It is good news that unemployment is falling and many more jobs are being generated all round the country. Here in Wokingham unemployment is at a very low level, and there are jobs available.
The government’s critics ask how can they claim the economy is improving when families are struggling with the family budget, and when some people visit foodbanks to accept the offer of help with some free food? We had a debate on just this topic last week in the Commons as it is one of Labour’s campaigns.
None of us want people to be in poverty. All the main political parties wish to see living standards rising, and wish to help those in need. That is why successive Parliaments have voted through a complex and substantial welfare system to provide additional income, assistance with housing, help with heating and other measures to try to ensure everyone can have the basics.
Foodbanks developed rapidly during and after the Great Recession at the end of the last decade. The Labour government did not encourage them. The Coalition on arriving in office thought it a good idea to add the foodbank to the list of many ways, state and private, that people can get help when they are in need. Partly owing to this official referral, foodbanks have continued to develop.
The best way out of poverty is to get a job. Many are now thankfully completing that journey from reliance on benefits to earning some income. Some people in work do not earn enough for their spending. They need help with finding the extra hours of work or the better paid job that bring income and outgoings into line, or they need help with their budgets. There are income top ups from the state for many in low paid work. Tax thresholds have been raised substantially so people on low incomes no longer have to pay any income tax. This is one popular policy which both Conservatives and Liberal Democrats have been keen to back. Council tax rises have been restrained, and now action is going to be taken to cut energy bills by £50.
Government, and charities, can always do more to help. We can all do more to help. People get into budget stress for a variety of reasons. Sometimes it needs drug or alcohol treatment, sometimes assistance with training and finding a better job, sometimes low incomes just need topping up one way or another. There is no wish by any MP or party I know to see poverty on our streets and in our neighbourhoods. This government, like those before it, has a huge and expensive anti poverty programme. I am sure it can be improved, and that is what we will continue to strive to do next year.