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Aspiration: what’s in it for the 20 million in poverty?

cashAccording to the official Office of National Statistics’ latest report, 19.3 million persons in the UK had an income below 60% of the national median at some point during 2010-13. That is nearly a third of the entire population, and a higher proportion than for the EU as a whole.

The UK figures are even higher for pensioners (40%) and single-parent households (60%). These statistics are awful for the sixth largest economy in the world, but there is a deeper hypocrisy behind them. At the general election the Tory manifesto and Cameron’s speeches resonated with calls for aspiration for everyone. So what are the aspirational chances for the 20 million people at the bottom of the pile when Osborne’s first act in the new government is to target them?

It has equally to be admitted that among Labour’s leadership contestants the air has been thick with expostulations of aspiration for all. How is that compatible with continued support for austerity which hits the poorest hardest?

What makes this sanctimonious pretence of aspiration for all so bitter is that Osborne is now statutorily blocking off any contribution to deficit reduction from the very rich. He is going out of his way by gratuitously using a parliamentary bill to emphasise there will no increase in taxes in the next 5 years. In terms of financial management that is a very silly move when the future state of the economy over the next 5 years is unknowable, but it does reveal just how far this government is prepared to go to squeeze the pips out of the very poor whilst letting the filthy rich off untouched.

Just how grotesquely unfair and unbalanced this is is exposed by the simple facts:

  • Nearly 20 million people in the UK have been living on an income less than £240 a week at some time in the 3 years to 2013 (and the number will be larger in 2013-5 as the cuts have accumulated) whilst there are 100,000 millionaires and 73 billionaires in the UK.
  • Osborne has cut income tax for those on more than £3,000 a week, and the Sunday Times Rich List declares that the 1,000 ultra richest persons have doubled their wealth in the last 6 years since the crash to £518 billions (yes, billions) today.
  • Yet the poor who never caused the crash are now being mercilessly targeted whilst the latter who are culpable are given impunity.

Aspiration for all? How can Cameron and Osborne even spit out the words? Aspiration for the bottom third means at least:

  • a Living Wage,
  • ending zero hours contracts,
  • stopping the aggressive sanctioning of the jobless,
  • repealing the bedroom tax,
  • removing the assessment of work capability for disabled people,
  • building houses for social renting at 50% of market rates,
  • providing apprenticeships or in-work training for all young people.

Who eulogising aspiration for all will promise all of these?


  1. gerry says:

    Michael – the facts about inequality as you state are true, but we have just had an election where

    1) 34% of the electorate did not bother to vote: many of those are the poor, the young, minority ethnic.

    2)Of those who did vote 50% voted for rightwing Thatcherite parties: UKIP and the Conservatives. 8% more voted for the centre-right Lib Dems. So nearly 60% of those who voted backed parties offering more of the same – more inequality, benefit cuts, no tax rises esp on the rich.

    3)The Tories deliberately excluded pensioners from their welfare cuts, knowing that many working class pensioners vote Conservative or UKIP, especially in England and Wales. I haven’t seen the age breakdown for the election but I bet Tory support was much higher amongst pensioners than Labour’s! Across all classes.

    I know it is depressing but you must face the political reality of this election, and once you have faced this reality – that many Tory and UKIP policies are deeply attractive esp to key working and lower middle class voters – then the top priority for any Labour recovery has to be to either appeal to those presently voting Tory, Lib Dem or UKIP and/or motivating non voters to vote Labour, at least 4 million or more of them!

    And if the party goes left, then obviously the Tory vote would also swell, out of fear of what left Labour would do in power…this is what we need to address, Michael, but first we must look the electoral truth square in the face….and I write as a Labour leftie!

    1. James Martin says:

      The problem with what you are saying is that it assumes that people have fixed, static views and that political parties simply need to adapt to them. You fail to appreciate that ideas can and do change and are not static.

      1. gerry says:

        James – what you say about people’s views is true, and in social attitudes to, say, race equality or gender equality and lgbt equality -those things have clearly changed for the better. And it was Labour and Lib Dems who led the political struggle for equality, and – by and large- we won those battles. Same as for the minimum wage.

        But political centre ground itself has barely shifted, or worse, shifted further rightwards, over the last 90 years since universal suffrage, and the Conservatives or a Tory led coalition has been the natural party of government for most of those years.

        Only Tony Blair has managed to sustain a long period in government for us, and that is the reality. Neither Attlee nor Wilson ever persuaded the electorate to give Labour two majority governments in a row, let alone the 3 that Blair managed.

        As I said, I am not a fan of Blair, but as Jonathan Freedland recently wrote in his excellent Guardian article, we must sort out the good from the bad from his legacy: and one of the good things he did was managing to attract large chunks of working class and lower middle class voters in parts of the UK who had got used to voting Tory! These voters since 1979 repeatedly backed the Thatcher agenda Michael outlines above, and in 2010 and 2015 they have returned to voting Tory or now UKIP, with their overt Thatcherite policies. We must – somehow- win them back or – somehow – neutralise their votes in so many places in England and Wales: all the evidence shows that they will never back an ideologically left or centre left party to any great degree, and since 1979 they haven’t!

        1. Robert says:

          And yet Blair lost millions of those middle class voters. the issue at this election was a simple one if you believe in Austerity and labour did, then which party would be better at it, seems people thought the Tories.

          The problem is a simple one labour tried to out do the Tories and lost

  2. Tim Barlow says:

    As the Labour party seems to lack the will or the means with which to purge itself of the Progress tendency, how long are you and the other left-wingers going to wait before leaving the party en masse for Left Unity? What will it take to snap you out of this sentimental attachment to a lost cause, like the dumped lover who can’t forget his lost love and clings to the hope that one day she’ll return? It was good while it lasted, but that ship has sailed and it’s a one-way voyage. The longer this goes on, the more emotional damage it’s doing to us, whether we realise it or not.
    Now is as good a time as any for a clean break. We have 5 years before the next election (mysterious deaths of a dozen Tory MPs please God notwithstanding!) to build a proper Labour movement whose concerns extend beyond the aspirational lifestyle delusions of the lumpenbourgeoisie and can embrace the bullet-points you list above.
    Or are we going to bet one more roll of the dice on Andy Burnham?

    1. Chris says:

      In what way has Left Unity ever demonstrated that it can be of use to the left?

      How many people have even heard of it? 1 in 1000? 1 in 10,000?

  3. Barry Ewart says:

    Yes Labour has a good grassroots and it is where most trade unions are and the alternative seems to be the wilderness.
    We need to get power back to the grassroots and policy making to Annual Conference.
    We need CLPs to be able to choose their own Parliamentary shortlists and candidates.
    We need a minimum membership fee of say £5 to help build a mass party and have fees on a sliding scale based on income (like some trade unions).
    We need more working class democratic socialist candidates on Parliamentary shortlists (social classes 3-6 based on occupation parent/s) to make us more representative.
    Just read taxpayers are paying £11b a year in the UK to top up poverty pay and £1b alone goes to the supermarkets who are raking in billions between them.

  4. Matty says:

    Jon Trickett the other day (from
    He said ‘aspiration’ is “a code for saying we think that inequality is acceptable”, explaining “the biggest engine for the delivery of working class aspiration are the trade unions. They deliver what people aspire to achieve.

  5. swatantra says:

    So Prescott wants to know what ‘aspiration’ is. Well John its rather like respiration, and breathing, but when somebody gets all their words mangled up and the phasing out of sync and breathes in the wrong places; rather like you in a way, when you spout a load of garbage.

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