In the wake of today’s story in the Chronicle that child poverty is rising to such an extent that almost 50% of young people in some parts of the North East (47%, Elswick, Newcastle) are living in poverty, I was asked on Twitter for my views.
Sometimes, 140 characters just isn’t enough to do justice to an issue. I don’t think that even a single article is enough to do justice to it, either. I believe that we have genuine poverty today in a way that we didn’t see when I was growing up in the 1980s and 1990s. At that time, people spoke of poverty in relative terms. But I don’t think that’s what we’re talking about in the 21st century. We’re talking about families who literally struggle to put food on the table, children going to school hungry and without having suitable clothing.
Douglas Carswell, UKIP’s first elected MP, said “If we speak with passion, let it always be tempered with compassion”. In just a few words, he’s articulated exactly what UKIP should be about. I may be passionate in opposing the waste of our foreign aid budget, when it goes to countries in the G20 or those with nuclear and space programmes. But I am equally compassionate when I hear of those suffering with and dying from Ebola, those whose livelihoods are wrecked by tornadoes, earthquakes and floods. In those cases we should be the first to help.
I may be passionate about having a controlled immigration policy, but equally compassionate about helping our fair share of refugees who are genuinely fleeing persecution. I may be passionate about having a much tougher stance on crime, yet believe in compassion and mercy where the circumstances warrant it. I may believe that our National Health Service should not be an international health service, yet still believe that it’s right to make exceptions in a case like that of Malala Yousafzai – whether on humanitarian grounds or simply to send out a message to the world.
That’s the UKIP way: passion, tempered with compassion; libertarianism, tempered with common sense; democracy, tempered with nothing.
I’ve seen the problem of child poverty through visits to food banks. I don’t believe that in the 21st century we should still have a society where food banks are needed – but we do. And whilst we do, as well as having a responsibility to speak out as an elected Member of the European Parliament, I believe I have a responsibility as a citizen to do my bit in donating.
Many children in poverty have parents who are in work, for whom the minimum wage just isn’t enough. What can be done? We can’t adopt Labour’s £8/hour minimum wage plan, because it would be beyond the ability of many companies to pay (particularly here in the North East). That would just increase unemployment and wouldn’t help anyone. Instead, we should raise the tax threshold so that those on minimum wage aren’t paying a penny piece in income tax.
For others the problem is sick leave; some people fall through the gaps when they’re ill and only capable of working sporadically. In the absence of a regular income, the bureaucratic nature of the benefits system means that they often get nothing at the time they need help the most.
The answer here is to simplify the benefits system; well-meaning but misguided Labour politicians from 1997 to 2010 made the system so complicated that many people don’t get the help they need when they fall on hard times.
Still others struggle for lack of a job, and our North East unemployment is the highest in the land. The answer here is to create jobs: to have a bonfire of EU regulations, make British business more competitive, scrap laws pushing our energy prices higher, and to provide tax relief for small businesses.
Politicians of all parties will say things like “we have to do more to stop child poverty”. I don’t disagree, but the best approach would be to unravel the mess that they’ve created.
No tax on minimum wage, a simpler and fairer benefits system, and encourage businesses to grow and create jobs.