October, the time of year we traditionally collect for Harvest Festivals, and now the message going out from many churches and community groups is to collect for local food banks. It is indeed a sign of the times.
The boom in foodbanks has been well documented by many writers in Tribune and other newspapers, yet most people were still shocked by the announcement last week that now the Red Cross launches a food aid campaign for Britain. The first time the Red Cross has felt the call to feed hungry Britons since the Second World War.
As the official opposition our role in the Labour Party is to oppose the Tory-led Coalition’s cuts agenda which has led to this. Austerity has caused huge damage to the economy, slowing growth, increasing unemployment and reducing living standards of the majority of people. Young people are leaving schools, colleges and universities and seeing doors of opportunities they were promised close in their faces.
The Tories’ ruthless attack on public services has also undermined the very fabric of our society and increased poverty and inequality. As food and fuel prices rising, and with two and a half million people out of work and many more underemployed, more and more people are reliant on foodbanks.
Austerity has even failed in its own aim of lowering the national debt, which has increased as the economy has stagnated. As a result, a number of proponents of austerity, including the IMF, have urged a slow down or rethink of Tory policy. But despite the failure of these policies, the Coalition is even proposing that austerity be deepened and extended into the next parliament.
We face a choice that will shape our society for decades to come. It is a choice faced by ordinary people in every part of the globe.
We can defend education, health and welfare provision funded from general taxation and available to all, or we can surrender the gains that have improved the lives of millions of people for over more than 50 years.
Labour should reject austerity as a solution to the economic crisis. Instead of cuts, we should support a plan for public investment and jobs that can get the economy growing.
Only a Labour government can deliver this and that by offering a progressive economic alternative to austerity, Labour can best reach out to a broad coalition of voters whose living standards have declined under this the Coalition government. In contrast, sticking to the Tory spending limits in the next Parliament would be a disaster for Labour.
Next month I will be supporting and speaking at the Labour Assembly Against Austerity conference that will reject cuts, look at the alternatives to austerity that Labour should advance in our next manifesto to stimulate growth, jobs and better living standards, and that will discuss how Labour Party members can be part of the broad based People’s Assembly Against Austerity movement of all opposed to austerity.
There is a wide range of speakers including Ken Livingstone, Owen Jones, Ann Pettifor, Labour MPs, parliamentary candidates, trade unionists and Labour Party activists discussing topics ranging from opposing austerity, defending public services and the welfare state, and finding an anti-austity platform for Labour to win on in 2015.
You can find more on the website and buy tickets for the conference on Saturday 9th November in London.
Originally published in Tribune.