David Cameron will no doubt be grateful for the fact there is no Prime Minister’s Questions today. This week had barely begun before we had the embarrassing Government u-turns on the caravan and pasty taxes, Baroness Warsi being investigated for her expenses by the Lords Commissioner for Standards, plus the Prime Minister’s hapless chief spin doctor being caught on camera berating the BBC for their coverage of News International’s links with Government ministers.
However the really bad news for the Government came last week. Figures released by the Office of National Statistics showed that the double-dip recession is deeper than anyone had thought. Not only has the economy shrunk in the last six months by 0.6 per cent, it has actually contracted by 0.4 per cent since George Osborne’s Spending Review in October 2010.
Having spent two years blaming Labour, the Government has an economic record of it’s own – a recession made in Downing Street. The Government inherited an economy in 2010 that was in recovery. Indeed, in the second quarter of 2010, the economy grew by 1.2% – the fastest rate of growth in 9 years. But as many warned in the summer of that year, the recovery was choked off by cutting too deep and too fast.
In the US – where Obama decided to take a different economic approach to Cameron – the economy is now 1.3% above its pre-crisis peak. Compare this to the UK, where the figure is 4.4% below. Despite all the problems in the Euro area, France, Germany and the eurozone as a whole have managed to avoid recession.
The Government’s economic plan has backfired and it is families and businesses that are paying the price. Companies are going to the wall and long-term unemployment is at a 16 year high. Last week, we found out that that one-in-six people aged 16 to 24 was considered “NEET” – not in education, employment or training – in the first three months of this year. According to the Department for Education, over 950,000 people in the age group now fall into this category. This is a record high for this point in the year. In my patch, recent figures showed that the number of 18 to 24 year olds in Barnsley who have been unemployed for more than twelve months has risen by a massive 170% in the last year.
But bizarrely, the Conservative’s answer to this jobs crisis seems to be to try and make it easier to sack people. This was the proposal put forward by the Prime Minister’s own adviser, Mr Beecroft, who has acknowledged that under his measures some people would be sacked simply because their employer didn’t like them. Echoing Norman Lamont’s infamous phrase of twenty years ago, Beecroft said that this was “a price worth paying”.
And of course the Government’s failure on jobs and growth means it is much harder to reduce the deficit, with the Government having to borrow £150 billion more than it planned.
On top of all these problems at No 10 and the Treasury, things are looking no better at the Home Office or the Ministry of Justice. The Government promised to reduce migration yet we learnt last week that the net migration figure had barely changed in the last two years. This is despite a rise in the number people leaving the country. Then there is the shambolic approach to the sensitive area of open justice and the news that 90 per cent of those sentenced in England and Wales last year had offended before – a record high.
Despite saying that they had “got the message” after last month’s elections, David Cameron and George Osborne just look hopelessly out of touch. Tory MP Matthew Hancock – George Osborne’s representative on earth – tweeted about what he believed was good news on the economy last week, adding that “summer is here!”. But this summer won’t be anything to celebrate for millions of squeezed families who know that the longer this recession goes on, household bills will get harder and harder to pay for.
Last week was a shocker for the Government. This week is no better and it’s only Wednesday. David Cameron may avoid PMQs for a couple of weeks, but he knows he cannot escape from being held to account for his Government’s record. Things are indeed going badly for the Government. And you know what? I’ve not even mentioned Jeremy Hunt…
Michael Dugher is Labour MP for Barnsley East and shadow minister without portfolio