By David Cameron, the leader of the Conservative Party and the opposition in the United Kingdom (THE TIMES, 07/01/07):
Listen to any of Gordon Brown’s speeches and you might think that the economic wellbeing of our country is a picture of unparalleled success and prosperity.
The truth is that this rhetoric hides a darker reality. Scratch beneath the surface of the economy and you will find that the cost of living makes it harder and harder for working people to make ends meet.
The cost of living is not some abstract economic barometer that is difficult to identify with, but a reality that hits when you open your wallet. Of course there are items today which are available relatively cheaply, from clothing ranges to some electronic goods. But the problem is that in other essential areas the size and the scope of increases in price mean that many people are feeling the pinch. You get this when you pay your rent, or when you want to buy a rail ticket at short notice or when you get the demand for your next council tax instalment.
There are four key areas which are contributing most to this effect. Taken individually these burdens hit people hard enough; put them together and they really stifle day-to-day living.
First, stealth taxation under Brown means taxes have risen by 81% — £9,000 per family – while pay is up just 47%. Council tax alone has increased by 84%. People have a right to ask — just where has all this money gone?
Second, the prices of utility bills are soaring. Gas bills alone have risen by 71% since 2003 and electricity bills have nearly doubled. These rises in necessities hit the most vulnerable hardest.
In its election manifesto of 2001, Labour promised that no household would risk ill-health because of a cold home by 2010, yet the number of households who cannot pay for their heating has increased by 1m in the past three winters.
Third, housing costs are becoming more and more unaffordable. Since 1997 mortgage payments have risen by 78%, reflecting the trebling in house prices. The number of first-time buyers is falling faster here than in any other leading country.
Fourth, many vital goods and services are also rising in price — some to extortionate levels. Be it in the cost of basic home maintenance such as plumbing, to last week’s rail fare increases, which mean that an open return ticket between London and Manchester now costs £219, it is unsurprising that people are feeling financially squeezed.
This effect is magnified because, for the first time since Labour came into power, these price rises are increasing at a faster rate than our growth in earnings. We have all read about the huge bonuses awarded in the City this year. But those who do not get bonuses are finding that their pay rises do not cover the rising costs. This means that most families are finding that their pay packet buys them less.
Why? For starters, research shows that many companies are giving smaller pay rises because of the demands of higher business tax rates and the need to fill gaps in their pension funds — from which Brown has taken £100 billion with his tax raid.
For vulnerable groups on fixed incomes, such as pensioners, who spend relatively more on council tax and fuel, the rises in the cost in living are resulting in a significant decline in their quality of life.
Of course government cannot solve all the problems of rising costs. Some of the costs come from overseas or from an increase in the prices of raw materials. But instead of adding to the burden, as Brown does, I want to lead a government that helps people to live for less.
We need to spend taxpayers’ money carefully and wisely. We need more homes, so as to ease the burden of buying your first house, and we need innovative new solutions such as Community Land Trusts. We need an integrated public transport system which increases capacity and keeps prices low. And we need to see the proceeds of our economic growth being shared between lower taxes and real increases in spending in areas such as health, education and policing, so people get more take-home pay and value for money in their public services.
However, I, for one, do not want to wait until we are in government to start making a real difference — I want to start changing our country for the better now.
That is why tomorrow the Conservative party is launching a campaign to highlight the impact of the rise in the cost of living and why it is putting forward proposals to lighten the financial load. Our “sort-it” website, found at www.sort-it.co.uk, will be following up its recent initiative on combating personal debt by launching the “Live life for less” campaign. This will offer all manner of advice on how to lower your living costs on everything from energy bills to food. It will also help people to expose and avoid rip-off merchants.
In this way, instead of just talking about the difficulties posed to people across the country by the increased cost of living, the Conservatives are actually doing something to help alleviate the problem. For, today, that is what the Conservative party is about — more doing rather than just talking; more showing rather than just telling.
In its complacency over the economy, the government has neglected the working people of Britain, who try to provide for themselves and their families but find it is increasingly difficult to do so. They want a party that will fight for them and keep the cost of living down. They want a party that will work with them to get their quality of life up, Today it is the Conservative party which is making sure that their voices are heard.