Sharon spoke in a debate on the provisions announced in the 2014 Budget, focussing on the economy and living standards.
Mrs Sharon Hodgson (Washington and Sunderland West) (Lab): Yet again, this Budget benefits those on the Treasury Bench and their millionaire donors far more than the millions of ordinary people who have borne the brunt of this Government’s decisions so far. This Budget showed that although Ministers might try, they will never understand ordinary people.
The Chancellor said a lot about beer duty—it was as if he had given people a free pint. As we heard earlier, however, the trouble with saving a penny a pint is that someone has to drink around 300 pints before they get a free one—hardly a healthy message. He also said a lot about cutting tax on bingo. What he did not say is that that will benefit bingo operators, not bingo players. The Chancellor made big play of allowing people to save up to £15,000 a year tax free. He might be able to squirrel away that kind of money, but at the moment many of my constituents would consider themselves very lucky even to earn £15,000 a year, and even luckier to take home that amount, never mind being able to save £15,000 in their lifetime, let alone in a year. Should not a responsible Chancellor who wanted to build a broad-based recovery and improve living standards concentrate more on helping those people rather than wealthy savers? If he wanted to know what ordinary people wanted from the Budget, he should have read the excellent Sunderland Echo, as I do every day. A reporter went out and about in Sunderland last week to ask people exactly that question.
Thomas and Elizabeth Dunn wanted the Chancellor to do something to tackle the cost of living crisis, which is becoming difficult for them. They are not alone. Working people are on average £1,600 a year worse off in their pay packets under this Government; that is even more the case if we add in the 24 tax rises that the Government have snuck in, causing the cost of living crisis that is devastating people across the country. How many mentions of the cost of living were in the Red Book, and how many new policies were there to ease it? Absolutely none.
The Sunderland Echo reporter also spoke to new parents, Chris and Lisa Mann. Lisa wants to return to her job as a community nurse after having her son, Harry, who is now eight months old, but the cost of child care is prohibitive. Chris said:
“We both want to work but the cost of child care is a problem, it really is. We have to rely on Lisa’s mum a lot.”
Parents across the country are similarly prevented from working because of the triple whammy that the Government have hit parents with. Costs are up 30% since the election, there are thousands fewer child care providers, and tax credits have been cut. Did the Budget mean that Lisa will be able to return to work at the end of her maternity leave, thanks to increased support for child care? No, it did not. Yes, there will be some support, but in 18 months’ time, not now. What about now? The fact remains that over this Parliament, the Government have cut, not increased, support for parents in accessing child care. Parents will remember that, and they will see Labour’s offer of 25 hours a week of child care free at the point of use as the biggest help to their family budgets.
Of course, the No. 1 concern in my constituency is finding decent jobs. On the face of it, there was some good news for my constituency in last week’s employment figures, but when we dig down we see that very long-term unemployment for adults is rocketing. In my constituency, there was a 76% increase in just one year, and 12 of the 20 constituencies with the biggest increases on that measure are in the north-east. Twelve out of 20 constituencies are in one small region, yet there is only one in the whole of the south—more evidence of the widening north-south divide under this Government. Those people are clearly being left behind by this Government, and by a Work programme that is worse than doing nothing. They need a way back into employment—something to give them their confidence back and to sharpen their soft skills. What did we see from the Chancellor to help those people? Absolutely nothing. Only a Labour Government would guarantee those people a job for six months, with training and intensive support to find employment afterwards.
In summary, the Chancellor should not believe his own hype or a few good headlines from his friends in the press—people who probably benefit from this Budget. Come the election, real people will be asking themselves, “Am I better off thanks to this lot?” We know who will be able to answer yes: the Chancellor, those on the Government Front Bench, the Prime Minister and all the millionaires the Government have prioritised support for. However, millions of people on low and middle incomes—those who have been hit hardest by the Government’s cost of living crisis—will answer no, and it is they who will show this lousy Government the door in 15 months’ time.