Prime Minister’s pledge to wage war on poverty is disputed

David Cameron, whose family benfitted from compensation paid to slave owners after abolition

Unions have seen through David Cameron’s speech to Conservative Party Conference.

The Prime Minister, as well as describing Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn as “security-threatening, terrorist-sympathising and Britain-hating”, this afternoon announced an “assault on poverty” in a bid to portray his party as compassionate Conservatives.

But unions failed to fall for his rhetoric.

UNISON general secretary Dave Prentis said: “The Prime Minister talks of launching an ‘all-out assault on poverty’, but his government is soon to make almost three million working families and their five million children significantly poorer. Cuts to tax credits next April will hit the incomes of families already struggling to get by, forcing them deeper and deeper into debt.

“David Cameron recognises the need to make the UK’s inflated housing market more affordable, yet anyone wanting to buy one of the new ‘affordable’ starter homes needs to be earning at least £76,000 a year in London, or £50,000 elsewhere.

“According to the Treasury, only 30% of the population earn more than £50,000, pricing the starter homes way beyond the reach of most workers, including public servants like nurses, teaching assistants, PCSOs and school cleaners.

“Developers given the option of providing ‘affordable’ housing are likely to opt for homes to sell rather than rent, leaving anyone who doesn’t earn enough to get a mortgage high and dry.

“This housing crisis is forcing public sector workers to live further and further from their places of work. Four more years of pay restraint and the cuts to tax credits will make it increasingly difficult for local hospitals and councils to recruit and retain staff.

“The government must commit to a national public house building programme to deliver the low rent and affordable homes people need.”

Unite general secretary Len McCluskey said: “David Cameron’s legacy will be all too visible to those on low wages or who are bracing themselves for the next swing of the Conservative cuts’ axe, like the three million low-waged families about to be stripped of more than a £1,000-a-year thanks to his government.

“His stubborn adherence to the bankrupt political philosophy of austerity with the slowest economic recovery in history; missing their own deficit reduction targets; three successive months of rising unemployment; and the longest fall in living standards since the 1870s.

“But he and George Osborne are determined to press on with even deeper cuts that will destroy our public services.

“People wanted to hear today that the government would at last do something to create decent work in this country and not sit on the sidelines as millions slide into insecurity and our manufacturing industry is left to rot.  To them, these promised new homes to buy are as achievable as a trip to the moon.

“If this Prime Minister does leave a lasting legacy, it will be that people are `on their own’.

“As for the housing pledge, this fools nobody.  We need to build at least 240,000 additional homes annually to keep up with the new households that are formed – last year only 140,000 were built.

“What is needed is genuinely affordable homes for all – closing the door to council house building is a grievous mistake by the prime minister, but one that ordinary people will continue to pay dearly for in the years to come.”

NASUWT general secretary Chris Keates said: “There was nothing which came out of the Conservative Party Conference to offer any comfort for the millions of children and families who have seen their public services cut drastically since 2010.

“Claims by the Prime Minister that the Conservatives are the “party of working people” will undoubtedly ring hollow with teachers as schools deal with the impact of significant real-terms cuts to their budgets.

“It has become increasingly clear that the Prime Minister’s commitment to an “all-out assault on poverty” is code for yet further attacks on the poorest households and on all families living on low incomes.

“Cuts to tax credits are set to make life much harder for many more working families who are already struggling to make ends meet.

“The Conservatives’ plan for tackling truancy by docking the benefits paid to families will simply punish children and put many more children at risk.

“The government needs to address the underlying causes of persistent school absence and ensure that children and families receive the support they need.

“The Prime Minister and the Education Secretary failed to recognise the serious challenges faced by schools and colleges the length and breadth of the country and have once again demonstrated their disregard for the deepening crisis in teacher recruitment and retention which is damaging children’s education.”

UCATT acting general secretary Brian Rye said: “Cameron has a stark message for workers and families. Which is don’t be poor and don’t be homeless as the government will make life even more miserable for you.

“Once again the Conservative’s policy is all about the haves and they have no interest in the have nots.”

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Tim Lezard

Campaigning journalist, editor of @Union_NewsUK, NUJ exec member; lover of cricket, football, cycling, theatre and dodgy punk bands

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