Orders of the Day — Poverty

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 6th November 1972.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Mr Edward Short Mr Edward Short , Newcastle upon Tyne Central 12:00 am, 6th November 1972

The subsidy for the private tenant will rise from £21 to £54 and for the owner-occupier from £62 to £68. So, at the end of the five-year period, the subsidy will amount to £33 for the council tenant, £54 for the private tenant and £68 for the owner-occupier. This is in spite of the fact that council houses, on the whole, are occupied by people who cannot afford to buy houses of their own.

The total public aid towards each council tenant will be less than half the total public aid to each owner-occupier. If all the economic measures and the Housing Finance Act are taken together, the 1 per cent. who have incomes of over £5,000 have received six times more than the half of the population whose incomes are between £1,000 and £2,000. We have seen in the past two-and-a-half years the most colossal redistribution of incomes towards the rich this century. Yet the Prime Minister wonders why, for the first time in our history, the Government cannot count on the support of the nation at a time of acute national crisis—and they cannot.

In his article in The Times of 29th December, 1971, my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher), who has done so much to improve people's understanding about these problems, estimated that up to the end of 1971 the total effect of all the Government's policies, including their Budget and mini-Budget, was that the £1,000- £2,000 group had actually lost £15 per annum, whilst the £5,000-plus group had gained £1,258 per annum. The Secretary of State was given the opportunity to reply to that article in the same newspaper, but he did not reply to those figures.

To make matters worse, this redistribution has been accompanied by an unprecedented extension of means testing. The Secretary of State said that there has been been only one. Has he forgotten the Housing Finance Act? There has been an unprecedented extension in means testing to restrict public expenditure. What is happening under the Housing Finance Act demonstrates beyond doubt that the purpose of these means tests is to restrict public expenditure

The interaction between these policies and tax policies has created the poverty trap, the three bars of which—inflation, low tax threshold and means-tested benefit—prevent any escape for vast numbers of workers. It has been estimated that this year 6·3 million workers, of whom 3·3 million are women, receive basic pay of less than £20 a week. If the right hon. Gentlemen wants some examples I will gladly give him a few—agriculture, 178,000; catering, 258,000; clothing, 209,000; laundries, 54,000. There are many others.

The pay rise of £3·30 a week for agricultural workers, which is not yet approved, leaves £19·50 as the minimum wage for a 42-hour week; that is 50p below the prescribed level for family income supplements of £20 a week for families with one child. If we take the Prime Minister's £2 across the board, we see that a man with two children earning £19 a week will be left with 37p, but a man earning £30 a week will be 7p a week worse off if he gets the £2. How right the TUC was not to fall for that one.

Added to this deliberate diversion of incomes from the poor to the rich, the Government have presided over the fastest rise in prices in our history. There have been 2½ years of galloping inflation with prices up by 18·9 per cent. in 27 months and food, to August of this year, up by 21·7 per cent. I see that the Leader of the House is writing that down. I should have thought he would have known that. Profits of food firms in the same period were up by 30 per cent.

The speech on housing made by the hon. Member for Lancaster (Mrs. Kellett-Bowman) made me wonder whether the hon. Lady and I have been living in the same world for the last two years. Do I need to show her the headlines about the rising prices of houses? South-East homes up by 47 per cent. That was at the beginning of the year. Under two-and-a-quarter years of Tory Government the land and house racket has been one of the greatest—