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I wonder whether the Business Secretary and some of his colleagues came into politics to restrict welfare benefits for the disabled.
People in our areas have reason to fear other elements of the Budget, apart from the VAT hike. Public sector pensions are going to be cut, and the Government will accelerate the rise in the pension age. We know that they are going to cut 25% of departmental expenditure, that there is to be a freeze on child benefit, and that there will effectively be cuts in housing benefit. All those proposals will affect the communities we represent.
I remind the House that it was Mrs Thatcher who stole milk from schoolchildren; now, it is this Government who will take money from poorer mothers. Let me list the effects the Budget will have on mothers, especially those in poorer communities, as it seems they are to be targeted.
According to the TUC, the announcements made yesterday show that poorer mothers will lose about £1,200 a year. From April next year, the Sure Start maternity grant will be available for the first child only. The £500 maternity grant available for poorer mothers having their second child is to be withdrawn, and that is a disgrace. The health in pregnancy grant-a universal grant worth £190 that was available to all mothers to promote child and maternal health and engagement with health services-is being abolished.
The baby element of tax credits is also being cut. That was an additional payment of up to £545 a year for families with a child aged less than one who were in receipt of tax credits. The previous Government's introduction of a new toddler tax credit would have provided an extra £200 a year for children aged one or two, but that has been cut too.
As we know, child benefit has been frozen for three years, and that obviously amounts to a cut in real terms. Finally, the child trust fund worth £250 has also gone. That may not affect members of the Cabinet much, given that there are 22 millionaires sitting around that table, but I assure the House that £250 can make a difference to children and families in my area.
Whatever my differences with them, I do not believe that people who joined the Liberal Democrat party went into politics to attack poorer mothers, but that is what this Budget does. That is what they will be faced with voting for in a few days, and I ask them to consult their consciences-never mind their party members-to determine whether that is the right thing to do.
Earlier, I said that it would not be my priority at this time to go for further fiscal tightening, given the fragility of the economy and the lack of demand elsewhere in the world. However, that is not simply my view; it has also been expressed by people who are very significant indeed.
The House will be aware of President Obama's letter to the G20, but hon. Members may not know that KPMG chief economist Andrew Smith has described yesterday's Budget as a "kill or cure" Budget. I note that the same phrase was used in today's Financial Times headline, and there is at least a risk that we might kill the recovery. It is quite extraordinary to see KPMG make such a statement, and Andrew Smith, its chief economist, went on to say:
"The aim is to eliminate the structural deficit over this Parliament, but it risks choking off the recovery. There is no guarantee that private demand will rebound just because the government retrenches."
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