Two stories, one message: we have a duty to help

29/09/2003

I discovered a couple of interesting things recently that I want to share with you, one local and one not remotely local.

Locally, I discovered that the number of families (families rather than individuals) receiving extra money from tax credits in this constituency is now over 8,000. I find this a staggeringly large number of people and I’m really pleased about it for a number of reasons. Firstly, it is genuinely making the lives of thousands of people better in a tangible way and it’s not often one can say that in politics. Secondly, for want of a better word it is a moral policy. That is, we are now in a situation where in virtually all circumstances a person will be better off in work than they were out of work. It creates a virtuous economic circle where people are not only not claiming benefits but they are contributing to society instead. It rewards people who work, which is good. And thirdly, I’m really pleased it’s working now because when the tax credit scheme was first introduced it was real mess. I lost count of the number of distraught constituents who contacted me or my office because they’d not got the tax credit they were really relying on. Often they couldn’t get through on the helpline or if they could the computers didn’t work. On many occasions the helpful staff at the Inland Revenue office were making emergency payments just to get people through. I’d voted for the tax credits in Parliament and was really worried that the whole thing was going to be a fiasco. As it turns out despite a tricky few months it looks as though it will be a success. I think it’s just this kind of initiative that we need more of but do let me know what you think. You can e-mail me at popegj@parliament.uk

The other matter isn’t local but it’s important none the less. I visited the Middle East last month with my colleagues on the Foreign Affairs Committee. We were looking at the causes of terrorism and as part of the visit I went to a town on the West Bank which is populated by Palestinians but is in an area occupied by the Israeli army. I have to tell you that I was shocked by what I saw. The Israelis have built a wall around the town which entirely encircles it. The wall is perhaps 30 feet high, and has ditches and razor wire on either side and there are army watchtowers on it. There is one way in and out of the town, a gap wide enough for one vehicle at a time to pass. However, every car is searched and going through the checkpoint takes up to two hours. I met a farmer whose farmhouse is on one side but his land is on the other. He told me that he was sleeping rough several times week because it was not practical to spend four hours every day going through the checkpoint, but he didn’t know what he was going to do when winter comes. I met schoolchildren who live inside the walled town but whose school is on the other side. In the next town I visited, also encircled but this time by electrified fencing and razor wire, the army had cut off the water supply. Before I went I thought the wall might be about stopping the appalling suicide bombings but it clearly isn’t, or rather that clearly isn’t its only purpose. I came to the uncomfortable conclusion that the wall is also about strangling the life out of Palestinian towns, it’s a form of ethnic cleansing. I’m writing this in comfort and safety and I’m thinking about the farmer. I asked him what I should do and he asked me to tell others about what is really going on rather than rely on what is seen on the TV news. His plight and the plight of thousands of other like him puts many of our worries into perspective.

Take care,

Greg Pope MP

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