Finance (No. 2) Bill

Part of Bill Presented – in the House of Commons at 4:19 pm on 1st April 2014.

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Photo of Julie Hilling Julie Hilling Opposition Whip (Commons) 4:19 pm, 1st April 2014

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. At that time our Government needed to act to bail out those banks. He says that the Government need not have acted if the Bank of England had, but the reality is that the Government acted and needed to do so.

It has been claimed that before the global collapse we were spending too much, so why did Mr Cameron pledge in 2007 to match Labour’s spending plan for further three years—to match our spending on investment, jobs and growth?

The level of debt under the Labour Government before the banking crisis was lower than that we inherited from the Tories in 1997. We brought the deficit down, we brought borrowing down and, far from failing to fix the roof when the sun was shining, we invested in repairing the terrible state of our public services. People were dying on hospital trolleys before they were seen, others were waiting a year to get on the waiting list before waiting another year to have their operations, schools were crumbling, the railways were decaying and youth services were disappearing. We repaired all that, and then the bankers behaved totally irresponsibly and brought down the world economy.

Yes, there was a failure by every Government right across the world to recognise the seeds of the banking crisis, but it was not caused by Labour’s overspending, and it was not caused by Labour’s high borrowing or high debt, because none of those things was going on before the banking crisis. If we had not dealt with the crisis as we did, the whole economic and banking system in Britain would have collapsed. If our Prime Minister at the time had not worked with other world leaders to bail out banks and bring forward investment, the world would have been plunged into a depression beyond belief.

We need honesty from the Government Benches to acknowledge the truth. The Government should acknowledge that the national debt has doubled on their watch to £1,400 billion. They should accept that wages are down by £1,600 a year since May 2010, and that people will be worse off in 2015 than they were in 2010. The Government should acknowledge that they have introduced 24 tax rises, that energy bills are up by almost £300 since the election, and that even though they inherited a growing economy, they squashed that growth, had three years of flatlining and have overseen the slowest recovery for 100 years.

The Government like to talk proudly about the number of jobs that they claim have been created in the private sector, so I asked them some questions about those jobs. I asked how many of the new jobs created lasted more than 12 months, but they could not tell me because they do not collect those statistics. So I asked them

“how many new jobs created in the private sector in the last 12 months were (a) unpaid workfare or internships, (b) through zero-hour contracts, (c) part-time, (d) part-time working 16 hours or less per week, (e) part-time working eight hours or less per week, (g) paid at the level of the minimum wage and (h) jobs transferred from public sector organisations.”

What a surprise. I was told:

“Information regarding the number of jobs created is not available. As an alternative, estimates relating to the net change in the number of people in employment in the private sector have been provided from the Labour Force Survey (LFS).”—[Hansard, 11 November 2013; Vol. 570, c. 460-61W.]

Estimates showed that more than a third of the new jobs that have been created are part-time, and that a third of those are under 16 hours. However, the Government do not collect the figures for those people who are on unpaid Government schemes or internships, even though those are included in the number of new jobs created. They cannot tell with any accuracy the number of people on zero-hours contracts or the number on the minimum wage. They also cannot tell me how many of the jobs now designated as being in the private sector are simply jobs transferred from the public sector, even though we know there are a large number of such jobs. The proud boast that over a million new jobs have been created is based on sand. We do not know how many are really new jobs, how many are unpaid, how many are low-paid, how many are zero-hours or how many are temporary. The Government like to think that any job is better than unemployment—a job at any price—but that is causing untold misery to many.

Let me tell the House a story of a man who went to the Allerton food bank. He was absolutely made up that he had got a job in Poundland. In week one, no work was offered; in week two, still no work offered; in week three, still no work offered. At this point he and his family were existing on boiled pasta because that was all they had in their household. Fortunately, somebody directed him to the food bank. People at the food bank helped him and spoke to Poundland, who said, “Well, we can’t finish him because he may get hours next week.” In the end he had to resign from his job and take the hit from the Department for Work and Pensions because he had resigned from a job—a job in which he was never given any hours to work. He had to resign so that he could feed his family.

Zero-hours contracts are a scourge on the unemployed, but instead of cracking down on them, the Government fail to collect statistics. Other sources estimate that a million people are on zero-hours contracts; a million people who do not know whether they can feed their families or pay their rents each week; a million people who cannot get a mortgage or a loan to buy a car; a million people who can make no plans for their future. It is like the bad old days when people had to queue up at the dock gates just to be picked for a day’s work. These workers are paid 40% less than those on permanent contracts, and 20% of them have said that they have had money docked or been penalised in some other way if they were unable to work when they were called for at a moment’s notice. Half of the people have said that they have had shifts cancelled at the last minute. The Government should take Labour’s lead and regulate zero-hours contracts, not allow the exponential growth that has occurred under their watch.