I pay tribute to Members on both sides of the House, especially those who are stepping down, for the contribution they have made to politics; I am sure that we all appreciate their work.
My constituents regard this Budget as a monumental irrelevance. I say that because this Budget has done so little for so many people. Over the past few years, people’s standard of living has been eroded and their quality of life has declined, and this Budget has done nothing to reverse that trend.
In Wales, we have seen the publication of the Welsh Index of Multiple Deprivation and the work of Professor Steve Fothergill of Sheffield Hallam university. Both works have underlined just how bad things are in many south Wales valley communities. Professor Steve Fothergill, for example, has focused on the impact that welfare reform has had on many former mining communities. He has estimated that, in some 36 wards in the south Wales valleys, at least £800 per adult has been lost. The communities as a whole have suffered from that substantial loss of capital.
The situation has been getting progressively worse in the top end of the valleys. Lower down the valleys, there are also pockets of deprivation. Lansbury Park in the centre of Caerphilly is now the worst off ward in any part of Wales. It was tipped over the edge by the introduction of the bedroom tax. In my constituency, more than 1,000 households have been hit hard by that tax. In the past, I have referred to specific cases as examples, one of which I will refer to again. Mr and Mrs Goodwin live in the Caerphilly borough in Blackwood. Both of them are registered blind. After living in their council house for 30 years, they now have to pay a massive surcharge because two of their rooms are deemed to be surplus rooms. That has hit their quality of life and standard of living extremely hard. What is true of them is true of so many other people the length and breadth of this country. Some 57% of those people who have been hit by the bedroom tax have disabilities. What can people like Mr and Mrs Goodwin look forward to? Let us be clear about what will happen if the Conservatives win the election. The Office for Budget Responsibility has said that it anticipates a rollercoaster profile for implied public services spending, with
“a much sharper squeeze on real spending in 2016-17 and 2017-18”.
In other words, the cuts, bad though they have been, are nothing to what they are likely to be over the next few years if the Conservatives win the election. People must not worry though because there will be a massive boost in public expenditure as we approach the election after this one.
Things will get much, much worse before there is any chance of improvement, which is why it is so important that we take this opportunity, on the eve of our general election campaign, to recognise that a Labour Government would offer real hope for people. They would scrap the bedroom tax, introduce a sensible protection plan, increase the minimum wage, end exploitative zero-hours contracts and, above all else, bring in a different set of values that put people first, and that put the many before the few.