I would say that it is a pleasure to speak in this debate, but it clearly is not. This is a horrendous time for many people in this country. They were told that the people with the broadest shoulders would bear the biggest burden of austerity, and that proved to be completely untrue. They were told that the situation would be temporary while the Tories rebuilt the economy and created the jobs of the future and that those jobs would be available to hard-working people. That turned out to be untrue, too. Then we were told that austerity was over. The Budget has shown in black and white that that is simply not true.
There is a human cost. It is natural in these situations to look at the facts, the figures and the data. But just think about the human, lived experience in every one of our communities—of people doing exactly what the Government have asked them to do. They are working hard, often in two or three jobs and often for more than 40 hours a week. They are struggling with childcare and to put food on the table. They do it because they have the pride of work.
We might say that, given the exploitation taking place in which people are not given full-time work, even though it is available from the employer, those people ought not have pride in their work—their terms and conditions have been eroded or they are being paid the minimum wage because employers know they will get away with it—but people do have pride. People in my town of Oldham came from all over the world to work hard and set up a new life for themselves and their families. They are industrious and take pride in their work and effort. But the promise of fair pay for a fair day’s work is just not true for too many people.
When the mills were thriving, we developed manufacturing and engineering. The jobs in aerospace, making high-end machinery that changed the face of the world, did not just provide quality goods that changed the world; they provided a sense of purpose. The things that people produced in towns such as Oldham helped set the industrial revolution off and set this country where it needed to be. But those very same communities have been left abandoned.
What has followed that industrialisation? The decent jobs have been replaced with warehousing and distribution jobs—the same jobs that Amazon and the like are replacing with automation. Take Shop Direct in my community: it employs 2,000 people in warehousing and distribution. Some of them have 40 years’ service; it used to be Littlewoods and Great Universal Stores. They had a long history in Greater Manchester: 40 years’ service—husbands and wives working together all their working lives. That operation is closing, to be relocated 80 miles away at an automated plant.
We know that progress is inevitable and that automation would make this country more productive, and the workforce know that, too. They do not have their heads in the sand—they work in the industry on a daily basis and know exactly what changes are taking place—but what they cannot understand is why their tax-haven owners are closing the local facility and not even giving the community the chance to put in an offer of a site in that community for a new facility. Where is the fairness in that?
We talk about fair taxation. This digital sales tax being proposed is an absolute con. For too long, the tech giants have got away with not paying their fair amount of tax, while our high streets, our city centres and our town centres have been left to go to their knees. In many regions, we have lost a quarter of our retail space. That has a real consequence for how people feel about their communities. When they look at their town, it is a test for what the future holds for their place and their community. When they see the shutters down and the boards on the windows, it says a lot about the faith the Government have in it. At the same time, where money is being generated in the economy, the Government are completely useless in capturing it to invest in decent public services.
The people in this country believe in fairness and fair play. They understand there are choices and they understand that sometimes they are difficult choices. What they will never understand is how they work hard, work long hours and work still with pride, yet the people taking money out of their community are not paying their fair share to pay for decent public services. That is not for themselves. People are not selfish. People look at their children and their grandchildren, and they look at the funding that has been taken away from our schools. That is when they question what the future is and whether it is all worth it. If the Government do not do something quick to give people back the hope they need, I really fear for the future of this country.