Party leader Ed Miliband will announce repeal of the hated bedroom tax, “a symbol of an out-of-touch government standing up only for the interests of a privileged few.”
September is the season of party conferences in the U.K., and this year the focus of all parties appears to be the economy, and more specifically, on the fall-out of the austerity measures put in place by the David Cameron-led government’s and their impact on wages, employment and the standards of living of ordinary Britons.
The highlight of the Liberal Democratic Party conference earlier this week in Glasgow was a commitment to provide children in the first three years of primary school a free lunch, regardless of their parents’ income. This will cost the government £600 million a year.
The Labour Party conference that is to begin in Brighton on Sunday will unfold a host of anti-austerity measures that the party promises to implement if voted to power. Labour leader Ed Miliband, addressing the start of the conference on Sunday will say, “One Nation Labour is meeting here in Brighton talking about the most important issue facing families in Britain: the cost of living crisis.”
He will announce repeal of the hated bedroom tax, or the spare-room subsidy, “a symbol of an out-of-touch government standing up only for the interests of a privileged few.” He will argue that “two-thirds of the 660,000 people affected are disabled and the vast majority do not have the option of moving to smaller accommodation.”
(The bedroom tax that was implemented from April 1, 2013, as part of the government’s welfare reforms, will cut the benefits that people are eligible for if they are deemed to have a spare bedroom in their council or housing association home. Many families who cannot afford the tax will be forced to leave their homes. The tax was recently sharply criticised by Raquel Rolnik, the U.N. special rapporteur on housing, as impacting the most vulnerable who are forced to bear the brunt of the policy.)
Mr. Miliband will also pledge that his party, if elected in 2015, will guarantee parents of primary school children “wraparound” child care between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m.
The Labour position on the economy concurs in spirit, if not in precise detail, with the understanding of and policy response to austerity measures outlined by the Trade Union Congress that held its conference in Bournemouth recently.
The Labour Party conference in Brighton will also be a test of Mr. Miliband’s leadership. The criticism from within the party of his lack of direction and purposiveness has muted somewhat after his skillful performance in bringing on to a common voting platform parliamentarians from across parties opposed to military intervention in Syria. This critical anti-war vote in the U.K. House of Commons led by the Labour Party shaped the diplomatic initiative in the Syrian crisis.
The popularity and electoral prospects of the Labour Party will depend to a great extent on how they respond to pressing livelihood issues. According to the Resolution Foundation, a think tank that concerns itself with issues relating to the living standards of poor and middle class Britons, the recession has pushed another 1.4 million employees below the living wage, the rate that ensures a basic standard of living. According to the study Low Pay Britain 2013, 4.8 million British citizens earn below the living wage.