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.

 

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.

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

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.

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.

Andy Burnham is the new Mayor of Greater Manchester – here’s what his platform means for the area

First published by The i Paper, 5th May 2017

In Manchester today the mood is one of quiet satisfaction. Andy Burnham has achieved a stunning Labour victory for Greater Manchester with a turnout which, although still low, was far higher than expected. The people I speak to, too, are optimistic: no one I spoke to at work throughout the day was in much doubt that Burnham would emerge victorious.

Manchester is a traditionally Labour heartland. Tories are not welcome here, as they found out in 2015 when thousands of people, including myself, staged a remarkably well-behaved (with the exception of the lone egg-thrower) protest outside the Midland Hotel.

Manchester is home to a straight-talking class of people. We’re not keen on political buzzwords. The phrase ‘Northern Powerhouse’ tends to be met with the raise of an eyebrow or a throaty scoff. If you live in Greater Manchester, you know you’re part of one of the most vibrant, diverse, sleepless cities in the Britain. You don’t need some Tory spin-person slapping a cute label on it.

However, there seems to be recognition that the position of a directly elected Mayor (under Supplementary Voting, no less – did I hear someone say “electoral reform”?) is more than a PR gesture. Devolutionary measures are rolling out across the country and power is being handed down on a local level, with seven combined authorities getting brand new ‘metro mayors’, including Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, Liverpool City, Sheffield City, Tees Valley, West Midlands, and the West of England – where Tory Tim Bowles was elected earlier today.

Burnham will now take over the role of Police and Crime Commissioner for the region and be responsible for spending £1bn of Manchester’s public finances. He will gain control of a new housing investment fund worth £300m, greater planning powers, local transport initiatives, a £100m programme helping people get back into work, £30m a year generated by Manchester’s economic growth, and control of existing health and social care budgets. This is not small potatoes.

In theory, Burnham will have more power than the Mayor of London, and a Labour victory has clearly bucked the national trend towards dour, austerity-peddling Toryism. Perhaps Burnham’s win is a foreshadowing of things to come, with a closer general election result on the cards than Theresa May anticipates.

Burham stood on a platform that put young people first, proposing a new application system for apprenticeships and half-price travel on buses and the Metrolink for 16-18 year olds. With a commitment to green travel solutions, affordable home-building and job creation, he’s targeting the areas that ordinary Manchester people feel strongly about. Greater Manchester, like many, many other regions in the UK, has suffered under Tory cuts to education, the police force and the NHS.

A spike in homelessness and rough sleeping have been recorded under the Conservative Party’s ideological drive towards austerity, and the banning of so-called legal highs have caused a disturbing epidemic of ‘Spice’ use, making busy areas in the city centre feel unsafe even during daylight hours. Burnham has pledged to end rough sleeping by 2020.

At the GM Citizens Mayoral Assembly, Andy Burnham was the candidate with ‘star power’, unlike the dithering Lib Dem Jane Brophy, the Conservative Sean Anstee, and the deeply unpopular Shneur Odze, bizarrely standing for UKIP.

Burnham’s charisma made the other contenders look washed out by comparison, was often the first to answer questions and respond with clarity at hustings events. The exposure from his unsuccessful Labour leadership bid in 2015 doesn’t seem to have hurt in terms of name recognition and his work with Manchester charities, including his involvement with Human Appeal’s Wrap Up Manchester initiative, has legitimised him as unafraid to get involved on a grassroots level.

The election of a metro mayor might be the best thing former-chancellor George Osborne could’ve done for Manchester. The ‘Devo Manc’ initiative might’ve been a transparent and unsuccessful Tory attempt to woo Manchester voters, but the result suggests that there is little support for a failed austerity agenda in Greater Manchester. The metro mayors project is an exciting opportunity for the UK’s second city to take control of its own destiny. Even as a region of massive diversity, Greater Manchester has spoken with one voice.

We are engaged. We are ready.

General Election 2017: An issue of trust

First published by The Manchester Informer, 29th April 2017

Make no mistake, the Prime Minister’s decision to call a snap general election on 8th June was a wholly cynical one. With polls predicting a sweeping victory for the Conservatives, Theresa May simultaneously rubbished earlier assurances that she had no intention of calling an early election and further damaged public trust in the Tory leadership.

Actions like these make it difficult for voters to rely on Conservative promises. Not only have the Tories called an election they swore wasn’t a possibility, but they’ve refused to rule out rises in VAT and income tax or make any assurances on previous promises to keep the triple lock on pensions.

The issue of trust in Britain’s political class has long been a fraught one. From the expenses scandal of 2009, where MPs from across the political spectrum were implicated, to the damning evidence uncovered by the Chilcot enquiry, we are living in a time where those who govern our country and create laws seem to believe that different rules apply to them.

Theresa May is unelected, only assuming the role of leader because everyone else dropped out of the race, desperate to put distance between themselves and the toxic job of defining Brexit. As Prime Minister, she has been tasked with negotiating a Brexit that she never wanted in the first place, and has called this election as a Tory coup, confident that she will gain a clear mandate to pursue a Brexit plan that suits her party’s interests.

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The suggestion from Nicola Sturgeon that May has also decided on an early election to evade accountability for the impending scandal of alleged Tory expenses fraud adds a further dimension of dishonesty to the proceedings. Whether or not we are on track for a Conservative victory remains to be seen, but May’s confidence in a Tory win is clear.

May’s assured attitude to the election outcome, despite misleading voters about whether a snap election would be called and dealing with the spectre of another expenses scandal, is particularly ironic due to the nature of her opposition. Whatever your personal opinions on the beleaguered Labour leader, it’s undeniable that Jeremy Corbyn is a man of conscience.

He has a clean record on expenses, and in 2010 had the lowest expenses bill of any politician, claiming just £8.50 for a printer ink cartridge. He has consistently championed peaceful negotiation as an alternative to violence to ensure that the fewest possible civilian lives are lost, campaigned against Apartheid in South Africa, and has been a vocal opponent of the Iraq war.

During the run-up to the EU referendum, Corbyn campaigned for Britain to remain part of the single market, but instead of pretending that the union is a magical utopia, he treated the electorate like adults with a more nuanced message. He stressed that Britain would be better off within the EU, but was still blasted for ‘undermining’ the Remain campaign as he criticised scaremongering and ‘myth-making’ on both sides of the argument.

Corbyn is untainted by sleaze or by the influence of corporate lobbyists, unlike many politicians who take on lucrative second jobs or receive thousands for speaking engagements. His leadership bid in the summer of 2015 and subsequent surprise win saw him singlehandedly shift the conversation around austerity. Corbyn was the only politician to reveal austerity for what it really is – an ideological position rather than an inevitable consequence of the financial crisis.

His policy positions and previous voting record are in line with his desire to end poverty and inequality in Britain, and make the country work for everyone – an important cornerstone of traditional Labour principles. He continues to draw impressive crowds to rallies up and down the country, has overseen a major influx in new Labour party members and has energised a whole cohort of previous non-voters, but is viewed by Theresa May as an easy opponent.

You’re probably not wondering why. This is because since Corbyn’s surprise leadership win, the mainstream media have fed the British public with a constant stream of negative press, dubbing him alternately useless, weak and dithering, and a terrifying socialist enemy of the people. The impact this coverage has is highly damaging and coupled with internal party tensions, could guarantee a Labour bloodbath on June 8th.

In Britain, we’re perhaps vaguely aware that our press is partisan, but without a real understanding of the scope and influence of vested interests. The majority of our major publications are owned by wealthy private individuals who have a real stake in the outcome of general elections and referendums. A leader like Corbyn, who is committed to ending tax evasion, increasing income tax for the richest members of society and binning exploitative zero hours contracts, is a liability. He cannot be bought.

Public trust in politicians has been low for many years, and with good reason. However, when a leader comes along who is decent, straight-forward and honest, we should be ready to welcome him, instead of swallowing proven, systemic bias from a largely-unaccountable media elite. Scandals like the Cash for Questions affair should have changed the face of British politics for the better, but between the influence of canny media moguls and the ‘say one thing do another’ approach of many MPs, trust and transparency are still major issues.

On 8th June, there are two choices. Theresa May, a leader who has misled the public and presides over a party that has seen a massive increase in child poverty due to policies like benefit sanctions and the bedroom tax, and Jeremy Corbyn, who has put forward 10 common sense pledges to make this country one that will work for everyone, not just the wealthy few.

When Jeremy Corbyn is receiving poor approval ratings against a dishonest politician like May, leading a party that has literal blood on its hands from a failed austerity agenda, I have to conclude that there is something very rotten within the core of our democracy.

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.

Just when you thought it had gone, Philip Hammond’s Budget brings back the Tampon Tax

First published by The Independent, 8th March 2017

Prime Minister Theresa May interrupted Chancellor Philip Hammond during his Spring Budget speech to remind him that it was International Women’s Day.

Hammond attempted to attribute two announcements to himself, which had been previously made by May. Ironic that a man should appropriate a woman’s work on such a day. On reflection his Budget wasn’t much better either.

Alongside £20m to support the campaign to End Violence Against Women and Girls and £5m to help people back into work after taking a career break, the Chancellor allocated £12m raised from the so-called Tampon Tax to support women’s charities.

In 2015, George Osborne announced that all revenue from VAT on sanitary products would be earmarked for women’s charities, including domestic abuse refuges. In 2016, Cameron announced that “Britain will be able to have a zero rate for sanitary products, meaning the end of the tampon tax.” Following Brexit complications, this amendment will is due by April 2018. Until then, it looks like we are stuck with Tampon Tax 2.0 and this time, the Government seems unashamed to call it so.

Ladies, they say, we’re sorry about men who abuse you, and we’re a bit short on cash at the moment to help you out in these situations, so how about you pay for domestic violence shelters with your vaginas. You buy tampons, we tax them, and then we’ll use the money for vital services.

Domestic violence affects one in four women in their lifetime and leads to two women being murdered every week. Domestic violence has more repeat victims than any other crime. On average, there will be 35 assaults before a victim calls the police. Each year, 400 people who have been taken into hospital for domestic violence injuries in previous six months go on to commit suicide.

Since the roll-out of austerity measures in 2010, more than 30 specialist domestic violence services have been forced to close their doors due to lack of funding. In 2016, the grants given to local authorities by the central government were slashed by 56 per cent.

The charity Women’s Aid found that in just one week in 2014, 369 women were turned away from 87 domestic abuse services due to a lack of capacity. It took those women immense courage to approach services in the first place, and to be turned away and denied help due to Tory policy is a cruelty beyond words.

Specialist services for black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) women and girls are particularly at risk. They provide a lifeline for those who would be unlikely to feel comfortable approaching a more general domestic violence organisation. Often run by BAME women, they have specific expertise in areas like female genital mutilation, forced marriage and honour-based violence. These services have struggled to survive since their inception, and local authority cuts make their future very uncertain, potentially leaving thousands of vulnerable women and girls with nowhere to turn.

The token £12m for women’s charities is even more pathetic than George Osborne’s pledge of £15m in November 2016. It may seem like a great deal of money, but it’s important to remember that this pledge is a mere pittance compared to the amount of funding lost since the beginning of austerity in 2010.

Austerity was not inevitable. It was a political decision, made for political reasons. The architects of austerity knew who would end up paying the price for their programme.

On International Women’s Day, imagine the terror and suffering of women in domestic violence situations across the UK. Remember that the money extorted through the Tampon Tax is being used as an insulting and inadequate sticking plaster for the gaping wounds left in vital women’s services. We are literally paying, because of our gender, to mop up the blood and psychological damage inflicted by violent partners and family members.

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.

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