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Poverty is stalking the country

JEREMY CORBYN says there's no point in celebrating new jobs if they don't pay enough for people to live on

David Cameron and his government have made much of the latest headline figures on unemployment, which claims to show a big fall in the numbers of jobless.

Leader of the House Andrew Lansley claimed last week that more people were in work than ever before in Britain.

This came less than 18 hours after the Conservative-Lib Dem majority in the house voted down a Labour motion on the use of foodbanks in Britain.

The government propaganda machine claiming that the austerity programme has worked and has conquered unemployment completely masks the levels of poverty, low wages and insecurity that exist in every working-class community all over the country.

The Trussell Trust has produced some very accurate figures on the use of foodbanks across the whole country.

Foodbanks were almost unknown five years ago and have now become the source of regular food for half a million people.

In London between April 2011 and April 2012 12,839 people used foodbanks. The most recent figure has seen that figure rise to 52,686. Even in wealthy south-east England numbers have gone from 15,000 to 55,000 and in another example, in the East Midlands, from a mere 1,157 to 37,906.

Foodbanks are not a walk-in service.

They can only be used by people with a letter of reference from a doctor, social worker or Department for Work and Pensions official and are a sign of the desperation that many people are in.

The parliamentary debate on foodbanks came a day after the Joseph Rowntree Foundation report found that for the first time there are more people in working families living below the poverty line - 6.7 million people - than there are workless and retired families in poverty combined (6.3m).

There has been a sustained and almost unprecedented fall in living standards. Among the many findings in this very comprehensive report is that job insecurity is a major factor and one in six of the entire workforce has claimed jobseekers' allowance at some point in the last two years.

The largest number of very poor people are actually in work, on very low wages.

The proportion of low-paid jobs increased last year and ominously the number of jobseekers that have been referred for sanctions increased to 1.6m. The actual number who had their jobseekers' allowance completely stopped reached 800,000, a 100 per cent increase on the numbers of 2010.

In other words, almost a million people in Britain have no work, no benefits, and are entirely dependent on family, friends or charity just to survive.

The most desperate of these can be seen sleeping around in the train stations of all of the major cities around the country.

As if all of this isn't bad enough 400,000 families have been hit by the "under-occupation penalty," more popularly known as the bedroom tax.

Two-thirds of these people were already in serious poverty. In an interesting remark Joseph Rowntree Foundation chief executive Julia Unwin summarised the report by saying: "This research shows that millions of people are moving in and out of work but rarely out of poverty.

"Hard work is not working. We have a labour market that lacks pay and protection, with many jobs offering precious little security, and paltry wages that are insufficient to make ends meet."

It's unclear exactly how many people are on zero-hours contracts and Vince Cable's emphatic rejection of desperately needed reform to employment contract law in respect of these contracts shows exactly where the Lib Dems are at on this.

Many of the new poor in Britain had secure public-sector jobs before the austerity measures of Osborne's emergency budget of 2010 and are now on insecure zero-hours contract jobs, on a minimum wage, with little access to pensions or other benefits and often working way below their qualifications or experience.

We should not be naive about the overall political intentions of the coalition.

They have systematically reduced benefit levels and social security, created a race to the bottom in terms of jobs and conditions at work and then sought to blame equally poor and desperate people who have migrated to this country from parts of Europe that are going through even more severe austerity measures than we are suffering in this country.

The way forward in 2014 has to be a concerted political campaign against the whole principle of austerity, defending the principle of universal benefits and genuine social security and for public investment, particularly in housing and education.

On the eve of the festive season it is desperately sad to see hungry children not learning properly because their families can't afford to feed them before school, and the queue in charity shops to try to clothe those same children.

The solution to poverty is not to make the rich richer in the hope of Thatcherite trickle-down but to actually increase tax income from the wealthiest individuals and corporations and provide work opportunities commensurate with the abilities of people throughout the country.


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