Washing hangs out to dry in the London borough of Tower Hamlets on February 21, 2013. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Three ways the recovery could turn the rising tide of poverty

History tells us growth doesn’t always filter to the poorest – here’s how it could.

Economic news has been noticeably cheery recently. Today, the ONS announced the economy grew by 0.8 per cent in the first quarter of 2014 – the fifth successive period of GDP growth. Yesterday, the CBI reported survey results showed business optimism at its highest since the survey started in 2003. And two weeks ago, the ONS reported that wage growth had caught up with inflation and that there were 239,000 more people employed between December 2013 and February 2014 than in the previous three months. 

There are caveats to this good news. When bonuses were excluded, wage rises were still lower than inflation. On employment, 61 per cent of the rise was in self-employment, which is associated with higher poverty and can indicate that people are struggling to find jobs in other parts of the economy. But the general trends are looking positive.

We are not cheering yet, though, because increasing evidence shows that a return to growth will not necessarily benefit those on low incomes. Evidence from the Resolution Foundation’s Commission on Living Standards analysed household incomes in the period of growth between 2003 and 2008. This showed that increases in low and middle incomes came mainly from tax credits; these families benefited remarkably little from economic growth itself.

JRF’s research has shown that this is also the case when you look at the economies of cities: many of the cities which achieved the best economic growth saw poverty stay the same or get worse. A study examining the experiences of deprived communities showed that they were hit hardest by recessions, but did not necessarily benefit from recovery.

These studies highlight two important reasons why growth does not benefit those at the bottom. First, higher employment is the main way that growth reduces poverty but tends to be distributed unevenly with significant groups of people, and places, excluded. Second, since the early 1990s, improvements in productivity have increased wages for the top but not the bottom half of earners.

Our evidence suggests three ways to make sure the emerging recovery helps those on low incomes.

First, create better jobs as well as more jobs. For example:

  • Raise the National Minimum Wage and promote take up of the Living Wage.
  • Create industrial strategies for low pay/low skill sectors such as retail, care, hospitality, logistics and warehousing.
  • Address youth unemployment by improving careers advice and creating more and better apprenticeships.
  • Improve the design of Universal Credit so that people can keep more of the money they earn.

Second, improve the quality of childcare, as well as its affordability and availability, through: 

  • More generous, shared maternity and paternity leave.
  • Higher qualifications for staff who have or are working towards a childcare related level 3 qualification.
  • Using the new Early Years Premium to increase access to high quality childcare among children from low income backgrounds.

Third, reduce living costs:

  • Increase affordable housing by giving social landlords more flexibility around setting rents, reforming the private rental sector to provide more secure tenancies and supporting councils to build more social housing.
  • Reduce the poverty premium, where low income households pay as much as 10p in the £1 more for utilities and financial services. 
  • Reform policies on energy and climate change so that they do not further disadvantage low income households.

These steps would help us to avoid repeating the history of recoveries failing to help those who have suffered most in recessions.

Helen Barnard is a Policy and Research Manager for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.

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David Osland: “Corbyn is actually Labour’s only chance”

The veteran Labour activist on the release of his new pamphlet, How to Select or Reselect Your MP, which lays out the current Labour party rules for reselecting an MP.

Veteran left-wing Labour activist David Osland, a member of the national committee of the Labour Representation Committee and a former news editor of left magazine Tribune, has written a pamphlet intended for Labour members, explaining how the process of selecting Labour MPs works.

Published by Spokesman Books next week (advance copies are available at Nottingham’s Five Leaves bookshop), the short guide, entitled “How to Select or Reselect Your MP”, is entertaining and well-written, and its introduction, which goes into reasoning for selecting a new MP and some strategy, as well as its historical appendix, make it interesting reading even for those who are not members of the Labour party. Although I am a constituency Labour party secretary (writing here in an expressly personal capacity), I am still learning the Party’s complex rulebook; I passed this new guide to a local rules-boffin member, who is an avowed Owen Smith supporter, to evaluate whether its description of procedures is accurate. “It’s actually quite a useful pamphlet,” he said, although he had a few minor quibbles.

Osland, who calls himself a “strong, but not uncritical” Corbyn supporter, carefully admonishes readers not to embark on a campaign of mass deselections, but to get involved and active in their local branches, and to think carefully about Labour’s election fortunes; safe seats might be better candidates for a reselection campaign than Labour marginals. After a weak performance by Owen Smith in last night’s Glasgow debate and a call for Jeremy Corbyn to toughen up against opponents by ex Norwich MP Ian Gibson, an old ally, this pamphlet – named after a 1981 work by ex-Tribune editor Chris Mullin, who would later go on to be a junior minister under Blai – seems incredibly timely.

I spoke to Osland on the telephone yesterday.

Why did you decide to put this pamphlet together now?

I think it’s certainly an idea that’s circulating in the Labour left, after the experience with Corbyn as leader, and the reaction of the right. It’s a debate that people have hinted at; people like Rhea Wolfson have said that we need to be having a conversation about it, and I’d like to kickstart that conversation here.

For me personally it’s been a lifelong fascination – I was politically formed in the early Eighties, when mandatory reselection was Bennite orthodoxy and I’ve never personally altered my belief in that. I accept that the situation has changed, so what the Labour left is calling for at the moment, so I see this as a sensible contribution to the debate.

I wonder why selection and reselection are such an important focus? One could ask, isn’t it better to meet with sitting MPs and see if one can persuade them?

I’m not calling for the “deselect this person, deselect that person” rhetoric that you sometimes see on Twitter; you shouldn’t deselect an MP purely because they disagree with Corbyn, in a fair-minded way, but it’s fair to ask what are guys who are found to be be beating their wives or crossing picket lines doing sitting as our MPs? Where Labour MPs publicly have threatened to leave the party, as some have been doing, perhaps they don’t value their Labour involvement.

So to you it’s very much not a broad tool, but a tool to be used a specific way, such as when an MP has engaged in misconduct?

I think you do have to take it case by case. It would be silly to deselect the lot, as some people argue.

In terms of bringing the party to the left, or reforming party democracy, what role do you think reselection plays?

It’s a basic matter of accountability, isn’t it? People are standing as Labour candidates – they should have the confidence and backing of their constituency parties.

Do you think what it means to be a Labour member has changed since Corbyn?

Of course the Labour party has changed in the past year, as anyone who was around in the Blair, Brown, Miliband era will tell you. It’s a completely transformed party.

Will there be a strong reaction to the release of this pamphlet from Corbyn’s opponents?

Because the main aim is to set out the rules as they stand, I don’t see how there can be – if you want to use the rules, this is how to go about it. I explicitly spelled out that it’s a level playing field – if your Corbyn supporting MP doesn’t meet the expectations of the constituency party, then she or he is just as subject to a challenge.

What do you think of the new spate of suspensions and exclusions of some people who have just joined the party, and of other people, including Ronnie Draper, the General Secretary of the Bakers’ Union, who have been around for many years?

It’s clear that the Labour party machinery is playing hardball in this election, right from the start, with the freeze date and in the way they set up the registered supporters scheme, with the £25 buy in – they’re doing everything they can to influence this election unfairly. Whether they will succeed is an open question – they will if they can get away with it.

I’ve been seeing comments on social media from people who seem quite disheartened on the Corbyn side, who feel that there’s a chance that Smith might win through a war of attrition.

Looks like a Corbyn win to me, but the gerrymandering is so extensive that a Smith win isn’t ruled out.

You’ve been in the party for quite a few years, do you think there are echoes of past events, like the push for Bennite candidates and the takeover from Foot by Kinnock?

I was around last time – it was dirty and nasty at times. Despite the narrative being put out by the Labour right that it was all about Militant bully boys and intimidation by the left, my experience as a young Bennite in Tower Hamlets Labour Party, a very old traditional right wing Labour party, the intimidation was going the other way. It was an ugly time – physical threats, people shaping up to each other at meetings. It was nasty. Its nasty in a different way now, in a social media way. Can you compare the two? Some foul things happened in that time – perhaps worse in terms of physical intimidation – but you didn’t have the social media.

There are people who say the Labour Party is poised for a split – here in Plymouth (where we don’t have a Labour MP), I’m seeing comments from both sides that emphasise that after this leadership election we need to unite to fight the Tories. What do you think will happen?

I really hope a split can be avoided, but we’re a long way down the road towards a split. The sheer extent of the bad blood – the fact that the right have been openly talking about it – a number of newspaper articles about them lining up backing from wealthy donors, operating separately as a parliamentary group, then they pretend that butter wouldn’t melt in their mouths, and that they’re not talking about a split. Of course they are. Can we stop the kamikazes from doing what they’re plotting to do? I don’t know, I hope so.

How would we stop them?

We can’t, can we? If they have the financial backing, if they lose this leadership contest, there’s no doubt that some will try. I’m old enough to remember the launch of the SDP, let’s not rule it out happening again.

We’ve talked mostly about the membership. But is Corbynism a strategy to win elections?

With the new electoral registration rules already introduced, the coming boundary changes, and the loss of Scotland thanks to decades of New Labour neglect, it will be uphill struggle for Labour to win in 2020 or whenever the next election is, under any leadership.

I still think Corbyn is Labour’s best chance. Any form of continuity leadership from the past would see the Midlands and north fall to Ukip in the same way Scotland fell to the SNP. Corbyn is actually Labour’s only chance.

Margaret Corvid is a writer, activist and professional dominatrix living in the south west.