Cameron, Next and “padded bras”

Will the Conservative leader condemn the Tory party donor Simon Wolfson?

David Cameron yesterday was quick to condemn the high-street chain Primark as "disgraceful" for selling swimsuits with padded bras for seven- and eight-year-olds -- or "paedo bikinis", in the typically inimitable words of the Sun, which broke the story.

With the Tory manifesto highlighting the "sexualisation" and "commercialisation" of young children as a campaign issue, it's not surprising that the Tory leader was so "delighted" to see Primark apologise, and immediately withdraw the offensive clothing range, only days after his party's manifesto launch.

However, today's Sun moves the story on, reporting that other leading high-street clothing stores, including Next, Tammy and Peacocks, have been selling similar items. Next, says the Sun, sells "padded bras in Size 28AA in their girls' sections online".

So, will Cameron also be condemning Next as "disgraceful"? Will he be calling for a boycott of Next by parents of young girls? Or reminding Next of its responsibilities, as he did with Primark?

I doubt it. Next's chief executive is Simon Wolfson, one of David Cameron's most vociferous supporters in the business world, having donated to Cameron's campaign in the 2005 leadership election and co-chaired the party's Economic Competitiveness policy review.

He also happened to co-ordinate the all-important letter from business leaders backing the Tories' National Insurance policy last week. Oh, and his dad, Lord Wolfson, is a former Thatcher lackey.

So, expect radio silence from Cameron on Wolfson. Primark, BAD BAD BAD. Next, perhaps not so bad.

Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

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Private renter poverty has doubled in a decade - so where's Labour?

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation named housing market failures as driving poverty. 

Labour’s economic policy task is enormous. It must find a coherent argument that addresses Brexit, the “left behinds”, and a nervous business community. But there is one policy area that should be an open goal – private renting. 

The number of private renters in poverty has doubled over the last decade, according to a new report from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. Those most likely to fall into poverty are working families – there were 2.8m of these people in 2014-15, compared to 1m a decade earlier.

“Failures in the housing market are a significant driver of poverty,” the report noted, after finding more than 70 per cent of private renters in poverty pay at least a third of their income in rent.

This is particularly the case if you consider the knock-on effect - housing benefit. This benefit was frozen by George Osborne, meaning that by 2015 Shelter calculated rates had fallen behind actual rents in nearly 70 per cent of England. For families out of work, of course, housing benefit is also included in the benefit cap. 

Private renter poverty is easily characterised as an inner-city problem – the kind cherished by the “metropolitan elite”. But in fact, across Great Britain as a whole, roughly one in ten children under 19 lives in a family that is privately renting and claiming housing benefit. The highest percentage was in Blackpool, followed by the Essex coastal area of Tendring, followed by London boroughs. Private renting is a trend that affects both the Remain strongholds and the Leave coastal towns.

So far, Labour has been relatively quiet on private renting. During the summer’s leadership campaign, Jeremy Corbyn promised to introduce “rent controls, secure tenancies and a charter of private tenants’ rights” (a promise he repeated as part of a longer speech in November). But this is hardly a blockbuster campaign. 

And the challenges are great. A convincing renting policy must explain how Labour would deal with a reactionary letting market industry (including pensioner voters), whether renting should be a step to buying, or an end in itself, and how new council and social housing would be allocated.

Labour could also, though, tie a rent campaign into other trends - the growing army of self-employed that find it hard to prove their wages to a landlord or mortgage lender, the working families on frozen benefits, and the employers that find their employees priced out of the local area. And pissed-off tenants are not hard to find. 

If Labour doesn’t move soon on an issue that should be its natural home, the government may steal the keys. In the Autumn Statement, Philip Hammond helped himself to Ed Miliband’s 2015 promise to ban letting agent fees. The government has also set up a working group with members of the private renting industry. (Yes, the government may also be selling off social housing under Right to Buy, but if you never had the option of social housing anyway, this may pass you by.)

Fixing the housing market takes imagination and a steeliness to take on entrenched interests. But if Labour does come up with a solution, it could touch the lives of voters, both Leave and Remain. 

 

Julia Rampen is the editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog. She was previously deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.