At the Downing Street Christmas party this year, David Cameron and George Osborne will no doubt be cracking open the champagne, leaving Nick Clegg to pass round the vol-au-vents. Their sense of celebration was there for all to see at the Autumn Statement, despite the fact that they have presided over an economy for three and a half wasted years where they have failed to meet every target they set themselves, including on growth and the deficit. As a result, families are on average £1,600 a year worse off since the Government came to power.
Christmas for most people this year will be different than that taking place in Downing Street or Chequers. Many families will be cutting back as the festive period approaches. The cost-of-living-crisis is fast becoming David Cameron’s cost-of-Christmas crisis as prices rise, wages fall and families go without as they come together over the holidays.
As Ed Balls has exposed, the impact has been a catastrophic clobbering of family finances. Families are not only £1,600 a year worse off, nursery costs are up 30% and, as most first-time-buyers are priced out of owning a home because of the lack of house-building, the cost of renting has risen twice as fast as wages. Despite the UK remaining the seventh richest country on the planet, at the same time as millionaires being given a tax cut by Cameron, there has been an explosion of foodbanks across Britain this year. For many people the basics are now unaffordable with Christmas treats being well out of reach.
As reported in today’s Mail online, when you load up your supermarket trolley over the festive period you will see how much the cost of Christmas has gone up under Cameron: the cost of a Turkey is up 15% since the election, potatoes up 30%, cakes up 21%, chocolate up 20% and wines and spirits up 15%.
We all agree that a growing economy which stimulates jobs, productivity and wage-growth is essential for a long-term, sustainable rise in living standards. But this isn’t what the Conservatives are delivering. Despite Osborne declaring, wrongly, at the Autumn Statement that living standards are rising, the IFS confirmed that families are worse off under this Government.
Rather than gloat, out-of-touch Ministers need to spend time around the kitchen tables of ordinary working families who are struggling to pay their bills and are nervous about the Christmas shopping.
Real action could be taken now that would make a real difference. We need more homes built, apprenticeships expanded and small firms supported by cutting not increasing business rates. There must be action to make work pay by expanding free childcare for working parents and a compulsory jobs guarantee for the young and the long-term unemployed – a job that if they turned down, they would lose their benefits. Instead of the Government letting the rip-off energy giants off the hook, gas and electricity bills need to be frozen to help families and small businesses across the country while long-term changes to the energy market are made to bring bills down for the long-term.
Ed Miliband said today in the Independent:
“A Labour government would build a new economy which re-establishes the connection between the success of the country as a whole and the success of Britain’s working families”.
For too many hard-pressed families Christmas will be difficult this year. As we look ahead to the New Year, we all know that Britain can do better than this.
Michael Dugher is Labour MP for Barnsley East and Shadow Minister for the Cabinet Office