Poverty at Christmas is a political decision

These rough looking Santas, Erica, Kris and Jo raised money for Bernie Hollywood’s ‘ Boat for Hope’ which is raising money for programmes connected with children’s mental health.

Last week I went to our local football hub where one of the junior teams and a local company were collecting food, toys and other necessities for the Florrie food bank. It was great to see so many children, their parents and community members. I had to queue to give some gifts from the Church Ward councillors, Liz and Andrew Makinson and me to the big man himself, Mr S Claus esq.

There was such generosity in the air that the Florrie van soon filled, and they had to have at least two runs back to base! That was replicated that evening at a carol service around the Christmas Tree at the end of Penny Lane. Here St Barnabas Church, the Cornerstone Church and local business ‘Bean There’ not only held the event but also raised money to put towards the costs of the Christmas lunches that Cornerstone hope to provide for 200 people.

I was so proud of the generosity of people and so pleased that they were so aware of the problems in our city where at least 20% of children are brought up at an income level which is well below the poverty line. Having to raise money and give gifts for these people to have a decent Christmas brings out all the best in people. They know how lucky they are and conversely how unlucky others are.

Many other people in Liverpool are just one or two pay checks away from disaster. People who have always survived somehow have been placed in desperate straits by the combined economic effects of the pandemic and Brexit. Such financial insecurity and total lack of finances is fuelling huge increases in mental health problems, especially for children.

But it really does not need to be this way. Although our national wealth is declining, we are still one of the richest countries on earth. We have enough money to ensure that every man, woman and child can have a decent home, enough food and heat and a few bob in their pocket for some treats. Why don’t we do this? Perhaps the answer can be found in some responses from Tory MPs to the threat to the extra earnings from lobbying and consultancy.

I watched one Tory MP complain that £85,000 a year was not enough to live on. He needed to earn more as a consultant. He was one of the majority of Tories who had happily voted to end the £20 a week uplift in Universal Credit!! One of the reasons that Lord Frost resigned was because he wants us to become a low tax economy. (Actually, the real reason was that he realised the mess he’d made of Brexit!).

Well, I don’t want us to become a low tax country. I want us to be a fair tax country. I look to the Scandinavian countries where the proportion of tax is higher than ours, but the quality of public service is also higher. Decent homes and a decent education for all. Old Age pensions which do not need to be means tested. A health service which pays its staff decently and provides proper social care for the sick, disabled and elderly.

They are also countries which award contracts fairly rather than find ways of dodging proper processes to ensure that the Government’s mates can make a killing out of the provision of services.

Do you think people hate this? No, they don’t. Successive surveys show that people from Norway and Sweden and other countries have a huge satisfaction with the way of life. They value living in a country where they can live in safe, green and supportive environments.

I believe that raising the incomes of those at the bottom would save a fortune in other costs. Poor people take up more of the resources of the NHS because they live in damp and draughty accommodation, eat poorer food, and suffer the mental tortures of poverty.

Some of this doesn’t need more money just a more intelligent use of the money that we have got. What would happen if we abolished this like pension and income credits and housing allowances and just put more money in people’s pockets to begin with? Yes, I’m sure that a small percentage of those whose incomes would be boosted would gamble, drink, or smoke their way through the extra cash. However, the vast majority of people wouldn’t. They would spend the cash on getting more of the necessities of life for the friends and most importantly their families.

Abolishing means testing would, in theory, benefit people like me who have been able to put a bit away towards our retirement. That’s no problem. I continue to pay tax and would simply pay more tax back as part of a fiscal ‘levelling up’.

There will always be a need for ‘good works’ and for people to contribute towards things for people less off than themselves. So, we can always get satisfaction from being part of the delivery of cheer and support to those that need it.

But here’s the rub. I love giving stuff to food banks, but I hate doing it at the same time. I’m pleased that I have the wherewithal to give, yet angry that the need to give is so great in our wealthy society.

But enough of being Mr Angry. There’s nothing I can do about that until the New Year when I can continue to join with my fellow Lib Dems in defeating Tories at all levels (but not in Liverpool where they don’t exist).

Whatever your race, faith or creed, however you vote or don’t vote I send you best wishes from all the assembled Kemp family and from all the Liverpool Liberal Democrats. Have a good one!

About richardkemp

Leader of the Liberal Democrats in Liverpool. Deputy Chair and Lib Dem Spokesperson on the LGA Community Wellbeing Board. Married to the lovely Cllr Erica Kemp CBE with three children and four grandchildren.
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