The Conservative’s claim in the Queen’s speech that they are “making the country fairer” is, quite frankly, laughable. There was nothing to tackle the escalating poverty levels, including record levels of in-work poverty, whilst Britain’s top bosses pay balloons to 312 times a care worker and 132 times a police officer.
The ‘magic money tree’ was more than plentiful when it came to the Tories sealing their grubby deal with the Democratic Unionist Party, but when it came to our public sector workers and lifting the pay cap which is impoverishing them, it had disappeared.
May’s warm words praising our emergency workers after the horrendous terrorist attacks in Manchester and London and the devastating Grenfell Tower disaster are meaningless without action, as some of her Cabinet Ministers and backbenchers are now saying.
Similarly, during the general election campaign, May was challenged by a woman who had been subjected to the dehumanising work capability assessment, but in spite of her hand-wringing during her only TV debate appearance there was nothing on social security to help make our country fairer.
There were U-turns on scrapping the triple lock and on cutting the Winter Fuel Payment for 10 million pensioners, as well as kicking the ‘dementia tax’ into the long grass for the time being.
But what about the 2 million or so women affected by the increase in their state pension age, the so-called WASPI women? Or the Government’s overdue response to the Cridland report, which recommended another increase to the state pension age? How are they going to address child poverty, already standing at nearly £4m with three-quarters of these children in working families?
Why is the Government failing yet again to listen to over 50 per cent of the electorate who voted against austerity in last month’s general election?
The courts are also ruling against the Government’s attacks on social security. The High Court recently ruled that the benefit cap was “unlawful” for lone parents with young children, saying it had a “discriminatory impact on children”.
This follows a decision last year to reign in the Conservatives’ despised Bedroom Tax, and another which ruled in favour of providing Personal Independence Payments to 160,000 people with chronic mental health conditions. Sadly, these judgements seem to have had little impact upon the Government's approach.
Importantly, the tide is turning against this disastrous economic programme, far beyond parliament and the judiciary. The British Social Attitudes survey, published this week, shows that nearly 48 per cent of the public support increased taxation to invest in our public services, while distrust of our social security system is at a historic low. Over 80 per cent of people believe that we should give the NHS the funding that it so desperately needs.
This should come as no surprise, given the fifth largest economy in the world is home to more than 13 million people living in poverty, with wages increasingly failing to keep up with inflation. Wages are still lower than they were before the economic crisis, while the national debt has ballooned under the Tories’ so-called “term economic plan”. Bogus self-employment, underemployment and the heavy reliance on zero-hours contracts all point to a lack of investment to make our economy productive, while demonstrating the perverse effects of forcing people to take any job available or be sanctioned.
Labour stood on a different platform: we will transform the social security system so that, like the NHS, it is there for us all in our time of need.
That means scrapping the Tories punitive sanctions regime and despised Bedroom Tax, reforming Universal Credit to ensure that work will always pay, and banning zero-hour contracts. All the while guaranteeing workers’ rights against a Tory hard Brexit.
We will also implement the recent High Court ruling on the benefit cap immediately from Government. While we undertake a wider review of the Benefit Cap, including its impacts on poverty, homelessness and work, we will tackle the root causes affecting the cap: for example, high rents and low wages.
Transforming the social security system means treating disabled people with respect and dignity, and ending the intrusive assessments which this Government has repeatedly forced disabled people through, in favour of an approach based on principles of inclusion and support.
Finally, it includes protecting the income of pensioners, whom the Tories tried so desperately to deprive of a secure and dignified retirement in their manifesto.
But transforming the social security system goes hand in hand with a wider project: Labour knows that we must transform the economy if we are to create a society that no longer holds people back. This will not only give people across the UK more opportunities to succeed, but will allow us to build the strongest possible safety net for those that have been left behind over the last seven years.
To this end, we will create a real, Living Wage at £10 an hour by 2020, invest to create jobs across the UK through our National Investment Bank, and build the genuinely affordable homes that people need, rather than handing billions to private landlords through Housing Benefit.
This is Labour’s plan as a Government in waiting: to end the failed Tory austerity project, whilst building a Britain that works for the many, not just the few.
Debbie Abrahams is Member of Parliament for Oldham East and Saddleworth and Shadow Secretary of State for Work & Pensions