Every week I speak to local residents on the doorstep who tell me that they are struggling and that things are getting harder, not easier for them. The prices of essentials such as food and heating are rising much faster than wages thanks to the slowest economic recovery in over a century.
The government’s talk of recovery rings hollow for families in Stockton Borough who are still struggling with the cost of living crisis. Ordinary hardworking people know that one set of figures on an economist’s spreadsheet isn’t going to help them pay their bills.
Statistics released this month by Labour Cllr David Rose show a big increase in the number people in Stockton seeking advice on debt.
There aren't enough smaller properties for people hit by the Bedroom Tax, with nearly 900 people on the social housing waiting list for more than 12 months waiting for a one bedroom property. I have been supporting a disabled woman in Thornaby who has finally found a new home after waiting for three years, sleeping on the settee.
Recent figures from the Institute for Fiscal Studies show families will be £974 a year worse off by the next election, taking into account all changes made by this government such as increases to the income tax personal allowance, the rise in VAT, and cuts to tax credits and child benefit. That's a huge amount of money to lose out of your annual income.
This is the nature of the economic recovery under the Tory-led government: tax cuts for millionaires while people on lower and middle incomes get left behind.
The government can’t deal with the long-term challenges we face because it is committed to a race to the bottom built on low pay, low skills, low prospects and low productivity.
Since David Cameron became Prime Minister, the number of insecure jobs has grown, with the number of people on zero hours contracts tripling since 2010. And too many of these jobs are low paid, with employment growing twice as fast in low paid sectors as in higher paid sectors. There are far too many people stuck in part-time jobs who want to work full-time but cannot find what they need, like the man in Parkfield who has only been able to secure 12 hours a week in a local Department store since he was made redundant.
The way to make a real difference in people’s lives is to make sure the economy works for working people. That begins by creating decent, secure, well-paid jobs so we can all benefit from the recovery. We need a big campaign in Stockton South to introduce the living wage – currently £7.65 per hour, so that people don’t need benefits to top up their pay.
A Labour government will build a highly skilled, higher wage economy. This will mean more jobs in skilled construction trades, better quality jobs in health and caring professions and more growth in the technology sector. It also means cracking down on exploitative zero hours contracts as Ed Miliband spoke about last week.
But this can’t be just imposed from Westminster – real change needs local people and businesses to drive the growth and jobs we need. We will back city and county regions to become engines of growth so they can develop their own economic strategies, clearly focused on the creation of well-paid jobs for local people. I am backing Tees Valley Unlimited plan to help create 25000 jobs on Teesside in the private sector over the next decade and will do what I can to support their efforts.
The cost of living crisis is far from over for people on lower and middle incomes. Too many hardworking people have been locked out of the economic recovery and are unlikely to feel the benefits under this Tory-led government. Any upturn in the country’s economic situation has been built on the backs of the working poor. Only Labour will ensure that we all benefit from our future economic prosperity.