Since the election last year, energy prices have risen out of control and winter fuel payments have been cut by the new government.
Pensioners and people on low wages are especially hard hit by these price rises. People on middle incomes are hit as well with cuts to child benefit and with tuition fees going up to £9,000.
The government also increased VAT to 20 per cent. This has made goods in the shops more expensive, raised the price of petrol and is costing families with children an average of £450 per year. Meanwhile, the government raised the cap on rail fares – a decision that will see above inflation rises to rail travel. And just for good measure, the Tory-Lib Dem Government cut child care so that almost half a million families are up to £1,500 a year worse off.
It seems that those on low and middle incomes are being hit hard while those at the top, especially the bankers who caused the global financial crisis, are left unscathed as bonuses continue to be paid.
There is an alternative, Labour’s five point plan. We would:
· Repeat the bank bonus tax and use the funds to help get young people off the dole and into work.
· Temporarily reverse the VAT rise which is costing families with children £450 per year.
· Cut VAT on home improvements for a year to help business and households.
· Invest in homes, schools, roads and transport to get the economy moving.
· Help small businesses by a temporary cut in National Insurance payments.
As winter approaches, the cuts to winter fuel payments will start to hit vulnerable elderly people and with energy bills varying by up to £180 pensioners face a lottery when it comes to gas and electricity prices.
I will press the government to take real action to bring down energy prices, food prices, fuel prices and travel costs for everyone this winter.
The Government is planning to pay prisoners to work in prisons. Now, I’m all in favour of rehabilitation and of helping prisoners learn a trade so that they can work when they leave prison rather than committing more crime. But what struck me about this announcement was that the Government wants to help prisoners at the same time as it has cut help to young people. We have over a million young people out of work in this country. One of the first steps taken by the Tory-Lib Dem Government was to scrap the Future Jobs Fund, which gave young people six months real work and helped them into a full time job afterwards. There is a grave danger that the Government will repeat the mistakes it made in the 1980s when a generation of young people were out of work for long periods and as a result were never able to gain a foothold in the jobs market or afford good housing. Those young people are often still struggling today, 30 years later. My big concern is that we have a Government that is making the same mistakes all over again when it comes to young people and jobs.
We need a plan for jobs especially for young people.
I presented the certificates and prizes at Formby High School and was very impressed by the high standards reached at the school. In fact, all the schools in Sefton Central have good standards and the achievements of the young people stand out. We should celebrate the success of our young people. But we also need to be realistic about the future. With youth unemployment so high and with competition for jobs coming from people in this country and from abroad, our young people need to work hard and gain the qualifications that will help them succeed. Changes made by the Government are encouraging schools to push Latin rather than subjects which help students gain the skills they need for work. The English Baccalaureate is a way in which the so-called success of schools can be measured. The E-Bacc looks at English and Maths, which is quite right. Young people need basic maths and literacy skills. But they also need the option of studying subjects which they want to study and which will help them find work. Subjects like engineering, computer science, catering and music are excluded from the E-Bacc. This is not going to help our young people when they are looking for a job.
My advice to the young people who won awards in Formby was to find something they like doing and that they are good at. It is motivating to work on subjects we enjoy and which we are good at. However, we need our schools to offer the subjects that young people want to study and we need the Government to support the schools. We can create the jobs we need and rebuild the economy but only if our young people develop the skills that employers need.
I don’t object to people studying Latin. But the fact that we have a Government that values Latin more highly than it values engineering or computer science should be of big concern to us all.