Article written by Bjorn Simpole, Tunbridge Wells Constituency Policy Officer
Tunbridge Wells is a really great place to live, but a profoundly unequal place.
Streets away from handsome £1 million plus detached villas live children in families who struggle to afford the basic necessities of life. Those whose choice in the winter can be between heating or eating and increasingly dependent on emergency support such as Nourish Community Food Bank.
Latest statistics show that there are at least 2,000 children in our Borough in families who are defined as living in poverty. Under the 1997 – 2010 Labour Government 800,000 children were lifted out of poverty. Since 2010 the Conservatives – aided in coalition by the pro-austerity Liberal Democrats – have overseen a reversal of this trend. There are now half a million more children in poverty than in 2010.
A recent UN report on poverty in Britain released in November 2018 makes clear that decisions to reduce the budget deficit by freezing working age benefits, reducing Local Housing Allowances and the Bedroom Tax were always a political choice and not a necessity. While tax rates for the richest residents and corporations have fallen, it is the poorest and those such as the disabled and lone parent – mainly women – families who have been affected most. Most disturbing has been the huge recent rise of in-work poverty.
Over two thirds of families in poverty in the UK have at least one household member working. Since the 2008 crisis, as wages have not kept pace with rises in the cost of living, more families simply cannot earn enough to provide their family with a reasonable standard of living. Whilst wages have stagnated, employment has become less secure and the cost of housing has continued to rise beyond the reach of low-income households.
Local rents of £1100+ a month for small family homes eat into a huge proportion of low-income family incomes. Meanwhile access to much needed social and genuinely affordable housing is a distant dream with the record of Tunbridge Wells Borough Council in delivering being so abysmally bad.
Labour believes that the current poverty crisis has been allowed to develop due to the failure of Conservative policies at a national and local level. Low income residents are too easily ignored and we have a council whose regeneration strategy is based on the pipe dream of attracting West End theatre shows for the benefit of mainly well-off residents.
Brexit looms large over everything, sapping our collective energy to actually make a difference. Instead of a government focused on improving life chances for all our citizens it is wasting millions of pounds buying fridges and stockpiling drugs, practicing traffic jams in Manston and paying ferry companies without ferries just in case we get a ‘no deal’. Brexit will make us all poorer, not least our poorest residents.
Both the government and the council have a responsibility to make reducing poverty one of their number one priorities and then to deliver it. As the UN report concludes, all that is required is the political will to do so.
Want to help make a difference? Get involved with our 2019 Tunbridge Wells Borough Council election campaigns and help us get Labour councillors elected who will stand up against inequality.