Socialist Worker

Rich prospering as poor fall behind

Issue No. 1851

ASTONISHING NEW figures show that after six years of New Labour in government we have the biggest gap between rich and poor since 1990. Poverty levels are now higher than under Margaret Thatcher, according to the latest figures from the Office for National Statistics.

Inequality under New Labour is on average a sixth higher than under Thatcher's 11-year rule. It is 10 percent higher than the Tory's 18-year rule as a whole. Many of those who are critical of some government policies, such as Clare Short, cling to the belief that New Labour has delivered something for ordinary people. These figures show how wrong they are.

Some who are uneasy about Blair's premiership look to Gordon Brown to provide an alternative. But it is Brown's policies that have helped to plunge millions into deeper poverty.

The report is based on a widely recognised formula, the Gini coefficient, that measures quality of life. Behind the statistics are thousands of people struggling to survive. It shows that the low level of state benefits condemns many people to poverty. And vulnerable people are put off applying for benefits or tax credits by the mountain of forms involved.

New Labour made a high profile promise to take one million children out of poverty, but only managed to reach 500,000. The National Council for One Parent Families has warned child poverty reduction urgently needs an increase in the minimum wage.

New Labour deals out more punishment

Blunkett's new immoral crusade

WHAT IS New Labour offering to all those people fed up with Blair? An authoritarian crusade from home secretary David Blunkett. Blunkett announced last week that he wants to increase prison sentences.

Someone aged 18 or over found guilty of killing a police officer or prison officer or 'killing for gain' as in burglary or robbery would face a sentence of 30 years. Others convicted of murder could face a 'whole life' sentence.

Blunkett is playing the law and order card in a bid to gain cheap popularity. But experts in the justice system deride his plans. 'The current proposals imply that police and prison officer murders are commonplace and out of control,' said Professor Joe Sim from Liverpool John Moores University.

'Yet official figures indicate that between 1994 and 1998 28 police officers died, 21 of these deaths occurred in road traffic accidents, while four were murdered. The remaining three died of other causes. Between 1988 and 2000 29 prison officers died. Nine died off duty. Of the remainder 16 had heart attacks, while one was murdered.'

Life sentences give no hope of parole for good behaviour. They will increase despair in the already overcrowded prisons. Britain has the highest number of prisoners in Europe - some 72,500 men, women and children. It has more people serving life sentences than the whole of Western Europe combined.

The Howard League for Penal Reform says Blunkett's plans could mean the number of prisoners serving a life sentence doubling. British prisons already cost £2.2 billion a year.

Frances Crook from the Howard League says, 'For every additional year served by the 5,000 extra lifers, we could have 5,000 additional teachers. '

THERE ARE no asylum seekers in Broxbourne in Hertfordshire. Yet the British National Party now has one of its 16 councillors in this Tory heartland, after claiming the area was 'filling up' with refugees. David Blunkett and others have scapegoated asylum seekers so much that people think they are a 'problem' even where they don't exist.

Tory, Labour and Lib Dem MPs on the home affairs committee issued a report last week whose sole remit was how to remove refugees from Britain. The press seized on the MPs' claim in the report that the 110,700 asylum seekers who came to Britain last year - just 0.18 percent of the population - will lead 'inevitably to social unrest'.

Disgracefully, some papers want to blame the victims for the climate of fear they themselves are stirring up.

Unwelcome for Bush

GEORGE BUSH is coming to Europe in two weeks time. He will be at the G8 summit in Evian, France, on 1 June. Building protests against Bush and the G8 was a key focus for the 300-strong conference of the Globalise Resistance anti-capitalist organisation in London last Saturday.

G8 protest organiser Christophe Aguiton was a keynote speaker. He explained plans for a series of protests, culminating in a mass demonstration on Sunday 1 June. There will be a range of conferences and debates as well as the protests. Two giant campsites have been set up for the protesters.

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Sat 17 May 2003, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1851
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