Harriet Harman

Member of Parliament for Camberwell and Peckham. Mother of the House of Commons.

Southwark News Column: Cost of Living Crisis - 13/2/14

There’s no doubt that people here in Southwark are feeling the squeeze right now.  Prices are going up, with big heating bills and rising food prices – while pay has been at a standstill.

And people are worried about the job situation.  So many people are working part-time when they want a full-time job.  Many are having to do more than one part-time job to make ends meet.  Some are on ‘zero hours’ contracts - where they don’t know from week to week, or even day to day, how much they will work and earn. 

With the cost of nurseries going up, some mothers are finding that they can no longer afford to work and, reluctantly, fall back on benefits.  High rents, insecure, irregular, low paid work means that people have to claim benefits even when they are employed.  60% of benefit claimants are not unemployed, but are workers. And that puts up the cost of welfare benefits.

Here are just 3 examples of people who’ve asked for my help with problems around job insecurity and struggling to make ends meet.

A 56 year old woman from the Ledbury Estate in Peckham came to see me when she was sacked for not signing a new contract which the hotel where she had worked for 16 years was imposing on her. The new contract cut her hours and removed her right to do overtime.  She had worked a 40 hour week on £7.15 per hour and just couldn’t manage on the new contract.  She helps out financially her 3 grown up children and 4 grandchildren as well as her 85 year old mother.

A Peckham Rye father of 3 young children contacted me after he was sent by A4e, under the Government’s Work Programme,  to a security job at Heathrow airport.  He worked there for 4 weeks but left because he wasn’t being paid.  He still hasn’t been paid the £2,700 he earned and the sub-contractor has disappeared.  He’s now being faced with eviction over rent arrears.

A mother working 30 hours a week as a business administrator earning  the minimum wage wants to move out of the council flat where she lives with her mother, 4 brothers and sisters and her 2 children.  She’s not been offered a council flat and can’t afford to rent privately.

No government can wave a magic wand. But this Government is making things worse by putting up VAT, cutting tax credits and hitting thousands of tenants with the Bedroom Tax.  They should do some U-turns. And they should freeze fuel bills. And they could outlaw ‘zero hours’ contracts and invest more in childcare.  That would give people some relief from the Cost of Living Crisis.

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