The last two weeks have been heavily occupied for me with campaigning for the European and local elections taking place this Thursday (22 May). Don’t forget to cast your vote! I have been to Exeter, Deal, Croydon, Lincoln and Brighouse - among other places - as well as campaigning in Leeds for our excellent council candidates - Kim Groves (Middleton Park), Mohammed Iqbal (City and Hunslet), Ron Grahame (Burmantofts and Richmond Hill), Javaid Akhtar (Hyde Park and Woodhouse), and David Congreve (Beeston and Holbeck) – and our Yorkshire and Humberside Labour team for the European Parliament.
There’s also been a fair amount of media interviews, although when I did the Sunday Politics from the BBC Leeds studio on Sunday I was cut off just before the end by electronic gremlins !
This morning I opened the new Asda store in Middleton. The staff are really enthusiastic and there were big crowds waiting for the ribbon cutting at 10am. But the really exciting thing about this is that thanks to the work of our ward councillors – Kim Groves, Judith Blake and Paul Truswell – Asda agreed to recruit locally for over 300 new jobs. As Kim Groves said today: “The majority of jobs have gone to local people, many who were out of work. The training is great which Asda offers. It is wonderful to see people living around here being inspired and motivated.”
There was a really troubling story in the YEP today about loneliness amongst pensioners in Leeds. A new report by the Leeds Community Foundation says that nearly 15,000 people aged over 65 in the city are “intensely lonely” and have lost their family, friends, mobility or income. Nearly four in ten single pensioner households experience fuel poverty and many are forced to choose between spending money on food or heating their homes. With the number of people over 65 living alone in Leeds predicted to rise by more than a third over the next 15 years, this is the biggest social issue we face.
The organisations that are doing something about this include a large number of community groups working around the city. Last Friday I had the privilege of attending the 20th birthday party of Burmantofts Senior Action. Wendy Davies [pictured above with Hilary] and her team of staff and volunteers do a terrific job in bringing older residents together and combatting loneliness.
The problems of low incomes is a big issue locally, so today’s announcement by Ed Miliband about the minimum wage is really important. The minimum wage was originally designed to prevent extreme low pay and abuse, but today the challenge is to help hardworking people who earn above the minimum wage but are still living in poverty or dependent on benefits. Over five million people, or one in five employees, are low paid, and families are on average £1,600 a year worse off since David Cameron became Prime Minister, with the value of the national minimum wage having declined by five per cent over the same period.
That’s why in September last year Ed Miliband asked Alan Buckle, former Deputy Chairman at KPMG, to investigate how to strengthen the minimum wage, as part of a plan to ensure that those who do a hard day’s work are rewarded for doing so. The report recommends that the next Labour Government should set an ambitious target to increase the minimum wage, bringing it closer to median earnings over a five-year period. This will ensure that there is a bond between the wealth we earn as a nation and the wages that people earn for a hard day’s work.