We often hear that Brexit is the main dividing line in our country. It can seem that way in Westminster. Last week’s vote showed how divided Parliament is on the vital issue of how (not whether) Brexit should proceed. The irony that a campaign to restore parliamentary sovereignty has ended in legislation allowing this Government to ignore Parliament, was not lost on the 290 MPs who voted against the Government’s power-grab Bill. But beyond House of Commons, divisions in Britain run much deeper.
In recent years a gulf has emerged between those who earn extraordinary sums and those that scrape by; those who can find a job in their area and those who can’t; those that our slashed social security system still supports to get back on their feet or enjoy a healthy retirement, and those that it doesn’t. These inequalities were described recently by the International Monetary Fund as the ‘most defining challenge of our time’.
Pay, for example, has flat-lined throughout the seven years of Conservative rule, with real wages on average lower than they were in 2008, while executive pay has ballooned to more than 386 times the pay of a worker on the National Living Wage.
The Conservative policy of freezing, then capping, public sector wages to pay for a crisis caused by the finance sector has only made things worse. Hundreds of thousands of nurses, teachers, police officers and firefighters have seen their pay fall, sometimes by as much as £3 an hour in real terms.
The Government promised that work would be a reliable route out of poverty, but four out of five people in low paid work are still in low paid work ten years on.
A recent analysis by the New Policy Institute shows the link between poverty and disability growing stronger, with half of those in poverty now either living with a disability or with someone who is disabled. The same evidence shows that households with a disabled person are more likely to lack basic items than those on the same income without a disabled person. The Tories’ failing austerity agenda has widened the gap between disabled people and non-disabled people, taking us backwards in the struggle to overcome discrimination and ensure everyone is able to fully participate in society.
Inequality extends to healthy life expectancy. A man in Wokingham will expect to live with good health for 18 years longer than a man in Tower Hamlets, who will likely fall ill 14 years before being eligible for retirement. Yet the Government decided to go ahead with its plans to raise the state pension age to 68, which will further entrench that inequality.
But this unfairness is not inevitable. Labour’s manifesto set out our plan to rebalance our economy in favour of the many, and to reverse the cruel cuts that have further entrenched inequality and division in our society.
We will give Britain a long-awaited pay rise, closing the divisions in the labour market by introducing a real living wage of £10 an hour.
Our manifesto for disabled people ‘Nothing about you, without you’ committed to scrapping the Work Capability Assessment, reviewing and expanding the Access to Work programme, and to providing disabled people with the support that so many have been demanding to ensure they can participate fully in our society.
We will bring the State Pension Age back down to 66 while we review the latest evidence on healthy life expectancy to ensure the next Labour Government guarantees security and dignity in retirement. We will also provide transitional protections to women born in the 1950s, who were unduly affected by Government’s changes to the state pension age.
Brexit has been described as the challenge of our generation. But once Brexit is done and dusted in 2019, we will still be left with a divided country under this Government. Labour’s plans will begin to heal these divisions, ensuring that no one is left behind or held back because of where they come from, their income or disability, and that everyone has the opportunity to flourish in a society that truly works for the many.