Labour pledges to ‘wage war’ on poverty

The election promise comes as the party prepares to unveil a report showing the 10 ways poverty has increased since the Tories came to power.

Shadow chancellor John McDonnell
Shadow chancellor John McDonnell

Labour has accused the Tories of dragging large swathes of the UK’s population into poverty after almost a decade at the helm.

Shadow chancellor John McDonnell has vowed a Labour administration will “wage war” on poverty if it takes power after the December 12 election, with policies designed to eradicate low pay and food bank use.

A report due to be published by the party on Wednesday is set to outline how the Conservatives have failed to tackle poverty and hardship in society.

The Tories responded by accusing Labour of “peddling lies and misleading statistics for political gain”.

The report, Poverty Britain, will set out the 10 ways in which poverty has risen and living standards have fallen since 2010.

According to the analysis, food banks have given out 65 million meals in the past five years – enough for one per person in the UK.

Labour has committed to halving the number of food bank handouts needed within a year of gaining office.

Meanwhile, under the Tories wages have stagnated – costing the average worker more than £6,000 in the past nine years – and the number of children growing up in relative policy has increased by half a million, according to the party’s findings.

A United Nations report on UK poverty levels, published in March, predicted overall child poverty rates could reach 40% by 2021 under the current level of decline.

“For almost one in every two children to be poor in 21st century Britain would not just be a disgrace but a social calamity and an economic disaster rolled into one,” said Professor Philip Alston’s UN report.

The number of adults with no savings has increased from 17 million to 20 million, while in-work poverty has risen by 1.5 million people, Labour said.

Mr McDonnell said: “Poverty in Britain is now the most visible and widespread it has been in decades.

“This new report shows the Tories have failed to tackle 10 modern scourges of poverty, each becoming more entrenched on their watch.

“The next Labour Government will wage war on poverty in all its forms, eliminating in-work poverty, ending austerity and raising living standards across the country.”

As well as looking to end food bank use, Labour has vowed to eliminate in-work poverty over the course of a five-year Parliament if Jeremy Corbyn is elected prime minister.

His administration would put the minimum wage up to £10 for those aged 16 and over, while scrapping Universal Credit, along with the benefit cap and the two-child limit for welfare payments.

Labour said it would clamp down on problem debt by capping credit card and overdraft repayments so borrowers never repay more in interest than they originally borrowed.

It has already revealed plans to expand free childcare for those aged two to four and provide universal free school meals for all primary pupils.

General Election 2019
Labour has pledged to put the Tories’ record on poverty under the spotlight (Steve Parsons/PA)

Work and Pensions Secretary Therese Coffey hit back, saying: “Corbyn’s Labour are repeatedly peddling lies and misleading statistics for political gain. This is yet another example in a long list.

“People are better off in work under this Government and average wages have outpaced inflation for the last 20 months in a row.

“Our National Living Wage is giving a pay rise for millions of the lowest earners. We have record employment, with 3.7 million jobs created by the Conservatives.

“In stark contrast, every Labour Government has left office with higher unemployment than when they came in.”

She added: “Corbyn cannot be trusted and the Conservatives will continue to call out Labour lies.

“Only a vote for Boris Johnson’s Conservatives will get Brexit done, avoid the chaos of two referendums and allow us to focus on the people’s priorities like creating jobs, the NHS and our schools.”

Trade unions have backed the opposition party’s proposals, with the National Education Union branding the rise of child poverty “not right”.

Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary, said Government policies had “pushed 800,000 more children living in working families into poverty” and said almost half a million were living “below the breadline”.

“Teachers and support staff work on the front line of child poverty and witness its devastating effects every day,” he said.

“Children living in insecure or temporary housing, children who have no food in the cupboards at home and children walking to school in flip flops in winter because they cannot afford decent school shoes cannot come to school ready to learn.”

Trades Union Congress general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “This is a serious plan for healing the pain a decade of Conservative cuts have caused.”

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