JOHN HUMPHRYS: The Conservatives say they
are worried about the vulnerable people in our society. Funny word that....
"vulnerable". Who exactly does it include? The poorest... the oldest...
the weakest, yes...? All of them? Others? And what are they going to do
to help them? Do they KNOW? Or might this whole thing be an attempt to
change the Tory image ... to stop being seen as the "nasty party" so that
the middle classes can once again vote for them without any twinge of conscience?
I'll be talking to the Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, David Willetts
after this report from David Grossman.
DAVID GROSSMAN: I visited Easterhouse in Glasgow.
One of the poorest public housing estates in Europe. Iain Duncan Smith
negotiating the soaking litter strewn pavements of Easterhouse was not
looking for voters. There aren't too many Tories to be found behind the
doors in these streets. Instead he was looking to reposition his party
as the champion of the vulnerable.
IAIN DUNCAN SMITH: The nation that leaves its vulnerable
behind, diminishes its own future.
GROSSMAN: So, who are the vulnerable
that the Conservatives say they want to help? It seems the party's definition
ranges far wider than just including the residents of deprived areas like
this one in Glasgow. On The Record's been trawling though recent Conservative
press releases, speeches and newspaper articles and we've found that vulnerable
can almost include anyone you want it to. There's vulnerable car drivers
with too much congestion. There's users of public transport vulnerable
to poor service. There's people vulnerable to having asylum seekers moved
into their area. There's even businesses vulnerable to too much taxation.
So does the commitment to help the vulnerable actually mean anything or
is it simply so much empty political rhetoric?.
PROFESSOR BOB HOLMAN: If the Conservatives want credibility,
vulnerable must mean vulnerable to poverty, to debt, to their children
not having adequate nutrition. Only then will they be taken seriously
in places like this.
GROSSMAN: Deciding on a precise
definition of who the vulnerable are is only the beginning of the Conservatives'
task. Many say that at present the party only really sees areas like this
as being a backdrop for their latest photo opportunity and it won't really
be believed that they want to help, until they start explaining exactly
how they're going to do it.
PROFESSOR HOLMAN: This constituency is the sixth
most deprived in Britain.
GROSSMAN: Bob Holman is a community
worker and academic who lives in Easterhouse. With large number of unemployed,
pensioners and single parent families he says, the Conservatives need to
back up their caring words with promises of increased benefits and pensions.
PROFESSOR HOLMAN: From the Conservative leaders
that I've spoken to I think they are sincere, they have got a concern for
vulnerable people, but so far they haven't put it into any policy practice.
And their statements are very vague, and in a place like Easterhouse
where 83 per cent of people receive housing benefit, the big test for them
is will they get more money in their pockets? Will Income Support rates
go up so that they can have a decent lifestyle. It's going to be tested
GROSSMAN: As well as increasing
benefits the Tories also need to help the working poor if they're really
serious about no longer being seen as the party that drives past places
like Easterhouse, with windows rolled up and nothing to say. And helping
the low paid it's argued, means not only reaffirming the party's support
for the minimum wage - so far only grudgingly accepted - but also actively
pressing for an increase in it.
PROFESSOR HOLMAN: There are more jobs in Easterhouse,
but they're what people call "grotty jobs" that is they're temporary, they're
meaningless and they're on the minimum wage. The minimum wage is �4.10
an hour and that's far too low for a decent lifestyle. Now the real test
for the Tories is this - if they want to help vulnerable people they've
got to raise the minimum wage quite substantially.
GROSSMAN: Iain Duncan Smith undoubtedly
earned some respect in Easterhouse for coming at all and speaking to a
public meeting in a local church. But the message on the vulnerable needs
pinning down and fleshing out if the commitment is to be believed and the
Tory leader's prayer is to be answered.