When Ed Miliband first coined the phrase the squeezed middle, it was ridiculed by commentators. But more and more of us would describe ourselves this way: official figures show that, after inflation, average wages are already £1,669 lower than in 2010. This means that working people will, on average, have lost a total of £6,660 in real terms, while David Cameron has been Prime Minister. Yet, those wages must stretch further as the costs of everyday items such as energy, travel and food increase. It’s not just those who can’t find work who are struggling financially, but many who are in work but need longer hours or better pay to meet the rising demands on their household budgets.
Many people I talk to in Aberconwy are also concerned about prospects for their children or grandchildren. Can they find work to enable them to stay in the area? Do the travel costs make it worthwhile? Is it a permanent job with fixed hours or seasonal with a lack of secure hours, where all the flexibility is on the side of the employer? It’s even more difficult to find work that pays, for those with disabilities, or childcare costs to factor in too. And the chaos caused by the preparation for Universal Credit and the introduction of the automatic HMRC reporting system is only making things worse: with people nervous that if they work too much they will lose more than they gain. How can that be right?
This UK coalition Government has hit people with a double whammy: on the one hand valid concerns about future income and rising costs of living mean people are cautious about spending, but this coupled with the lack of government action to grow the economy is combining to make things worse and create a spiralling downward pressure. As US Treasury Secretary Jack Lew recently said we cannot “cut our way to prosperity”. What is needed is a balance between stimulating the economy and correcting the deficit. This Chancellor and this UK Government have got that balance completely wrong in their actions. They are failing to stimulate the economy sufficiently themselves and also to create sufficient confidence to enable people to spend and do so themselves. Understandably people are nervous and therefore holding on to money if they can: those on zero hours contracts who have no idea how much money is coming in their next paypacket are in a particularly invidious position. Government action is needed.
In north west Wales, on the periphery of the economy, the effects are always going to be worse. But at least, compared to England we have the Welsh Labour Government taking what action it can. Jobs Growth Wales is helping some 6,000 young people each year and there has been significant support for apprenticeship schemes as well as council support for local job creation. Welsh Labour is working hard to provide hope and opportunity in these tough times.
These actions are in stark contrast to Cameron and his out of touch Tories. The Coalition Cabinet of millionaires has failed local working families and are out of touch with the cost of living crisis. What else can possibly explain the tax cut given to millionaires while hitting the household budget of every other family in Aberconwy. It may be okay for Dave, George and their millionaire pals but the rest of us are paying the price.