Inequality and Social Mobility

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:45 pm on 12th June 2019.

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Photo of Emma Hardy Emma Hardy Labour, Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle 5:45 pm, 12th June 2019

In thinking about the best way to present my argument in this debate, I decided on the idea of doing a “compare and contrast” by talking about someone who matters significantly to me—in fact, one of the people who has had the greatest influence on my life. I would like to take a bit of time to tell you about my grandma—my nan—who on Saturday turned 90 years old. She is an incredible woman who benefited from the radical changes that the 1945 Labour Government brought about. She is a proud Labour supporter. In fact, family legend has it that her father helped to form the Labour party in the very beginning. She used to tell me stories about going around knocking on her neighbours’ doors for, as she put it, “the Labour”, to collect their subs—the money for their membership.

My nan benefited from having a secure house. She was moved into council housing when the new towns were being built. She told me how the family moved in with orange boxes because they did not have any money for furniture, and that is what they used until they were able to buy some. When I was younger, she gave me the best advice ever on how to deal with double-glazing salesman—“If they ring you up or knock on your door, Emma, tell ’em you’re from the council and there’s no point bothering until they go down the council office.” That is great advice if you ever get anyone trying to sell you anything on the phone. She benefited from secure jobs. She believed in education. My mum went off to higher education, which was free and she got a grant to do it. She went on to become a teacher, and met my dad. That is how I have ended up with a southern grandmother and a northern grandmother, and my mum becoming an honorary northerner and moving up to Hull.

Shortly after my mum had moved out, my nan became a single parent when her husband left her. She ended up living on benefits and raising more than two children—a situation, had it happened right now, she would be penalised for, because she had five children, not only two. But she did not live in poverty at that time, even though she was on benefits, and she still worked. She worked as a school dinner lady and as a cleaner. She worked on assembly lines in a factory, and as a sales assistant as well. All the time, she was able, through the benefits system and the safety net that was there, to bring up her children and not to live in poverty at the same time, despite earning what would now constitute the minimum wage.

All my aunts and uncles—my mum is one of five—have gone on to become successful. They have nine grandchildren, and I think we are on about eight great-grandchildren already—the family is growing. They have all gone on to become successful individuals. They were not rich, but they were not poor either. When my nan suffered from cancer and had to have an operation to recover from it, the operation left her disabled, but she did not face a PIP assessment—a work capability test. The doctor’s note was enough to say that she was not well enough to work and that she therefore had to take early retirement. Again, she did not live in poverty. She was treated with respect; she was not humiliated. She benefited from community education when she found herself—obviously, after having cancer and becoming disabled—on her own a bit. She used to go to the community education centre and did beautiful watercolours. She used to go to see her friends down there and was able to socialise, all for free, all provided by the state. She was a second world war survivor and she is still surviving now. She is still opinionated and she is still brilliant. She will still argue with anyone who knocks on the door if they are not from the Labour party.

The promise that the state gave my nan and her generation—“You work hard, and when you need it we’ll look after you”—was kept. That promise is now broken. Every single one of us in this place underestimates at our peril the way that this is breaking down the fabric of our society, and the deep unrest that is out there. We can see it in the rise of populism and the far right across Europe, as people move away from centre parties because we are no longer giving them the answers that we used to.

I ask each and every one of us here to give back that promise to people like my nan who work hard and to whom, then, through no fault of their own, things happen—life happens—and they need help from the state. I want to give back that promise and say, “When you need that, here you go.” In return, my nan has raised five kids, with nine grandchildren, eight great-grandchildren and more on the way. We will all be there to celebrate her 90th birthday.

In my final minute, I would like to thank my nana and every other nana out there who instils in their children, their grandchildren and their great-grandchildren those values and respect for the elderly. I want to promise every nana out there and my nana that, for as long as I am here, I will fight with the Labour party for a Labour Government who give people like my nana the respect and dignity that everybody deserves.