SPEAKING in the House of Commons in this week’s Opposition Day debate on the Cost of Living, Stephen called the Tory/Lib Dem Government ‘completely out of touch, patronising and complacent’.
Speaking in the Chamber, he said: “Over the past few months, we have seen the spectre of the Chancellor and the Prime Minister on repeated occasions suggesting that everything is rosy and that hundreds of thousands of jobs are sloshing around. It is the old attitude of, “Crisis, what crisis?”
“Unfortunately, such a view is completely out of touch with the daily, lived experience of many of my constituents and thousands of others across Wales, who have seen one of the greatest falls in real average earnings—a staggering drop of £1,669, or 8%, since the general election, when this Government came to power.
“They see this Government as out of touch, patronising and complacent; they see a Government on the side of the rich, of millionaires and of banking and energy bosses.
“It is Labour Members who are on the side of the British people, with solutions such as capping the cost of credit and payday loans, and freezing energy prices. These real measures would help the real lives that many on the Treasury Bench seem to have little understanding of.”
He went on to say: “I welcome any growth and any new jobs in the economy, and I hope that any positive movement in the economy will help people in my area address the massive drop in earnings since this Government came to power. However, I caution that illusions are simply not good enough.
“The Government repeatedly fail to answer questions about how many new jobs are part-time and, of those, how many are on zero-hours contracts. They also do not say in what sectors those jobs are being created. The truth is that half the new jobs are in low-paid sectors, and that the minimum wage is not always being enforced.
“When I hear the Chancellor crowing about recovery, I am always tempted to ask, whose recovery and what sort of recovery. Is it a recovery benefiting my constituents who are struggling to find well-paid jobs, to pay those soaring energy bills and to put food on the table for their children? Is it helping those who are struggling to cope with the bedroom tax?”
Stephen cited the cases of constituents who are suffering dire hardship as they look for work, and who are literally being forced to choose between heating and eating this winter. He also highlighted the case of a constituent whose energy company had landed him with a 28.9% rise in his bills.
“Those are the real stories of people living under this Government,” added Stephen.
“They simply do not recognise the rosy picture that the Prime Minister, the Chancellor and other Ministers have been telling us about.
“The story across Wales as a whole is equally concerning. More people are hit by the bedroom tax in Wales than in any other area in the UK. We have some of the highest energy prices in the country and 1 million households would benefit from Labour’s price freeze. Wales has the biggest increase in those in energy debt compared with anywhere in the UK, up by 24% in the past two years. People are now consistently falling into arrears with the energy companies as a result of those price rises.
“We have seen one of the biggest falls in real wages across the UK and one of the largest increases in under-employment—that is, people who want to work more hours but are unable to do so because of the types of jobs that are available. They do not recognise the fantasy of the 1 million or so jobs that the Government keep citing.
“The use of food banks in Wales has trebled in recent times and in every part of my constituency, from Penarth to Splott to Llanrumney, I am seeing increasing numbers of people who are accessing those food banks.
“The figures for the whole of Wales tell an even greater story. Some 400,000 people have been hit by the Government’s squeeze on tax credits and social security overall; that can be compared with the 4,000 richest in the country, who got a handout from the Government with the tax cut for millionaires.
“My constituents and people across Wales are asking again and again: whose side are the Government on, who is benefiting from this so-called recovery and who will stand up for them? Time and again, they are left wanting by Tory and Lib Dem Members. They will get a much better deal if they vote for Labour at the next general election.”