We face a moral emergency. Homelessness is soaring. Hunger is spreading. We need not only food banks - but foodbank warehouses to feed desperate families. The most vulnerable are being stripped of the benefits they desperately need. The Tories’ austerity is destroying lives.
This is not justice. It’s a Tory choice. It’s not acceptable. It’s not inevitable. And there is an alternative.
The story of the West Midlands is becoming like a ‘tale of two cities’. There are cranes in our skies. But our homeless neighbours are sleeping in the doorways beneath, where someone now dies every fortnight.
Our society feels like it’s ripping apart. Brexit has divided us. In its wake, hate crime and violent crime has surged. Communities no longer feel safe. Islamophobia and homophobia are spiralling while the far right goes on the march.
Meanwhile, our economy is failing a generation. Over half the people in poverty in the West Midlands are in work. Half our wards are in poverty. Youth unemployment is up by a 20% while apprenticeships have collapsed. For thousands of our young people, their possibilities in life are defined by the post-code where they’re born. And looming above the crisis, is a climate that is warming faster than we thought, posing an existential threat to generations to come.
We cannot stand by and watch this happen. We cannot be by-standers. And we cannot let the Tories make it worse. If we don’t take a stand today then ten years from now, we will be more divided than ever in our history. There may be gleaming office blocks and fortunes for some. But inequality will spiral. Entrenched poverty will deepen. And the West Midlands will fall further and further behind London and Manchester.
It doesn't have to be this way. There is an alternative.
My great-grandparents came to the West Midlands because they heard we could make anything here. As my father-in-law used to say; ‘if you can draw it, we can make it’. We’re the home of the Industrial Revolutions from the steam age to the jet age. We were the workshop of the world. But what defines us is not just our genius but our grit and our goodness; our care for our neighbours. That’s what gives us our unity in our diversity.
Right now we need a Metro-Mayor who will turn our ideals, our values, our radical compassion - into action. Action that changes our region for good. Action that shows our country: there is an alternative.
Andy Street will never do this. He spent £500 on a limo to visit the homeless - and then let homelessness triple. While food-bank demand has gone through the roof, he’s never once written to ministers to challenge Universal Credit. He won’t let the WMCA become a real living wage employer.
This election needs to send a message that change is possible. That we can turn our anger, our idealism, our radical compassion into action.
• End the moral emergency of homelessness, hunger and cuts to disability benefits
• Transform the social solidarity of our region by building a home together where we have #MoreInCommon
• Build a new prosperity for the many not the few in our region by pioneering a Green Industrial Revolution that not only delivers decarbonisation but jobs and justice.
Ending the moral emergency of homelessness, hungry families and cuts to disability benefits
Rough sleeping in the West Midlands has more than tripled between 2010 and 2018 - with a nine-fold rise in Birmingham and a six-fold rise in Sandwell. On average, a rough sleeper now dies every fortnight and children make up over one quarter (27%) of those in temporary accommodation.
Since 2015, the number of foodbank visits across the West Midlands has increased by over 15% to almost 59,000 per year.
Worse, disability is now the number one cause of poverty. My grandmother and uncle had schizophrenia. My aunt has cerebral palsy. I lost my mum to cancer when she was just 52. My dad suffered with alcohol addiction. I know first hand from my family’s experience how disability can affect anyone. Therefore, it affects everyone. Yet, under the Tories, over 31,000 in our region have lost their entitlement to Personal Independence Payments - but when appeals are brought, two thirds are successful.
That’s why we have to put forward a plan that ends the moral emergency of rough sleeping and hungry families and resist the austerity of benefit cuts for those with disabilities.
Leading Britain’s Green Revolution
I believe we can rebuild prosperity for the many in our region by leading the Green Industrial Revolution. The region that sparked the carbon revolution should now lead the zero carbon revolution.
We should become Britain’s first zero carbon region with a plan that halves youth unemployment, delivers a Real Living Wage Region, ends fuel poverty, builds a new generation of green council homes, introduces municipal electric buses and very light rail with free travel for young people, enriches our nature, rebuilds our forests - and triples the size of the cooperative sector with community ownership of new renewable energy co-ops.
Rebuilding the strength and solidarity of our community
As the grandson of Irish immigrants, having served one of Britain’s most diverse constituencies for 15 years, I know we won’t achieve anything unless we bring our region together. Britain today has rarely felt so divided. We need to bridge those divisions - across the wealth gap, between the generations, across our cities and towns - across the beautiful diversity of our region. And we know we can do it.
After all, it was here, in the West Midlands, within living memory, that Enoch Powell predicted 'rivers of blood'. He told us that the mere presence of Commonwealth migrants in our schools, working in our hospitals, factories and offices, could only end in ethnic hatred and civil war. He was proved wrong - because people stood up together.
The Labour party and trade unions campaigned for changes to outlaw racial discrimination, while the everyday contact in the classrooms, our workplaces and on the football terraces meant we got to know our neighbours.
We have come a long way. We don't just tolerate difference, we live together. But we need to do more - to take pride in our diversity, to work ever more closely on what we share in common, and to ensure that we are intolerant of those who seek to divide us.
My political hero is Clement Attlee. And Attlee once said; ‘we need to be not just dreamers for better days, but the doers to get there’.
Delivering these ideas in this draft manifesto would require us to become a trail blazer for the bold ideas in our last election manifesto. Mobilising our human, physical and financial resources by founding the National Education Service, creating a peoples’ bank, a municipal Green Development Corporation, and a bold plan to build council eco-homes.
Here in our region, we can show the country a ‘digital green socialism’. It’s a vision of the future that doesn’t need to be just a dream. It can be a reality.