Labour: Miliband outlines 'cost of living crisis' plans

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Labour leader Ed Miliband: "It is wrong that millions of people in our country are going out to work, unable to afford to bring up their families."

Labour leader Ed Miliband has set out plans to tackle what he calls the UK's "cost of living crisis", after arriving in Brighton for the party conference.

Mr Miliband promised to reverse controversial changes to housing benefit and extend childcare.

He also pledged to increase the minimum wage to help with the cost of living.

Meanwhile a senior party figure has said people earning £60,000 were "not rich" and the tax rise focus should be "the privileged few rifght at the top".

Mr Miliband said he wanted to "send a very clear signal" that it was wrong that millions of working people in the UK could not afford to bring up their families properly.

The Labour leader said:

  • Different sectors, such as finance, IT or construction, would be examined to see if they could afford to pay a higher rate to their staff
  • He would end the "epidemic" of zero-hour contracts
  • The government's health reforms would be repealed
  • Primary schools would be forced by law to look after pupils from 08:00 until 18:00 to help working parents

Mr Miliband said the housing benefit cut - affecting social tenants in England, Scotland and Wales deemed to have spare bedrooms - would be scrapped.

Earlier on Saturday, shadow communities and local government secretary Hilary Benn told the BBC Radio 4's Today programme the housing benefit change was a "cruel and unfair policy" which "undermined families and communities" and did not work because there were no smaller properties for people to move in to.

Critics have called the cut a "bedroom tax" however the government said it was tackling a "spare room subsidy" which was unavailable in the private room sector, and that the £23bn-a-year housing benefit bill must be cut.

Mr Miliband told a crowd in Brighton: "Abolishing the bedroom tax. Strengthening the national minimum wage. Childcare there for parents who need it. That's what I mean by tackling the cost of living crisis at this conference. That's what I mean by a government that fights for you."

The Labour leader added that the national minimum wage was "one of the proudest achievements of the last Labour government" but it was falling behind price rises under the coalition government. He pledged to strengthen it.

If the national minimum wage had risen in line with the cost of living it would be 45p an hour higher than the current level, which is due to rise next month from £6.19 to £6.31, he explained.

Tory chairman Grant Shapps said: "Conservatives back the minimum wage.

Image caption,
Labour says childcare will be a top priority for the 2015 general election

"But if Ed Miliband was really on the side of hardworking people then he would have supported our welfare changes to ensure work always pays and should have voted in favour of halving the amount of income tax someone working full-time on the minimum wage pays."

Mr Miliband criticised Mr Cameron's record as one of "tax cuts for millionaires, tax cuts for hedge funds, tobacco lobbyists in Downing Street".

It was the "forgotten wealth creators - the people who put in the hours, who do the work, who do two jobs, who do the shifts" that should be supported, he said.

'Cruel and unfair policy'

The speech came after Rachel Reeves, deputy to shadow chancellor Ed Balls, told the Daily Telegraph what incomes she thought should be considered for tax changes.

"The focus should be on those privileged few right at the top, and that's not people earning £50,000 or £60,000 a year," she said.

"If you're a single-earner family in the South East on (that income), you don't feel particularly rich, and you'd be aggrieved that people earning between £150,000 and £1 million are getting a tax cut."

A Liberal Democrat document leaked earlier this week suggested the party was considering increasing taxes for people earning more than £50,000.

Senior Lib Dem Vince Cable said the proposal was not government policy and he did not know where it had come from.

The average annual wage of full-time workers in the UK was £26,500 in the year to April 2012, according to figures published by the Office for National Statistics in its annual survey of hours and earnings last November.

Labour has also promised to make childcare a key part of its manifesto.

Image caption,
Rachel Reeves wants the "focus" of tax to be on people earning £150,000 or more

Of their plan for schools to extend their opening times, Mr Miliband said it "doesn't make sense in this century" that some schools still close in mid-afternoon when parents are usually at work.

Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said "most jobs don't fit neatly with school hours".

She added: "We know parents with early starts, or commutes to work, need childcare they can rely on.

"Childcare is now as vital to our economic infrastructure as transport, housing or IT."

At present some schools offer breakfast clubs and after-school clubs to help working parents, but Labour says many of these have closed due to government cuts.

Labour deputy leader Harriet Harman told the Independent she was "determined" mothers and fathers should be entitled to transfer part of their flexible parental leave to grandparents, enabling them to return to work.

Responding to Labour's plans in the Guardian, Treasury minister Sajid Javid said: "Despite promising 'discipline' on borrowing, Ed Miliband has shown he is too weak to deliver. Nothing has changed - it's the same old Labour."

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