By Bridget Phillipson MP
News that the British economy may finally be showing some signs of recovery is encouraging. But it will mean nothing to millions of hard working families if action isn't taken to tackle the cost of living crisis.
In 38 of the 39 months since David Cameron became Prime Minister, prices have risen faster than wages. Living standards are falling and yet people are working harder than ever before just to keep their heads above water. Gas and electricity bills go up and up. Too many people across Wearside are having to choose between heating and eating. This situation will only get worse as temperatures drop. A Labour government in 2015 would freeze energy prices for twenty months. We would take on the big six energy companies, breaking their stranglehold and creating a tougher regulator to put the customer first. It cannot be right that when wholesale prices rise energy companies pass on the cost to the consumer, but when wholesale prices fall we see no benefit. The advice offered from government ministers is to switch supplier. Quite apart from the difficulties this presents for many people, as I write three of the big six energy giants have already announced massive price hikes. Blaming customers for failing to switch supplier or telling people to put on a jumper does nothing to tackle the root cause of the problem. We need a government that will stand up to the energy companies and deliver a market that people can trust, not make excuses for rip off prices.
Small businesses are the bedrock of our economy and are vital to creating jobs locally, but they urgently need more support. We've proposed cutting business rates for small businesses, meaning 1.5 million of them will each save £450 on average over two years, with some saving up to £2,000. That saving can make all the difference to a start-up or small enterprise. They too would also benefit from Labour's energy price freeze. Keeping small businesses afloat during challenging economic times will mean more people in work and more tax being paid.
Finally, we need to do more to support parents back into work. Big cuts to childcare support under this government mean that many families can no longer afford to pay for childcare. Work should always pay, but high childcare costs often mean this isn't the case. That's why we would extend free childcare for three and four year olds from 15 to 25 hours per week for working parents. Primary schools would also have to guarantee that childcare is available between 8am and 6pm.
The government should act now to tackle the cost of living crisis and support people across Wearside who are struggling to make ends meet. Economic recovery must be sustained and benefit all parts of the country, not leave the north east behind. We need economic prosperity for all, not just the lucky few.