As the party conference season draws to a close for another year there’s little doubt who’s been setting the agenda. Ed Miliband and Labour have identified the real problem of living standards facing families in Plymouth, and laid out policies to help deal with them – including a tax cut for small businesses, childcare help for families and a pledge to freeze your energy bills until January 2017. And David Cameron and the Conservatives have realised they’ve got a problem, but have no new ideas to deal with the cost of living crisis that’s happening on their watch.
Since David Cameron became Prime Minister in 2010, life has got tougher for too many people in Plymouth. We’ve seen the slowest recovery from recession in 100 years. Nearly a million young people are unemployed. Prices have risen faster than wages in a staggering 38 out of 39 months while David Cameron has been in Downing Street. Working people in Plymouth are an average of nearly £1,500 worse off. The truth is that year after year, you’ve been working harder, for longer, for less.
The City of London seems a long way from Plymouth and yet our local Tory MPs have been voting for tax cuts for city bankers. At the same time as the poorest in Plymouth are paying more and more in tax the richest are paying less and getting more in pay. Bankers’ bonuses went up by 82 per cent this April, and David Cameron’s tax priority has been to give a tax cut to people earning over £150,000 – wages most people in Plymouth can only dream of. Mr Cameron’s prescription is help for a privileged few and do little for ordinary families. If Mr Cameron spent more time speaking to people in Plymouth, like one woman in Stoke who told me she fears she will soon need to use a food bank because she can’t afford to feed her family or the young man in Devonport who told me he wants to work, but there are no jobs for him. We don’t have a recovery for those people and we need to.
Families and businesses need help, and over the party conference season Labour set out plans to help them. Ed Miliband announced that Labour will cut business rates in 2015 and freeze them again in 2016 – prioritising a tax cut for 1.5 million small businesses over a tax cut for 80,000 large businesses. Think of the small businesses in Plymouth, and think of what help with business rates would mean to them.
Labour will support working parents, by expanding free childcare for 3 and 4-year-olds from 15 to 25 hours a week for working parents, paid for by an £800 million rise in the bank levy. We will increase the number of apprenticeships, by insisting that every medium-sized or large company that hires a skilled worker from outside the EU must do their bit to train the next generation, by taking on an apprentice. That’s the type of action that will help more people into work across Plymouth and importantly help get our young people into a job.
One of the biggest problems families and businesses face right now is rising bills. We have always had high water bills in the south west but now energy bills are rising and rising as well. Energy bills have gone up by an average £300 since David Cameron became Prime Minister, while energy companies’ profits have shot up. Businesses say that energy bills are the second biggest cost they face. When wholesale prices rise, the energy companies pass the costs on to consumers – but when they fall, bills stay high. That’s not on and we need a Government that will recognise that rising energy bills are hurting families not just in Plymouth but across the country.
That’s why Ed Miliband set out bold plans to reset the energy market and make prices more competitive, forcing them to introduce a simple new tariff structure and creating a tough new energy regulator. And in the time it takes to make these reforms, Labour will freeze your energy bills from the next election until January 2017 – saving a typical household £120 and the average business £1,800. You can see how much you could save by visiting www.freezethatbill.com.
We can only tackle the cost of living crisis with an economy that works for working people. The more David Cameron boasts about saving the economy, the more out of touch he looks.
Britain can do better than this.
Luke Pollard is the Labour and Co-operative Parliamentary Candidate for Plymouth Sutton and Devonport. He lives in Plymouth and works in travel and tourism.