Fellow campaigners, friends, comrades.
It’s a pleasure and an honour to be here – to welcome you to the first full meeting of the Black Country People’s assembly against austerity with people who, like me, have focussed attention and time on developing and explaining the alternative to the economic disaster we have suffered. And the one under which we continue to suffer thanks to the Con-Dem’s blind adherence to the policies which landed us here in the first place.
I am the Deputy Leader of the Green Party. There may be some among you today who wonder why I – representative as I am of a Party viewed by many as muesli-knitting tree-huggers – why I should be here at all today.
And it’s simple. Austerity is not an economic imperative, no matter how often our Chancellor and his colleagues repeat that particular lie. It is a political decision. And like any political decision, there are alternatives to it.
As most of us are aware, the financial crisis of 2008 was a gift to the Tory Party. It enabled them to scare people into voting them back into power – well, almost – and since then, it has given them an excuse to shrink the state and cut the social security system to the bone – and they have only just started.
As we all know it’s not working! We see a “recovery” that is in fact basically rich home owners in the South East being able to spend a bit more money on things they don’t need while food banks throughout the country are the only industry that is really booming. We don’t need an economic recovery we need an economy for the common good.
And they said they wanted us to realise we were all in it togather, but at every Budget they have announced cuts to services, social security payments, wages, assistance for children, working people and the infirm, and announced they’re using that money – money taken from society’s most vulnerable and its hardest working, and spending it on tax cuts, especially for the rich and for big buisnesses. Let’s stop taxing second bedrooms and start taxing second homes.
In this, they are ably abetted by the Lib Dems and the vast majority of the National media. Even the Labour Party’s announcements have sounded like promises to wear slightly softer shoes when they kick the poor and migrants.
We know how to arrest this crisis:
We have to make sure we tax people properly. That is, ensure that people pay the correct amount of tax – the legal level, and the level they are expected to pay. Tax evasion and tax avoidance cost us, according to economists’ reports, £120bn per year.
Let’s make sure we set taxes that are not there to be avoided – and that when people evade them illegally we catch them and punish them.
We cut the replacement for Trident – a weapons system we really don’t need and which will cost us more than £100bn over its lifetime.
We introduce a land value tax, to stop land speculators making money for doing nothing and a Robin Hood tax to take some money from the bankers.
And we could even work on ensuring we’re actually repaid the money we lent to the banks, rather than coming up with half-baked deals to sell our stakes in them to oil billionaires.
We can build and repair houses, ensuring the thousands of people on council waiting lists can have a place to live in that’s fit for human habitation.
It will enable us to create energy efficient, well-insulated homes, fit for a 21st Century developed state, and again, it will also offer people employment, and at a decent rate, cutting even further our welfare costs.
We must ensure we pay people a decent living wage. Working tax credits and income support are not bad policies because they are a burden on us all as taxpayers, they are bad policies because they are a clear acceptance of the fact that private big businesses are refusing to pay their employees enough to live on. They are an unacceptable form of corporate welfare.
We must insist that employees are paid a decent wage for their hard work, and that wage must never be less than they require to live. The tax payer should not be making up the wage bill of Tesco and Starbucks.
To get out of this crisis and to build a prosperous, sustainable life for all will take investment we must invest. In jobs, in useful industries, and in people.
But if our politicians don't believe that people and the planet are worth investing in...
Then we need to change our politicians.
As a Councillor and a party member we are in a difficult position. I was the only one of 72 Councillors in Dudley who voted against a cuts budget.
We who believe that we shouldn’t kick the poor and the vulnerable, even if we have taken our shoes off, need to unite and tell the neo-liberals that enough is enough.
There is an alternative to austerity and we need to shout it from the platform, shout it from the rooftops and shout it from the barricades! We need to unite and fight for the common good.
So today let’s learn what we can and then get out there and do it!