Thursday, 12 June 2008

Kicking Labour where it hurts over poverty

Charles Walker
Political Editor

Poverty and deprivation has become a hot political topic at Westminster and in the Nottingham City Council chamber.
The Labour Party, traditionally the party of the poor, has put great emphasis on its efforts to reduce poverty and inequalitynationwide during the past 10 years.
Indeed, it has a target to eradicate child poverty by 2020 and halve it by 2010.
But it is a tough task that is not going to plan, and the opposition see an opportunity to kick Labour where it hurts.
Figures out this week, reveal child poverty, pensioner poverty and inequality have all gone up, in the last year.
In Nottingham, child poverty is running at more than 40%, according to the Government measure, which is twice the national rate. Local estimates suggest six out of ten city children live in poverty.
So, when a plan aimed at tackling poverty and deprivation among city children came before Nottingham City Council this week, a political battle could be expected.
However, the Liberal Democrats and Conservatives initially sought to make no political capital at all. It was a Labour councillor who opened hostilities.
Coun Mick Newton bodly berated both opposition parties claiming their national colleagues are not committed to helping children living in poverty. Coun Newton challenged his opponents to get on to their party HQs and demand more cash and commitment for this issue.
Lib Dem and Tory councillors looked shell shocked. After all, they had just offered cross party support to the Children and Young People Plan, which details local targets for improving education, health, and employment, for young people in the city, among much else.
Stung by the criticism, Liberal Democrat leader Coun Gary Long got to his feet. His response zeroed in on Prime Minister Gordon Brown for "incompetent and inefficient" efforts to support the poor.
The local debate appeared to demonstrate Labour’s sensitivity about the progress (or lack of it) in tackling poverty. Coun Newton's set piece speech was all about defending national Labour Party policy in this crucial area.
The response to it revealed the opposition’s belief that the Government’s underachievement in this area is damaging directly to the Prime Minister.
After all, Mr Brown has associated himself with tackling poverty both as Chancellor and now as premier.
But the knock-about stuff detracted from most significant issue. Nottingham now has a plan to tackle child poverty and deprivation that is refreshingly honest about the size of the challenge, and sets down clear targets for addressing it.
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