Have very belatedly added Left Foot Forward to my blogroll. It’s a very smart site by Will Straw and Shamik Das (met them both at Conference, scared ’em silly) and I’ve only just got around to looking at it properly; there are a couple of pieces on there today which caught my eye, and both of them reminded me of people I’ve spoken to recently.
First of all, there’s this coverage of last year’s migration statistics, showing that migration from A8 states (Poland, Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Slovenia) was down to just 9000 last year, from 78000 in 2007; also that emigration by A8 nationals more than doubled, from 25,000 to 69,000.
Not only is this as a slap of wet fish around the face to the right-wing press, UKIP, the BNP and similar organisations, but it backs up a trend I’d noticed among people I work with in Salford. I see A8 nationals every day – not only our clients, but also students and others who contribute such a lot to the UK by volunteering with our service – and, as the stats show, the overwhelming majority are working…or trying to. One Polish client asked me plaintively “Why is it so difficult to get a job?” Although one answer in that case might be “Do you read the papers?”, it does explain the number of clients I see who are heading back to Eastern Europe. If you can’t get a job here either – and can’t claim benefits unless you’ve been working for long enough, incidentally – you can see why some people might prefer to go where everyone knows how to pronounce their name.
The other post full of win on today’s yesterday’s Left Foot assesses the Conservatives’ policy of tax incentives and its impact if implemented: namely, that the richest 10% of families would come out 13 times better off than the poorest 10% – another ‘rob the poor to pay the rich’ Tory idea, to add to the list under inheritance tax and scrapping the 50p tax rate.
Of course, these families would only get something like an extra £20 a week. So why bother? Well, says the policy report on which this policy is based (from Iain Duncan Smith’s Social Justice Policy Group, inevitably…why is IDS so obsessed with ‘family breakdown’? Does he have daddy issues?), ‘It would make it easier for a mother or father to remain at home to look after their children whilst the other spouse worked, or for one partner to do voluntary work within the community, look after elderly or disabled members or manage a home in a way that enables partners and families to have more undivided time together.’ In other words, tax incentives would be a tiny little cherry on the massive, rich cake that is just how much easier it already is to be a two-parent family than a single parent.
I got a call just as I was getting to work this morning. It wasn’t from a client, it was from someone I know personally, very stressed because she’s mired in solicitors over her divorce and contact issues for her young daughter.
This woman got married, back in 2003, like the Tories think we all should, and she had a little girl. And for a few months they played happy families; and then, for several years, her husband beat the shit out of her. He tried to strangle her in front of their then two-year-old daughter. He hit her older kids. He interrupted her teenage daughter’s birthday party by smashing up the house. And then, to the relief of everyone except my friend, who was in love with her husband, he left. He moved several hundred miles away; he ignored my friend’s pleas for him to maintain a relationship with his daughter; he paid no maintenance until the CSA tracked him down.
My friend was left to go through the grief of being abandoned; the humiliation of realising how long she’d spent with a man who would never have been worth a tenth of her; the absolute heartbreak of watching her little girl come to terms with the fact that her father wanted nothing to do with her. She is still living with the loneliness of single parenthood; with the relative poverty of a single income; with the logistical nightmare of finding friends and family willing to do school runs to allow her to work at all. And now she’s dealing – still largely on her own – with the stress of court proceedings as her daughter’s father reappears on the scene to reclaim the little girl who has just about manged to forget how badly he hurt her. It’s not easy. It’s not all easy to legislate for. Tax credits have helped enormously. Free childcare places and Domestic Violence Protection Orders – both announced as forthcoming by the Labour government – will come too late for my friend, but will help thousands like her.
But what if this had happened under a Tory government? What would they have done for her? I’ll tell you what: they would have rubbed her nose in her own misery. If my friend’s horrible, dysfunctional, worst-possible-environment-to-raise-a-child marriage had ‘broken down’ under the Tories, when her husband left he would have taken with him not only his income and his fists, but a precious twenty quid a week. As well as envying married couples their companionship, their choices over who gets to stay home and who gets to go out to work and their quality time with their kids, my friend would have been reminded that the government thought she was a failure for not being just like them.
There is nothing broken about my friend’s family. Her little girl is the brightest, most well-looked-after child I have ever met, and recognisably better off than she was with her destructive father present. It’s the kind of family the Conservatives will never reward, because it’s the kind they will never understand.