My son was born at home a year ago, here in Margate. He doesn’t know it yet, but statistically, that gives him the lowest life expectancy of a child born anywhere in Kent.
Children born in Margate Central (population, circa 5,000) will die younger than those born in any of Kent’s other 290 wards, according to Kent Public Health Observatory.
Health inequality in Thanet is so bad that the gap between life expectancy at birth* for women in the richest and poorest wards is an astonishing 21.8 years.
North Thanet is also home to some of the poorest wards in Britain. Just across the constituency boundary, the Cliftonville West ward is the fourth most deprived in the country. Thanet ranked in the country’s top 10% most deprived areas in 2015.
Being poor grinds you down. I know from experience. Seven years ago I was working long hours on a £15,500 salary. Over 50% of my net pay would go on rent. By the third week of the month my account would be bone dry.
I’d run out of petrol on the way to work and have nothing left to fill up: there can be few things more bitterly depressing than being too poor to be able to afford get to work. No cash left to put on the gas and electricity card, and nothing for food.
You eventually swallow your pride and ask for help, so that your kids can swallow a meal. And although things have improved for me since, I remember that grinding poverty puts a cloud over your head and a fist around your heart.
And like alcoholism or depression, it’s something too many working people stay quiet about; there’s still a stigma attached to poverty – which is increasingly widespread.
Yet for our representatives, England’s growing income inequality is an abstraction.
Take Conservative MP Dominic Raab – who recently described the rising number of people going to food banks as having a “cash flow problem”. (It’s called not having any money for food. It’s called poverty for crying out loud).
Yet neither Sir Roger Gale nor the Labour council that used to run Thanet District Council has done enough about either simple inequality, let alone health inequality. And these are not abstractions: in North Thanet they can take 21.8 years off your lifespan.
As your MP I’d tour the country to drum up inward investment and business for North Thanet, creating job opportunities in the area.
I’d work overtime to help Canterbury City Council (for Herne Bay) and Thanet District Council (for Margate and the villages) secure external funding opportunities for investment across the constituency that boosted visitors and employment.
(Sir Roger Gale doesn’t do this. He’s too busy flogging the dead horse that is Manston Airport – which lost £100 million under a range of owners – for a mystery fund based in Belize – putting off inward investors by fighting its owners through the courts).
Another idea: there are plans afoot in East Kent for a cutting-edge medical school, jointly run by the University of Kent and Christ Church University. I can think of numerous sites in North Thanet that it would be great to site this on.
I would lobby to get this medical school in North Thanet and encourage medical businesses to cluster around it. (The medical health services sector has grown 31% in recent years). And I’d establish and contribute to a scholarship for youngsters in my constituency for that medical school – even if it ends up in Canterbury.
There’s so much an active MP could do.
Because creating opportunities is one way to help tackle inequality. As even the IMF now recognises, growing inequality is bad for the economy. As they put it:
A rising tide is still critical to lifting all boats. [But] the implication of our analysis is that helping to raise the lowest boats may actually help to keep the tide rising!
As your MP I’d not only work to tackle inequality, but also urgently tackle a key driver of health inequality: damp, mouldy, poorly insulated housing stock. As the Joseph Rowntree Foundation highlighted in March 2017:
There is substantial evidence to show that poor-quality housing affects some aspects of child development and adult health. [These include]: overcrowding: infectious and respiratory diseases; damp and mould: respiratory disease, eczema, asthma and rhinitis; indoor pollutants and infestation: asthma; low temperature: respiratory disease, circulatory conditions and hypothermia.
That’s why my colleague in South Thanet Trevor Roper and I are calling for urgent action to bring Thanet’s 2,440 vacant properties back into use as clean, dry, properly insulated affordable housing – lobbying government for renewed funding to do this.
Another thing: Thanet also has the lowest ratio of GPs to populace of any area in East Kent: we would work overtime to get more practices here. There’s so much to do! Sir Roger Gale has had 34 years in Parliament to do it. He’s failed.
It’s time to turn the page and vote in someone with fresh energy and an appetite to drive change. Vote for a candidate living in this community. Vote Green 2017. For people like this little man, who are growing up here among these issues.