Brendan's speech to TUC Equality Deficit Conference, 16 November 2011

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Brendan's speech to TUC Equality Deficit Conference, 16 November 2011

Plenary: how the cuts are hitting the most vulnerable

"Thank you Zoe [Williams]

And thank you all for coming.

Welcome to the TUC for what we think is a really important conference, looking at the impact on equality of the government's cuts.

Now the coalition likes to focus on the fiscal deficit - but it conveniently chooses to ignore the other deficits its austerity policies are creating.

A social deficit as unemployment rises and living standards fall. An aspirations deficit as our young people are priced out of university. A cultural deficit as funding for our arts and museums is slashed.

And most damagingly of all, an equality deficit as women, black people, LGBT communities and disabled people bear the brunt of the cuts.

That, of course, is what we're here to talk about today.

Conference, all the progress we have made in making Britain a fairer place - in fighting the massive inequality in our midst - is in grave peril.

The realities we face are stark.

Hundreds of thousands of public sector jobs are being axed, with women and ethnic minority workers hit hardest.

Vital public services - from Sure Start to women's refuges - are being cut with reckless speed.

And our welfare state, the glue that holds our diverse society together, is being slimmed down, reformed and privatised - with a colossal £18 billion being cut from people's benefits.

It hardly needs me to say it, but it is the poorest and most disadvantaged people who are paying the heaviest price for the bankers' crisis.

This winter, the contrast could not be starker, nor more gut-wrenchingly unjust: massive bonuses for the bankers, massive cuts for Britain's most vulnerable citizens.

Let's be clear: that is a moral outrage, and we must fight it.

It doesn't matter whether we're trade unionists, campaigners, or activists, let's stop these brutal cuts, let's speak up for the services we all rely on, and let's show there is a proper alternative to slash and burn austerity.

In a moment I want to focus on the TUC's response to the cuts - and how equalities are at the heart of our campaign against austerity. But before that I want to reflect on the immense damage the cuts are causing to our social fabric - making Britain more unequal, more unfair and more unjust.

Think for a moment about the impact on women.

As Yvette Cooper's research showed after the Spending Review last October, 72 per cent of the tax, benefit and spending changes will fall on women and families.

A staggeringly large proportion: and an appalling reflection of where the coalition's priorities lie.

Colleagues, the phrase 'women and children first' clearly has a completely different meaning for the Tories.

And because women make up two-thirds of the public sector workforce, they are bearing the brunt of the job losses now coming through thick and fast.

As GMB research showed last month, in 19 local authorities across Britain all of the people being made redundant are women. A truly horrifying statistic.

Let's be clear: this is totally unacceptable, and we will not allow women's jobs, prospects and livelihoods to be targeted in this way.

At a time when women's unemployment is already at a 23-year high, austerity is making a bad situation much, much worse.

As this morning's labour market figures show, we really are facing a jobs emergency.

Think too about the impact on our black and ethnic minority communities.

With 7 in 10 BME people living in Britain's poorest council wards, the cuts will also have a devastating impact on black and Asian workers.

Redundancies in our hospitals, councils and schools will exacerbate an unemployment rate for BME people that is already almost twice that for white people.

And nobody is more affected by this jobs crisis than black youngsters under the age of 25, nearly half of whom are without work.

Not just a terrible waste of talent, nor just a human tragedy - but one of the great untold scandals of modern Britain.

And think finally about disabled people.

It's been calculated that more than a tenth of the cuts - some £9 billion - are cuts in support for disabled people.

Welfare rights are being mercilessly attacked at a time when disabled people need them more than ever.

Whether it's Incapacity Benefit being superseded by Employment Support Allowance, the erosion of Access to Work, the abolition of the Independent Living Fund, or plans to replace Disability Living Allowance with Personal Independence Payments - a move that will save the government £1 billion and affect 800,000 people - the lifelines so many people depend on are being callously whittled away.

And the consequences? More disabled people will be forced into poverty. Social exclusion will get worse. And inequality will widen.

Conference, I could tell you about all the other things - the deep cuts in LGBT services being made by local authorities; the employment protections being cut for migrant workers; the childcare support withdrawn for ordinary families - but I think by now the picture is depressingly clear.

So how do we go about tackling this severe equality deficit?

What can we do to fight these unfair cuts?

And how do we convince the British people that there is a better alternative?

Well, I think the short answer is we need to get organised and we need to get active.

Earlier this year the TUC held our March for the Alternative.

A historic day when half a million people joined together to voice their opposition to the cuts.

Our task now is to build a Movement for the Alternative.

A mass mobilisation bringing together everyone and anyone who shares our belief in an economic alternative, our commitment to social justice, and our conviction that equal societies are better societies.

That's why we in the trade union movement are reaching out to charities, community groups, the users of public services, pensioners, students and the millions of ordinary people who share our values.

Our aim: to build a progressive alliance as wide as it is deep. A coalition against the cuts that no politician in no party can ignore.

As part of this mobilisation, TUC unions have agreed to fund an unprecedented two-year campaign against austerity.

We're going to employ community organisers to take our message into the diverse communities that make up modern Britain.

We're going to develop sophisticated economic arguments to show there is a credible alternative to massive cuts.

And we're going to put equality right at the heart of this unique initiative.

That's why the TUC has developed a new Equality Duty toolkit.

That's why we're updating our briefings on how women and disabled people are being affected by the cuts.

And that's why today, we're proud to launch the TUC Women and Cuts Toolkit - which will help trade unionists and voluntary sector groups defend women's equality.

One thing's for sure.

Black and white, young and old, men and women, gay and straight, disabled and non-disabled, it doesn't matter what background we are from, it's absolutely vital that all our voices are heard.

Together we know that more equal societies aren't just happier, healthier and less prone to crime. They're also more efficient, because when we harness the talents of all, not just a select few, we build a better and stronger economy.

That's why the government's policies are so profoundly wrong-headed - and why we must have the courage to set out our alternative vision of the future.

Conference, it's clear that austerity is hurting but it isn't working. Our economy is stagnating. Dole queues are lengthening. And as we saw in the summer, our social fabric is beginning to fray at the edges.

So now is the time for a fundamental rethink. For a Plan B that keeps people in work, keeps our economy moving, and protects our most disadvantaged citizens.

And we in the trade union movement have a unique responsibility to lead the case for change.

Highlighting how the cuts are creating an immense equality deficit.

Showing there is a better and fairer way forward.

And winning the battle for the hearts and minds of the British people.

Let's get to it.

Thanks for listening."

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