HELEN BURTON: I hope Theresa May means what she says on inequality

Helen Burton SUS-160113-100959001
Helen Burton SUS-160113-100959001

Some weeks I feel I have to comment on whatever the current political situation is because it is the basis for so many ethical issues. This week, honestly, where do I start? Journalists, satirists, activists and of course, I should imagine, politicians everywhere are exhausted from it all. One journalist/activist I know on Twitter announced she hasn’t slept properly since April!

This week I’m going to highlight one of the issues that seems to have been almost overlooked because of all the coverage about Brexit. And it’s huge. The United Nations have announced that Conservative Party’s austerity policies breach international human rights obligations. Their eight-month investigation concluded that Tory policies have had a ‘disproportionate adverse impact’ on the most vulnerable people in our society: children, disabled people and the poor. This echo’s what activists like myself have been saying for years, except now it’s about as official as you can get. The UN also found that George Osborne’s ‘living wage’ is anything but. They have said that it is not enough to ensure a decent standard of living, and that the situation is likely to be even worse for young people under the age of 25, because they are excluded from the policy, and also for women, because they are more likely to be working on zero-hours contracts.

The UN highlighted the UK’s “exceptionally high levels of homelessness”, Foodbank usage and expressed “serious concerns” about persistent inequality. The latest official data has also revealed that childhood poverty has risen by 200,000 children in a year, the first rise in childhood poverty since 2011. It’s all pretty shocking isn’t it?

I am an eternal optimist (some would say naïve), so when I hear Theresa May make promises to tackle inequality by governing “for everyone, not just the privileged few”, I am hopeful. I hope she means it and it won’t be another broken promise, because when Cameron stated “we are all in this together”, he could not have been more wrong, as has now been proved by the UN report. We really need a Prime Minister who understands the issues, let’s hope we now have one. It’s a great start that she has acknowledged the huge inequalities in this country, now we need to see her words put into action, and make sure that her promises don’t get side-lined because of the upcoming Brexit negotiations with the EU.

At the same time as hoping for the best at a national level, I can’t help thinking that at a local level we need to set aside party politics to work together for a better future for our communities. All of the political back-biting that is going on is detracting from the real issues like childhood poverty, homelessness and minimising the damage that cuts to ESCC budgets have made. Devolution gives us opportunities to make a real change locally, so let’s be hopeful but at the same time recognise that we all have the power to drive change.