Tuesday, 29 July 2008

To hell with poverty

So the Tories have noticed that there are poor people living in Toxteth... Blimey, what will they come up with next?

I lived in Toxteth during the mid-1980s, as a student (1983-86 to be precise). I moved into my flat just days after the second wave of riots. There were scorch marks on the road outside from a burnt-out car. Liverpool looked like it had been hit by a nuclear strike. Whole rows of terraced houses boarded up, with only one or two occupied. Derelict tower blocks with all the windows smashed out. Shops where all the stock was kept behind iron-barred counters. Vast areas of wasteland, which you simply didn't get in the affluent South; the land wasn't worth building on, and the empty blocks and warehouses weren't worth demolishing. Unlike Bristol, which is full of people who came here to go to uni and stayed, I don't know of anyone who stayed on in Liverpool after graduating; there simply weren't any jobs there.

Since then Britain has seen a real renaissance in our major cities. (Some of which has to be credited to Michael Heseltine, one of the more interventionist Tories, but most of which has happened under a Labour Government). I used to hop over to Manchester a lot, and was back there last July for Labour's leadership conference; it's been absolutely transformed. So has Leeds. So has Newcastle/ Gateshead. Yes, there are still poor areas and disparities in wealth; nowhere is this seen more than in Bristol, where Lawrence Hill and Stoke Bishop are worlds apart.

So why have the Tories suddenly brought this up? Have they decided that being poor isn't these people's own fault after all? (That was quick!) And more to the point -what do they intend to do about the inequalities in income and life expectancies that they are highlighting? Redistribution on a massive scale? Taxing the rich so we can invest more in public services? Well-funded job creation schemes?

No, their answer is to get voluntary groups to run back-to-work centres in deprived areas; help for children who are falling behind before they even start school (that from the party that opposed Sure Start?); tougher action against crime (consisting of what, exactly?); teaching 16 year olds about their responsibilities to society (after they've already had their citizenship lessons at school?); and more support for the voluntary sector. So when you put aside the waffle and the things Labour are doing already, what do you have left? Leaving it to the churches and charities. And where and when have we heard that before? From the Tories c. 1983-86? Remind me again how successful that was?

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