The Poor Law system was not formally abolished in this country until 1948, with some of it remaining on the statute book until 1967. Yesterday the City Council considered its Family Poverty strategy which has been accompanied by extensive Manchester Evening News coverage, coverage which would not make it hard to imagine a return to the worst of Victorian conditions.. Of course no families now live in the level of absolute poverty that pertained then, but it is nevertheless the case that after a ten year decline in the number of children living in relative poverty, the situation is now getting worse.
There are a number of factors behind that; the bank induced credit crunch and subsequent recession, low economic growth and the double-dip, government expenditure cuts targeted on the poorest parts of the country, other policy changes like the scrapping of Educational Maintenance Allowances are just some of the key culprits. The Council's strategy doesn't offer any quick fixes because there aren't any and for most families ( though not all ) the only long-term solution is to create more decent jobs paying a living wage and get people into them. At the current rate of growth, that is not going to happen overnight and in the meantime more cuts, particularly benefit cuts, are going to make our poorest families even poorer. The Council cannot solve these problems on its own and we will be urging central government to soften its stand before it's too late.
The Executive agenda did have some positive items on not least the success of the Sharp Project and proposals to double the number of jobs created there over the next couple of years. We also had the draft Beswick Master Plan, which includes amongst other things a new sixth form college for East Manchester, something that will help raise educational standards and help equip our young people find higher value work in the future. All good stuff but we need a hundred times as much over the next few years. Other schemes Airport City, the Corridor, NOMA etc are all contributing to delivering jobs on that sort of scale but we still have to deal with the here and now. It's no use reforming welfare systems to get people into work if the work isn't there or if people lack the skills to do the work that is there. Welfare reform is long overdue but it needs to be the right sort of reform and not change that wrecks lives and undermines our childrens' futures.