War on the working class

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The daily harassment of working class people, particularly black and ethnic groups and the young, is being stepped up. Labour has given permission for drones (unmanned aerial vehicles) to spy on civilians. With 4.2 million CCTV cameras in operation, Britain is the most surveilled society in the world.

Using powers under section 60 of the 1994 Criminal Justice and Public Order Act, the Metropolitan Police force has vastly increased stops and searches aimed at harassing black youth. These powers, introduced to deal with ‘football hooligans’ and ‘gang fights’, have replaced the infamous ‘sus’ laws and allow police to stop and search without grounds for suspicion in designated areas. In 2008-09 the number increased to 80,000, from 4,400 in 2003-04. Additional stop and search powers, again without grounds for suspicion, can be used under the Terrorism Act 2000. Under section 44, 200,444 people were stopped in the year ending September 2009. How far these powers are a vehicle for harassment is revealed by the arrest rate of 0.5% and the fact that black and minority ethnic people are much more likely to be stopped.

Anti-social behaviour

In 1998, the Labour government introduced Anti-Social Behaviour Orders (ASBOs). These orders forbid people from doing certain things or going to certain places. The prosecuting authority only has to show on the balance of probabilities that the conduct is anti-social, and once the order is imposed, breaching it becomes a criminal offence carrying a possible five years’ imprisonment. By 2007 there were nearly 15,000 ASBOs in England and Wales.

In 2003 Labour widened the attack with the Anti-Social Behaviour Act (ASBA) creating new powers to issue injunctions and ‘parenting orders’, close premises, designate ‘problem’ tenants for eviction and set up dispersal zones, whereby any group of two or more people can be compelled to leave or face arrest. ASBA also amended the Public Order Act so that the police can impose conditions on any ‘static demonstration’ of two or more people.

Vote Labour to lock up the poor

More repressive policing and laws mean more people go to prison. During 18 years of Conservative government to 1997, the prison population of England and Wales rose from 42,364 to 60,131. Since 1997 it has risen to 84,073. Britain has more life sentenced prisoners than Germany, France, Russia and Turkey put together. Having already added electronic tagging, minimum sentences, the two-strikes life sentence, ASBOs, control orders and indefinite detention for ‘foreign terrorists’ to the pre-existing regime, in 2003 the government overhauled the entire sentencing structure and created a system where open-ended sentences are the norm for all violent or sex offences.

All this needs new prisons. Within a week of Labour’s election in 1997, Home Secretary Jack Straw announced that all new prisons would be privately built and run. Under Labour, punishment has become big business with Serco, G4S, GEO and other corporations competing to run prisons, immigration removal centres, court services, electronic monitoring, prison transport and a plethora of other ‘services’. Current plans are to create a further 20,000 privately-run prison places by 2014 in a programme costing up to £4.5bn.

Vote Labour for more inequality

Inequality has increased during the years of the Labour government. Significant economic growth until 2008 could not re-create the conditions of the post-war boom when it was possible to guarantee the relatively privileged conditions of higher paid workers and the middle class while sustaining adequate living standards for the working class.

Between 1996/97 and 2007/08, the income share of the poorest 20% fell from 5.9% to 5.3% whilst that for the richest 20% rose from 43.2% to 45.6%. The ratio of the income share of the richest to the poorest 20% rose from 7.3:1 to 8.7:1. A report, The effects of taxes and benefits on household income 2007/08, concluded that ‘the large increase in inequality which took place in the second half of the 1980s has not been reversed’. A recent London School of Economics report shows that households in the top 10% have a total wealth 100 times those in the bottom 10%, with households in the top 1% each possessing a minimum wealth of £2.6m.

Labour cuts benefits

On coming into office in 1997 Labour proceeded with the draconian Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) regime, and over the years has continued to tighten eligibility for the miserly income it provides. Today’s JSA has fallen by 25% against average earnings since 1997, and now stands at 10.5% of average earnings, half of what unemployment benefit was on average from its introduction in 1912 until 1979 when the Tories tied it to inflation.

Income support levels for those who are not working have fallen under Labour. For single people over 24 without children, they fell from 65% of the poverty line in 1997/98 to only 50% in 2008/09; for couples without children they fell from 60% to 46%; for couples with children, income support levels remained 20% below the poverty line. Labour has punished such people as the ‘undeserving poor’. Over half a million suffer fraud investigations each year to ensure they get no more than the pittance they are due, while the recent Welfare Act demands that virtually everyone claiming benefits will have to do forced labour.

Vote Labour for more poverty

The number of people living in poverty (defined as below 60% of median household income after housing costs) in 1979 was 7.9 million; by 1997, it had risen to 14 million. After 12 years of Labour, however, it was still 13.5 million and growing under the impact of the financial crisis. Pensioners fared better: 29.1% were living in poverty in 1996/ 97; this fell to 17.6% in 2004/05 but is now rising and stood at 19% in 2007/08.

Although the proportion of children living in poverty fell from 34.1% in 1996/97 to 28.4% in 2004/05, it then started to rise, and by 2007/08 had reached 31%. In 2007/08 there were 4.0 million children living in poverty (2.1 million in 1979 and 4.3 million in 1997), of whom nearly half lived in persistent poverty (below the poverty line in three out of four successive years). Labour failed to meet its initial target – reducing child poverty by 25% by 2004/05, and its second target as well – halving child poverty by 2010. As increases in state expenditure on child-related tax credits and benefits tailed off from 2004, the proportion living in poverty began to rise again.

FRFI 214 April / May 2010


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