Emily’s speech in the debate on the Queen’s Speech.
Emily Thornberry (Islington South and Finsbury) (Lab):
When I speak as a representative of Islington South and Finsbury, I feel that I always have to begin by dispelling myths. People know about our cappuccino bars and our Georgian squares, but they do not necessarily know that 44% of my constituents live in social housing, or that my constituency has the second worst child poverty rate in the country.
The very rich and the very poor live in Islington. We live cheek by jowl, and we like it that way. The recession has affected all of us, but some much more than others.
One thing unites people, however, no matter what their background. I have spoken to women, including aspirant Somali mothers, a middle-class mother whose child has just left Oxbridge, and a woman whose child has just left school, and we are all really scared for the next generation.
Although we have brought up our children as best we can and put everything into equipping them for the world as perfectly as we can, we are really scared that, when we push them out into the world, the world will say, “No, sorry. We don’t need you. We might be interested in your little brother or sister one day, but you have entered the world of work at the wrong time. Come back in four or five years’ time.”
What will happen to those kids in the meantime if we do nothing about unemployment among young people?
In Islington, we have had a massive increase in long-term unemployment among 18 to 24-year-olds, and I know that that has been replicated across the country. In Islington, it has gone up by 88% in the past year.
I hear Government Members say, “Well, of course it is because they haven’t got the right qualifications”, or “It’s because the Labour Government didn’t educate them well enough”, but it does not matter what qualifications a young person has now; they simply cannot get a job.
There is a generation now who are finding it exceedingly difficult. The hon. Member for Gloucester (Richard Graham) shakes his head, but if he were to advertise for an unpaid internship in his office, I suspect he would get at least 300 applicants from youngsters desperate to get employment. The problem is nothing to do with young people not being sufficiently educated; it is because the recession, which hits all of us, hits our children, teenagers and those in their early 20s the hardest.
The older generation and Members here who represent our communities have a duty to do something about it. Frankly, the complacency of Government Members, to which I have had to listen over the past five and a half hours, is quite astounding. I see in his place the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, and I hope he will listen to what I have to say about other groups of people. I know the Conservatives say they are on the side of those who work hard and do the right thing. I know they want to change this country so that once again it rewards people who work hard, want to get on and play by the rules.
The Conservatives want to represent the strivers, the builders, the family raisers, the community builders. Good, so would Conservative Members please consider the working poor in my constituency, who are being adversely affected by cuts to working tax credits, the housing benefit cap and universal credit?
I hope the Secretary of State understands that they are badly affected by the price of housing and the extraordinary price they have to pay for rent. We must do something about that. Unless and until that is done, it will be impossible to have a mixed community in which people will be able to work at all levels.
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