Economy, Pensions and Welfare

Part of Debate on the Address – in the House of Commons at 9:10 pm on 15th December 2008.

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Photo of Mary Creagh Mary Creagh PPS (Rt Hon Andy Burnham, Secretary of State), Department for Culture, Media & Sport 9:10 pm, 15th December 2008

It is a pleasure to speak after my hon. Friend Mr. Cunningham, who represents the area where I went to school in the 1980s. My family weathered the terrible recession of that time and saw the devastation of the car industry—the plant at Massey Ferguson, the Alvis tanks factory and the car body factory were all closed.

A series of devastating public sector spending cuts resulted in teachers' strikes, and many of my friends and I missed out on large parts of our education. Opposition Members perhaps have not suffered a teachers' strike, but when that happens, children go into school at the beginning of the week, pick up their work for the rest of the week, do it quickly that afternoon and go off to play for the rest of the day. As a 12-year-old, it was a recipe for happiness, but I am sure that it had a devastating and long-lasting impact on many of the people with whom I was at school. I would also like to share the fact that in 1982, I had to buy my own O-level physics textbook. In 1982, £12 was a lot of money for a 14-year-old who earned £1.50 from a paper round. Many of us can remember other recessions. The recession of the 1980s was perhaps not as desperate as that of the 1930s, but there was 20 per cent. unemployment in Northern Ireland and 16 per cent. unemployment in north-east and north-west England.

I shall consider two issues: the temporary reduction in VAT and, if time permits, the welfare reform proposals. The Government have done the right thing with the temporary cut in VAT because it will reduce prices and improve consumer spending. The measure is not about people buying 25 cappuccinos, as Mr. Pelling rather facetiously implied, but about 25 people who would not otherwise buy cappuccinos doing so. We need to allow people to keep making the discretionary expenditure that they would otherwise not make. Increasing the higher rate of income tax to 45 per cent. for those earning above £150,000 is a bold, positive and progressive move by the Government that will ensure that the pain of this recession is shared by the few, as well as the many—to paraphrase a famous new Labour phrase.

It is important to bring forward spending on large infrastructure projects because that will enable construction companies that have been badly affected by the recession to remain in business. It is crucial that £3 billion is invested in our motorways, social housing, schools, hospitals and energy efficiency. The phrase of Mr. Osborne that we did not fix the roof while the sun was shining has become rather hackneyed, but I can tell him that, as a Labour Government, we have invested money in repairing schools and hospitals. Again, Opposition Members might not have had the pleasure of going to an outside lavatory at their school—I am sure that the Eton Rifles and the Bullingdon boys were not allowed to do that—but in some schools, the classrooms were out of action for years at a time because of leaks in the roof.

At Pinderfields hospital, Wakefield, which I visited two weeks ago with the Secretary of State for Health, a £250 million contract has been put in place and the infrastructure—the bones of the hospital—are in place. That hospital had not received any major building investment since almost the second world war—and that investment had consisted entirely of prefabricated portakabins. When I visited to celebrate the NHS's 60th birthday this summer, we went to a children's ward where the beds had previously been lost because the rain was getting through a hole in the roof. That is one of the challenges that doctors, nurses and care professionals in Wakefield faced in delivering health services, but now we are talking about the roof in Pinderfields hospital being physically fixed through a £250 million investment from the Government.

Last week, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families announced new money for play areas. Wakefield will receive £1.1 million of investment this year, rather than in 2010-11, in 22 areas. In Kirklees, which I also represent, and the wards of Denby Dale and Kirkburton, £2.2 million will be invested in 28 play areas and two adventure playgrounds. I am determined not to let the Tory-Lib Dem coalition on the council allow my rural children to miss out.

It is also good that we are providing £15 million for free debt advice, which has been an issue in Wakefield. People trying to access debt advice at Wakefield's citizens advice bureau currently face a three-week wait, which I raised with Treasury Ministers in the House in October. That demonstrates the nonsense of the Opposition, who published a paper in the summer calling for the deregulation of the mortgage market. We are all now only too aware of the dangers that such an approach would bring.

I have only 20 seconds left, so I will miss certain sections of my speech, but I want briefly to mention welfare reform, which is vital. It is difficult to get people back into work during a recession, but we cannot allow worklessness to become an ingrained habit, as the Conservatives did in the '80s and '90s. They want spending cuts, but I say that it is better to increase the national debt than to have 200,000 people losing their homes or one in 10 people unemployed. It is better that the national debt should rise than that entire sections of the manufacturing and coalmining industries should be left to wither on the vine: doing nothing is simply not an option. We in the Labour party have an action plan. Only time will tell whether it will be enough, but the "no action" plan from the do nothing party would seriously let down the people of this country.

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Raymond Bray
Posted on 8 Jan 2009 1:17 pm (Report this annotation)

Mrs Creagh it is a shame that you only left 20 seconds to outline your welfare reform. I would have been very interested to have read what you proposed. In the last 10 years I have seen very little in the way of creating and encouraging new manufacturing industries to this country. You talk of percentages of unemployed in the North East, is this the North East of Watford as this is where England stops for most southern folk.
The unemployed of this country pay for nothing, they need employment for self wealth and to drive this country forwards. I am sure that the mothers and toddler groups love you when you talk about creating play areas, sorry but I can do that. What we need from the likes of our MPs is the creation of jobs (none government), more people in work, less people claiming benefit.
If this Government wishes to carry on paying our hard earned money out to the scroungers could we not devise a programme whereby those that claim have to earn the right by doing work for their local areas. Can we get away from this something for nothing mentality? There is no such thing as a free meal, or is there?