Living Standards

Part of Opposition Day — [Un-allotted Day] – in the House of Commons at 5:24 pm on 30th November 2011.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Lilian Greenwood Lilian Greenwood Shadow Minister (Transport) 5:24 pm, 30th November 2011

Obviously those who are home owners are paying low interest rates, but many who rent their home are having to pay a lot more.

People in my city are angry that the irresponsible behaviour of a small number of people in banks brought our economy to the verge of collapse. They do not feel that those who caused the damage are doing enough to pay for the costs. They are also angry that the Government are making the situation much more difficult by putting up VAT, freezing child benefit, cutting the support families get for child care, taking away their children’s education maintenance allowance, or closing down services they rely on. A year ago, the Chancellor claimed that his £40 billion of extra cuts were necessary to get borrowing down, but now we know that borrowing will be £158 billion higher than he planned—a lot of pain for no gain. It was his decision to cut too far and too fast that choked off growth and led to rising unemployment: more people are claiming benefits and fewer people are paying taxes; people have less money to spend, so businesses struggle and more people lose their jobs. It is a vicious circle that this Government helped to create.

Thousands of people in my constituency face an even bigger hit. Public sector workers are being told that they have to find an extra 3.2% from their pay packets to help the Government pay down the deficit. Teaching assistants, nurses and youth workers are all being asked to pay more. The Government say they need to pour more money into their pensions, but the money is not going to boost their pension scheme; it is going straight to the Treasury. That is why people who have never taken part in a strike in their lives are doing so today. They feel they have no choice. This is the last resort when their employers simply will not listen or negotiate properly.

Let me tell the House about one hard-working family in my constituency that this Government are squeezing. Mark Thomas works for the city council as a neighbourhood enforcement officer. His job is to inspect houses in multiple occupation, of which there are thousands in Nottingham, particularly around our universities. Mark does vital work protecting public health and ensuring that young people are not exploited by unscrupulous landlords. In July this year, Mark and his partner Alison bought their first home together, and Mark’s 14-year-old son lives with them every other week. Like most people, they worked out how much they could afford, taking account of all the other bills they would have to pay each month and how much they had coming in through their wages. In addition to the usual utility bills, Mark pays child support to his son’s mother. Alison went to university to improve her career prospects and has student loan payments deducted from her salary. As Mark says,

“We are not a wealthy family. I would class us as average, getting by”.

Mark earns £2,500 less than the national average wage and currently pays £120 a month towards his pension. If the proposals to increase pension contributions go ahead, Mark will be paying half as much again—an extra £60 a month. Perhaps a member of the Cabinet would not notice £60 a month, but ordinary people who are not completely out of touch know that that is a lot extra, especially when their pay has been frozen for two years already. Mark and Alison face a double whammy because Alison also works for the city council, as an environmental health officer. She earns a bit more than Mark and pays £155 a month toward her pension, so her 50% increase will be £77 a month. One Nottingham family, an average family, getting by, is being asked to find an extra £137.50 each month, not to benefit their pension fund, but to help the Treasury pay down the deficit—a deficit caused by bankers; a deficit that this Government are making worse.

Mark and Alison are worried sick about finding that extra money. Mark says,

“£137.50 would pay our council tax, or buy gas and electric credit for the month, or pay for a large amount of grocery shopping. We already have to save over a number of months to buy necessities such as glasses and dental treatment.”

Mark is anxious that he will not be able to give his son the life he wanted to. He is worried that his son might choose to spend more time at his mum’s house because she is able to provide for him better financially. I am pretty sure that Ministers do not lie awake at night worrying about their family like that, and Mark and Alison should not have to either.

Of course pensions have to be sustainable and affordable, but changes have to be fair. They have to be fair to taxpayers—of course, public servants are taxpayers themselves—but also fair to the people who care for us when we are sick, educate our children and keep our streets clean and safe. The Government need to stop attacking the people our communities rely on day in, day out. They need to listen to why people are so angry and they need to try to resolve the dispute by engaging in real negotiations.