A Labour government elected in 2015 will face stark choices. Big reform, not big spending will be the mantra as we reshape the state to tackle inequality and embed early intervention as a key plank of public service reform.
Over recent years life has got harder, not easier for many families and children in Britain. The promise of Britain – that each generation will be better off, more secure and have more opportunity than the last has been broken.
But it is not just the social fabric of Britain which has changed for the worst, trust in politics and politicians has continued to nosedive. Damaged already by the expenses scandal the tension between the political class and the public remains. There are sections of society that feel angry and unrepresented, whilst others merely turn their heads and shrug.
In my own area in Manchester I see this on the doorstep and in community meetings. People have lost the will to trust politicians, they see us as all the same; living it up in Westminster whilst their families struggle to make ends meet. I have the dubious honour of having the lowest turn-out in any parliamentary election since the war. Since my election I’ve been talking to local residents about how we tackle this issue.
People tell me they think politicians are all the same, that we’re in it for ourselves, that we’re not like ordinary people. When I tell them I’m an MP they say I don’t live up to their stereotypes of white, pale, male and stale. To tackle the crisis in politics MPs need to reach out to communities. To be rooted in their neighbourhoods and championing the political dispossessed. Whilst Labour leads the way all parties must do more to make sure that people sitting on the green benches look like those sitting in cafés or staff rooms in Manchester or those sitting in GP waiting rooms in Milton Keynes, Middlesbrough or Maidenhead.
People feel powerless – worn down by the energy giants and their price hikes, train operators raising fares above inflation as overcrowding increases or the zero hours culture and poverty wages that some businesses thrive on. All these issues heap more pressure on families and communities and feed this feeling of powerlessness, helplessness and hopelessness we see today in politics and our political system.
People want big change not small, incremental steps. Ed Miliband gets this challenge and that’s why he is so determined to take on the vested interests and the unaccountable power in the country and economy.
Whether it’s taking on the energy companies, calling out Rupert Murdoch’s media empire or championing a living wage and policies to make work pay Ed has been on the side of our communities.
Labour in 2015 will reshape the country by tackling inequality in every walk of life. The unfairness that sees cleaners getting up at the crack of dawn to work three jobs on poverty pay whilst bankers get a tax cut. The unfairness that sees mothers shut out of the labour market because sky high childcare costs mean work doesn’t pay. The unfairness that means that people living in the poorest communities are being hit harder and by bigger reductions in services that those in leafy suburbs.
We will try to repair our broken political system by reaching out and empowering our communities. Giving councils more powers to set local agendas. Devolving funding and responsibility so they can shape their services to meet the demands and needs of local populations.
In my own area of childcare and children we will increase the bank levy to extend free childcare from 15 to 25 hours for working parents with three and four year olds so that parents, for the first time, could work part time without having to pay for childcare. This benefits not just mums stuck at home but the economy too. It tackles gender inequality and would begin to close the gender pay gap rising under this government.
A one nation Labour Party in 2015 would put tackling inequality at the heart of our political and social programme. Tackling the inequalities that mean poorer children start school eighteen months behind their peers. Tackling the inequalities that mean low income mothers are trapped at home when they want to go out and work. Tackling the inequalities that mean that parents can slave away at work only to have to visit a foodbank to feed their kids because work doesn’t pay.
By reaching out and engaging with the roots of inequality and malaise in our political system we may begin to tackle the crisis in our democracy and in people’s lives.
By reforming the state to provide effective early help that will make a difference we will be able to turn people’s lives around and tackle grinding inequality which leave poor children with poorer life chances.
Lucy Powell is Labour and Co-operative member of parliament for Manchester Central