Like my hon. Friend, a lot of the correspondence I receive and what people who visit my surgery tell me is that the Work programme is not delivering. They are not getting the help they need from it and they are not getting back to work. In an area such as mine, where long-term unemployment and youth unemployment remain a major concern, it is simply scandalous that the Government are not taking the action necessary to get people back to work. These people are desperate to work and they want to work.
The situation is not a great deal better for those in work. They are struggling to make ends meet with the rising cost of child care, ever increasing energy bills and falling wages. Parliamentary questions have revealed that, since 2010, men living and working in my area have suffered a 10% cut in real-terms pay—in other words, a cut of £49 a week. Women have seen a drop in their wages, too—they now receive £26 less a week.
I recently visited the Loaves and Fishes food and bank in Easington Lane in my constituency. It opened last September and is one of many new food banks that have, unfortunately, opened in Sunderland. Of course, I pay tribute to the volunteers and local community who are coming together to take action. We have always been an area that comes together and responds to need. The compassion and drive of the volunteers is evident, but so too is their sadness—sadness that these food banks need to exist at all. I am proud of their dedicated service, but it is a source of immense regret that local people are increasingly being forced to turn to food banks to survive, including many people in work, as the volunteers told me.
One of the biggest barriers that parents—particularly mothers—face is accessing child care when returning to work. Affordable and accessible child care will support our economy to grow, allow parents to work and give many children the best start in life, particularly those from the most disadvantaged backgrounds. The Bill’s measures, however, will not even kick in until the next Parliament. They do nothing to help parents now. They also help fewer people than previously announced and come after £15 billion-worth of cuts to support for children and families.
When in government, we did much to address that problem. In fact, we were the first Government to accept that, rather than child care being a private family matter, the Government had a role to play in ensuring that places were available. We devoted particular attention to supporting single parents back to work, which was welcomed in my constituency and did much to encourage people back into work.
Just like then, we now also have clear plans to help parents with 25 hours a week free child care for working parents of three and four-year-olds. That will be of real help to parents, who need action now. It is disappointing that the Government measures offer no help to parents struggling to work and pay for child care.
In the north-east, we need a Government who work with us, recognising both the potential and the opportunities that exist, as well as the challenges we face. My constituents, like so many working people across the country, need a Government who are on their side, tackling the issues of falling wages, getting our young people back to work and taking action now to help parents struggling with child care costs.
Economic recovery must be sustained and balanced, benefiting all regions of the country with economic recovery for all, but this Bill simply does not do enough to address that.