After years of abandoning and punishing the most vulnerable people in society, we get a Queen’s Speech that talks about introducing legislation to tackle some of the deepest social problems and to improve life chances for the most disadvantaged. However, we all know the truth: this Government’s grand rhetoric is rarely matched by policy. In fact, their policies tend to be regressive and punitive, pushing more and more people into poverty. No one living in poverty is there as a result of their own doing; the perpetuation of poverty and the rise in child poverty since 2010 is a clear failing of Government.
A recent report from Sheffield Hallam University, also referred to by Alison Thewliss, looks at the uneven impact of welfare reform, revealing that the north yet again takes the biggest hit on welfare reform while the south, outside London, remains largely unscathed. Some 83% of the overall financial losses fall on families with children. The north-east alone is set to lose £620 million a year by 2020-21, which is a loss per working-age adult of £380 a year. South Tyneside, the council which covers my constituency, is the sixth worst-affected local authority. Even the introduction of the living wage has left the lowest-paid workers little better off, if at all. One of my constituents, a carer, is now in a desperate financial situation because the new living wage has taken her over the threshold to be eligible for carer’s allowance. An extra £8 a week has cost her £62 in lost benefits.
If this Government really care about life chances, they would not be running into the ground the services people that people rely on the most. They would not have closed over 800 Sure Start centres. They would not be presiding over a crisis in teacher recruitment. They would not be focusing resources on adoption to the detriment of social work that can keep families together. They would not be presiding over the collapse of the NHS and social care. They would not have made such a mess of the benefits system to the extent that more than 1 million food parcels have been handed out. Disabled people would not be losing more than £1,500 pounds a year. The terminally ill would not be being declared fit for work and having their income slashed. Homelessness would not have doubled since 2010. We would not have rising wealth inequality in areas blighted by high unemployment. The Children’s Society has reported that children and young people in Britain are among the unhappiest, unhealthiest, poorest and least educated in the developed world.
This Queen’s Speech identifies an impotent and careless Government whose numerous U-turns reveal deep problems at the core of their policy making. Of the 30 announcements, we have heard 28 of them before, because we have for the past year had to put up with a Government obsessed with internal politics. We all know that the EU referendum has nothing at all to do with whether or not we are better off in or out of Europe. The Government have taken up precious parliamentary time with a prolonged, unedifying fight between—[Interruption.] You can have your say later. It is a fight between two middle-aged public school chums over who is going to run the country.