Beth Farhat: 'Whose growth?' was the defining question of 2014

The Government has failed to match the recovery with a proper re-balancing of the economy, says regional head of the TUC

Iain Buist Beth Farhat, regional secretary at the Northern TUC
Beth Farhat, regional secretary at the Northern TUC

‘Whose growth?’ was the defining political question of 2014.

The statistics show that Britain’s economic recovery is real. But that is not how it feels. This is because the Government has failed to deliver a growth strategy based on rebalancing the economy through exports and investment. Instead growth is coming from rising house prices and people running down their savings. And while jobs growth is welcome, too many jobs are insecure and combine the three lows: low skill, low productivity and low pay.

On employment there is a massive problem with female unemployment in the North East and this is going up, not down. Women make up 65% of public sector workers and austerity is having a big impact on the labour market.

Since the general election the number of women unemployed had increased from 47,000 to 60,000 in our region. That’s a 28% increase. And it’s still going up - with a 4,000 rise in the last quarter. So while overall unemployment might be slowly falling in our region it disguises a large gender divide and the fact that unemployment is falling far quicker in other regions, widening the gap.

The latest figures show unemployment is now double in the North East (9.2%) than it is in the South East (4.6%). The Government promised it would somehow rebalance the economy but austerity has made it worse. Britain faces a profound challenge to reverse the tide of rising inequality and build a new economy that delivers fairness for working people. Tackling the living standards crisis, which has left the majority of ordinary families struggling with smaller pay packets and rising household bills, should be a the next government’s top priority.

Living standards have fallen as wages have been squeezed, and the cost of living goes up week by week. You don’t need to look at the economic statistics to tell you what life is like for millions of people across the North East across Britain; and you don’t need to be a social scientist to see how out of touch this Government is.

We have Ministers in a Government that has presided over hundreds of thousands of public sector job losses; that has sat back while wages have fallen by 6% in real terms since the crash; that has allowed nearly a million young people to fester on the dole; Food-banks and pay day lenders flourish while zero hours contracts and low pay become the new workplace norm – giving patronising advice to people who don’t want, or need, warm words or platitudes. They need decent jobs, fair pay, real opportunities.

We know that austerity is little more than a fig leaf for an ideological drive to shrink the state. Instead, what we need is a credible plan to get Britain back to work and deliver a decent standard of living for everyone.A positive, progressive vision for our country.

Instead of cuts that scar the poor, let’s have fair taxes the rich can’t dodge. Instead of subsidising slum landlords, let’s build the council houses Britain needs. And instead of welfare for giant corporations, let’s have a living wage for all.Let’s have public ownership of our key services, no more privately-run academies and free schools, and no shameless profiteers either on our railways, or in our hospitals.

Our aim is simple: to ensure the economy works not for rich corporations and bankers, but for ordinary workers, their families and communities.

Beth Farhat

Regional Secretary Northern TUC

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