For the Party faithful, conference season is always the highlight of the year. But the contrast between red and blue gatherings this year was stark. In sunny Brighton Labour was buoyed with a packed hall, spirited debate and united in common cause around our popular manifesto whilst tory conference was overshadowed by the usual clumsy comments by Boris, a half empty conference hall, dull speeches and empty gestures.
Britain hasn’t had a pay rise for a decade, economic growth is being driven by expanding household debt and productivity is slowing at an alarming rate. The Tories have been in power for seven of those ten years and they failed this week to acknowledge that the economy is collapsing on their watch. While they teetered around the edges, Labour made bold announcements on real issues.
Last month Labour committed to end PFI, which has drained money from our public services. There will be no new PFI deals and existing contracts will be brought back in house. We’ll make sure that NHS trusts, local councils and others don’t lose out, and there is no detriment to services or staff.
Earlier this year, the PM was asked why nurses were being forced to resort to foodbanks and she replied that the issue was complex. It isn’t complex. It’s dead simple. They aren’t being paid enough.
That’s why Labour will scrap the cap on public sector pay and deliver a real living wage of £10 an hour. We will also address the gender pay gap that leaves women’s wages still trailing men’s by 14 per cent. And we will ensure every piece of legislation will be measured against its impact on women.
This Tory Government plans to invest in the north just one-fifth of what it will spend on transport per head in London. This is no surprise, looking at their Cabinet, in which 85 per cent of their senior Ministers are from constituencies in the South.
Labour are committed to a fair distribution of investment. We’ll build new regional transport links; Crossrail for the north, connecting our great northern cities from west coast to east, and extend HS2 through the North East into Scotland.
Bringing conference season to a close yesterday, Prime Minister Theresa May spluttered through a half-hearted Leader’s speech and was presented with her own P45. What a contrast with a policy-packed, confident speech from Jeremy Corbyn setting out Labour’s vision for a Britain for the many, not the few.
Next month will see the roll out of Universal Credit across my constituency. Up until now only a small number of new claimants, mostly single people, have been on universal credit but the experience in Gateshead for those few people has been extremely difficult. Rent arrears have increased and there have been long delays in payments. Now Universal Credit is being rolled out to families, many of whom will see a big drop in the amount they receive.
We know from experience to date that there have been massive delays in people receiving payment. It’s easy for many of us to think these days that we can easily find money to “tide us over”, whether that’s by credit card, overdrafts or family loans, but our experience from working with constituents is that for many people, delays in receiving benefits means real hardship and in many cases, a trip to the food bank. With families now being hit by Universal Credit, that situation will inevitably get worse. What’s more, this change will also affect many people in work but currently receiving working tax credits.
Whatever you think of Universal Credit – and I think it’s truly awful – it can’t be right to set people up to fall into rent arrears, struggle to pay the bills and feed the family while they wait six weeks or more to be paid. Many of us in Labour urged Work and Pensions Secretary, David Gauke MP, to pause the rollout and work through the problems. David Gauke rejected that call, so I fear we will see more misery for many people in the future.