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Amendment of the Law

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:39 pm on 20th March 2014.

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Photo of Shabana Mahmood Shabana Mahmood Shadow Minister (Treasury) 4:39 pm, 20th March 2014

The truth is that we have called for a freeze on energy bills, which are going up under this Government. Perhaps the Government might understand the cost of living crisis better if they had more women on their Front Bench. I notice that once again this afternoon there is not a single female Member on the Government Front Bench.

The cost of living crisis has meant that child care costs have spiralled by 30% since 2010. Energy bills are up by almost £300 since the election, with consumers having no way of knowing whether the bills are fair, owing to weak competition and poor regulation. Rent is using up more and more of people’s incomes, with rent arrears becoming the fastest growing debt, and food prices have risen by over 4% year on year, putting a huge squeeze on family finances. The Government know that this is not about choosing between bringing the deficit down and dealing with the very serious cost of living crisis. That is simply a false choice that they choose to hide behind, because this Budget could have addressed these things.

Labour Members have put forward a number of fully costed proposals that would deal with the cost of living crisis and get help to families here and now. On child care, we would use a levy on banks to provide 25 hours of free child care a week, worth £1,500, for working parents with three and four-year-olds. The Government’s proposals, which will not even kick in until after the election, will give most benefit to the highest earners, who tend to have the highest child care costs. On housing, we have committed to getting 200,000 homes a year built by 2020, whereas this Government have refused to take the action that is needed and are presiding over the lowest levels of house building in peacetime since the 1920s.

On energy, as I said to Christopher Pincher, we would freeze energy bills until 2017, and, importantly, reform the energy market to stop consumers being ripped off. We would cut taxes for 24 million working people on middle and low incomes with a lower, 10p starting rate of income tax. We would put young people back to work with a job for the long-term young unemployed that they had to take, paid for by a tax on bankers’ bonuses. We would balance the books in a fairer way by reversing the £3 billion tax cut for people earning £150,000 a year, which this Government sought to prioritise ahead of any action to help hard-working families in our country.

Yesterday the Chancellor had an opportunity to help people who are struggling in the here and now, and he refused to take it. This Government’s so-called long-term economic plan has failed on its own terms, and people on middle and lower incomes are paying the price. People know that this is not about how the pound looks but how many they have in their pockets. Today they have fewer than they did in 2010, and in 2015 they will have fewer than they had in 2010. It is the same old story—you are worse off under the Tories.