If I may be permitted, as a Labour Party member, could I request F.W. Birch kindly keeps his opinions to himself? He suggests that I, and other party members, are depressed because of the so-called economic recovery we are undergoing.
As a life-long trade unionist, committed to supporting working people, I would love to believe things are getting better for people who have suffered so much over recent years.
In some cases, there are positive stories. The Living Wage agreed by Burnley and Lancashire County Councils following a Labour victory is an example. But this has been achieved despite this Government’s austerity, not because of it.
The simple truth is that wages have gone up by less than prices, that is to say there have been cut in real terms each year since 2010. Recent income tax cuts have been more than wiped out by increases in VAT and for the low paid who earn enough to benefit, by a real reduction in the value of the National Minimum Wage, withering on the vine for four years.
What we face now is the Government heralding “happy days are here again” on the basis of statistics alone. The real stories of people insecure in their jobs, facing ever rising prices of necessities is far more grim. The Government will claim average earnings, including bonuses (which most don’t get) may rise by 1.7% this year ahead of the Consumer Price Index (a measure of inflation that does not include housing costs) which is hoped to rise by 1.6%. That is to say, on average, by 0.1%. Yet the economy is predicted to grow by 2.9%. Who is getting this money?
As the Editor of the Economist said on “Newsnight”, quoting almost exactly what Ed Miliband said at the Labour Conference last year, a rising tide no longer lifts all boats. Economic growth is no longer something that is for the likes of us here in Burnley. If you get crumbs from the table that is luck. But the bulk of future growth will go to the wealthier people and regions of this country.
Gone are the days when wages rose with prosperity. Gone are the days when it was totally tied on that our kids will be better off than us. That is the issue that will be at the heart of the General Election next year. Do we want a country where all benefit from the work we do and share equally the pain when things go badly? Or are we going to see our nation split in two, the very rich at the top hurtling ahead and the majority of us treading water, grateful to have a low-paid job? This is the issue of our times and is a greater threat to destroy and divide the nation I grew up in than immigration, the EU or Scottish Independence.
But depressed about this? No way. Our motto in Burnley Labour Party is: don’t get depressed, get active.