed every week by a current or former partner. I want to be part of a Britain where no one dies because they’re hungry and their benefits were sanctioned, or they were found ‘fit for work’ when they have serious mental health problems.

Theresa May became leader of the Conservative party because all the other contenders in a panicky, post-referendum leadership race simply dropped out. Corbyn was elected leader in a landslide victory, attracting thousands of new members to the Labour party. He was challenged in an unprecedented second leadership election, and again emerged victorious.

However, it’s Corbyn who faces the ire of the British media, and has received incredibly hostile coverage since he assumed leadership of the party. The character assassination of Corbyn has come from all angles, not just from traditionally right-wing publications, but also from more liberal outlets like the Guardian and New Statesman. Even the BBC has been accused of bias against Corbyn. The onslaught of dismissive or downright vicious coverage makes the mocking of Ed Miliband for chowing down on a bacon sandwich seem minor.

It’s Corbyn who is portrayed as weak and incompetent, as someone who people cannot get behind, despite energising thousands of supporters and attracting people who had previously been cynical about politics. Corbyn’s determination and resolve in the face of these media attacks, coupled with open dissent from the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP), shows strength of character that I’m not sure many of us would be capable of replicating in his situation.

Perhaps it would’ve been better, and easier, if Corbyn had stepped down before the snap election was called, and allowed a candidate to assume leadership who was unsullied by the constant, exhausting drip, drip of negative news articles. It would be foolish to assume that Jeremy Corbyn is the only person who can lead the Labour party on a solid platform that benefits ordinary working people and reverses the damage done by the Tories’ failed austerity programme.

However, it’s too late for a change in leadership. Every single person who wants to avoid another disastrous four years of austerity under a Conservative government should be putting aside their differences and rallying behind Corbyn. He has served as an MP and as the Leader of the Opposition with honesty, decency, and strength in the face of overwhelming adversity. The least we, as the electorate, can do is vote based on the policies he is putting forward, not on a skewed image presented by an increasingly partisan media, largely owned by vested interests.

A vote for Labour is a vote for ordinary working people, for a strong NHS, for quality education for all, and for economic growth that doesn’t come at the expense of the lowest paid and most vulnerable members of society. Whatever the Lib Dems, Greens or even the sad, silly remnants of UKIP say, Labour is the only credible option for keeping the Tories out.

Come June 8, will you cast your ballot in support of May’s lies, or will you choose a man who behaves with honesty and honour? I know which one I’ll pick.

Theresa May saying she’d love the superpower ‘to end hunger’ in Vogue is an insult to people starving because of Tory policies

First published by The Independent, 21st March 2017

One of the most heartbreaking scenes in Ken Loach’s austerity tear-jerker I, Daniel Blake is where young mum Katie Morgan is forced to use a food bank. She is met by kindness and understanding from the food bank volunteers, a marked difference from the Job Centre staff who sanctioned her for being a few minutes late, in a new city, with two young children to feed. After putting a few items in a bag, Katie tears open a tin of baked beans, scoops them out with her hand and eats them cold, shaking and white-faced. She has been denying herself meals in order to keep her children fed. She is starving.

I, Daniel Blake might be fictional, but it is created from the testimonies of real benefit claimants and those working inside the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP). It’s estimated that four million people in the UK are currently going hungry due to low wages, inflated utility prices and punitive welfare sanctions. This figure includes 500,000 young children.

In a recent interview with Vogue, our Prime Minister Theresa May was asked what her superpower would be if she had one. She responded: “I think I’d want to make sure that everyone in the world had access to clean water and sufficient food so that we didn’t see people starving.”

The blatant hypocrisy in May’s answer is staggering. She is the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. She doesn’t need a comic book “superpower” to ensure that people have enough food to eat – she could introduce policies that would reverse the effects of Tory austerity that have led to widespread hunger in her own country. She could move to scrap the hated Bedroom Tax and unfair benefit sanctions that are applied to claimants for a myriad of petty offences.

We cannot forget that it is the decision to impose austerity that has caused so much suffering and distress for Britain’s most vulnerable people. Despite what the Conservative government would have us believe, the cuts imposed on welfare and local services were ideological, not inevitable.

Job Centres can strip claimants of their only source of income for weeks on end for being late or missing appointments, even in the case of falling seriously ill and being hospitalised or the death of a loved one. Cruel sanctions are applied to those with learning difficulties for failing to fill out forms correctly or for those an advisor feels “hasn’t done enough to look for work”. Numerous documents have been released detailing how DWP staff are encouraged to sanction a certain quota of people, risking losing out on annual benefits if they do not.

The Trussell Trust is the largest provider of foodbank services in the UK, and states that the primary causes of referrals to their services are benefit delays (27.95 per cent) and low income (23.31 per cent). Other causes include debt, homelessness, domestic violence, sickness and unemployment. In the 2015-16 financial year, the Trussell Trust reported that they distributed more than 1.1 million parcels of food meant to last for three days, and that more than a third of the aid distributed went to children.

The ex-soldier and diabetic David Clapson died hungry and penniless in Stevenage, Herts, in 2014 after having his benefits sanctioned. Mark Wood, a man with complex mental health problems, starved to death four months after his benefits were stopped in Bampton, Oxfordshire in 2013. He was found “fit to work” by the DWP, despite his doctor’s categorical assertion that he was “extremely unwell and absolutely unfit for any work whatsoever”.

It seems grotesque in the extreme that in one of the world’s wealthiest and most developed countries, people are starving on the Government’s watch and due to their policies. Theresa May is arguably the most powerful woman in the UK, and to say “I want to end hunger” in a fashion magazine interview while ignoring the millions of food insecure people in her own country is a grave insult to the people who have died due to DWP decisions and their families.

It’s an insult to those scraping to get by, those who are chronically ill, disabled, struggling to raise children, working more than one job in an effort to make ends meet and still not quite managing it. It’s an insult to the whole of Britain.

You don’t need a superpower, Theresa May. If you really wanted to make sure everyone has enough to eat, you’d be undoing the work of David Cameron and Iain Duncan Smith – and fast.

As the child of a devout protestant family, I find Theresa May’s beliefs hard to swallow

First published by The Independent, 28th November 2016

In a rare interview with the Sunday Times, our Prime Minister Theresa May discussed her personal faith and the impact her beliefs have on the decisions she makes as a politician. May described herself as a “practicing member of the Church of England” and said that her faith in God “lies behind what I do”.

To me, Theresa May’s interview not only betrays her eye-watering arrogance, but also her wilful misinterpretation of the core values of Christianity. Sure, the Old Testament might be full of murder and barbarism and “don’t cut your hair at the sides of your head” (Leviticus 19:27), but the teachings of Jesus are the absolute focal point of Christian belief.

Jesus loved the poor, the dispossessed, and those who found themselves on the fringes of society. He dined with the hated tax collector and refused to recognise the divide between Jews and the Samaritans. For Christians, he is the ultimate symbol of humility, compassion and love.

Unfortunately, Theresa May doesn’t seem to have read her New Testament very closely. She has almost always voted for the use of UK forces in combat operations overseas. She was in favour of sending UK troops into Iraq in 2003, and the coalition’s military intervention and the ensuing civil war has cost more than 187,000 documented civilian lives. Instead of being the military leader that many Jews had expected, Jesus is consistently described as a man of peace. I doubt he’d be impressed by the chaos and bloodshed in Iraq.

In December 2014, Theresa May voted against scrapping the hated Bedroom Tax, a failed Tory policy that has penalised some of Britain’s most vulnerable families. Research carried out by the Department of Work & Pensions (DWP) found that 75 per cent of those affected by the Bedroom Tax were forced to cut back on the most basic necessity – food. The Bedroom Tax has been used to penalise women living in fear of violent ex-partners and those struggling after terrible bereavements. Perhaps Theresa May believes that because “the poor are blessed and in line to inherit the kingdom of God” (Luke 6:20), they can be trampled and degraded by Tory policy here on earth.

April 2016 saw May vote against allowing 3,000 unaccompanied children to find a safe haven in the UK. Jesus said something about how little children should come unto him because “the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these” (Matthew 19:14), but maybe Theresa May didn’t get the memo?

May voted to repeal the 1998 Human Rights Act in May of this year, because basic human rights are just a little too inconvenient when it comes to deporting people. She’s never been a big fan of the HRA, even making a misleading statement at the Conservative Party Conference in 2011, alleging that a man couldn’t be deported because of his pet cat. This turned out not to be true, but it managed to get the right wing press frothing at the mouth anyway. Christians are taught to “love their neighbours” (Mark 12:31), but perhaps Theresa May believes that increasing deportations is a form of “love”.

I’m not personally a believer, but I was brought up in a Christian household. I attended a United Reformed Church until I was 18, and the sermons tended to focus on “doing unto others as you would be done unto” and the importance of helping those in need, even when it’s personally inconvenient to do so.

If Jesus were here, in Theresa May’s Britain, he’d be helping the 3,500 people sleeping rough this winter. This is double the number counted in 2010, caused in no small part by Tory policy. He’d be trying to make a difference to the lives of Britain’s most vulnerable people – the vulnerable women detained in Yarl’s Wood without charge (many have suffered rape and torture in their home countries), and the one in four children who live in poverty, cold and hungry in one of the most wealthy nations on earth. He’d probably have had his benefits sanctioned more than once.

May has inherited an austere and heartless government, but the Autumn Statement under her leadership shows little commitment to change. If Theresa May is a Christian, I can only assume that her interpretation of scripture is very, very loose.

Dig deeper into Philip Hammond’s claims about austerity and ‘Jams’ in the Autumn Statement and you’ll find the dark truth

First published by The Independent, 23rd November 2016

After delivering his first Autumn Statement, the Chancellor Philip Hammond pronounced dead the governmental tradition of presenting an Autumn Statement. And consigned to the scrapheap along with that is George Osborne’s promise to eradicate Britain’s deficit by 2020, a significant climbdown for the Tory administration.

Hammond described his budget as “responding to the challenges faced by Britain” and “providing help to those who need it”, but little evidence surfaced of an intention to roll back harmful austerity measures. He outlined the government’s commitment to assisting “Jams” (families who are “just about managing”), but failed to address the concerns of the 3.9 million people in Britain who live in persistent poverty.

In perhaps the most blatant display of ideological ham-fistery, Hammond announced that the Tory commitment to austerity under former Prime Minister David Cameron demonstrated that “controlling public spending is compatible with providing world-class public services and social improvement”.

I wonder if the families of those who have died after being found “fit for work” would agree. The DWP’s own statics show that nearly 90 people died every month between December 2011 and February 2014 after their ESA benefit stopped because a work capability assessment found them able to work.

And I’m sure those communities who have seen their libraries and Post Offices and Sure Start centres close would equate cuts with “world-class public services”. The 81 per cent of women aged 16-30 who said that Jobcentre Plus did not help them find work, and the 59 per cent of women who described attending the job centre as a “humiliating” experience in research published by Young Women’s Trust this week, would surely also be inclined to agree.

The Tories’ gleeful announcement that unemployment is at an 11-year low might sound impressive, if the reasons for it aren’t explored too deeply. There has been a substantial increase in unstable, low-skilled and insecure jobs in Tory Britain, with around 900,000 UK workers now on zero-hours contracts. Many people are declaring themselves self-employed – and therefore on paper counting as “in work” – after encouragement from job centres, but not actually bringing in any work. Leaked internal emails from the DWP showing that staff are encouraged to use “the hassle factor” to make the process of claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance so difficult and frustrating that people give up also give us a glimpse into why so few are now no longer “officially unemployed”.

It’s not all bad news, though, with letting agents banned from charging tenants rather than landlords cripplingly high fees and a reduction in the rate at which benefits are withdrawn from people when they get back into work. However, Theresa May’s administration still seems frighteningly out of touch with the concerns of people on low incomes. Scrapping the hated Bedroom Tax would have been a great start, but Hammond preferred to focus on increasing the number of prison officers and investing in 5G.

The National Living Wage is rising to £7.50 from April next year, but as Dr Carole Easton commented today, by extending the National Living Wage to under-25s, the government could vastly improve the lives of young people and help them live independently. Easton also remarked that “in supporting those who are ‘just about managing’, the government must not lose sight of young people who are just plain struggling”.

The Autumn Statement contained plenty of Labour-directed jibes and the traditional blame of the last Labour administration for Britain’s deficit (not the banks, never the banks), greeted by howls, jeers and muffled grunting. You really could be forgiven for thinking that the budget was being delivered in a posh zoo.

Although Hammond pledged £2.3bn in infrastructure for areas with a high demand for new homes, he also guaranteed an extension of Thatcher’s disastrous Right to Buy scheme. If there’s anything Britain needs it’s the selling-off of more crucial social housing stock, right? Additionally, cash has been promised for new grammar schools, the Tories’ favourite way of creaming off top candidates from state schools and consigning other children in the state sector to failure before they’re even 12 years old.

Hammond says he’s creating “an economy that works for everyone” but his promise to maintain a commitment to fiscal discipline will not inspire hope in those whose lives have been broken by previous austerity measures. Hammond may think he is making concessions by helping “Jams”, but this helping hand does not reach nearly far enough.

Theresa May has some cheek going cap in hand to India, an ex-British colony, for a post-Brexit deal

First published by The Independent, 8th November 2016

Theresa May is visiting India this week cup in hand, to ask for a favourable post-Brexit trade deal. There’s arrogance in May’s return to Britain’s former colony, expectant that India will come up with the goods, but ultimately, the move shows how much the tables have turned.

Many people, particularly in my grandparents’ generation, still view British imperialism and empire with a dewy-eyed longing. The reality is, of course, that British rule in India caused the deaths of millions of people through administrative failure and imperialist cruelty. Numerous famines, outbreaks of cholera, the arbitrary and rushed drawing of the border between India and the newly-created Pakistan, mass-displacement, and the destruction of India’s cottage industries left the country impoverished and unstable.

Imperialism set India up as both Britain’s workhouse and convenient marketplace, and when India finally gained independence, it was reduced to one of the world’s poorest economies. For Britain to come begging now that we’ve made such a mess of things with our yet-undefined Brexit, opposed by 48.1 per cent of the electorate, is laughable.

Although a number of the more vehemently right-wing newspapers chose to focus on May’s ‘hardball’ stance on immigration during her visit, they didn’t pick up on the incongruity of the Prime Minister haggling over “Indians with no right to remain in the UK” whilst hankering after a lucrative trade deal.

At a tech summit in Delhi, May was pressured by business leaders including Sir James Dyson and Karan Bilimoria, founder of Cobra beer, to welcome more skilled Indian workers and students to Britain. The Government’s current position seems to involve the hope that India will still sign a cushy deal with us, while we crack down on Indians in Britain who’ve outstayed their frosty welcome.

The political conversation in Britain has, despite the influence of Corbyn, shifted perceptibly to the right. May knows that to keep the would-be-Ukippers and Brexit-devotees onside, she must act ‘tough on those foreign people’ despite surely recognising that she cannot turn back the clock on globalization.

The isolationist, shut-the-door sentiments that brought us Brexit are not going to serve Britain well when it comes to making international trade agreements, and to belief otherwise is a self-important indulgence that we can no longer afford. We live, for better or worse, in an interconnected world, and the issue of migration cannot be wiped off the table during trade discussions.

India wants access to the UK labour market for skilled workers, and the UK government wants to pander to the narrative that immigrants are an unnecessary scourge on our increasingly less green and pleasant land. On the basis of this impasse, a free trade agreement seems like a childish fantasy.

I wouldn’t blame India for putting up two fingers to Theresa May and Britain.

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