I want to tell the House the story of Chris, a young man in my constituency. I know his story only because a friend of mine gave him a lift home last night.
Chris works at Currys in Bury. Because his boss would not let him leave five minutes early, he had a 40-minute wait for the bus. Usually, when he gets into Bolton he has to catch two more buses. The whole trip takes him two and a half hours each way. If it had not been for my friend last night, it would have taken him nearly three and a half hours to get home. It is not as though it is a great job. He has a contract for six hours, which he believes is so that his employer can get rid of him easier. However, as he says, any job is better than none. It is no wonder that Chris is desperate to keep his job. With more than six people fighting for every vacancy in Bolton West, he knows that he is lucky to have anything.
People in my constituency are scared: scared that they will lose their jobs, scared that they cannot afford to pay their bills and scared that they cannot see anything getting any better. The Prime Minister is proud to state that interest rates are at an historic low, but he forgets to tell everyone that he inherited low interest rates. The much more important measure of the health of our economy is growth. What do we have? We have no growth, borrowing up, ever-rising unemployment and cuts to the public services that we all rely on.
The figures today show that the Government’s policies, like so many people in Britain, are just not working. The economy is flatlining and ordinary people are paying the price. It is back to normal business for the Tories—the rich play and the poor pay. The Government want to blame everyone but themselves—it is our fault, it is the snow, it is the royal wedding, it is the euro. It is time that they took responsibility for their actions and time they accepted that their plans are ruining Britain and ruining the lives of people in my constituency.
It is not just young people who are suffering; long-term unemployment among the over-50s is up by 20%. Just at the time when people should be able to relax and enjoy their lives, and when they should be able to plan for retirement, they are thrown on to the scrap heap.
I have told the House before about the 10 years in the ’80s and ’90s when I worked with unemployed young people. That was the last time the Tories thought that unemployment was a price worth paying. I have told the stories of the young people who took their own lives; the young people who turned to drugs and alcohol; the young people who developed long-term mental health problems; and the young people who spent many years unemployed. It is the truth that when the economy eventually recovered, employers preferred to take on the 16-year-olds who were fresh out of school than the 26-year-olds who had spent most of the previous 10 years out of work with nothing to do and nothing to get up for. Those stories of 15 years ago are starting to repeat themselves. If the Government continue to follow their failed policies, we will have another generation with no jobs, no hope and no future.
The Government also ignore the health costs of unemployment. Unemployed people are twice as likely to have a psychological illness than those who are employed. Many studies in the ’80s and ’90s proved the links between serious diseases of major organs and unemployment. It is true that unemployment makes people ill.
The Government talk about making it easier to hire people, but in truth they mean making it easier to fire people. There are people in my constituency who are not only worried about their employers’ economic future but doubly worried that their terms and conditions could be changed on a whim and that they could be fired despite doing nothing wrong. How can they buy a house or make another major purchase that would get the economy working when they are fearful for their future?
I do not believe that Ministers get it. They do not understand the reality of people worrying about losing their job, or their fear of not being able to feed or clothe their children. It is not too late to change tack and, for the sake of our constituents, the Government should do so.