Socialist Worker

Neo-liberal offensive on the poor

Issue No. 1990

Respect candidate Nahella Ashraf

Respect candidate Nahella Ashraf

‘You can see the effects of poverty on health’

by Nahella Ashraf, Respect’s local election candidate for Rusholme, Manchester

The ward I am standing in is one of the poorest in the country. There are high levels of unemployment and large numbers of people who have worked much of their lives and who are now on incapacity benefit.

Students make up 50 percent of the population. And when you are talking about students today, in the era of top-up fees, you are talking about people who are poor.

Much of the poverty is hidden. Rusholme is famous for its “curry mile”, the main street that has large numbers of restaurants.

But when you go down any of the side streets you can see the poor quality of the housing that people are in.

That’s one reason why there are so many students – it’s just about the only place in Manchester they can afford to live. One in four of the population are Muslim and many of them are poor.

I’ve been canvassing and have knocked on doors that almost fell in, such was the state of them.

You can see the effects of poverty, of people being left behind, all around. There’s the impact on health. Then there is the impact on the whole quality of life.

People don’t have gardens and there is very little in the way of green space. When you add the fact that there are no youth facilities you get an idea of how cramped young people’s lives are.

The response of the council and the authorities is shocking. The university is looking to sell off the three student halls of residence.

Council house privatisation will not be far behind – 26 percent of residents are in council housing and would be hit by any sell-off.

Respect is opposing that. There are some things that could be done immediately.

There should be facilities for young people instead of dispersal orders and Asbos. There is a ban on drinking alcohol on the street in much of the ward. But people don’t have a nice park or area where they can have a drink in the summer.

It’s just wrong to treat people like this. One thing sums up what’s wrong. Local people have been calling for the authorities to allow a big festival, a mela, each year to celebrate Eid, an important date on the Muslim calendar.

Every year the police and authorities spend a lot of time telling people not to come into the area at Eid.

We say they should be welcomed. There should be a big organised festival that can celebrate the diversity in Rusholme. It should be a simple thing. But this is an indication of how people in the area are simply not being listened to.

Poverty in Manchester


  • Rusholme, Manchester – 10.3%
  • National average – 3.4%


16 year olds leaving school with no qualifications

  • Rusholme – 5.3%
  • Manchester – 7.8%
  • England – 4.1%

School leavers with 5+ GCSE’s A-C

  • Rusholme – 40.4%
  • Manchester – 39.5%
  • England – 53.7%

Infant mortality

Stillbirths and deaths of infants at ages under seven days per 1,000 live births

  • Manchester – 10.2
  • England – 8.5

Infant deaths at ages under 28 days per 1,000 live births

  • Manchester – 3.9
  • England – 3.6

Infant deaths at ages 28 days to 1 year per 1,000 live births

  • Manchester – 3.0
  • England – 1.7

Infant deaths at ages up to 1 year per 1,000 live births

  • Manchester – 6.9
  • England – 5.3

Life Expectancy


  • Manchester – 71.8
  • England – 76.2


  • Manchester – 77.8
  • England – 80.7


Under 18 pregnancy per 1,000

  • Manchester – 64.8
  • England – 42.9


A neo-liberal offensive on the poor

by Joseph Choonara

Rising inequality in Britain is a product of class struggle – waged by the ruling class under Margaret Thatcher’s Tories, and continued under Tony Blair.

The offensive, labelled as neo-liberalism or monetarism, was part of a global series of attacks that began in the late 1970s.

Areas of social provision, such as pensions, healthcare and education, have been increasingly opened up to the market and turned into a source of profit. Public utilities such as gas, electricity and telecommunications have been sold off.

Laws protecting workers’ rights have been scaled back and unions attacked.

These attacks saw vast amounts of wealth concentrated in the hands of financial institutions and the giant multinationals that now dominate the world economy.

The high water mark for the neo-liberal offensive is the US, but among European countries, Britain most closely approaches the US model.

Walk down any high street in Britain and you will see how choice has been narrowed into a tiny range of multinational outfits – Starbucks, Gap, McDonalds and Tesco.

British poverty rates, about 13 percent, approach those in the US, which are almost 18 percent.

The figure for those living in poverty in Scandinavia is 5 percent and in central Europe about 8 percent. The growth in poverty levels, almost doubling since 1979, also follows the pattern in the US.

Inequality between rich and poor is even more striking. The “Gini index” is used by some economists to measure income inequality.

The higher the figure the greater the inequality within a country. The figure for the US is 45. For Britain it is 37.

The EU average is 32, falling as low as 25 in Sweden. Inequality in Britain is not simply a product of Thatcherism. It has grown under Tony Blair.

According to the Office for National Statistics, the richest 1 percent of people in Britain increased their assets from £355 billion to £797 billion during the first five years of New Labour rule.

Over the same period the wealth of the poorest half of the population fell from 7 percent to 5 percent.

As state social provision has been withdrawn, hollowing out society, state repression against those under attack from neo-liberalism has grown.

One reflection of this is the growing prison population. In the US, 686 out of every 100,000 people are incarcerated, the highest rate in the world.

In Britain 140 out of every 100,000 people are in prison across England and Wales, more than any other western European country.

In France, Belgium and Austrian the figure is 85 out of 100,000. In Sweden it is just 68 per 100,000.

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Article information

Sat 4 Mar 2006, 00:00 GMT
Issue No. 1990
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