Sunday, 15 June 2014

The North East Economy, by Grahame Morris MP

Resources are being diverted from the North to the South.

Councils in the North East are losing £665 per person an average, compared to £305 in the South East.

Durham County Council is losing £242m by 2017, nearly 2000 council staff made redundant, affecting frontline service, education (home to school transport), libraries (reduced hours), and transport (withdrawal of bus services).

According the Institute of Public Policy Research, transport spending for the North East is £5 per head, whereas in the London it is £2,731.

The Government has failed to “make work pay”.

At Prime Minister’s Questions, David Cameron told us that “the best route out of poverty is work.” But this is empty rhetoric.

Two thirds of children in poverty live in working households.

There are over five million low paid workers in the United Kingdom, earning less than the living wage. That figure up from 3.4m in 2009.

The number of people in work claiming housing benefit is up 59% since 2010, costing an extra £5 billion. Wages have fallen on average by £1600 a year under Cameron.

An Oxfam Report details that Food Banks and Food Aid charities gave more than 20 million meals last year to people in UK who could not afford to feed themselves.

Locally, Durham Food Bank, established in 2011, saw a 264% increase in demand in first two years.

In 2011, 3209 people were fed by it. In 2013, the figure was 11,684. It is regularly feeding 1,300 people each month.

The main reasons for food bank usage are benefit delays (36%), benefit changes (21%) and low income (17%).

The Bedroom Tax has affected 1,300 families in East Durham. It costs low income families £850,000 in East Durham, money that would otherwise be spent in the local economy, supporting jobs and services.

County Durham, Newcastle and Sunderland are among the top 10 hardest-hit areas in the UK.

The North East has lost economic support and representation in Government.

One North East has been abolished; it had invested £2.7bn into regional economy, attracted and created 19,000 new businesses, and created and safeguarded 160,000 jobs.

The Coalition has scrapped the Regional Minister, reducing the voice of the North East in Government.

The local and European elections should have served as a wake-up call to all political parties.

The public expressed its discontent with politics.

They believe that those who run the country fail to understand their problems, and that political parties are more concerned with the Westminster bubble than tackling the real issues affecting their lives.

Unfortunately, there was nothing in the Queen’s Speech to persuade the public any differently.

For ordinary people, things are getting harder, not easier, under this Government. Hardworking people are £1,600 a year worse off.

Families are paying £300 more on their energy bills. And at a time when people are working longer and harder for less, raising a family has become more difficult as childcare costs have risen by almost a third.

The nation needed a Queens’s Speech that would rise to these challenges, but instead we were presented with more of the same by a coalition more concerned with its own internal politics than with the issues facing the general public.

One out of three children in the North East is now living in poverty, and two thirds of young people in poverty live in a working household.

My Honourable Friend the Member for Wansbeck, Ian Lavery MP, raised this point at last week’s Prime Minister’s Questions. But David Cameron had nothing to say on the matter.

The Government keeps telling us that employment is the route out of poverty, but for many parents hard work is not even enough to provide an acceptable standard of living for their children.

In the North East, full-time workers are now £36 a week less well-off than they were a year ago. The link between economic growth and living standards is broken.

It is ordinary people that were made to pay for this Government’s policy of austerity.

After enduring three years of cuts and a flat-lining economy, it cannot be right that now the economy is recovering, ordinary people are not the ones benefitting.

When an economy grows, wages should grow, too.

That is why I am proud that Labour has pledged to raise the value of the minimum wage over the next Parliament, to move towards a living wage for businesses that can afford to pay it, and to introduce a lower 10p starting rate of tax.

You can only call an economic recovery successful if it is being felt throughout society, not just in a few clusters of privilege.

This is something that the Coalition patently fails to understand.

In the North East, 6,860 people aged 16 to 18, or 7.6%, are not in education, employment or training, the highest proportion of any region.

Long term youth unemployment has jumped by 60% under this Government. The cost of long-term youth unemployment is £350m a year and £3.2bn over the lifetime of the young unemployed.

And in my constituency the number of people claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance for more than two years is on the rise.

Clearly, this is not an economy that is benefiting people equally.

The North East, and especially young people in the North East, remain out of sight and out of mind for this Tory-led Government.

We urgently need action to get local people into work.

I am proud that Labour is calling for a compulsory jobs guarantee, which will get any adult out of work for more than two years, or young person out of work for a year, into a job.

But my constituents should not be made to wait another year for a Government to take action to improve their lives.

Real action, not empty rhetoric, is what is required.

Families struggling to make ends meet need relief from overburdening energy bills in the form of Labour’s Consumers Bill to freeze energy prices until 2017 and reform the energy market.

Parents struggling to cope with balancing the demands of work and childcare will be better off with Labour, with 25 hours of free childcare.

And the 1.4m workers who are on zero hours contracts but working regular hours, need a Government to step in to provide them with a proper, regular contract that brings the security that a full-time job should deliver.

The Queen’s Speech missed an important opportunity to tackle the deep-seated causes of poverty and inequality in this country.

What the public require is an economy that delivers for the many, not just the few, and a Government prepared to deal with the real issues affecting their lives.

The Coalition’s last stand has shown they are unable to deliver the change we need.

We need a real alternative.

However, for that, we shall have to wait until 7th May 2015.

Grahame Morris is the Member of Parliament for Easington.

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