Tory

For many people, this is no recovery at all

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George Osborne was in self-congratulatory mood in the House of Commons this morning as he delivered his Autumn Statement. Growth has returned to the economy; borrowing is falling; we are on the road to recovery. Yet the complacent Chancellor failed to recognise the cost-of-living crisis that is engulfing hard-working people in Birmingham and across the country. For many people, whose wages remain low while prices soar, this is no recovery at all.

Osborne remains convinced that his economic strategy is working, and reeled off statistic after statistic that seemed to prove his point. The reality, however, is that despite growth returning, the economy is still under-performing – growth is significantly lower than it was forecast to be in 2010, and the deficit will still be £79 billion in 2015, after we were promised it would be eliminated by then. Three years of stagnation means that Osborne has missed all of his economic targets, and people are suffering as a result; for 98% of the time his government has been in office, prices have risen faster than wages. This is not a recipe for economic success. The plan has been hurting, but it has not been working. While those right at the top continue to  enjoy their tax cuts, everybody else has to contend with bills becoming more unaffordable and stagnating wages, leaving people up to £1,600 a year worse off under the Tory-led government.

Busy patting himself on the back, the Chancellor offered little to those whose living standards are suffering the most. On energy costs, he stopped short of matching Labour’s promise to freeze prices, meaning people in our city will be forced to choose between heating and eating this winter and next; there are more welfare cuts to come, plunging vulnerable people further into difficulty; there remains no commitment to introducing a living wage, or even a substantial increase in the minimum wage. Every time Osborne has the chance to make life easier for ordinary people, he makes things worse. There were some token measures such as the cancellation of the planned rise in fuel duty, but really this was an Autumn Statement that did nothing substantial to help ordinary people. Even if the economy continues to grow, Birmingham residents will rightly have little faith in a plan that does nothing to improve their lives.

Today’s statement did not change anything. The government continues to allow those at the top to get richer while ignoring the declining living standards of the majority of people. The economy may finally be growing again, but George Osborne is still doing nothing to ensure that the recovery reaches everybody. For many people in Birmingham and in Britain, this is no recovery at all.

Birmingham needs a Plan B from Osborne

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To great sighs of relief, at least around the Cabinet table, yesterday we learned that we have just about managed to avoid a triple-dip recession, with growth in the last quarter of a whopping 0.3%. Doesn’t sound that impressive, does it? The truth is that yesterday shouldn’t have been a relief at all. A triple-dip recession shouldn’t even have been a possibility. Yet such has been the failure of George Osborne’s economic plan, it almost seems like a great victory.

The danger is, of course, that George Osborne will see it as exactly that: a victory. We have lost our AAA credit rating with two agencies in the last few months, something which the Chancellor took as a vindication rather than a warning. This bit of relatively good news will no doubt put an extra spring in his step. The reality of the situation is, though, that the economy is still in a bad place – we’re only just back to the same place we were six months ago. The economy is flatlining, and things show no real sign of significantly improving any time soon. Most sectors of the economy are still performing incredibly badly; it’s only the service sector that has shown any real sign of life. Osborne needs new ideas, and he needs them fast.

The consequences of Osborne’s failure are visible right across the country, but they are abundantly clear in our communities in Birmingham. Unemployment remains high, particularly among young people, and welfare cuts and the shameful bedroom tax are being implemented as the cost of living continues to rise. The Guardian has highlighted this week the damage that is being done to Birmingham by the government’s cuts – all of the pain, for no economic gain. What Birmingham and other cities around the country need is a Plan B, with jobs and growth at its heart, to ease the pressure on the people who are suffering under this government. Labour has been saying all along that the government needs to change course, but with each quarter of no growth, no jobs and no hope, the need for a positive economic alternative becomes clearer.

Labour councillors are working hard to get the best deal for our city, but are constrained by the unfair cuts that the government has foisted upon them. It is not just the growth and jobs that are lacking,  but a fair deal for cities like Birmingham.

Our Hall Green councillors and campaigners have been calling for a better deal for Birmingham – it’s time the government took note. The council is being forced to make tough decisions, while leafy, Tory-dominated suburbs take none of the pain. We’re not all in this together and we’re not one nation. Birmingham residents are one the receiving end of the damage caused by the government’s economic failure and its refusal to give Birmingham a fair deal.

So Birmingham, and the country, need a Plan B. We all see that Plan A has failed, but the Chancellor sticks stubbornly to it. We need two things: firstly, we need jobs and growth, to get our economy moving again and to ease the burden on Birmingham households; secondly, we need the government to give Birmingham a fair deal instead of prioritising their own heartlands. We desperately need something to change. To borrow a phrase from David Cameron, we can’t go on like this.

Are you sure we are all in this together?

We have a coalition Government behaving as if it has a mandate and as if it won a landslide victory. The radical welfare changes that started on Saturday are yet another clear indication of this Tory led government’s cynicism, arrogance and of its total lack of compassion.

Today sees the continuation of their ideological attack with changes being implemented to disability benefits in the north of England ahead of a nationwide roll out of the new measures as part of the government’s plan to cut the welfare bill.

The move to replace the Disability Living Allowance (DLA) with Personal Independence Payments (PIP) will end what Iain Duncan Smith called the ‘ridiculous’ system that gives people lifetime awards as the disability living allowance is replaced by the new personal independence payment (PLA).

The new system which includes face-to-face assessments and regular reviews (managed by ATOS) and will see changes to assessment claims that might mean 600,000 people miss out on support with some new assessment rules on mobility being sneak in through the back door.

Over half a million people have now signed a petition asking George Osborne to live on £53 per week, something he has brushed off as a publicity stunt. Yet surely this shows the real depth of feeling, from ordinary men and women, already struggling and this Government should pay heed to the level of opposition being displayed to their vicious welfare cuts.

We can all feel the effects of this governments attack on ordinary men and women. Many in work are not only seeing their hours reduced but their ‘in work’ benefits reduced also and those who are out of work are finding it increasingly difficult to make ends meet. If we are not personally touched by these changes, then our families, friends, neighbours most certainly are.

One thing we can be certain of is that we are not all in this together.