The Economy and Work

Part of Debate on the Address – in the House of Commons at 4:21 pm on 26th May 2016.

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Photo of Justin Madders Justin Madders Shadow Minister (Health) 4:21 pm, 26th May 2016

There is a growing army of people in this country for whom the economy is no longer working. They will have looked hopefully at the Government’s plans for the next year and found that there is nothing there for them. It is simply not good enough that we have a Prime Minister who is happy to sacrifice an entire parliamentary Session tinkering at the edges because he is too afraid of causing even more divisions in his own party. How much of what is in this agenda will even see the light of day anyway? This Government have made 24 U-turns in the past year alone. It is unprecedented to see a Government offer so little so soon into a new Parliament. Just a year after a general election, we have a zombie Government and a Prime Minister who cannot wait for it to be 28 days later.

Yet there are serious problems that need to be tackled now. For the first time in a decade, child poverty is rising under this Government. There has been a worrying increase in the number of children relying on food banks—up by 13% in my constituency in the past year alone. What was the Government’s response? They rebranded the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission by removing “Child Poverty” from its name, and attempted to remove the statutory duty to measure child poverty at all. The chair of the commission notably said that young people now face an “existential crisis”—a crisis that this Government seem determined to exacerbate.

What will our economy look like for the workers of tomorrow? The sad reality is that manufacturing in this country is in long-term decline, and I see nothing from the Government to rebalance the economy either on a sectoral or a geographic basis. In my constituency, economic growth is hampered by the lack of investment in key infrastructure projects such as the electrification of the Wrexham to Bidston train line or improvements to the M56 motorway, yet grandiose schemes continue to take shape elsewhere in the country. Getting better connectivity in my constituency is undoubtedly the key to unlocking growth, but we are told that any improvements to the M56 will not even be considered until the end of the decade, and there is currently nothing on the horizon to improve the rail line. People in parts of my constituency have no reliable access to public transport at all, yet Crossrail alone is earmarked to receive nine times more funding than all the rail projects from the north’s three regions combined.

What of the growing ranks of the self-employed? Julie Deane’s independent review for Government on self-employment appears to be gathering dust on the shelf. The review found that the number of self-employed in the UK is at an all-time high of 4.6 million, and that the number is growing and the trend set to continue. That group now represents 15% of the UK workforce, making a considerable contribution to the country’s economy.

The report makes a number of important recommendations and I want action to be taken on one in particular:

“Government should consider extending support to the self-employed in areas where there is discrepancy between support for the self-employed and support for employees.”

It also makes a recommendation with regard to those who are self-employed through necessity. There is no doubt that there are people who should not be classed as self-employed, but because they are classified as such they are offered no basic protection, such as the minimum wage. Urgent action needs to be taken on the reclassification of self-employment.

In conclusion, this has been a missed opportunity to tackle the inequalities that exist by region, gender, age and employment status.