Budget Resolutions and Economic Situation
Ms Harriet Harman (Peckham)
Conservative Members are becoming more desperate and advancing ever more ludicrous, complex and unrealistic suggestions. The point is simple: the pivotal age is 65 and will be for both men and women. All we are saying is that there should be flexibility before the pivotal age, as there is after it. I shall move on, because I do not think that Conservative Members understand even that simple point.
The cost of the Government's failure to tackle poverty and unemployment is borne not only by those who claim benefits, but by the taxpayer. As this is the last Budget before the general election, today's debate provides an opportunity to review the Secretary of State's record, about which he boasted at the start of his speech.
When the right hon. Gentleman became Secretary of State, he claimed that he would cut the social security budget, but he has not. During his years as Secretary of State for Social Security, the budget has increased by more than £14 billion a year. That is his record.
The Secretary of State claimed again today that he has at least cut the growth in social security spending to less than the growth in GDP, so that the economy now grows faster than the social security budget. That is, however, what always happens when an economy begins to move out of recession. To the extent that that has happened, it is nothing to do with him, but is entirely cyclical.
The right hon. Gentleman claimed again today that it is the cost of universal benefits, particularly pensions, that has driven up the social security bill, but it is not. Two thirds of the increase in spending on social security is due to the growth of income-related benefits, which is the direct result of poverty and unemployment. It is not demography that is pushing up the social security budget, but poverty. It is not the elderly who are pushing up the social security budget, but this Secretary of State.
The consequence of the Government's failure on work is that, under the Tories, Britain has become divided as never before. The Government have created a fractured society, with a gaping chasm between those who are okay and those who are at the absolute bottom. Under the Tories, the welfare state is losing popular support: those who have to depend on it resent it and those who have to pay for it resent it. One of the reasons why a growing number of people resent the welfare state is that they do not want their hard-earned money being ripped off by fraud.
No matter where fraud is committed on the public purse, it must be stamped out. The welfare state must, at all times, remain vigilant in the battle against fraud. However, although the Secretary of State has claimed that he will save billions on fraud, he will not take the tough measures that are required to clamp down on fraud. In particular, he will not tackle organised landlord fraud—which has partly caused the spiralling benefit bill—because he is in the pocket of the private landlords.