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Amendment of the Law

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:48 pm on 20th March 2014.

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Photo of Seema Malhotra Seema Malhotra Opposition Whip (Commons) 3:48 pm, 20th March 2014

It is disappointing that this has turned out to be a Budget for the few, not the many. I am particularly concerned that it has delivered nothing to support young people and the long-term unemployed, and it is on that point that I wish to make a few remarks.

We all know that young working families are struggling. Last week I met Sarah, a young mum of two, in a local supermarket. Two years ago, the jobcentre forced her to go on a course at a time when she was very ill during her first pregnancy. The tutor on the course sent her home almost as soon as she arrived, and her doctor then signed her off work for the pregnancy lest she even lose the baby. Her partner has been out of work for three years, which has had a knock-on effect on his self-esteem. He is a young man struggling to find work and wanting to support his young family, and he has felt that the courses being offered to him are well below what he needs and are doing little to increase his chances of work.

I met a mum who was concerned about her son’s future. He has been on a zero-hours contract with no certainty about what work he will get or on what day. The stress that it has caused the family is enormous. Imagine not being able to plan if and when to do a course of further learning, or when it might be possible to see a doctor, care for a family member or go out on a certain day. Zero-hours contracts definitely need reform.

More than 1 million 16 to 24-year-olds in the UK are not in education, employment or training. Long-term unemployment is up more than 300% since 2010, and long-term youth unemployment has almost doubled in that period, yet pay is still rising faster for bankers than for the average worker. This was not a Budget for those such as the disabled man I met recently who was hit by the bedroom tax; for the families and parents struggling with rising child care costs; or for small businesses struggling to pay their business rates.

I welcome the reduction in bingo duty and I am pleased that the Government have listened to calls from Labour and the public about reducing that duty. I thank many of my constituents, including Mike Ellis, a bingo club manager in Feltham, for their work on that matter. The fact remains, however, that the recovery is not yet reaching the many. The Chancellor and the Prime Minister often talk about getting young people into work, but I am concerned that there is no actual plan for young people. Making school-based work experience optional rather than compulsory, as the Government did in September 2012, is one shocking example of that—a move that was opposed by Labour and by 89% of those who took part in the Department for Education consultation. In the past year alone more than 64,000 fewer young people have been able to take part in work experience, compared with the previous year.

The young people of today are the taxpayers and leaders of tomorrow, and we have a responsibility to hold open the doors so that they can succeed. That is why getting young people back to work is a priority for Labour. It is about our duty to the next generation, to give them the chances they need, and confidence that the Government are on their side. Labour would put young people back to work with a job for every unemployed young person, paid for by a tax on bankers’ bonuses. Young people also need a place to live and bring up their families, and Labour would also build up to 200,000 homes a year by 2020.

Tackling the housing crisis is not just about fuelling demand, but building new homes and increasing supply. We would freeze energy prices to help tackle that modern scourge: the cost of living. Labour would get finance flowing again to businesses, with a proper independent business investment bank and a network of regional banks to support businesses that need finance, not just in London but in our industrial centres in the north that have been so neglected by the Government and on which our national economy depends.

This country needs an active Government with the courage to bring forward bold policies to build a strong, sustainable economy that generates wealth for the many, jobs for the unemployed, and prosperity for all. Instead, it is a shame that this out-of-touch Chancellor, and Prime Minister, has delivered a Budget that caters for the privileged few, while working families and mums like Sarah fight for scraps from his table.