November 22nd, 2014

George Osborne should use £1 billion from the forex fines for an immediate boost to health and care

In a speech to the Labour Party’s East of England regional conference today ahead of the Autumn Statement, Ed Balls said:

“This latest banking scandal shows why we still need big reform and cultural change in our banks. But the fines levied on banks for foreign exchange manipulation should now be used for a wider good.

“And I believe an immediate boost to our National Health Service, which is going backwards under the Tories, must be a priority.

“Because under David Cameron it’s getting harder to see a GP, A&E is in crisis and waiting lists are going up again. £3 billion has been wasted on a top-down re-organisation while nurses and frontline staff have been lost. And cancer treatment targets have now been missed for three quarters in a row.

“So in next month’s Autumn Statement George Osborne should use £1 billion of the fines from the banks for an immediate boost to our health service.

“The Chancellor should act, but we all know only a Labour government can rescue our NHS from the Tories and transform it for the future.

“After the election, Labour will act quickly to raise an extra £2.5 billion a year, on top of Tory spending plans, for our NHS Time to Care Fund.

“This will allow us to deliver 20,000 more nurses and 8,000 more GPs. We will guarantee that people will not have to wait more than a week for a cancer test or 48 hours for a GP appointment. And we will repeal David Cameron’s NHS changes that put private profit before patient care.

“Over the last four years David Cameron’s record shows you can never trust the Tories with the NHS. Labour rescued the NHS after years of Tory neglect before and we’ll do it again.”

Posted November 22nd, 2014 by Ed's team
November 21st, 2014

Politically Speaking in the Wakefield Express – my digital safety campaign

Keeping our kids safe is the most important job a parent has to do. And when it comes to crossing the road or learning to ride a bike, it’s usually parents who are the experts. We all remember learning the Green Cross Code when we were young. And we feel confident sharing our expertise with our children and teach them how to be safe. But online safety is a whole different ballgame.  Because when it comes to using computers, firewalls and the like, adults and children change places.  We have no previous experience to draw on. And suddenly it’s the kids who know more – sometimes much more – than we do.

“It’s a nightmare” one parent told me. “It’s so hard to keep track of what they’re doing” said another. I can only nod in agreement. As a parent myself I know how hard is to get the right balance between encouraging children to investigate, to understand and to use the internet whilst at the same time, making sure that they’re safe. I remember well how shocked I was when I discovered that YouTube had a minimum age for children of 13!

That’s why I’ve launched a digital safety campaign with local parents, and local schools to better understand what more Government needs do to support parents, children and young people to keep them safe online.

As part of my campaign I joined local Neighbourhood Police Sergeant Mark Chamberlain at Stanley Grove primary school to discuss Digital Safety with a class of Year 6 children. And they had some fascinating stories to share. Thet were all clued up about not giving personal information away in chat rooms. But some were worried about online bullying or how they could know which websites were safe. And one asked, “what happens when you click the report button on a website?” I promised to come back with answers.

And getting answers for parents is vital too. Those who’ve completed my digital survey over the last few weeks have told me they don’t think existing rules – such as the minimum ages recommended for children to access sites like Facebook or You Tube  - Can be properly enforced. They want parental controls to be automatically installed to help parents who don’t have good digital skills themselves, which was one of the recommendations of the Byron review into internet safety a few years back.

Schools already do some great work with children online and teach them valuable skills to keep them safe online. But Government and the police have an important role to play too. And more needs to be done. The internet has changed how the whole world operates. From shopping to socialising, things are ‘online’ now in a way that they weren’t a generation ago.

I want to make sure Government faces up to the difficult challenges posed by the internet – to make sure that the digital age serves the public and our democracy, and not the other way round.

Any local parent who hasn’t yet taken part in my digital survey can still complete it online via my website www.edballs.co.uk. I promise to follow up with more answers to your questions in the coming weeks.

Posted November 21st, 2014 by Ed
November 20th, 2014

This is a humiliating climbdown by George Osborne

Ed Balls MP, Labour’s Shadow Chancellor, commenting on George Osborne’s announcement that he is abandoning his legal challenge to the EU cap on bank bonuses, said:

“This is a humiliating climbdown by George Osborne, which he has tried to sneak out under the cover of the Rochester and Strood by-election.

“The Chancellor revealed his true priorities when he decided a year ago to spend taxpayers’ money fighting a bank bonus cap while working families face a cost-of-living crisis. He should tell taxpayers how much money he has now wasted on this challenge, which we warned him against.

“It shouldn’t have taken the EU to act to rein in excessive bonuses, but George Osborne has totally failed to act here in Britain.

“Labour will reform the banks and levy a tax on bank bonuses to fund a paid starter job for young people out of work for over a year.”

Ends

Posted November 20th, 2014 by Ed's team
November 19th, 2014

They will not be forgotten – my Morley Observer Column

In Morley Cemetery on Bruntcliffe Lane, scattered among the family headstones, are 62 graves for members of the armed forces from the First and Second World War. These members of our armed forces weren’t killed in action, but after serving overseas, had returned home and then sadly died either from their injuries or from illnesses such as the Influenza pandemic at the end of the First World War.

On Friday, marking the end of Remembrance week, I joined Stephen Liversage from the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and Fred Ashworth from the Morley Branch of the Royal British Legion on a tour of these specially commissioned headstones.

Like many of the casualties from the First and Second World Wars, many of these were very young soldiers – like young Edgar Foster who was just 18 when he was injured during the sinking of HMS Russell in 1916. Or 22 year old Francis Bedford who had been serving in the Royal Air Force when he died in 1943.

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission ensure that the service and sacrifice of these soldiers is not forgotten. Their vital work ensures headstones and graves are properly maintained and commemorated.

In the hundredth anniversary of the First World War, as we remember those who left their families to go into battle, never to return, we remember the sacrifices made to protect the freedom that we still enjoy today.

I would urge anyone who hasn’t had the chance to do so to take a visit to the Cemetery in Morley to see for themselves these graves – memorials which mark the sacrifices made by local soldiers in the First and Second World Wars. A full list of those buried in Morley Cemetery is available at www.cwgc.org.

This year’s Remembrance Sunday commemoration in Morley showed, yet again, just how much our area respects and values the sacrifices made. There is always an huge turnout for Remembrance Sunday locally but this year seemed to be even bigger than usual with many hundreds of people lining the streets around the War Memorial in Scatchered Park.
As I laid my wreath I reflected on how remarkable it is to see so many local people – adults and children from across the generations showing their respect and appreciation for our armed forces.
And with hundreds of British troops currently serving in West Africa, in the run up to Christmas we will continue to remember the efforts and sacrifices British troops make. Currently, 750 of our troops are stationed in Sierra Leone, providing medical staff and setting up facilities to treat patients suffering from Ebola. This outbreak has already killed over five thousand people and threatens many thousands more.

Health and illness don’t follow geographical rules and borders. There is currently no vaccine for the Ebola virus. Which is why research into a cure and efforts to treat those who are infected to prevent the spread of the disease are so vital.

Britain has taken the lead among the international community with the deployment of troops and resources. But it’s not enough. As the World Health Organisation has said, this is an epidemic that threatens the whole world and we all have a responsibility to take it seriously and do what we can to eradicate this virus.

Which is why I was so heartened to see, 30 years old, Sir Bob Geldof pulling together Band Aid 30. I was 17 when the first Band Aid single was released in 1984. Back then the whole country seemed to rally behind the cause to raise much needed money to combat poverty and starvation in Africa.

Times have changed a lot since 1984. Then I bought the first Band Aid single in Woolworths and this time round I’m much more likely to buy it as a download. But in other ways history already seems to be repeating itself. As I write this week, already over a million pounds has been raised by the British public.

And George Osborne has now agreed to ensure the Government do their bit by waiving the VAT on sales of the record. Quite right too!

Posted November 19th, 2014 by Ed
November 17th, 2014

The Government’s failure on social security spending – my article on Politics Home with Rachel Reeves

George Osborne promised to balance the books in this Parliament, but it’s now clear he will totally fail.

As the OBR has said stagnant wages and too many low-paid jobs has led to shortfall in tax receipts and more borrowing.

And now figures from the House of Commons Library show the government has also spent £25 billion more than planned on social security. In other words, if we’d had a welfare cap in this Parliament the Tories would have breached it.

This isn’t because George Osborne and Iain Duncan-Smith haven’t cut vital support for families. They’ve certainly done that. Over the last few years we’ve seen the unfair and cruel bedroom tax, cuts to tax credits for working families and even cuts to maternity pay.

But savings from those decisions have been outweighed by their total failure to tackle the root causes of rising social security spending.

Because the £25 billion of overspending comes despite changes to benefits and taxes that have left families on average £974 a year worse off and despite recent falls in unemployment.

A key cause of the Tories’ overspending is their failure to make the economy work for working people, leaving thousands more reliant on housing benefit.

House of Commons Library analysis shows that the Tories have overspent by £1.4bn on housing benefit for people in work – an amount over four times the amount they have saved in housing benefit from people moving into work.

The number of people needing to claim housing benefit in work to make ends meet has increased by over fifty per cent since 2010, and is set to double by 2018/19.

And at the same time the Tories have created a culture of waste at the DWP, with key reforms mismanaged, and failing to deliver the savings they promised.

The government has spent over £8 billion more than they planned on incapacity benefits due to their chaotic delivery of reforms and failure to help disabled people into work.

Delays to the delivery of the Personal Independence Payment have meant not only uncertainty for thousands of disabled people, but a mounting cost to the public purse, with £1.7 billion more spent than planned over the parliament.

And £130 million has been wasted on failed IT for Universal Credit, which is still only reaching less than one per cent of its intended caseload.

Labour has been clear that we need to control social security spending, and have committed to an overall cap on social security spending.

But you can’t get the social security bill under control unless you’re tough on the causes of rising social security spending.

That’s why Labour’s economic plan will tackle low pay and earn our way to higher living standards for the many, not just a few.

Our approach is rooted in tackling the root causes of spending, boosting pay and tackling high housing costs.

So our plan will make work pay by increasing the minimum wage to £8 an hour, introducing tax incentives for firms that start paying the living wage and expanding free childcare for working parents to 25 hours a week

We’ll scrap the bedroom tax and shift funding from benefits to bricks by getting at least 200,000 new homes built each year and introducing stable rental contracts in the private rented sector.

We’ll back the next generation by boosting apprenticeships and ensuring there is a paid starter job for every young person out of work for over a year – which they’ll have to take or lose benefits, paid for by a tax on bank bonuses.

And we will get a grip on the shambolic management at the DWP, to ensure that we can deliver a fair safety net for all those who need it.

That includes calling in the National Audit Office to review universal credit to ensure it delivers value for money and a better system for claimants. And it means getting a grip on disability assessments with tougher penalties when contractors get decisions wrong, and clear oversight of the process by disabled people themselves.

This government has failed to deliver an economy that works for the many and not just a few. This failure isn’t just hurting millions of working people, it’s costing the exchequer too.

And having failed to balance the books in this Parliament, George Osborne is now talking about £12 billion more cuts to social security after the election. But he’s over-spent by more than twice this amount in this Parliament – casting real doubt on his ability to make those promised savings.

Only a Labour government will be tough on social security spending by being tough on the causes of rising social security spending. That’s the way to back working people and get the deficit down in a fairer way.

Ed Balls MP is the Shadow Chancellor and Rachel Reeves MP is the Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary.

Posted November 17th, 2014 by Ed
November 16th, 2014

Only Labour can save the NHS and deliver a recovery that works for all – my guest column in the Sunday People

For more than four years prices have risen much faster than wages. It’s happened month after month since the Tories and Lib Dems came to office.

Now this week figures showed wages rising faster than inflation – by just 0.1%.

At this rate it would take more than seven years simply to catch up all the lost ground under this government.

Yet Iain Duncan Smith calls the numbers “remarkable”.

How out of touch can you get?

The fact is working people are still over £1,600 a year worse off under the Tories. Millionaires have been given a huge tax cut but millions still aren’t feeling the recovery.

So as Ed Miliband said this week, we need big changes to create an economy that works for the many and not just a few at the top.

That means a different plan to the Tories.

Labour’s economic plan will make work pay – raising the ­minimum wage to £8 an hour and ­expanding free childcare for working parents.

We’ll introduce tough and fair ­immigration controls and scrap the Bedroom Tax which this newspaper has led the campaign against.

And we’ll create more good jobs, boost apprenticeships, cut business rates for small firms and get 200,000 new homes built every year.

Our plan will also balance the ­nation’s books, but in a fairer way.

So we’ll reverse the £3billion-a-year tax cut the Tories have given to people earning over £150,000.

Government ministers will have their pay cut by 5% and their pay will be frozen until we’ve ­balanced the books.

Child benefit rises will be capped at 1% for two years and we’ll cut the winter fuel allowance for the richest 5% of pensioners.

And we’ll close tax loopholes and tax the most expensive properties to pay for more nurses and doctors in our NHS.

After more than four years of David Cameron, working people are worse off and our NHS is going backwards.

Labour’s plan will save our health service and ­deliver a recovery that works for the many. That’s the big choice at next year’s election.

Posted November 16th, 2014 by Ed
November 13th, 2014

Labour will bring in tough new penalties to tackle and deter tax avoidance

Britain has always succeeded, and can only succeed in the future, as an open and internationalist and outward-facing trading nation, with enterprise, risk and innovation valued and rewarded.

But at a time when wages are stagnant and there are too many insecure low paid jobs, we cannot take public support for this open, global vision of a dynamic market economy for granted.

Business and politicians alike cannot afford to bury our heads in the sand and ignore the legitimate and mainstream concerns of people across our country that our economy is not currently working for them.

That’s why Ed Miliband and I want big changes to create an economy that works for working people and a recovery for the many, not just a few.

In July we published our document on reform of business tax which had four key principles: attracting long-term investment with the most competitive corporate tax in the G7, supporting enterprise and innovation, simplicity and predictability, and fairness so that everyone pays their fair share.

Tackling tax avoidance is a key part of our economic plan. A fair and robust tax system is vital if we are to bring down the deficit, safeguard our National Health Service and maintain public support for the dynamic open economy we need.

At the moment, we are going in the wrong direction. The amount of uncollected tax – the so called ‘tax gap’ – rose again to £34 billion in the latest year on HMRC’s own estimates. It’s up by £3 billion under this government and tax campaigners have suggested the true figure could be much higher.

That is why we have highlighted a series of areas where this government has failed in their responsibility to act swiftly and decisively, but Labour will deliver, such as closing down the Eurobonds loophole, addressing umbrella companies and false self-employment, tackling dormant companies and stopping avoidance by hedge funds.

We also need global reforms so that multi-nationals not only play by the rules, but the rules bring transparency and mean they pay their tax where their activity takes place. That is how we will judge the current Base Erosion & Profit Shifting (BEPS) process at the OECD and we will continue to push for developing countries to be fully involved.

But this agenda will only be delivered if HMRC has the powers and resources it needs to act. We have supported the introduction of a General Anti-Abuse Rule (GAAR). Those who set up abusive schemes should run the risk of being caught by such a rule.

But it is currently a GAAR without teeth. Those who are caught have to repay the tax they tried to avoid, but they do not face a penalty. There is still no disincentive to try and game the system. That is why Labour will bring in a tough penalty regime for the GAAR, with fines of up to 100 per cent of the value of the tax which was avoided. For the first time this will provide a tough and genuine deterrent to those who try to abuse the system and avoid paying their fair share of tax.

The public want us to be tough on the small minority of people who cheat the benefits system. They want us to be just as tough on companies and individuals who evade or aggressively avoid the taxes they should rightly pay.

Through measures such as this we can ensure that no-one pays zero tax at the top so we can get the deficit down fairly, invest in our NHS, and maintain public support for the dynamic open economy we need.

Posted November 13th, 2014 by Ed
November 12th, 2014

Ed’s BBC News interview on the Bank of England quarterly inflation report

Norman Smith: Does it mark the beginning of the end for the cost of living crisis?

Ed Balls: Well, I hope so, but I have got to say, wages rising by 1.3% hailed as ‘remarkable’ by a Conservative minister, that just shows how out of touch Iain Duncan Smith and George Osborne are. The average working person in our country is £1600 a year worse off. Month after month for years, prices have been going up faster than wages, we’ve now had one month where wages went up by 0.1% more than prices, because prices are really low at 1.2%, as the Governor of the Bank of England says. ‘The end of the cost of living crisis’, ‘a bonanza for working people’ – who are the Conservatives trying to fool? What we’ve got to do is get the economy growing strongly and then translate that into a recovery which works for working people. Labour’s got a plan to do that, all I see from the Conservatives is complacency.

NS: And yet we heard from the Governor of the Bank of England that he expected real pay growth to accelerate to 2% so it’s not just one month it is the start of a gradual climb back in pay?

EB: I hope so. At the beginning of this year many commentators, the CBI, the Bank of England were expecting pay to accelerate this year and it’s not happened so far. That’s why people are even more worse off than they were before. There is a lot of catching up to do and I want to see wages rising faster than prices for the next few years. I think the worrying thing from the Governor of the Bank of England’s report today is that he sees our economy slowing down next year and the year after, partly because of the Eurozone but let’s also be honest because this recovery has not worked in a balanced way. We’ve not seen the exports, the business investment that we’ve needed over the last few years. Are we really going to have an economy which works for working people? I think we need action on young people’s jobs, to raise the minimum wage, to make sure tax credits and help on childcare make work pay, a business investment bank to help small businesses – that is Labour’s plan to get living standards rising. What you see from the Conservatives is they are crossing their fingers and hoping for the best and that’s not good enough.

NS: Let me also ask you about a poll out in today’s Evening Standard, which gives the Conservatives a three point lead, puts the Conservatives on 32%, Labour on 29%?

EB: These polls have been bouncing about, day to day, week to week, month to month…

NS: You’re three points behind now, three points behind?

EB: And we’ve had polls like that in the last few months and we’ve had polls…

NS: You haven’t – three points behind?

EB: We have, and we’ve had polls which have put Labour three and four points ahead. The only poll which matters is the General Election day. Of course that’s a cliché, but it’s true. And the question people will ask in the next few months is ‘who has got the long term plan to deliver rising living standards?’. We say reverse the top rate tax cut for the richest people over £150,000 and get the deficit down in a fairer way, repeat the bank bonus tax to get young people back to work, more apprenticeships, a business investment bank. The Tories just say, ‘trust us, we’ll deliver’; for four years they have failed on living standards, they’ve not even got the deficit down, it’s going up again. Do you want to carry on with more of George Osborne? I think most people will be pretty fearful of that.

NS: This poll also suggests just 13% – one three percent, see Ed Miliband as a credible Prime Minister. He has become a liability for your party hasn’t he?

EB: Our party is determined – from Ed Miliband, right down, throughout all our shadow cabinet and MPs – to get out there and say we’ll have reform in Europe but we won’t play fast and loose with jobs and investment like David Cameron, we’ll have tough and fair immigration controls but we won’t walk away from international markets like UKIP and the Tories, that we will have action on banking reform but also a bank bonus tax. We’ve got the policies. I think with Ed Miliband’s leadership we can persuade the British people in the coming months that we’ve got the plan to make our economy strong and secure for the future. That’s what we’ve got to do and that’s what we’ll do every day until polling day.

Posted November 12th, 2014 by Ed's team
November 12th, 2014

My response to the FCA report on foreign exchange market manipulation

This is yet another shocking scandal involving the banks and underlines the need for fundamental reform and cultural change.

It is right that the banks involved have been fined, but the Serious Fraud Office must also have the resources it needs to pursue the individuals involved. The public needs to know that individuals involved in or who had knowledge of fraudulent activity will now be held to account, including with criminal prosecutions.

We called back in 2012 – during the passage of the Financial Services Bill – for financial benchmarks like those in foreign exchange to be properly regulated, but Ministers refused to act. Now we find out this activity was going on as late as last October – over a year after the Libor scandal was exposed and we raised concerns.

This report shows that reform of our banks has a long way to go. We need reforms to pay and bonuses, with more transparency, greater clawback and a tax on bank bonuses. The Vickers reforms need to be properly implemented, not watered down, with back-stop powers to break up the banks which Ministers have been blocking. And we need much more competition, including at least two new challenger banks, which is why we welcome the CMA inquiry we have long called for.

Banks have a vital role to play to make our economy work but that requires the public and businesses to trust the way they operate. This scandal once again badly undermines that trust and makes the task of reform and cultural change both harder and more important.

Posted November 12th, 2014 by Ed
November 12th, 2014

From Hill Top to the Houses of Parliament

What a pleasure it was to have Hill Top Pupils join me in Parliament last week as part of their school trip to London.

As the local MP I visit all our local schools whenever I can but it’s always a special treat to meet a group at the House of Commons. The children’s were clearly having a wonderful trip and it was a real treat to meet up with them and to answer their questions.

Any other schools who want to arrange a trip should contact my office in Morley on 0113 253 9466 or email ed@edballs.com

Posted November 12th, 2014 by Ed's team