This week’s headline fall in unemployment, including in my Denton and Reddish Constituency, is certainly welcome. But the figures show no roaring recovery, only shaky foundations. Half of the country saw yet another rise in unemployment, the long term dole figures went up yet again and so did youth unemployment.
At last year’s Autumn Statement, George Osborne tried to claim he was making so-called ‘scroungers’ and ‘benefits cheats’ pay the price for cutting the welfare bill, but that quickly unravelled when it became clear that his changes are actually going to hit people who are already in low paid work.
This shambolic Government has failed to help hard-working people who are struggling to make ends meet. They have failed on growth and jobs; the cost of living is soaring, with prices going up faster than wages; the economy has gone into triple-dip recession on their watch; and the benefits bill is set to soar by £13.6 billion higher than forecast. All of this means that they are having to borrow more than planned to pay for economic failure while hard working families in places like Tameside pick up the bill.
The best way to cut the benefits bill is to get people into work, not punish people who are already doing the right thing by working, but who are struggling to make ends meet.
That’s why I am pleased that Labour has announced a compulsory jobs guarantee for people who are long-term unemployed. The guarantee means that every adult who’s been out of work for two years would be offered a job. And they would have to take it or lose their benefits. It’s been estimated this will help up to 200 people across Audenshaw, Denton, Dukinfield and Reddish.
We would pay for this by reducing the tax relief on the pensions of people who earn over £150,000. When times are tough it cannot be right that we subsidise the pension contributions of the top 2 per cent of earners at more than double the rate of people on average incomes paying the basic rate of tax.
But worse, our long-term unemployment crisis continues. The number of people claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance for more than a year continues to approach half a million, and is at its highest level since June 1997. I reject the Tory approach, which is simply to slash the green shoots of recovery and then label everybody affected as scroungers. I reject the simplistic analysis that George Osborne has employed; and I reject the mindless hooliganism of a Tory-led Government intent on plunging the economy into a triple-dip recession as it blindly follows it’s failing right-wing agenda.
We need a strategy for skills, jobs and growth here in Tameside and that’s what I’ll continue to call for in Parliament.
This article was written for the ‘Westminster Weekly’ column in the Tameside Reporter and Glossop Chronicle.