Budget Resolutions and Economic Situation — Amendment of the Law

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 7:45 pm on 25th March 2013.

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Photo of Barry Sheerman Barry Sheerman Labour, Huddersfield 7:45 pm, 25th March 2013

I am glad I met a man from St Ives on this journey, because I agree with much of what Andrew George said about shared ownership.

I suppose it is because I have been in this House too long—there is usually a chorus after any Member says that—and because I have heard a lot of Budget and autumn statements that I have become more cynical about them as time goes on, but I want to start by saying that, as co-chair of the associate parliamentary manufacturing group, I believe that some of the concessions and planned changes affecting manufacturing industry in the autumn statement and the Budget were good for manufacturing, and were welcomed by people in the sector.

The Budget was supposed to be about aspiration. I would like that aspiration to be lifted much higher. Our country is changing fast, and my irritation with Budgets and autumn statements is that there seems to be no time for politicians to get together in a sensible way and think strategically about policy making and the direction of our country. Our country is changing fast. The social and economic structure is changing rapidly and fundamentally within my lifetime. I was talking recently to students at Northampton university, and their knowledge of the social structure of Britain is amazing. I asked them what percentage of people worked in manufacturing and some of them said 30% or 40%. They had no idea that about 9.5% of people work in manufacturing; it is 10.5% in Huddersfield. Some 30% work in what people call public services—education, health and local government —and roughly 60% work in private services.

Working in early years or later years care in private services means earning minimum wage or minimum wage plus. Working in retail and distribution also means earning minimum wage. No one can live the good life on minimum wage. I came into politics so that my constituents could live the good life. We all know the good life: we can put food on the table and have a nice house or flat, whether it is rented or bought through a mortgage. We all know the essential ingredients for a good life, but many of the good jobs that provided it, including in manufacturing, for example, have gone. They have been replaced by minimum wage jobs in retail and distribution, and in caring for patients.

Universities, apprentices and education were mentioned only once in the Budget, and that is a real worry. I care passionately about giving young people jobs and opportunities, and 90% of firms do not take on apprentices. That is a real concern and it was not addressed enough in the Budget.

Manufacturing is important in our country. My vision is of a high-skilled, high-paid Britain, but at the moment many of our people are heading towards a low-skilled, low-paid economy. In fact, those two can live side by side, and as Lord Heseltine told us, there is a grotesque change in our country that should be worrying every Member—the way in which London and the south-east are sucking the life out of our great towns and cities. The Budget has not addressed that, but we must address it if we are to get strategic policy right. This Budget did not do enough in that direction.