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The Economy

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:13 pm on 24th October 2019.

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Photo of Paul Sweeney Paul Sweeney Shadow Minister (Scotland) 4:13 pm, 24th October 2019

It is a pleasure to follow my constituency neighbour, David Linden, in this debate on the Queen’s Speech.

Surveying what was said earlier in the debate by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, to me it felt like a speech made from a parallel universe, to be quite frank, with no resemblance to what I see happening on the streets of my city and my constituency. Looking at the pain and the hurt visited on this country by this Government, we see an act of deliberate and calculated economic sabotage. In fact, it is an act of economic and social vandalism by this Government.

There have been 10 lost years in which wages have stagnated, or are lower than they were 10 years ago. That fed into a recent report by Menu for Change—an alliance between Oxfam Scotland, the Poverty Alliance, the Child Poverty Action Group Scotland and Nourish Scotland—which showed that people are facing severe despair. I see such despair in my constituency surgeries week after week. People are emaciated, starving, and struggling to feed their children. They feel humiliated and suffer from poor mental health as a result of the anguish they face and the problems visited on them by this Government.

This is not a joke or something that can be theorised; this is experienced week in, week out. I have seen it in the cuts to disability allowance. My constituency is the worst affected in Scotland, and the change from disability allowance to the personal independence payment is affecting my constituents who lose £1.9 million in disability benefits every year as a result. In some constituencies that are already on the breadline, the effects of that lost income is causing a mini-recession.

The report by Menu for Change highlighted that hunger is increasingly a feature of our communities in a way that it has not been since the creation of the welfare state 70 years ago, and people are increasingly becoming suicidal with despair because of the impact it is having. The solution is not food banks or more food—a lack of food is not the problem; the source of the problem is a lack of income. We must get more money into people’s pockets to solve the problem, and the Government have fundamentally failed to address that issue. Child poverty and the impact of universal credit are related. The biggest achievement of the previous Labour Government was to reduce child poverty by record levels, from 3 million children living in poverty in 1998 to 1.6 million in 2010. This Government’s austerity policies have reversed that achievement, and child poverty now stands at 4.1 million. That shameful epitaph hangs over this Conservative Government in their dying days, and they should feel the shame of that as they try to make their case for forming the next Government.

The Government’s policies on the future of the European Union are an act of economic sabotage. In my constituency the largest single employer, Allied Vehicles, is a fantastic example of industry and entrepreneurialism. It was created in a community that had suffered significant deindustrialisation, and the business grew from having just a few employees in the 1990s to now employing 700 people in skilled, well-paid jobs. It is the largest importer of Peugeot, Citroen, Ford, Volkswagen and Mercedes vehicles in the UK. It converts them into wheelchair accessible vehicles, and it has the largest market share of wheelchair accessible car production in Europe. It is scared that in a no-deal scenario, or if the transition period ends before a customs union or free trade deal is agreed, under World Trade Organisation terms its products will face a 10% levy on exports from the UK to the EU. That is more than the total margin on its sales, and it will stop that export business dead in its tracks. That business is projected to create another 200 jobs in my constituency by 2025, and to increase vehicle production from 500 to 3,800 per year.

That is the economic vandalism I speak of when I look at this Government’s policies on the European Union, and it is directly related to my constituency. Such vandalism is utterly shameful, and when we try to get clarity, there is none. This Government are not fit to hold office—they must go, and go quickly.