A speech prepared but not given in the Opposition Day Food Banks debate:
over 60 members requested to speak in this important debate but as Labour chose also to hold a separate debate on A&E’s in the same afternoon many Members were not called to speak.
Following the biggest economic downturn in memory, it is right to scrutinise the Government’s plan for recovery. Such scrutiny must include a perspective, not just from the Treasury, The Office of Budget Responsibility, the business community or manufacturing, services industry. but also from those hardest hit, those who are out of work, and struggling to make ends meet.
I pay tribute to the Food bank in my Bournemouth East Constituency, based in the Queen’s Park ward, which I have visited the operation a number of times - both formally in my MP role and also to pass on donations, I have secured in visiting other businesses or events in Bournemouth.
I am always impressed with both the commitment of the staff who run it and the generosity of individuals and businesses, who donate to it. There is no doubt, Food Banks across the country, provide an important, short term (but sometimes longer) support mechanism, to individuals and families.
The concept of food banks is not restricted to the UK. They are now found, (perhaps with differing labels), across the world – including, Africa, Asia the Americas and also here in Europe.
Here in the UK the Trussell Trust established its first food bank in Salisbury in 2001. The number of people using food banks increased under the previous government tenfold. Today around 60,000 people use the facility the 380 Food Banks located around the country. Whilst the increase in reliance should be of huge concern to any government, placed into a global context, it is proportionately far lower than in a number of comparable countries such as Germany, France, Canada and Australia. It is therefore with a little sadness that Labour chooses to turn this good cause into a political football.
The Trussell Trust recognised back in 2001 the difficulties a growing number of individuals and families were facing, as council tax doubled, gas bills rising as did personal debt. Sadly, Labour was in denial about the growing scale of the problem and tried to disguise it by refusing to grant Job Centre Plus the ability to sign post those in need to Food banks. A decision which has now been reversed.
There are four key areas contributing to financial pressure and consequently the rise in use of Food Banks:
- Firstly the economic downturn requiring ALL Government departments to cut budgets In order to plicate the financial mess we inherited.
- Secondly global food prices have recently hit an all-time high, rising in real terms, by 12 % since 2007. This has made food in the UK proportionately less affordable for low-income households.
- Thirdly international energy prices have soared, compounded here in the UK by the last Government’s failure to replace ANY of our nuclear power stations. This means we are now over-reliant on IMPORTING our energy needs and consequently utility bills have risen.
- Finally Labour’s failure to tackle the dog’s breakfast of our benefits system with perverse incentives, meaning gaining part time employment resulted in being WORSE off.
In response to these four concerns this Government has:
- Firstly, taken the tough decisions which mean this country is now has a growing economy and we are no longer living beyond our means. This has allowed income tax to be cut by half for those on the minimum wage and for 2.2 million of the lowest earners to be taken out of income tax altogether.
It also means hard working families now save around £1,000 on their mortgage by keeping rates low; save around £160 on energy bills by moving to the lowest tariffs; save around £400 on childcare bills for families and benefit through free education and care extended to all 3 and 4 year olds.
And thanks to the freezing of council tax households save over £200 by the removal of the 5 % annual increase - as experienced under the previous administration.
- Secondly, we areworking internationally to promote transparency, open global markets and a competitive domestic market, to help producers and retailers offer
the best prices to consumers.
- Thirdly, we are re-invigorating our nuclear power capability, so we are less reliant on expensive imports and reducing green levies on bills. The 2013 Budget announced that the 1.89 pence per litre fuel duty increase (planned for Sept 2013) will be cancelled.
- Finally the overhaul of our benefits system willtackle benefit delay, with so many recipients caught between claiming benefits and waiting to claim Working Tax Credit. We will effectively reduce poverty by making work pay.
In conclusion Mr Speaker, I am pleased to see in Bournemouth East the number of unemployed claimantsis down 334 from last year’s figure of 1,724. And whilst it is welcome to see the announcement of record levels of employment this week, and the Office of Budget Responsibility forecast UK growth to be 1.4% this year (up from .6%) and 2.4% (up from 1.8). This Government should be ever minded of its responsibility to those who have yet to secure work and need the support of the state.