Nearly nine out of ten families in Dudley have told me that their finances were not improving at all. Just one in three are optimistic about their finances in the year ahead.
I know people think politicians are stuck in London, are out of touch and don’t care what’s happening in places like Dudley, but I grew up here and live here now. I work hard to listen to local people and take what they say seriously.
That’s why this year, like last year and the year before, I wrote to thousands of local people to ask about the cost of living. I wanted to find out how the economy is affecting people in Dudley and tell the Chancellor in black and white what’s actually going on.
It’s clear from what people have told me that there’s no recovery for struggling families in Dudley, whatever George Osborne claims.
Nearly nine out of ten families in Dudley told me that their finances were not improving at all. Just one in three are optimistic about their finances in the year ahead.
Far and away the biggest drain on family budgets were rising energy bills, with 86% telling me that they were a concern. Two thirds said they were worried about the cost of food and everyday household items too.
This is making it more difficult for people to put away savings and support their families. Three-quarters had stopped saving or were spending their savings to get by, and almost half told me that they couldn't afford to help children who were struggling to make ends meet.
Unemployment continues to be a problem and 60% knew someone who has been out of work for longer than six months. Nearly half blamed this on a lack of government investment in our area, with a third saying that a lack of skills contributes to unemployment.
We can’t afford another budget where George Osborne hands millionaires another tax cut – we need help for families right now. That’s why I wrote to him ahead of the Budget to tell him what’s really going on in Dudley.
CHRISTMAS DAY TOP-UPS
Last week I came across yet more evidence that there’s no recovery in the Black Country yet.
Research that I put together shows that 5,695 families across the Black Country had to rush to the shops to top up pre-paid gas and electric meters to cook their Christmas Dinner.
That’s a huge number of people getting by with so little on their gas and electric meters that they didn't have enough to get them through from Christmas Eve to Boxing Day.
Annual energy bills have gone up by £300 a year since 2010, and I know this has made it harder for many people in the Black Country to make ends meet and keep their homes warm.
George Osborne’s budget has to address this. I want the government to introduce an energy price freeze to help working families with their bills, but so far they've refused to take action.
HOSPITAL CLOSURE CLAUSE
Over the last few weeks hundreds of local people have been in touch with me about the government’s ‘hospital closure clause’.
Technically, the clause would let ‘Special Administrators’ brought in to save struggling hospitals recommend changes or closures at hospitals beyond the one in trouble. In practice, the clause would hand new powers to the government to go over the heads of local people to close hospitals like Russells Hall.
It just goes to show that you can’t trust the Tories with the NHS.
Like anyone else who lives in Dudley and uses Russells Hall, I'm really concerned that changes to services could happen without local people ever having a say in the matter. That’s why I pushed the government to reject the clause last week.
It just shouldn't be possible to close a hospital without consulting on it first, so I want a future Labour government to repeal Clause 119 completely.