New Clause 2 — Childcare

Part of Welfare Reform Bill (Programme) (No. 2) – in the House of Commons at 6:15 pm on 13th June 2011.

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Photo of Sheila Gilmore Sheila Gilmore Labour, Edinburgh East 6:15 pm, 13th June 2011

In answer to that, let me give a personal view that I would not want to attribute to all my colleagues, as I am unsure whether they would all accept it. If we feel that we can no longer pay child benefit as it was previously paid and that we must make savings, it would have been much fairer to have made that part of taxable income. For many reasons, that would have avoided some of the anomalies that the Government’s proposal has set up. However, we have frequently rehearsed those reasons, so I shall not spend a lot of time talking about them now. If savings had to be made, we might have ensured that some of that money came back in the way I have suggested. I personally think that, subject to a fair taxation system, that would be a better way of dealing with this issue than having the suggested abrupt cut-off.

I want to talk about savings, and in particular the savings cap being introduced on people who work. It is astonishing that this change should be made by a Government who have so much to say about their wanting to encourage people to get back on their own feet, to be self-reliant and to save for their future. It is very easy just to say that the average amount of savings of a person of working age is only £300—and that is frightening and appalling for our society if it is true. However, for those people who currently—[Interruption.] I do not know what is so funny. Currently, people who have savings and receive tax credit have been able to get assistance without losing that money, but the Government’s view appears to be different for those who fall on hard times, no matter what their circumstances are, and no matter what situation they find themselves in. We will, no doubt, have this debate again on Wednesday when we discuss non-contributory and contributory employment and support allowances. The Government’s view seems to be that the first thing someone should call on in difficult circumstances is any savings that they have previously been able to make. There is a lot that is unacceptable about that.

People may find themselves with a certain amount of capital in all sorts of circumstances. They may have gone through a recent separation and received their share of a former matrimonial home, which they may then plan to use to put a deposit down on another property so that they can buy a home and no longer be as dependent on the state as they have been previously. That opportunity is being taken away by this provision. It is not at all clear whether the Conservative party thought it was entirely unacceptable that people were able to receive tax credits and still have savings—presumably Conservative Members did think that, but I do not know whether they said so.

We have had a system, which seems to have been working well, whereby people have been able to receive assistance to enable them to stay in employment and improve their circumstances without such loss of savings which they may have worked hard to accrue. They may have been asked to take reduced working hours, as many people have in the past two or three years, and they may have experienced a pay freeze and, thus, fallen, perhaps for the first time, into the position where they become entitled to universal credit. The first thing that will happen to them is that they will be told that they are not eligible until they have reduced their savings below a certain limit. Their prospects of using those savings, perhaps towards their retirement—these people may not be young, and they may be thinking that that money will give them a more comfortable retirement or they may want to buy a house to put themselves in a better position—are being taken from them. There is no good reason for changing the tax credit arrangements, which have been working well in getting people back into employment.