The Economy

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:34 pm on 24th October 2019.

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Photo of John Martin McDonnell John Martin McDonnell Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer 12:34 pm, 24th October 2019

I beg to move amendment (g), at end add

‘but respectfully regrets that the Gracious Speech fails to rebuild the UK economy, tackle the housing crisis, further pushes public services into crisis and contains no vision to bring this divided country back together;
calls on the Government to bring forward a plan to rebuild the economy so that it works in the interest of the many, not just handing out rewards to those at the top;
and further calls on the Government to address the climate emergency by bringing forward a green industrial revolution to decarbonise the economy and boost economic growth.’

Mr Speaker, may I just say this? This is the last time that you will be chairing a day of the Queen’s Speech and I may not get the opportunity in other tribute debates to say this. It has been a privilege to serve in this House while you have been Speaker. Thank you.

I listened to the Prime Minister introducing the Queen’s Speech. What I always find most startling about the Prime Minister is his ability to create his own truth and, when confronted with any reality that contradicts his truth, to bluster his way through. I believe he believes that, with a combination of bluster and the occasional pretentious use of Latin, he can always avoid confronting reality or answering for it. So, if we can achieve anything in today’s debate, let us at least try to confront the reality of what some of our people face and assess whether the announcements in the Queen’s Speech in any way meet those challenges.

On the economy, the Prime Minister referred in his speech to “economic success” and “free market success”. He also said:

“in important respects this country is the greatest place to live and to be—the greatest place on earth.”—[Official Report, 14 October 2019;
Vol. 666, c. 19.]

I think many of us feel that way, but I just wish it was the same for everyone. For so many of our people, tragically, it is not at the moment. There is a multitude of statistics evidencing just how far the Prime Minister is out of touch and how he appears to have no understanding of what our people have gone through over nearly a decade. Let me start with three stark examples of what the austerity the Conservative party has inflicted on our people has meant and continues to mean, and which I deeply regret were not addressed in the Queen’s Speech.

First, on infant mortality and child poverty, earlier this month, the British Medical Journal published a research project into infant mortality. Declines in infant mortality have been reversed for the first time in 100 years. The research found that, between 2014 and 2017, there were 570 excess infant deaths. The research concluded that 172 of those infant deaths were associated with the increase in child poverty. Out there, there are nearly 200 families who are grieving as a result of the Government’s austerity policies. There is nothing in the Queen’s Speech—nothing—that will tackle the poverty affecting 14 million of our people, and nothing that will tackle the poverty that 4.5 million of our children are being brought up in, or help the 125,000 children who are forced to live in temporary accommodation. There is nothing to address the £3 billion funding gap local councils face in trying to provide the services needed to support those very families. I will not forget, and many Labour Members will not forget, that this is a Government who have closed over 500 Sure Start centres, the very institutions we founded to support those families and to prevent infant mortality and morbidity on the scale we have seen.

Let me take the second example of what the Tories have done to our people. Earlier this month, the Office for National Statistics reported a record number of deaths of homeless people in England and Wales in 2018. Last year, 726 homeless people died. That represents the highest year-to-year increase since data was first collected. The Government have cut £1 billion from support to the homeless since 2010, so it is hardly surprising that rough sleeping has risen by almost 165%. In London, rough sleeping has more than tripled since 2010. Again, there is nothing—nothing—in the Queen’s Speech to tackle the scourge of homelessness.

My third example is the distance between what the Government claim and what employment and wages are like in this country. The Prime Minister claimed that

“we have unemployment at its lowest level since 1974”.—[Official Report, 14 October 2019;
Vol. 666, c. 22.]

The reality is this: more than 3 million people are missing from the unemployment rate because they report themselves as “economically inactive,” we have over 2.5 million people counted as employed even though they work fewer than 15 hours a week and there are 3.7 million people in insecure work.