Political opinion Seeing Red with Cllr Karen Constantine: Tackling poverty in Thanet

Cllr Karen Constantine

Thanet is in the national news again. But this time for all the wrong reasons. Despite Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s reassurances that even more families wouldn’t be thrown into poverty after the recent Spring Statement, here we are, seeing yet more families being pushed over the edge into avoidable poverty.

The Centre for Progressive Policy has said that coastal communities like ours are the areas likely to suffer most because of the cost of living crisis. Their research shows that Thanet has more than 1 in 5 residents struggling with food bills, 1 in 10 struggling with fuel costs, a child poverty rate of 34% and that a whopping 29% of residents are classified as ‘working age inactivity’ although official unemployment is 6% . Today we hear that benefits have plunged to their lowest value in 50 years!

Our local MP isn’t worried though, he says our financial woes could be met through increased domestic tourism, as less people travel abroad. Mr Mackinlay believes we will benefit, because of “increased fuel costs, flight disruption and people getting more used to staycations during the pandemic.”

I can’t agree with this oversimplification. I doubt our beaches and sea bathing are quite as attractive as our MP thinks, especially with the unresolved sewerage issue. Southern Water is dragging its feet over fixing the problems after last summer’s record breaking fine of £90M, when the privatised firm spewed billions of litres of sewage into our waters.

How many staycation holidays will it take to move Thanet’s economy from zero to hero? Aren’t the glut of Air BnBs helping to fuel a local housing crisis?

In February more than 200 local residents joined me and co-signed letter to South Thanet’s MP to complain about his attitude towards rising poverty. We highlighted that his environmentally unfriendly suggestion to end the green tax on fuel would neither address poverty nor help us to be more sustainable and reach our carbon emissions targets.

To date we have had no response to this letter.

It isn’t the first time I’ve contacted our MP about climbing levels of poverty in South Thanet. Back in 2015 I complained that more that 50% of Thanet’s children were living in Poverty in some of our poorest wards, or 1 in 3 of all local children.

We all know what a monumental challenge Covid has been. And in truth we are far from out of the woods. Like many, I had a brief feeling of optimism – that we could do things differently, better, more fairly, post Covid. That we might strive to improve our local economy. Indeed I thought it was possible to tackle and reverse poverty. In June 2020 The New Economics Foundation launched their “Build Back Better” campaign which called for an economic recovery that provides ‘more funding for the NHS and social care, tackles inequality, creates good jobs, particularly for young people, and reduces the risk of future pandemics and climate emergencies’.

Not only has this been sidelined but we’ve witnessed stratospheric amounts of money, billions of pounds in fact, lining the pockets of Tory party supporters or lost to fraud. Nor have the Conservatives levied a windfall tax on the gas and oil companies which could have funded £1.2B worth of help for households struggling with a 54% rise in household energy bills.

Poverty isn’t inevitable and can be tackled, but only if the Government is willing!

Earlier this year at Kent County Council I stated that the cut to the £20 a week uplift to Universal Credit would lead to poor health outcomes and increased child poverty. The Government knew that the removal of this vital cash would impact 4.4M of the poorest households, seeing the annual income of 5.1M adults and 3.5M children fall by £1,000 overnight. This cut means £19M is missing from the pockets of the poorest in Thanet, it also means £19 million missing from the local economy. (We’re going to need a lot of holiday makers, Craig.)

This was before the cost of living crisis got going and prior to the huge increase in energy bills, which gone up by around £2000. Food bills are rising faster than wages, with prices going up by 8%. We are seeing the highest cost of living rise in 60 years. With inflation at its highest level 30 years. We are the only G7 Country raising the tax of working people. The planned 1.25% national insurance hike this week looks like it will also hit locals hard.

Families in Thanet are struggling more than ever. We know the impact of child poverty don’t we. Youngsters from impoverished backgrounds are more likely to:

  • Have poor physical health
  • Experience mental health problems
  • Have a low sense of well-being
  • Experience social deprivation
  • Feel unsafe
  • Experience stigma and bullying at school.
  • Lag behind at all stages of education.
  • By the age of three, poorer children are estimated to be, on average, nine months behind children from more wealthy backgrounds.
  • At the end of primary school, pupils receiving free school meals are estimated to be almost three terms behind their more affluent peers.
  • By 14, this gap grows to over five terms.
  • By 16, children receiving free school meals achieve 1.7 grades lower at GCSE.
  • Poverty is also associated with a higher risk of both illness and premature death.
  • Children born in the poorest areas of the UK weigh, on average, 200 grams less at birth than those born in the richest areas.
  • Children from low income families are more likely to die at birth or in infancy.
  • They are more likely to suffer chronic illness during childhood or to have a disability.
  • Poorer health over the course of a lifetime has an impact on life expectancy: professionals live, on average, 8 years longer than unskilled workers.

The long term costs are huge. So, I’d like to ask our local MP again, what is he doing to tackle the blight of long term poverty? I think as a start the least he could do is to acknowledge and answer the letter from 200 local residents.


  1. Well said Karen. Personally I fear real anger on the streets as people are hit by the rising cost of living. Remember the Poll Tax rises? This will result ever more violent reactions and understandably so

  2. What a difference in tone, compassion and empathy plus FACTS and research between this piece and Craig’s monthly piece.

    Not matter what your political leaning it’s such a glaring contrast – Craig’s biggest revelation this month is – TDC could sell off some properties they must own to charities…. What amazing insight… he ignores pretty much everything that matters to Voters and the issues that so many face.

    Where as Karen gets the issues and tries to address them.

  3. Doubt our tory gov will ever issue any more temporary benefit uplifts. Everyone knows why.
    Someone has to pay for the various gov help schemes (ie furlough) during the pandemic,the cost of the jab’s and many more high cost items/services including fraud.

    So its pay back time during a time when our cost of living is going up every day.

    No mention of food banks or fuel (Gas/electric) voucher banks in the above kc post.
    Was mention of windfall tax’s on utility’s, hey we will pay that not the companies,so a bad idea.

  4. This Government has paid literally billions to their pals, lots of it for PPE bought from abroad that the Government could have procured cheaper, £13million for non existent ferries, millions of pounds wasted on private companies in the care sector etc. What Thanet needs is a massive programme of building council homes, bus services run and subsidised by the local council, an integrated education system like the rest of the country and so much more. None of this will come from the current government and their cronies!

  5. Oh dear ! More nonsense !

    What is this claim that benefits are worth less than 50 years ago ? Utter tosh – as anyone who was in receipt of benefits 50 years ago will testify.

    The simple fact is that we have more people in receipt of benefits (whether it be through unemployment, sickness or old age) and less people working for a living. Just do the maths . . .

    Just compare the material goods they now possess. Just compare the money spent on takeaways. 50 years ago, most people only had one small TV per household (not a 50” one or one in every room). 50 years ago, not every household had a phone (not a phone for every member of the family). 50 years ago, most people heated one room simply because that was all they could afford even if they were working (not the whole house and certainly not the bedrooms). 50 years ago it was only working people who may have run a car or used a taxi (if you were on benefits you walked, rode a bike or caught the bus or train).

    This is all outside of Ms Constantine’s knowledge or experience but anybody over 60 will undoubtedly recall their own situation from 50 years ago.

    • 50 years ago public transport was better.

      Cars have caused an enormous amount of environmental and social damage. I do not think the increased use of private cars is a sign of progress at all.

    • Your post saddens me, John. Of course things were different 50 years ago, and 50 years before that. And, yes, people should budget and ‘cut their cloth’ accordingly. But there are more people entitled to benefits in work than unemployed. And there are many local children living very insecure lives in conditions not of their parents making. Are the poor still to be blamed for being poor, in 2022? If those with power and means (Government) do not address such issues how can the future be better? I do not see this as a party political issue, either, but I do believe change is possible.

    • Yes John, I was around 60 years ago and Ms Constantine is bang on the money.Most people socially rented. Public transport fares were lower because they were predominantly state or municipally owned. The same for water gas and electricity.
      Its difficult to compare like with like, but real wages are static or falling and this has not occurred for at least a century.State benefits are also falling in real terms.
      So, I know it is an inconvenient truth to face facts now in a while, instead of ranting on scant evidence as many seem to do nowadays to imply that the poor are not worthy.
      In the 1960’s and 70’s wages rose,that was the problem,but it was a time of never having it so good and 300,000 social houses built in a year.
      As for takeaways, how do you cook in a HMO, with a single room and scant facilities? You speak from a position of affluence, and your tired and puttiless tropes about takeaways,phones and TV’s are as redundant as they are pointless.I think there was probably 1 50 inch screen in the entire country in a lab somewhere in 1965.
      This says more about you, than the poor.

  6. Covid lockdowns and restrictions caused immeasurable economic, social and mental health harm, and many were not logical or scientifically proven as detailed covid inquiry submissions will show. All political parties stayed quiet and were happy to also trample on human rights (with the exception of a few brave MPs speaking out). The left vs right charade is just a game. Non of the parties deserve any respect over all of this. But they deserve scrutiny in the coming months and years most certainly.

  7. Having voted Tory for many years I have always known the true power of the people will only become apparent when they rise up and physically remove the incompetent town hall and government incompetent, overpaid hierarchy that runs local and national government.

    Sorry Craig but the time has come – Rise up, physically take over the infrastructure and free this country from woke idiots who are only interested in lining their pockets

    • I don’t think you know what “woke” or “awake” means – the Tory Governement is not either by any definition and Craig especially is neither!

      And being “woke” isn’t the bad thing or insult you believe. Maybe get an alarm clock.

    • Haygordon, lining my pockets? My allowance is £15k per year. The demands of the role, covering 7 wards, and around 40,000 homes are such that there is very little time to work part-time let alone full-time. So far from lining my pockets I take a financial hit for the work that I do. As do other councillors it has to be said. It’s called public service. Many people DO NOT fulfil these roles for money. Our MP is paid £81,932, plus an estimated £18k from his second job and expenses PA.

      • Public service? There are many people who do public service and community work who don’t get a penny! However I’m sure you will get your chance to attempt to sit the green benches like our present MP Cllr Constantine when you get selected as the Labour candidate for the new Thanet East constituency at the next general election now that you support your beloved leader Sir Keir and the Labour Party is rid of Jeremy!

      • Karen, I know how much councillors do for a pittance – I was referring to the swath of senior council employees who ignore and threaten councillors to push their own policies through.

  8. “Since 2008 the existing billionaires grew substantially richer, while ordinary people are earning less today than they were in 2008” Not my words, but taken from a BBC2 programme “The Decade the Rich won” broadcast at 9pm, on the 1st February! Tories are only interested in making money from the poor, so stop voting Tory, and get the two we have in North and South Thanet out, but don’t re-elect any more conservatives! (I am not a member of any political party!)

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