Here is my speech in the debate on the Budget and the Economic Situation today, Friday 22 March 2013
Mike Gapes (Ilford South) (Lab/Co-op):
At times of economic crisis, historically and all over the world, we have seen people moving towards blaming scapegoats, attacking weaker and poorer communities and trying to damage the interests of those who are not in their own environment. Today the potential for this global economic crisis can be seen in Europe with the rise of neo-Nazi groups in countries such as Hungary and Greece in the EU, and potentially in some other countries. We have to remember that it started in 2008 in the United States with the Lehman Brothers collapse, not with a policy determined and decided by the Labour Government in this country, as some Government Members would have us believe. It was a global, western European, north American economic crisis, with terrible consequences that we are still dealing with today.
In the 1930s, at the time of a similar global economic crisis, bold measures were eventually taken by some countries in an attempt to solve the problems. Unfortunately, it was the rearmament and the second world war that led to more people being in work in some other countries. We face real dangers today, and unless the Government and the politicians—not just in this country, but in the rest of Europe—adopt a different approach, we will see some very nasty developments over the coming years. The Government still claim, I think, that we are all in it together, but from references made by other hon. Members here today, we know how the poorest people in this country are being damaged and scapegoated while millionaires get tax cuts.
I do not have time to talk about all the issues I would like to, but I will say one positive thing about the Chancellor’s Budget. I support the Enough Food for Everyone If campaign and am pleased that we still have, at least on paper—it will be interesting to see if it happens in practice, as my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty) mentioned, quite pertinently—the commitment to spend 0.7% of GDP on international development and aid projects. Over the past couple of years we have seen some fudging at the edges, as items previously funded from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office budget have been redefined and rebadged so that they now come out of the aid and development budget. Nevertheless, I take the Government’s commitment at face value and hope that over the next two or three years they will resist the pressures from the far right of their party, and from some newspapers, to cut the budget for helping the poorest people in the world’s poorest countries.
I want to touch on some of the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy) in what I thought was an absolutely fantastic contribution. She highlighted the problems that are coming out of the Department for Work and Pensions employment service in her constituency. I, too, am a north-east London MP. Some of my constituents have come to me with interesting information in recent weeks. I understand that the DWP staff in north-east London who deal with my constituents have now been told to refer to them no longer as “clients” but as “claimants.” There is apparently an instruction to that effect. That clearly changes people’s attitude. The approach is no longer about customer service; it is about dealing with supplicants who are asking for help.
My hon. Friend might be interested to know that one of the people mentioned in the leaked e-mail about the conduct in my jobcentre is a regional manager who also covers his part of the borough of Redbridge, which might explain why the issue of sanctions and targets is emerging. I would also like to take this opportunity to apologise to you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for not explaining in my earlier contribution that, owing to a previous commitment, I will unfortunately be unable to stay for the wind-ups, but the Minister can be assured that, even if Members are not here in person, we will all be listening very closely to what he has to say.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for her intervention, which also gives me the opportunity to speak for another minute.
I have been pursuing a number of cases on behalf of my constituents in recent months, and for several weeks now we have received no written responses to any representations we have made to the DWP. The reason was not clear. We received telephone calls, but nothing in writing. We have begun to receive some responses by e-mail, but they are late and do not contain much detail. I do not know whether that is a policy position, because under the previous management of the Department’s services in my area I used to receive detailed written responses to the representations I made in respect of individual cases. The responses are no longer so detailed and they are delayed. I wonder whether that is because of the pressure on staff because of the cuts within the Department, or whether it is because of an attitude that says, “We don’t want MPs to have the information because then they can make effective representations about the inadequacies and failures of the Department.”
I also want to highlight what is happening with levels of unemployment. At a superficial level, because more people are in work the Government are claiming that everything seems to be fine. We have the paradoxical situation in which real living standards and real wages are falling, yet despite the double-dip recession and the flatlining economy more people are in work. However, if we dig into the statistics for the Ilford South constituency this week, we see that between February 2012 and February 2013, although the number of young people unemployed and registered for the claimant count is down, the number over 12 months of people out of work has gone up by 44%. The number of over-25s who have been claiming for more than two years in my constituency has gone up from 140 to 420—a 200% increase in one year. It seems to me that the organisations being used by the Department are concentrating on getting people into low paid jobs quickly but not on those who might have mental health or alcohol problems, poor work records or a lack of confidence. The difficult cases are there, and they will add up in the future. That is really worrying.