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Springwood Ward independent councillor Jo Rust discusses her views on Syria, funding war and children living in poverty

It’s quite a privilege to able to write a column for a local newspaper and put across my views, perspectives or beliefs, many of which contrast deeply with that of the local MP, who has a weekly column.

However, sometimes there is such a lot that I want to convey it’s hard to know where to start and how to make sense of it all. The tragic deaths of those affected by the earthquakes in Turkey and Syria mustn’t pass without comment. My heart goes out to all those people who are now having to try and rebuild their shattered lives.

But in Syria, it’s even worse, as the lives of people there had already been shattered by war. Aid is reaching Turkey, but is far more problematic to get to Syria leaving the people there feeling abandoned. While there was some miraculous news of people being pulled out alive two weeks after the earthquakes, it’s far less likely to happen now and the third aftershock quake has made that even less likely.

Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky address to MPs in House of Commons
Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky address to MPs in House of Commons

I felt a huge surge of emotion when I heard of the four-year-old child who was pulled out alive after days spent trapped, alone and afraid, as my granddaughter is the same age and I couldn’t help but think of her when I heard.

However bad I think things are in this country, after 13 years of Conservative austerity and cuts, I still have gratitude for the fact that not only can we send practical help to places that have suffered such devastation, but we can also still send funds. Much like we can always find money to support wars.

James Wild used his column last week to write of President Zelensky’s(pictured) inspirational speech and how the UK had led on sanctions and providing weaponry. We should remember the sanctions the UK placed were not done instantly and we faced criticisms for lagging behind the EU and the US allowing plenty of time for asset flight to take place. Maybe because the Conservative Party has faced allegations of being heavily funded by Russian oligarchs.

Jo Rust
Jo Rust

The UK has contributed billions of pounds towards war over the years. James himself refers to the fact that the UK was training Ukrainian armed forces since 2014. Doesn’t anyone wonder why they were doing this and the message it might have sent out? Even though we’ve had years of austerity and have faced brutal cuts to our public services, we can always find money to fund wars and weapons. There’s never any question of that.

We have millions of children in working households who live in poverty, yet we can still line the pockets of shareholders who invest in weapons that kill. James has referred to the government’s “levelling up” agenda, yet there is nothing in it to tackle the number of children who are growing up in poverty.

While the additional £20 support from the government during Covid helped somewhat, it didn’t go to every family in need as those who were on the legacy benefits like working tax credit didn’t receive it. The fact that the £20 did lift families out of poverty shows clearly that this crisis can be alleviated if there is government will to do so.

We know that there will always be conflicting government priorities. But the mantra of “difficult decisions” really just shows that children and families are not a priority to the Conservatives. The well being of the most vulnerable children in our society should be first and foremost especially as we’re in the most severe cost of living crisis that we’ve seen for years.

Yet the levelling up strategy ignores this. How many residents are questioning how changing the Southgate’s entrance to the town is going to help “level up” anything at all. We know we’re going to see the numbers of children living in poverty increase again, particularly given the end to the heating support and the continued rise in interest rates that will take even more money out of people’s pockets. Children have no power to influence their lives, they’re powerless pawns in the government game.

But in May we have the chance to vote for something differently at a local level which will send a clear message to national government. So, register to vote and vote carefully in May. And don’t forget your voter ID.

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