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From The Socialist newspaper, 26 June 2019

Union action can tackle 58% working poverty rate

Cleaners on the London Overground strike against low pay on 5 April, photo London Socialist Party, photo London Socialist Party

Cleaners on the London Overground strike against low pay on 5 April, photo London Socialist Party, photo London Socialist Party   (Click to enlarge)

Roger Bannister, Liverpool Socialist Party

Tory politicians are fond of saying that the answer to poverty is to increase employment opportunities, but, like most of what they say, it is not true.

Successive attacks on welfare benefits, a wholly inadequate minimum wage, attacks on trade union rights coupled with a weak trade union leadership, and the growth of the gig economy have all combined to produce a growing number of the working poor.

For people stuck in this working poverty trap, life is one long struggle to keep their heads above the water, living in fear of getting ill and losing wages, dreading the children needing new clothes, skipping meals to help pay rent or fuel bills.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies points to a sharp rise in this type of poverty, now in excess of eight million households, representing a majority, 58%, of all people in poverty in the UK.

The two of the most important factors behind this situation are higher housing costs and lower earnings growth.

The growing poverty in Britain has a generational aspect. A study by the Resolution Foundation reveals that 18 to 25 year olds now have less money left after meeting housing costs than older generations had at the same age.

That same study highlights increased housing costs and poor wage growth since the financial crisis of 2008.

The Tory response to this situation is to target older people, with proposals being bandied about to means-test pensioners' bus passes, make them pay National Insurance, introduce a tax to pay for social care, and to means-test free TV licences for the over 75s. There is surely an irony in the way that the Tories are uniting the generations with their poverty policies!

The labour movement must tackle increasing working poverty head on, with the trade unions campaigning to recruit poorer workers, to lead campaigns including industrial action, to take them out of low pay.

Jeremy Corbyn has supported the introduction of a 10 minimum wage and pledged to apply it to all workers, including young workers.

This would start to tackle in-work poverty, but he should also pledge to ban zero hour contracts and end casual labour, both big contributors to low pay.

In addition, Corbyn's Labour Party must have policies to build council houses to enable poorer people to have decent quality accommodation.

In the private sector rent controls need to be introduced, accompanied by secure tenure rights for tenants, and a reintroduction of Fair Rent Tribunals.

But that is not all - the human misery of poverty is a product of capitalism, which clearly exists to satisfy human greed via massive profits, rather than to meet human need.

The banks and finance houses and the major building companies should be nationalised under democratic worker control, as a step to the abolition of capitalism and the introduction of a socialist economy.

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