Kim Leadbeater – 2022 Speech on Achieving Economic Growth

The speech made by Kim Leadbeater, the Labour MP for Batley and Spen, in the House of Commons on 18 May 2022.

It is a pleasure to speak in my first Queen’s Speech debate.

The Prime Minister likes to pose as a man of action, but where in this Queen’s Speech is the bold and transformational action needed to tackle the most pressing and urgent crisis facing people across the country—the cost of living, as we have heard many times over the past few days? Families in my constituency do not want vague promises of help to come some time, maybe. They do not want to be patronised and told that things will be better in a few years’ time. They need an emergency Budget now, with immediate help to reduce their bills along with a plan for growth that offers them financial security for the long term. People struggling day to day and week to week are being let down by a Government presiding over a low-growth, high-inflation, high-tax economy. The Government talk about levelling up, but in reality they are hammering our communities down with an ever greater financial burden that shows no sign of easing.

Hardly a day goes by without one Minister or another on our TV screens showing just how out of touch they are with the people of this country. People are facing real hardship, unable to pay bills, skipping meals, turning the heating off and relying on food banks to survive, all of which are taking a real toll on their mental health. I have been contacted by suicide prevention organisations in my constituency that are busier than ever. Indeed, I have just been to a powerful event with Mr Speaker and the brilliant band New Order, organised by my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy), as today is the 42nd anniversary of the tragic suicide of Ian Curtis.

What do Ministers say to people who are struggling? They say, “Try and get a different job”, or “Work more hours”, or “Eat own brand food”. Unpaid carers and people on fixed-term pensions cannot change jobs or do an extra shift. The Government add insult to injury by writing off £11.8 billion in fraud and error. It was their error, not that of our constituents. It is insulting, it exposes their own inaction, and it shows their total inability as a Government to put in place an economic plan that can work for all the people of this country.

While the poorest households are being hit hardest, many families who until recently thought they were reasonably secure now also feel incredibly vulnerable. A serving police officer in my constituency got in touch with me recently. He is on a decent wage, but due to the huge increases in his essential outgoings, by the end of the month he faces the prospect of not being able to afford to put petrol in his car. He searches the aisles of the supermarket for yellow-stickered discounted food for his kids, and they share bathwater to cut down on costs. When he gets to work, he sees the wider impact of the crisis with the soaring number of emergency mental health incidents he has to attend, and he is not alone.

A family of four with both parents in full-time employment emailed me, scared for their future. They are struggling, and through no fault of their own, they are relying on credit cards and facing a battle just to reach payday. What hope are we offering them and their kids? There is nothing today, and they face the prospect of their already tight family budget being stretched to breaking point by inflation and wages failing to keep up with rising prices.

On the Opposition Benches, we believe in putting in place the urgent steps needed to provide an economy that allows the benefits of higher growth and investment to be shared by all, and not just the privileged, and an economy based on fair taxation, where loopholes are closed, and those who make huge profits while their customers are hit with ever higher bills—such as the producers of North sea oil and gas—are asked to contribute more, which is something they themselves say they are ready to do. I am not anti-business—far from it—but we need a fairer economy that brings good jobs into our communities and puts pride back into our towns, but this Queen’s Speech did not provide the vision, the ambition or the foundations for an economy that will work for the people of Batley and Spen and the people of this country.

I will always try to be fair to Ministers, although they do not always make it easy. There were Bills in this Queen’s Speech that address some important issues, such as online safety, victims, schools and mental health, and I look forward to debating them in this Chamber, but until we address the most pressing issue of the day—the highest inflation and greatest pressure on living standards in a generation—we are letting down our constituents when they need us most and widening the economic gaps that are holding our communities back. That is why I am calling on the Government to take some action, show some urgency and show some compassion to tackle the very real cost of living crisis that so many of our constituents are facing.