Category Archives: Cost of living

What will you say when they ask what you did in the class war?


I seem to have hit a nerve when I said the Tories are waging a class war on anyone who isn’t filthy rich.

In fact, two Vox Political articles touched on this class war – the first implied it, the second made it explicit.

Today I opened Twitter to discover those words all over the place:

I’m not claiming credit for calling a thing by its name – this is “multiple discovery”, “simultaneous invention”, “synchronicity” or, if you like, an expression of the “zeitgeist”. More and more people are simply coming to realise, understand and accept that it is the policy of the UK’s Conservative government to push them down unfairly.

That is what the decision – and it was a decision, deliberately made – to punish ‘A’ level pupils who weren’t from private schools was all about. Yes, Gavin Williamson and the other Tories are saying it was down to a mechanical system, an algorithm – but that algorithm was written by a human being who intended it to give an advantage to the children of very rich people.

In this way, the Tory class war has stolen your children’s futures and given them to the undeserving rich.

It’s what the decision  – and it was a decision, deliberately made – not to fight Covid-19 in any meaningful way was all about. Tens of thousands of people in care homes have died – your relatives, maybe – because Matt Hancock and the other Tories said people with Covid-19 who lived in those homes should be sent back to them – never mind the fact that they did not have isolation facilities and the virus would run through those places like wildfire and be transferred to others by part-time staff who worked in different homes run by the same – private – firm.

The Tories – and their private business collaborators – failed to source personal protective equipment, ventilators, tests and the facilities to carry out tests. The lockdown they imposed was half-hearted and failed to stop the progress of the disease. Now that they have lifted it, albeit with a few measures still in place, more people are contracting the virus again. So they have stopped reporting the daily number of infections.

And the Tories have rewarded their private business collaborators for their failures with hugely expensive contracts to continue failing us – all at the public expense. Serco’s test and trace contract has been renewed, even though we know it won’t stop any second wave (really just a resurgence of the first wave that was suppressed but never went away).

You won’t get justice against the Tories by the normal means available to civil society because the Tories have either corrupted them already or are in the process of doing so. Boris Johnson illegally terminated Parliament’s last session in the autumn of 2019 and what was the result? He called a general election, lied to us until he was purple in the face and was rewarded with an 80-seat Parliamentary majority.

Now he is using that power to ensure that the courts will not be able to stop any more of his corruption by planning a curb on judicial review of government activity. He is imposing a dictatorship – just as he told you he would, if you could have been bothered to read page 48 of his election manifesto.

The police won’t help. Boris Johnson, Matt Hancock, Gavin Williamson and the others are all above the law – no matter what they do. Try reporting a cabinet minister for a crime and see how far you get. They’ll tell you they’re treating it seriously, bounce the accusation around a few different departments and then say there’s no evidence. I’ve been there.

Hundreds of thousands of people have died already because it is Tory policy to kill claimants of sickness or disability claimants, who they consider to be “useless eaters”. That’s why the newspapers have been full of reports showing people with long-term illnesses and disabilities starving to death.

They wanted your homes so they imposed the Bedroom Tax and took them away from you.

The list goes on and on.

And still, too many people think they are the best choice to run the UK – even though the economy is in its deepest recession ever, and Brexit means it may never recover. You will suffer – they won’t. They have been stockpiling your cash and will simply use it to sit out any unpleasantness in the future.

But I feel sure a tipping-point will come – a flashpoint. I wonder how much we will all have to lose before that happens. I’m guessing it’ll be pretty much everything.

By then, many people may think there is nothing they can do. I am reminded yet again of Martin Niemoller’s poem about how the Nazis came for different groups who received no help from anybody else until, by the time they come for the author, there was nobody even left for him to ask.

But I am reminded of another group who were put in a similar position. When I visited Bosnia in the 1990s, I was told how – when the tanks from other countries moved in – the people, who were weaponless, left their homes and went up into the hills. They came back at night, when they took weapons – and lives – from the soldiers who had taken everything from them. And slowly, they took back their land from their oppressors.

I can see that happening here in the future.

I would rather it didn’t.

But it will, if people of good conscience don’t wake up, get up and put up a fight.

Keir Starmer won’t do it. He agrees with the Tories. That’s why he’s busy turning the Labour Party into Tory Lite Mk II (New Labour was Mk I) and accusing anybody who disagrees with him of anti-Semitism.

If you don’t want this to fall into violence, then you need to think what else you can do.

The ‘A’ level fiasco creates opportunities. Already some further education institutions have said they will take students who were downgraded, on the basis of their predicted results. Some haven’t. Clearly we should take note of the side that each University, each college, takes. Those who do the right thing should be rewarded in whatever ways we can. Those who do not should be shunned – meaning not only that we should not even try to send our children there, but that we should reject their graduates when they seek employment with our businesses. We know they won’t be any damn good anyway.

And employers who turn down applicants on the basis of the Tory algorithm’s discredited results should also be named, so we can stop buying their products.

That’s the best – non-violent – response I can conceive on the spur of the moment, and these things need to start happening now.

We’d better get to it, if we don’t want to roll over and die. And yes, that means you.

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Untrustworthy: DWP backtracks over savings created by cut to long-term sickness benefit

Justin Tomlinson: There’s no reason to believe a word he says if the DWP can withdraw it and say something different once it is found to be embarrassing.

Why is the DWP trying to hide the figures on the cut it inflicted on Employment and Support Allowance claimants, years ago?

The government department has backtracked over an answer to a written Parliamentary question by the minister for disabled people, Justin Tomlinson.

SNP MP Marion Fallon asked: “What savings have accrued to the public purse under the £30 reduction for claimants of… [ESA WRAG] in each month since that reduction was implemented?”

She was referring to the highly-controversal cut, announced in 2015 and implemented from April 2017, that took £29.05 per week from ESA payments to people in the Work-Related Activity Group.

This aligned it with the amount paid to people on Jobseekers’ Allowance. The announced intention was to remove a financial incentive “that could otherwise discourage claimants from taking steps back to work”.

Apparently no account was taking of the physical (and mental) discouragements inherent in the long-term illnesses and conditions that cause people to claim a sickness benefit in the first place.

The stated intention was to save £640 million by 2020-21. But in 2015 it was also forecast that the cut would save £1.365 billion over four years. The cut was predicted to affect half a million people once it was rolled out fully.

But in his – initial – response, Mr Tomlinson said: “There are no savings from the removal of the… [WRAG rate] for new claims from April 2017.

“This change enabled the Department to recycle money into providing practical support… We have invested £330m over four years with £100m available in 2020/21 and will support those with limited capability for work to move towards and into suitable employment.”

The DWP has now amended Mr Tomlinson’s response – apparently due to embarrassment after his figures were questioned.

The official response now states:

“The information requested on the savings accrued from the removal of the Work Related Activity Component (WRAC) is not available. It would incur disproportionate cost to calculate any actual net savings from the removal of the WRAC.

“When the WRAC was removed we made a clear commitment to instead provide practical support that will make a significant difference to the life chances of those in the Work-Related Activity Group. We have been investing an additional £330m over four years to support those with limited capability for work to move towards and into suitable employment.”

It seems to This Writer that, if the latest statement is accurate, then the £330 million investment need not be subtracted from any savings that were predicted back in 2015; it was part of the calculation.

So we are left with the question of the savings. Why was it entirely possible for the Tories to make grand predictions about the amount of money they would stop paying to sick people back in 2015, and why is it now impossible for them to tell us how much they actually didn’t pay?

And in the meantime, the proportion of people who have died while claiming ESA in the Work-Related Activity Group has been rising steadily.

How many of those are due to Tory cuts making it impossible for them to make ends meet?

Source: The DWP either just lied or is clueless about a cut to disability benefits | The Canary

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Council services to get best boost under Labour, says leading think tank

Labour is the only main political party that has allocated more than enough money to councils to meet rising costs and demands.

That is the verdict of leading think tank the Institute for Fiscal Studies.

Its briefing shows that the Conservative claim to be a low-tax party is a lie – at least in relation to public services.

The money allocated by the Tories would not be enough to meet rising costs and demands over the next Parliament even if council tax were increased by four per cent every year, the briefing said.

This means either more service cuts or unfunded top-ups would be needed.

So the Tories are planning to make council services a postcode lottery, dependent on the amount of council tax that can be collected. Logically, only the richest areas would received the best services.

In contrast, Labour would provide more than enough to cover increasing costs and demands – even if council tax was frozen (although this is not being planned).

Funding would not be restored to 2010 levels – but Labour would also be providing more to councils via funding increases elsewhere in the system.

The Liberal Democrats are offering enough to fund services if council taxes rise by around two per cent a year across the board – but only if some of the money they are promising to bus services, youth services and the relief of homelessness is put to this purpose.

In This Writer’s home county of Powys, council tax increased by a massive 9.5 per cent in April, while the amount and quality of services in offer decreased. The council is run by an Independent-Conservative coalition, with a Conservative councillor responsible for finance.

Average wages here historically stand at around only 3/4 of the national average, meaning that the abnormally large increase in council tax set by the Conservatives has put many families under considerable stress.

So, in terms of council services, Labour is the logical choice in the general election.

Isn’t it interesting, then, that Labour is nowhere in the polls in either Brecon and Radnorshire or Montgomeryshire, the county’s Parliamentary constituencies?

Both are considered to be Tory/Lib Dem marginals.

So people here regularly vote for huge tax increases that provide few services.

Are they simply misinformed?

And what would they do, if they had the right information?

Source: General election: Council tax more likely to go up under Tories than Labour, IFS suggests – live news | Politics | The Guardian

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Tory wage and benefit cuts mean millions are struggling to pay essential bills

Money: Boris Johnson is rolling in it but his policies have starved the UK of the cash that is the lifeblood of the economy.

Nearly 2.2 million people in the UK are struggling to pay council tax, rent and utility bills because they aren’t paid enough, according to research by two universities.

The reason is Conservative restrictions on pay rises since 2010.

So much for the “trickle-down” economics of neoliberalism, beloved by Boris Johnson and his cronies.

The research by the University of Birmingham and the University of Lincoln shows that nearly 1.6 million people have fallen behind with council tax payments.

Nearly a million people are behind with their rent and more than a million are in arrears over their water bills.

Nearly 2.2 million people have been contacted by bailiffs over failure to pay (which suggests that many have multiple bill-related problems), and nearly one million have said bailiffs have broken the rules.

These findings make a nonsense of claims that average wages are rising.

Perhaps those figures have been skewed by huge increases in the amounts paid to top earners, while those of us who do the work are left to struggle?

Experience shows that higher pay for workers results in increased productivity and market dominance – as Henry Ford learned when he doubled the wages of employees at his motor company in the early 20th century.

He called it the best cost-cutting measure he ever made.

Conversely, as workers struggle to survive real-terms wage cut after wage cut, productivity in the UK has suffered its worst drop in five years.

We have nearly a million people struggling to cope with zero-hours contracts in which they don’t know whether they’ll be working (and therefore earning) from one week to the next.

Average weekly real-terms earnings are not as high as they were before the 2008 financial crash, while bills have increased.

Poverty is particularly high in accommodation and food services; agriculture, forestry and fishing; administrative and support services; and wholesale and retail.

Few households have any savings worth mentioning – the rate is lower than the EU average and far lower than many of our largest and closest European neighbours.

Oh, and Boris Johnson is determined to force us into a “no deal” Brexit, creating even harsher economic conditions.

Considering the situation now, it seems this would be a huge mistake.

He would literally run the entire country into the gutter.

Source: Millions struggling to pay council tax and other essential bills, finds study

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Long Brexit delay means May could turn to those ‘burning injustices’ – but will she? NO!

NOT YOU: This image was created for International Women’s Day, to show how little we all think of Theresa May.

Let’s not be daft.

Theresa May could soon be offered the “flextension” (if you like that sort of word) that European Council president Donald Tusk has been suggesting – of up to a year before the UK has to leave the EU, unless a deal can be arranged earlier.

It certainly seems possible that she will have until the end of 2019, at the very least.

Will she use the reprieve to address the “burning injustices” she has ignored so fastidiously since the day she first mentioned them on the steps of 10 Downing Street, back in 2016? Of course not!

She’ll be too busy trying to stop her party from self-destructing further than it has already; if there’s no Brexit until the end of the year, it means her own party will have an opportunity to oust her with a vote of “no confidence”, and then it might splinter as backbench MPs scurry to get behind one (or more) of the front-runners – and pray that they’ve chosen the right one.

Among those candidates will be Boris Johnson – despite the fact that he’s a grade-A, first class arsehead with no more regard for the rule of law than for an insect.

Only two days ago, at the time of writing, I was reporting his latest breach of House of Commons rules, which came after serial racism and sexism.

Now he has been revealed as one of 170 MPs who have bought homes using taxpayers’ money – claiming that they are second homes which they require to carry out their duties – only to enjoy a huge boost to their personal wealth because the buildings’ value has skyrocketed.

It seems 160 MPs have made £42 million profit by selling on their taxpayer-funded homes, including another possible Tory leadership candidate, Michael Gove.

Neither are suitable to lead a political party, let alone a nation. It is clear that they have regard only for themselves and are happy to elevate themselves by exploiting the people they are meant to serve.

Their popularity among the Conservatives is ample demonstration of that party’s unsuitability for government office.

But they are in office and we are where we are – in the middle of the enormous mess that they created.

Mrs May will have her hands full finding a solution to Brexit that the various factions in Parliament can support (or a majority of them, at least); and finding a successor to herself who will not drag the UK further into disaster (but will pretend that she was a better leader than she turned out to be).

She won’t do anything about the fact that, by the admission of her own Department for Work and Pensions, the number of disabled people in absolute poverty rose by 200,000 in a single year.

Nor will she do anything about the fact that Universal Credit has increased homelessness in two-thirds of local authority areas, according to homelessness charity CRISIS.

She is sure to be positively rejoicing in the fact that more and more families are being pulled into poverty by the ongoing benefits freeze:

Labour’s former shadow work and pensions secretary, Debbie Abrahams, demanded an end to the benefits freeze yesterday – and got a weak answer from the tepid Liz Truss, yet again using the pathetic lie that work is the best way out of poverty (it isn’t – having wealthy Tory relatives is). She for yourself if you have the stomach for it:

And she won’t address the catastrophic funding gap facing our schools:

The above isn’t even an exhaustive list of Mrs May’s failures – I haven’t even mentioned her utter inadequacy on knife crime or the Windrush racism scandal. They are merely the most recent stories I found on Twitter.

Mrs May wants us to think of her as a good prime minister. But she’ll be remembered as good for nothing.


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DWP’s letter to doctors means MORE people have been wrongly denied benefits

Sarah Newton: The Conservative minister for disabled people once said there was no “hostile environment” for benefit claimants. Her capacity for inaccuracy, thus demonstrated, seems to be proved again with this case.

The duplicity in the latest attack on the sick and disabled by the Conservatives is enough to make anybody ill – including the doctors it targeted.

People claiming Employment and Support Allowance because they are too unwell to work, but who have their claim turned down by assessors from the private company hired by the Department for Work and Pensions, are entitled to receive the benefit while they await their appeal hearing.

But they need ‘fit’ notes from their doctors, to prove they are too ill to work – and it has emerged that “ministers” (we don’t know which) have ordered changes to the standard letter sent to GPs, in order to make them think these notes are not necessary.

It’s clearly a scam to undermine the law; sick people can’t receive the benefit if they don’t have a note from their GP, so the government has told GPs to stop providing these notes.

Amazingly, the DWP has claimed that the removal of references that made it clear to GPs they may have to issue a medical statement if their patient wished to appeal against a WCA decision was not intended to dissuade GPs from issuing fit notes.

In that case, why change the letter at all?

And why are we told that the wording was changed by agreement with the British Medical Association and the Royal College of General Practitioners (although it is significant that there appear to be no formal minutes of the meeting at which this agreement was made)?

According to The Guardian:

The standard letter, called an ESA65B, is sent automatically to the GPs of all claimants who fail a WCA and are declared fit enough to work. Until 2017 the letter advised GPs that if their patient appealed against the WCA decision they must continue to provide fit notes.

However, on ministers’ orders, the letter now states that GPs “do not need to provide any more fit notes for ESA purposes”. It does not mention the possibility that the patient may appeal, or that a fit note is needed for the patient to obtain ESA payments until the appeal is heard.

And what has been the result? Back to the Graun:

Advice charity Z2K said the effect of the revised letter could be devastating. “We have seen how our clients, who are seriously ill, suddenly have zero income, become reliant on food bank vouchers and loans, and face a very real threat of homelessness.”

There was national outrage over the case of Stephen Smith, 64, who was deemed fit for work despite suffering from multiple debilitating illnesses, having his weight plummet to 38kg (6 stone) and being barely able to walk. Smith won his appeal after waiting 12 months for a hearing.

Prof Helen Stokes-Lampard, the chair of the Royal College of GPs (RCGP), said the lack of clarity over when GPs should issue fit notes could put patients’ finances and health at risk.

The reason for the change is obvious – it is well-known that 72% of claimants who appeal against their Work Capability Assessment decision are successful.

As readers of This Site know, the Conservatives like to persecute people with long-term illnesses and disabilities to their deaths. So they are trying to make it impossible for claimants to survive long enough to win their appeals.

It seems former minister for disabled people, Sarah Newton (ah, so that’s her name! I had forgotten it already) may have ordered the change. She certainly protested to the Work and Pensions select committee that the change had been to make the letter “simpler and clearer”.

Committee chair Frank Field’s acid reply was that the wording was “not having its desired effect”.

Do you think the DWP will change it back?

Source: ‘Misleading’ DWP letter causing ill and disabled people to lose benefits | Society | The Guardian


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Universal Credit is increasing ‘Victorian’ diseases while worsening the nurse shortage

This is a 64-year-old man from Birkenhead whose experience of Universal Credit left him so malnourished he weighed just six stone when he was finally rescued and taken to hospital [Image from Pride’s Purge, using material from Terry Craven’s Facebook page].

This is the reality of Conservative politics – they simultaneously make serious problems worse while deliberately reducing the nation’s ability to combat them.

So once again we are hearing that the so-called “Victorian” diseases are on the rise. More than 800 people in the northeast of England were admitted to hospital with diseases including gout, tuberculosis, malnutrition, whooping cough, measles, scurvy, typhoid, scarlet fever, diphtheria, mumps, rickets, cholera, and vitamin D deficiency during the 2017-18 financial year.

Many are linked with malnutrition and they are called “Victorian” diseases because they were most common during the poverty-ridden years of the 19th century.

The current epidemic has been linked with the Conservative government’s abuse of the benefits system, as enacted through Universal Credit.

To provide an idea of how that link can be made, let’s look at the case of Harry Dent, who cannot read, write or use a computer. He was moved onto Universal Credit and immediately fell into debt because he did not understand the housing benefit element was paid direct to him, to pass on to his landlord – and in monthly, rather than fortnightly instalments. Nobody told him.

He tried to get his finances under control by taking out a £750 advance on his benefit – but is now having to pay it back, meaning he has even less money on which to survive. He has been left with £50 per week to pay his bills and buy food, leaving him with the classic dilemma of choosing between heating and eating.

While he has attended a food bank, he lives under the spectre of malnutrition.

He says Universal Credit discriminates against people with learning difficulties as claimants must be able to use a computer, read, write, have an email account, remember passwords and remember appointments.

And his mental health has suffered as a result of being put onto the harmful “benefit” – claiming he sometimes feels like “jumping off a bridge”.

You may remember Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd saying only one or two people have ever fallen into serious difficulty because of Universal Credit. Well, Harry’s is just one of the many stories that have come to public attention in the last week. You can read more of his story here.

So we have a system that intentionally puts people in danger of malnutrition, and of falling prey to the “Victorian” illnesses listed above. It might be possible to deal with this if the health service was fully-staffed, with well-trained and capable nurses.

Shame we’re being starved of that resource by the same “benefit”, isn’t it?

Trainee nurses lose hundreds of pounds when they claim Universal Credit because, under the new system, their student loans are classed as income. Read the facts here.

It means many trainee nurses are unable to complete their studies – depriving the health service of their skills. Perhaps it’s one reason the health service in England is hiring only one person for every 400 jobs advertised.

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) is said to have advised students to avoid claiming Universal Credit until they absolutely have to – until it is rolled out in their home area.

But despite Amber Rudd having paused the rollout recently, this is not a solution to the problem.

It seems malnutrition, “Victorian” diseases and the lack of nurses to help treat them are all part of the same problem – a problem called Conservative government.

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Working parents are starving for a week at a time because they aren’t paid enough to feed their children

Food bank: Parents who have jobs are being forced to request food packages because their greedy employers don’t pay them enough.

It breaks This Writer’s heart to learn about the suffering of parents in my home town of Bristol, although I’m sure many other towns and cities in the UK are going through the same.

The Bristol Post is reporting that parents in that city have gone without food for up to a week at a time, faced with the agonising choice of either feeding themselves or their kids.

Some of these people could be friends or relatives of mine – or be related to people I know.

They have been arriving at food banks – dizzy due to lack of food and so desperate for nutrition that they won’t wait to get home with food packages, but will eat them on the spot.

Now here’s the real kick in the teeth: Most of these parents are in work but due to the spiralling cost of living, they can’t keep up with their bills.

Families whose children are normally offered school meals struggle during the holidays, especially as they have to finance heating costs.

Apparently this means the number of people visiting north Bristol’s food banks alone can triple.

I write this on the day after the pay of the UK’s top earners passed the amount that most people earn in an entire year.

Top bosses take home 133 times the average wage.

Is it any wonder the people who actually create the profits these “fat cats” guzzle are suffering?

They are starving in order to subsidise a rich person’s greed.

EXTRA: This is self-explanatory, I think – and the result of Conservative neoliberal policies that tell you the wealth of the obscenely rich will “trickle down” to the rest of us.

It doesn’t. The greed of rich employers knows no bounds. Given the opportunity to keep the money that comes to them, that’s what they have done.

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Food bank opens AT SCHOOL after famished children start stealing from lunchboxes

The food bank at North Denes Junior School in Norfolk.

Now even children are being forced into crime by repressive Conservative government policies.

Think it through: Schoolchildren are almost entirely dependent on their parents for nutrition and Conservative policies have pushed 14 million UK citizens below the poverty line.

This figure includes four million people who are in work.

We may conclude that this is because the Tories have deliberately pushed wages through the floor. Only last week, Tory ex-minister Dominic Raab was ridiculed after he claimed wages were rising at their fastest rate in eight years. They weren’t; and they’re still lower – in real terms – than in 2010 when Gordon Brown was prime minister.

Here’s the graph:

Fairy tale: Dominic Raab thinks it’s terrific that wages are lower now than when Labour was in office.

And the benefit nightmare the Tories euphemistically call “Universal Credit” only worsens matters. The Tories say there’s nothing wrong with it because, even though there is a five-week wait before people who are successful in claiming it receive the cash, they can apply for an advance of up to 100 per cent.

The problem is, they have to pay that advance back, meaning the amount they receive regularly drops below subsistence level – for months. It’s a poverty – and debt – trap.

And it leads to further social problems including poor health and rising crime; people who are starved of money often suffer from malnourishment, with all its attendant health problems, and may turn to crime, simply to feed themselves and their families. Their children may do the same.

The issue creates a huge problem for school authorities, of course.

Teachers are charged with pupils’ moral education, as much as parents and other figures of authority – and cannot, therefore, allow theft from lunchboxes to go unremarked, even if the thieves are starving. And obviously it must be heartbreaking to watch their pupils wasting away due to the policies of a selfish government of the rich and privileged.

So staff at North Denes Junior School in Great Yarmouth, Norfolk, set up their own food bank for hungry pupils whose parents are struggling. It is thought to be the first at a British school

Half the school’s 420 pupils get free meals (although this won’t happen during school holidays, meaning that Christmas would be a miserable affair for them if they don’t get this kind of help.

Head Debbie Whiting launched the facility after seeing pupils so famished they were stealing from other children’s packed lunches.

Read more about the school’s food bank here.

But remember that, while the help for starving children is welcome, it is not a solution to the problem.

This is a problem that can only be solved by providing the whole workforce with wages that make it unnecessary for them to have to claim benefits – and by reforming the benefit system to ensure that those who are out of work can look for employment without having to worry about starvation or the threat of eviction.

That will never happen under a Conservative government.

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