Critics of Labour’s manifesto claim it is a throwback to the 1970s. From memory, I recall the 1970s as a time of plenty. As a teenager during this period hunger was never an issue. People could afford to pay their rent; and buying a home was not the struggle it is today.
Working-class families managed to go away on holidays, albeit a week by the coast somewhere in the UK. My family had holidays in Ireland every summer. Decently paid jobs were to be had in abundance. Our NHS and GPs managed to mend and cure us. Schools could afford books and the equipment to teach children. Young people, including increasingly larger numbers from comprehensive schools, could receive a free university education, with a generous maintenance grant thrown in.
But we’ve moved on from those dark, stark times. Yes, we’ve moved into the second decade of the 21 century. A new century. A new millennium. A digital age very different to 40 years ago. Over these years there has been great strides in areas such medicine; technology has changed the workplace beyond recognition; more people are going on to university; greater numbers of us manage to take foreign holidays; and many more of us are living a lot longer.
Yet with all the advancements we’ve made in these areas, we’re going backwards in so many others.
One growth area is food banks. Today more than a million people a year are forced to use foodbanks. Children are going to school hungry. Young people are leaving university armed with good degrees while saddled with debts running into scores of thousands of pounds. These same people then find the doors to housing tightly locked on them. Not only are mortgages out of their reach, but they can’t even afford to rent in the private sector; and a dearth of social housing closes this avenue.
Housing is in crisis with house prices spinning out of control as rents in the private sector of many of our cities and towns are beyond the reach of millions of citizens. Much of the new built properties in London are out of reach of first time buyers as Russian oligarchs and wealthy Chinese businessmen are hoovering up properties thus inflating house prices.
While employment may be at its highest level ever. These figures are inflated by people who are underemployed, on zero hours contracts, and those forced into self-employment as a last, desperate attempt to earn some money. The future bodes for an increase in precarious employment with the advent of the ‘gig economy’.
So, when I hear right-wing commentators trying to use the 1970s as a doomsday threat, I look at the regressive state that the Nasty Party has created today. The Tory dismantling of the welfare state, its privatising of the NHS, precarious employment, sanctioning of benefits, treatment of disabled people and food banks are more reflective of a Britain in the 1930s.
Given the choice between the 1970s and 1930s I know for which I’d choose.