By Bridget Phillipson MP
Last week, the Queen opened the new session of Parliament and announced the government’s plans for the year ahead. We certainly do ceremony and tradition well and Parliament was packed with visitors. Unfortunately, the government’s plans for legislation let the side down and were on the thin side.
Britain faces big challenges, but the Queen’s Speech was another wasted opportunity. The Tories appear increasingly out of touch, tired and divided.The last three years have been marked by economic failure and hard working families are suffering.
Prices are rising faster than wages and research by the Northern TUC show the scale of the squeeze on wages. Since 2010, in Sunderland wages have fallen in real terms by £25 a week. This goes hand in hand with higher energy bills, increased food costs and a hike in VAT. But rather than prioritising pensioners and families struggling to make ends meet, the government decided to give millionaires an average tax cut of £100,000 each. Their focus should be relentlessly on jobs and growth and getting our economy moving again. Instead, David Cameron is spending his time worrying about his own backbenchers who want to talk about nothing but Europe.
Labour has set out very clearly the legislation we would introduce in an alternative Queen’s Speech. We would bring in a Compulsory Jobs Guarantee. Young people who have been out of work for more than a year would be offered a paid job and they would be required to take it. We face a growing crisis of long term unemployment, particularly with young people and government complacency is storing up major problems for the future. Small businesses are really struggling and that’s why Labour would bring in a national insurance tax break to make it easier to take on extra workers. We’d tackle the vested interests in the energy industry and the extortionate prices that are increasing fuel poverty.
I know that many people on Wearside will also be disappointed that the government didn’t announce plans to introduce plain packaging of cigarettes. I’ve been inundated with letters and emails on this important public health issue. It’s one step that could reduce the number of young people who take up smoking and help cut the number of smoking-related deaths. Like the hundreds of constituents who’ve contacted me, I hope the government will think again.
Last Wednesday was a real chance for the government to change direction. But there was little hope for the pensioners struggling with energy bills, families worrying about paying the rent or the young people desperate for work. David Cameron promised change, but things have got worse and not better, and show no signs of improving.
This article was originally published in the Sunderland Echo on 15th May 2013.