Sunday saw speakers and supporters from different parties unite against the government's austerity in Hitchin at the North Herts. People's Assembly meeting in Market Place. Speaking on behalf of the Labour party against austerity, Hitchin Oughton Ward councillor Frank Radcliffe called for us all to hold our elected representatives to account and stand up for what we believe in.
Thank you for coming out this afternoon to listen to an alternative view to austerity, which clearly isn’t working for many of us in North Hertfordshire.
I am the district councillor responsible for Oughton ward , the 10th most impoverished ward in the whole of Hertfordshire – here in Hitchin!
I see the impact austerity has on people from my area daily – the disabled woman who had to move out because she has too many bedrooms according to the Government, the woman with three daughters, one who has Crohn’s disease, who was threatened with eviction because she lost her job and couldn’t pay the rent, the unemployed man who has lived in Hitchin all his life, who was forced to sofa surf and was suicidal because he couldn’t get a job or council accommodation.
The Westmill Community Centre is charged over £11,000 for utility bills for a year – money that could be going back into running community events like parent and toddler groups, lunch clubs for senior citizens and youth clubs. But that money goes to some faceless shareholder and overpaid CEO at another major corporation who can afford to lobby members of the House of Lords and Commons to ensure their agenda is met – MAKING A PROFIT. The collateral damage of fuel poverty was the death of one OAP every 7 minutes, last winter according to Age UK estimates.
Our local Conservative MP Peter Lilley took home over £99,000 last year IN ADDITION to his £67,060 MP salary. And guess what a large part of his income comes from - his work with Tethys Petroleum Ltd – a gas and oil firm operating in Central Asia. Perhaps we ought to ask him for a bigger contribution to the Westmill Community Centre which he hires for his surgery every few months, or perhaps he could contribute some of his 10% pay rise to the public sector workers that have been told they are going to get a derisory 1% pay increase for each of the next four years whilst the cost of living rises - CLEARLY WE ARE NOT ALL IN THIS TOGETHER!
Austerity measures are also an ideology to reduce the numbers of “hard-working people” in the public sector, therefore allowing private companies to take over, devolve the responsibility of the Government and to make profit at the expense of workers' terms and conditions.
We have already seen what has happened with the Royal Mail and how speculators have made a pretty penny at the expense of tax payers in what should be a public sector business.
The privatisation of the public sector also potentially weakens the trade union movement as private companies refuse to recognise this democratic movement that brought us:
- Two-day weekends
- Eight-hour working days
- Maternity leave
- Retirement ages
- Occupational health and safety
- Workplace pensions
- Paid holidays
- Equality laws
- The right not to be sacked because you got married, had a baby, or became ill
- Pay increases
- The minimum wage
- Collective bargaining
- The right for the working classes to organise themselves
- A standard of living above that of 1850s Britain
If you are not in a Union, join one now to help safeguard the rights we have fought so hard for!
I believe this Government thinks that they can keep fooling us into believing unemployment figures are falling. Four people doing one person’s job on a zero hours contract, working for companies like Sports Direct, is not my idea of gainful employment. Zero hours contracts are a disaster area for most and are being used to drive down wages and terms and condition ensuring staff can be sacked at a minute's notice with no compensation. This attack on workers' rights has been going on for some time, but the Tories were happy to introduce fees for employment tribunals and increase the qualifying time from 12 months employment to two years.
The Labour Party in North Herts. asked the local Tory run council to demand that any contractors working for the council pay their staff a living wage. The council already pays its employees the living wage of £7.85 an hour, a good 65 pence more than George Osborne’s derisory £7.20 offer that he conjured up in his laughable budget. The Tory council here refused to support our motion and therefore we have the likes of multi-national company Veolia, which earned £9 billion of new contracts in 2014, not paying its staff the living wage here because the Tories deem it not to be our business to be interfering with private companies.
One in three people in some places in the UK work for the public sector, from nurses, to roadsweepers, to librarians. If we lose those jobs we are at the whim of these multi-national corporations. We should be supporting many of the small businesses we see around this town. Communities will be torn up as workers will have to move wherever the companies see fit. These globalised companies are beholden to shareholders, not ordinary working people or ministers who answer to us as constituents. But there are alternatives to austerity to stimulate growth and help us grow our communities, not destroy them.
We can start up new green investment banks that can help move the economy away from an over–reliance on finance to generating growth and jobs in a low-carbon economy.
We can lower the current ridiculous rate of 20% VAT. The added money spent in the local community will not be wasted on things such as 10% pay rises for MP’s or Ian Duncan Smith’s credit card bill!
Direct policies to create jobs, such as the Future Jobs Fund which was cut by the Government
Re-Nationalise the Railways and Utilities companies.
Institute a state investment bank based on the Nationalised RBS and Lloyds banks.
A fairer tax system that would include closing the £40 billion UK annual tax gap – this is the amount of tax that could be raised by more efficient enforcement of by closing loopholes.
And finally a Robin Hood tax on financial institutions that could raise £20 billion a year.
Some of you may think how can we do anything to affect the status quo. You have the power to decide how you spend your money. I won’t spend my money in Starbucks; because they don’t pay their taxes in this country. They are happy to sell you their products but don’t want to contribute to the roads they deliver their goods on or to pay for healthcare services after slurping their sugary cappuccinos.
And finally call your councillors and MP’s to account for their actions and if they are not working for you –protest, make your voice heard and use your vote to get your message across!
Austerity doesn’t work – you do!
Councillor Frank Radcliffe
Hitchin Oughton Ward