Sharon spoke in the debate on the last Queen's Speech before the next General Election.
Mrs Sharon Hodgson (Washington and Sunderland West) (Lab): The last Queen’s Speech before the general election should have shown that the Government were listening to what ordinary people want. Instead, we had a speech that seemed to be geared more towards allowing Government Members plenty of time to go off campaigning for their own jobs than it was to helping 380 of my constituents who are long-term unemployed, which is an increase of almost 600% in the past two years. It was a speech that talked about charges for plastic carrier bags, but not about helping those people who are struggling to afford the food to put in them.
The lack of action by this Government to tackle inequality was particularly notable. This is a Government who have helped the rich get richer while allowing the incomes of ordinary working people to fall by £1,600 a year. The Office for National Statistics recently published research showing that the wealthiest 10% of households owned 44% of the country’s total wealth, while the least wealthy 50% owned just 9% between them. That research also showed that the north-east has the lowest average household wealth—not even half as much as in the south-east. Such deep inequality has shown time and again to be a drag on the economy. One of the most effective ways to tackle that is by rebalancing our economy to create more jobs and wealth in our regions, particularly in the north-east.
Do not get me wrong, Mr Deputy Speaker, the north-east does not need any special treatment or sympathy; that is not what I am after. It is full of people who are highly motivated to work, who have world-leading skills and new and exciting ideas. It has bags of potential, particularly in low-carbon technology and other skilled manufacturing. In fact, only last week, the Deputy Prime Minister and the Business Secretary came to the fabulous new Rolls Royce factory in my constituency to see that for themselves. I am not sure whether they had time to go for a pint together afterwards, but I would have been more than happy to recommend one of Washington’s excellent pubs.
What the north-east needs is a fair crack of the whip. So far under this Government regional development funding has been skewed towards the already prosperous London and the south-east and, sadly, nothing in this Queen’s Speech changes that.
Another way to make our society more equal and more prosperous is by harnessing the potential of women, which means addressing the unaffordability and unavailability of child care. Instead of taking action in this Parliament to address their record of spiralling costs, plummeting availability and cuts to support through tax credits, all the Government could muster in their final Queen’s Speech was the promise of something to come in a year’s time. Parents everywhere will therefore welcome the calls for more free child care for working parents outlined in the Opposition amendment. All I can say is thank goodness this will be the last Queen’s Speech from this Government.