Socialist Worker

Labour's criminal assault on poor families

Gordon Brown’s recent announcement that his government will force teenage mothers into ‘supervised homes’ is part of a campaign against young people, argues Tom Walker

Issue No. 2172

The government has dramatically stepped up its war on young working class people. Gordon Brown wants to force young mothers into “supervised homes” where they will be told “how to raise their children properly”.

Speaking at the Labour Party conference he said, “It cannot be right for a girl of 16 to get pregnant, be given the keys to a council flat and be left on her own.”

He added that 50,000 so-called “chaotic families… who let their kids run riot” will be subjected to “family intervention projects” and said that “action squads” could be sent to “crack down in problem estates”.

Under fire over the economic crisis, Brown has retreated into scapegoating vulnerable people.

It is a return to Tony Blair’s nasty “respect agenda” – a set of policies aimed at demonising the young and blaming a troublemaking “underclass” for society’s problems.

Like Brown’s racist “British jobs for British workers” pledge two years ago, it is an attempt to turn people against their neighbours.

But that doesn’t mean no one is persuaded by such ideas.

Both the tabloids and the Tories talk of a “broken Britain” filled with “yobs”, “hoodies” and “feral youth”.

The panic whipped up by those at the top of society is out of all proportion to the real situation – but it strikes a chord with some people who feel isolated and powerless under capitalism.

In last month’s Ipsos Mori “Issues Index”, people voted crime and anti-social behaviour as the second most important issue – beaten only by the economy.

Crime rated ahead of concerns about unemployment, immigration, health and education.

That’s why New Labour thinks it can get away with attacking the rights of those it defines as “anti-social”.

The laws introducing Asbos were some of the first the new government passed on coming to power in 1997.

Asbos can be served on children as young as 11. They have been issued to ban everything from “hanging around” to playing football or “being sarcastic”.

The orders criminalise vulnerable people who haven’t committed any crime.

Today, one in ten under 18s who are locked up are there for breaching an Asbo – and ten young people are sent to prison every week.

The extension of a similar punitive regime to teenage mothers and “problem families” will do nothing to help them.

The government is perpetuating myths that teenage mothers are handed council homes and generous benefits.

In fact, most teenage mothers live in poverty.

Even people in the most desperate need can’t get a council house – there are simply none available. That’s why almost two million people on the council housing waiting list.

Affordable

And lack of affordable childcare means that many young parents are forced to scrape by on benefits.

The real problems young working class people face are low incomes, debt, poor housing and lack of childcare.

The government should invest in council housing for all.

It should fund better childcare to allow lone parents to go to work or study.

And it should raise benefits to a level that people can live on.

Of course there is nothing wrong with offering sheltered housing to those who need it, or giving support to vulnerable people.

But New Labour isn’t doing either of these things.

Instead, it is wielding “services” as a weapon to scapegoat and punish working class people.


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