I’ve been over in Manchester for the Labour Party Conference this week. I’ve brought with me a huge pile of surveys local people have sent me over the last couple of weeks. Together with views on everything from mortgages, pensions and the internet have been some very worrying stories about the pressure people in our area are under. Ian from Gildersome wrote about how tough it is making ends meet, “I’ve not had a wage rise for four years.” A pensioner couple from Morley said: “We are both in our late 60s and we worry about the care of the elderly and the decline of the NHS really frightens us.” So these were the people I was thinking about when I took to the stage on Monday. In my speech I also raised the case of a local mum whose door I’d knocked on a few weeks back. Her teenage son recently finished college and after struggling to find work is now a zero hours contract. He gets up each morning to call into work at 7am to find out whether they need him and whether he will spend the day at work, earning money, or at home, waiting around until he does exactly the same thing again the following day. When I spoke to her she told me how it breaks her heart. “He deserves more than this” she said. And unfortunately her story is an all too familiar one. There are thousands in our area on these contracts. So I’m calling for an end to exploitative zero hours contracts. I also want to see more action to deal with the cost of living crisis which has meant prices rising and people’s incomes not keeping up. So I want to see a lower starting rate of income tax and an increase in the minimum wage to £8 an hour to make work pay, freezing energy bills and more childcare support for working parents trying to juggle work and family life. But it means tough decisions too. We have to balance the books and we are committed to doing it in a fairer way, making different choices and asking those who have most to shoulder more of the burden. To get the deficit down, we would reverse the recent tax cut for the richest one per cent - those on the very highest incomes. But with the deficit still high, there will have to be other changes too. I want to see child benefit rising again but we also won’t spend money we cannot afford. So I also announced in Manchester that child benefit would only rise by 1% for the first 2 years of the next parliament to help reduce the deficit. These are difficult decisions but ones we have to take to make sure the sums add up. We can balance the books in a fairer way. You can read my speech in full on my website – www.edballs.co.uk And of course we are better together! The other major event of the last week has been the historic referendum in Scotland. Like other people in our area, I didn’t have a vote but desperately wanted Scotland to stay. So on Friday morning I was delighted that the people of Scotland voted to remain part of the United Kingdom. The vote last week shows the need to change and reform and strengthen our union in a fair way. But decisions about constitutional change cannot and shouldn’t be rushed through. The people of Scotland have been discussing the issues around independence and last week’s referendum for over two years. The process should start from the people – not politicians. And I’ve long called for more powers to be transferred to regional cities in England so that we get a regional economic plan that works for all parts of the United Kingdom. Nowhere is that more true that here in Yorkshire. I want to see a bold devolution to city and county regions to give regional economies like ours the chance to really grow and prosper.
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