Tuesday 20 March 2007

Whatever happened to equality as a Labour aim?

We published today the Left Economic Advisory Panel's (LEAP) alternative budget analysis, entitled "Whatever happened to equality?"

LEAP is a group which I founded and chair comprising socialist economists providing economic policy analysis and advice for the Left. It serves as our alternative to the Bank of England Advisory Committee but looks to the much longer term economic propects. LEAP publishes its Red Papers twice a year both prior to the autumn statement and prior to the budget. You can read and download LEAP's pre budget report on the Labour Representation Committee's website.

Ten years in power affords any government the opportunity of laying the foundations of the society it wishes to create. After ten years of New Labour Government and ten years of Gordon Brown's budgets it is valid and indeed timely to question the reality of the impact of the Chancellor's economic policies in shaping our community and the quality of life of our citizens.

The conclusion is that the most startling feature of our current society is the grotesque inequality which is disfiguring our community. Even the Financial Times today points out the difference that exists between the significant growth of GDP and the lack of matching growth in disposable income for many families suffering from low pay, long working hours, heavy tax burdens on the lower paid and rising housing costs, council tax and energy prices. Far from overcoming boom and bust what has been created over the last decade is an economy which is boom for some but bust for others.

In tomorrow's budget the Chancellor is hardly going to miss the opportunity prior a leadership election of making a great show of additional expenditure on education and some targetted benefit and expenditure increases but this will only be tinkering at the edges of inequality. Too many millions of our pensioners and of our children will still be going to bed in poverty tomorrow night because New Labour has refused to even accept inequality as an issue to be addressed over three terms of office.

Finally on a separate issue I spoke at the Stop the War assembly in Central Hall, Westminster today on the fourth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, alongside Rose Gentle, a member of the military families who have lost relatives in Iraq. I thought what sadness and brutality Blair and Brown and all those who voted for this disgraceful war have brought into our lives. But it is not just the war for which this Government stands accused of inhumanity.

Before I spoke I had met Bob Holman, a Labour Party member for 43 years. Bob is an immensely respected community activist in Scotland, a writer, researcher and social policy expert. He showed me a report in today's Herald, the daily Scottish newspaper. It described how Mr Uddhav Bhandari, a father of two and an asylum seeker from Nepal, had doused himself in petrol and set himself alight earlier this month because he was facing a second legal hearing which could have resulted in him being forcibly returned to Nepal where his life was at risk. Mr Bhandari died yesterday.

The paper also reported that another asylum seeker, Mr Max Waku, who had fled from the Congo, was arrested from his home in a dawn raid. His children watched as their father was handcuffed and led out of the house to a waiting van. The children and their mother were then themselves removed one by one from their home and put into vans.

I find it hard to come to terms with the suffering that the Government is inflicting both at home and abroad.

That's why we need not just a change of leader but a wholesale change of the policies.