With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
Amendment 14, page 1, line 9, at end insert—
‘(3) A report on the impact of the current rates of income tax on inequality in the United Kingdom, also taking into consideration all other direct and indirect taxes including duties and excises, council taxes and mandatory charges for the use of cars and televisions and making specific reference to the overall tax rate of taxpayers grouped by decile in the United Kingdom and by each individual constituent country shall be prepared by HM Treasury and laid before the House of Commons not later than
Amendment 30, page 1, line 9, at end insert—
‘(3) All public sector employees whose earned income does not exceed £21,000 shall be entitled to a £250 reduction in tax liability for the tax year 2011-12.’.
I do not intend to detain the House for long on these amendments, although they are important. I particularly welcome amendment 30, which stands in the name of my hon. Friend John McDonnell and my right hon. Friend Mr Field, and which I will touch on briefly. Clause 1 deals with rates of taxation and, if approved, will set the rates for the next financial year at 20%, 40% and a special rate of 50%. Amendment 10, which is simple and straightforward, has been tabled by the shadow Treasury team because we want to shed a little light on how the Government will report on their future plans for the 50% rate of tax.
We already know certain key facts. We know that the Chancellor has asked HMRC to collect tax receipts for this financial year and that he has assessed the revenue levels of the 50% rate for this year. In Committee, the Exchequer Secretary said:
“The Chancellor’s Budget statement to the House on
My concern, which I will put directly on the table, is that the Government have already prejudiced any decision on the 50p rate of tax by stating clearly that they believe it will do lasting damage to the economy. We want further explanation of the methodology that they will use to consider the 50p tax rate for future Budgets, and I think that the best organisation to do that is the Office for Budget Responsibility. The Government set up the OBR and gave it a number of key roles, one of which I have helpfully drawn from its own website. Under the heading “What we do”, it states:
“We scrutinise the Treasury’s costing of Budget measures: During the run-up to Budgets and other policy statements, we subject the Government’s daft costings of tax and spending measures to detailed challenge and scrutiny.”
All the amendment would do is formally recognise that role in relation to the Government’s forthcoming review of the 50p additional rate.
The Chancellor has said to the House of Commons, the public and anyone who will listen that he sees this as a “temporary measure” and that it will do “lasting damage” to the economy. He has signalled that he will abolish the 50p rate as soon as he can, in line with Conservative thinking before the election. However, the timing remains uncertain. I believe that the Chancellor has pre-empted the review. When HMRC undertakes the review, it will do so on the assumption that at some time around 2013 the Chancellor of the Exchequer will abolish the rate on incomes above £150,000.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I presume that he does not support the 50p tax rate, whether it raises revenue for the Treasury or not. We do not want HMRC to do a private report for Ministers, and for Ministers to then make political judgments about the 50p additional rate. Through the OBR’s involvement, we want there to be a public report on the impact of the rate which is open to scrutiny.
Charlie Elphicke will know that about 308,000 people are affected by the 50p rate. I am not surprised that he supports its abolition and a lower rate, because he knows that it is paid less in my region in Wales, in the north-west region of my right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead and my hon. Friend Andrew Gwynne and in the north-east region of my other hon. Friends. The benefit of this tax cut, if it happens, will predominantly affect south-east and east England and the wealthier parts of London, although it will not particularly affect the constituency of my hon. Friend Kate Hoey. I understand why the hon. Member for Dover wants to get rid of the rate. If he does, there will be a tax benefit for the richest people in our society and for certain parts of the United Kingdom.
All I am saying to the Minister is that we want to see the evidence on whether the additional rate raises money. If it does not raise money, we want to see it openly scrutinised. If it does raise money, we want to expose that, so that if the Minister and his hon. Friends cut the rate, it will be clear that they are doing so for political reasons and not because it is ineffective.
The right hon. Gentleman should know that in Dover there is a lot of deprivation. My case is not that we should get rid of the 50p tax rate tomorrow, but that we should do so at the right time. My question was simply whether it is safe and sensible for so much of the tax base to depend on so few people in this country?
I just say to the hon. Gentleman that in south-east England, which I recollect covers Dover, some 67,000 people pay the additional rate, whereas in north-east England, which is represented by some of my hon. Friends who are present, only 5,000 people pay it. Clearly, there will be a regional imbalance if this tax cut goes ahead. We will consider those issues in due course. I know that there are areas of great poverty and deprivation in Dover, where people do not pay the additional rate, but the hon. Gentleman has imposed value added tax on those people through votes in the House of Commons, and that is an unfair tax.
The simple point I make to the Minister is that we want open scrutiny of the decisions he takes on the ending or otherwise of the 50p additional rate. The leader of the Labour party has said that we would maintain that rate for the duration of this Parliament. The Minister and his colleagues have indicated that they want to do away with it. They are now trying to produce the information to show why that should be done. I believe that the Office for Budget Responsibility would provide greater scrutiny of that decision than—dare I say it?—the Minister in an in-house decision. We will test the matter tonight, and I hope that the Exchequer Secretary will accept the amendment. It relates to a core role and duty of the OBR, which is on its website, and I cannot see why he would not wish it to review the Government’s decision formally.
Is it not important that the matter is subject to scrutiny, because the Government continue to tell us that they are looking after everyone in the community, including the less well-off? A review would show whether they have plans to reduce the burden on the highest paid.
That is true. My hon. Friend will know that “We’re all in this together” is one of the Government’s refrains, and a review would show whether that is true. I want to know that preferably from the OBR, as suggested in the amendment, but otherwise from the Exchequer Secretary. The Government need to set out why they have decided to reduce the 50p rate in 2013, if that is their decision; what it will cost; what the forgone income will be; and who will benefit. There should not just be internal discussions—the decision should be open to public scrutiny through the OBR.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead for tabling amendment 30, which highlights an extremely important issue. Again, I wish to hear the Exchequer Secretary’s response today. I do not wish to steal my right hon. Friend’s thunder, but he will know that the Conservatives pledged in their manifesto to freeze public sector pay, but to exclude from that 1 million of the lowest-paid workers. It stated that they would
“freeze public sector pay for one year in 2011, excluding the one million lowest paid workers.”
Through great effort, he has used parliamentary questions to uncover the fact that that is not the case, and that the Conservative Government have yet again broken a promise in their election manifesto. I believe that he will make a strong case that we need some explanation from the Government of what they are doing about the impact on low pay of the public sector pay freeze that has been put in place.
My right hon. Friend will know that there are issues to consider about the applicability of his amendment to clause 1 and its workability, and indeed its fairness. However, he has highlighted an extremely important issue, and I want the Exchequer Secretary to explain why the Conservatives’ words about ensuring that low-paid workers were not disadvantaged have proved to be weasel words.
I have not yet heard what my right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead has to say about it, but the hon. Gentleman might be interested to know that we have discussions not just in the Chamber but outside it as party colleagues. My right hon. Friend will make his case in a moment, and I will listen to it and respond in due course. There are some issues that we need to consider, but it is not for me to respond to amendment 30; it is for the Exchequer Secretary to say why he has let down low-paid workers across the United Kingdom through his promises before the elections and his actions in the Budget. I look forward to hearing my right hon. Friend in short order.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington has yet again tabled an amendment that has a great deal of merit. Although I do not expect it to be pushed to a vote, I want to hear what he says about it, because he has important points to make. The key point on all the amendments is that the Government need to provide clarity. We need clarity about what they are doing on the 50p tax rate and on low-paid workers, and on the points raised by my hon. Friend’s amendment. I look forward to hearing my hon. Friend, my right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead and the Exchequer Secretary in due course.
I shall not press amendment 30 to a Division tonight, because we will return to the subject in greater detail later in the Parliament. However, I want to address some questions to those on the Treasury Bench. I accept that there are problems with the amendment, but it was the only way that I could find to debate the matter in the House.
“the Government are asking the public sector to accept a two-year pay freeze, but we will protect the lowest paid…They will each receive a flat pay rise worth £250”—[Hansard, 22 June 2006; Vol. 512, c. 171.]
He said that the cut-off point would be not £18,000 but £21,000 a year, and he, not the Opposition, estimated that 1.7 million people would receive that pay increase.
A number of Opposition Members, including those who put their names to amendment 30, and many hon. Members, have constituents who believed what the Government said. They believed that they would be protected. The Chancellor’s announcement was a crucial part of protecting those workers, but it was also a crucial part of selling to the wider public the pay freeze that the Government announced. However, those people have so far received no £250 pay increase.
I should therefore like to ask the Minister two questions. First, of the 1.7 million who not I, but the Chancellor, said would be eligible, how many have received the £250 across-the-board pay increase? Next year’s earnings figures show that the numbers eligible will rise to 2.2 million. Therefore, my second question for those on the Treasury Bench is this: how many of that 2.2 million will receive their £250 pay increase?
I conclude by merely trying to express, perhaps inadequately, a sense of how low-paid workers in my constituency feel. They feel that they have again been let down. The previous Labour Government did not do too well by that group, with the 10p tax rate abolition, and this Government have done not too well by them. Many are women coming up to retirement age who now learn that they must work two years more. They thought they would get £250 as a lump sum to protect them against rising prices and a general wage freeze, but many now find that no such increase is forthcoming. I would therefore be grateful if the Minister could give us answers to those two questions.
May I associate myself with amendment 30, which I also signed? For my constituents, £250 means a lot. It is a lot of money in terms of paying daily bills, but it is also the difference between some children having a summer break this year and not. I hope the Minister responds positively and examines that matter, but I will give him this assurance: if we do not have positive assurances from the Government, we will be back time and again until that money is paid.
I wish to speak to amendment 14, which is in my name. The amendment simply proposes that, as we determine personal income tax rates for the coming year, we look carefully at their impact on inequality. The proposal is from various lobbies in recent months, from religious groups, churches, welfare rights groups, trade unions and other civil society organisations, which have expressed their anxiety about inequality in our society. Like them, I believe that our country is disfigured by inequality and the extremes of wealth and poverty. Consequently, I believe that we should use every legislative weapon possible to address it.
I mentioned some of the extremes of wealth and poverty in the earlier debate on executive pay—some top executives earn a salary that is 145 times the average salary of their workers. The Government’s assessment of wealth distribution last year showed that the total wealth of the top 10% of the population is now 100 times that of the bottom 10%. The simple reason is that the poorest have so little wealth.
In 1986 in the UK, the richest 1% held 25% of marketable wealth. Twenty years later, that had risen to 34% of total national wealth. The poorest 50% had gone from holding 11% of the nation’s wealth to holding just 1% today. That is not solely the result of economic trends or globalisation—it has been Government policy, largely in the 1980s and 1990s, to pursue the systematic redistribution of wealth from the poor to the rich, and the last Government at least held back the tide for a period.
Taxation policy has a key role to play in addressing inequality and I note that the Treasury Committee quoted Wendell Holmes’ popular dictum that tax is the price we pay for a civilised society. I agree, but civilisation has a range of definitions, one of which is that we should not live in a society that is so starkly unequal--
I very much support the sentiments my hon. Friend is expressing. Does he agree that it is not only the income and consumption taxes that need to be encompassed in his amendment, but also the wealth taxes, especially in light of the examples that he has just given us?
My amendment proposes examination of the whole range of taxes, indirect and direct. It is interesting that the direct taxation system can be progressive in redistribution, but that the indirect system is so regressive in this country. It has a considerable impact on ensuring that we see these vast extremes of poverty and wealth.
It is not only the lobbyists from various organisations who have expressed their concerns about this inequality, because the general public are averse to high levels of inequality too. In recent surveys, 80% to 90% have been in favour of a more equal distribution of wealth in our society. We have had various discussions in this House about the impact of inequality, and none better than the debates around the work by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett, “The Spirit Level”, which was ground-breaking.
Richard Wilkinson was an adviser to my party in the early 1990s, when he did the earliest work on the impact of inequality on health. That was revisited in 2005, when he came to the House and briefed several MPs. “The Spirit Level” confirmed what he had suspected in the 1990s and started the debate. The Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition have both accepted that inequality is an issue that must be addressed. In 2009, the Prime Minister quoted from Richard Wilkinson’s book in a major speech, demonstrating that the Conservative party at that time was keen to address some of the issues of inequality. He said that
“among the richest countries it’s the more unequal ones that do worse according to almost every quality of life indicator.”
In his first major speech as leader, the Leader of the Opposition said:
“I do believe that this country is too unequal and the gap between rich and poor doesn’t just harm the poor, it harms us all.”
That is based on the work in “The Spirit Level”.
The argument in “The Spirit Level” is straightforward—that when people in the same social class, at the same level of income and education, are compared across countries, those in more equal societies do better on every measurement, be it health, mortality, obesity, teenage birth rates or mental illness. Their quality of social relations is better too. Inequality is socially divisive, increasing the rate of homicide, hostility and racism. The level of trust in unequal societies is lower than in societies that are more equal, and social capital is less —the engagement in civil society and even in political processes. That is why we need to address the issue of inequality when we consider taxes and our financial strategy.
I realise that this has been a contentious debate, and I have read the arguments made by the TaxPayers Alliance, which has tried to rebut Wilkinson and Pickett’s work, but I have also read the more recent independent research studies that have simply reinforced the inequality argument. Whichever side of the argument Members fall, it is clearly an issue to be considered, and that is why I suggest that we look at taxation as a whole—
I agree with virtually everything that the hon. Gentleman has said. I have “The Spirit Level” at home and it will be part of my summer reading as I have not had time to read it yet. Does he at least acknowledge that one of the good things that the coalition Government have done is reduce the exposure to income tax of the lowest paid in society, while at the same time increasing capital gains tax? His Government did the reverse.
The hon. Gentleman clearly has not been reading my alternative Budgets that I table year after year and which address some of those issues, although he is not alone in not having read them—but there you are!
The purpose of amendment 14 is to examine the issue again and regularly. The equality assessments that we receive from the Government in the budgetary papers consist of one sentence telling us who will gain and who will lose. They do not address the issue of inequality. A wider debate is needed, however, and my amendment would ensure that that debate is revisited and kept in close focus as we determine our financial policies. There have been previous attempts at this, and various reports by various governmental bodies have partly addressed the issue, but they have not been related to specific policy decisions or policy development.
This is more of a plea. The previous Government, of which I had occasional criticisms, set up an excellent initiative in founding the national equality panel under its chair, Professor John Hills. The panel still exists within the Home Office, and it produced a major report in January 2010 entitled, “An Anatomy of Economic Inequality in the UK”. It was extremely detailed and brought together the evidence on economic inequality in our society. It was enlightening and depressing but at the same time motivating. It was enlightening because it exposed not only the scale of inequality but the trend growth over time, which, as I said, was only arrested in the previous decade, not reversed. It was depressing because, as the report stated, the sheer scale of inequalities in outcome—for instance, the sheer scale of differences in wealth—was shocking. The report even implied that it might be impossible to create a cohesive society given the scale of inequality.
The report identified a backdrop of widespread ignorance of the scale of inequality and the lack of awareness in society as a whole among the rich and the poor. It was not just the poor who did not realise how unequal society was; it was also the richest. The report was motivating because it demonstrated that public policy interventions can reduce inequality, particularly interventions around tax and welfare benefits. They can narrow gaps between the rich and the poor and create a more cohesive and successful society. My plea, through this amendment, is that before we agree tax levels, we address the issue of inequality and that we bring forward a further report. I suggest that the national equality panel continues its work, assesses the taxation policies set out in the Budget and brings a report back to the House so that we can be sure that the policies we are pursuing are addressing inequality in our society.
I am obviously aware that through the Child Poverty Act 2010 the previous Government set up the Child Poverty Commission, the remit of which has now been extended to include the issue of social mobility. I am sure that the commission could play a valuable role in assessing the tax decisions in the Finance Bill and their impact on inequality.
Does my hon. Friend agree that it would be an important opportunity to look again at the assertion that the countries with the highest levels of inequality are also those with the least social fluidity and therefore at the role that tax could play in achieving the Government’s social mobility objectives?
That is particularly important given that we are in if not a recession, a period of economic inactivity in which the economy has been scraping along the bottom. We have 2.5 million unemployed, and nearly 1 million young people, also, 1.7 million people are in enforced short or part-time working. As Richard Wilkinson demonstrated, during the ’80s, the social psychological response was either fight or fright: fright meant depression, alcohol and drugs, and fight often meant violence on our streets and, unfortunately, an increase in violent crime.
We should be addressing those issues now, as we pass through this economic recession, which might last some time. It behoves us, as we discuss taxation and if taxation can play a role in addressing inequality, to examine the matter in detail. The amendment simply tries to emphasise that inequality is an important issue that has to be addressed and that all legislation needs to be reviewed and assessed in the light of its impact and effectiveness in addressing inequality. The amendment therefore calls for a report to be brought back to the House addressing that matter. In that way, we might at least acquire an understanding of the impact of taxation policies on inequality, even if we might disagree on specific taxation policies.
I associate myself with the speech made by my hon. Friend John McDonnell and its focus on inequality. I want to pick up on that focus, and on the discussion we had a few moments ago about the Government’s claim that we are all in this together. I shall subject that to scrutiny through amendment 13, which was tabled by my right hon. Friend Mr Field. As my right hon. Friend said, and as has been said by those on our Front Bench, the Conservative manifesto at the 2010 general election included a commitment to
“freeze public sector pay for one year in 2011, excluding the one million lowest paid workers”.
It was announced in the 2010 Budget that there would be a two-year pay freeze, except for those earning £21,000 or less, who would receive an increase of at least £250 a year. In his statement, the Chancellor went on to say that 1.7 million public servants would benefit from that and receive the £250 for two years.
In the Budget statement this year, the Chancellor had changed his tune somewhat. He said:
“I can confirm today that in the coming year all workers in the armed forces, the prison service and the NHS, and teachers and civil servants, earning £21,000 a year or less will receive a pay uplift of £250.”—[Hansard, 23 March 2011; Vol. 508, c. 963.]
That is considerably less than the commitment given in the 2010 Budget, and it is different from—and, in a sense, considerably less than—the commitment given in the Conservative manifesto. Some work has been done that shows that if the measures include only public sector workers who are under ministerial control and subject to pay review bodies—that is in essence what the
Chancellor is saying—that commitment is very considerably less. As I understand it, it equates to less than half the original number affected.
In supporting amendment 30, I want to ask the Minister directly whether he accepts that the Conservative manifesto misled the people of this country. Does he accept that, in his Budget statement in 2010, the Chancellor misled the House and the people of this country? Does he also accept that the present number of people who will benefit from the £250 uplift is considerably lower than the number originally envisaged? In those circumstances, and given the difficulties that we face in a debate of this nature on taxation, will he accept the thrust of the amendment? Will the Government recommit to doing something to address low pay for those earning less than £21,000 a year? Will the Minister also ensure that everyone earning under that amount will receive the £250, given that only some are doing so at present?
It is a pleasure to respond to the debate. Amendment 10 would require the Office for Budget Responsibility to report on the revenue raised by the additional rate of income tax. Amendment 14, meanwhile, seeks a report on the impact on inequality of all taxes, and amendment 30 seeks to provide a £250 reduction in the tax liability of all public sector workers earning less than £21,000.
I deal first with amendment 10. At the Budget, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor asked HMRC to assess the revenue raised by the additional rate. As I explained during the extensive debate on this clause in Committee, which Mr Hanson will well recall, HMRC will consider all the available evidence on the impact of the additional rate, including data from the 2010-11 self-assessment returns, which will become available next year. Data from tax returns are clearly essential in any assessment of the revenue raised, but of course they contain confidential taxpayer information and are best reviewed by HMRC. It already has the expertise in monitoring and evaluating tax measures and is resourced to do so in future. The Office for Budget Responsibility has a different remit in producing independent economic and fiscal forecasts, judging policy against the fiscal mandate and analysing the sustainability of the public finances.
I understand what the Minister says, but does that not suggest that one useful role that the Office for Budget Responsibility could fulfil would be to take a dynamic look at the effect of the 50% tax rates on, for example, the propensity of people to remain in the country and pay that tax and the longer-term impact on the economy?
I would not necessarily have put the hon. Lady down as an advocate of a more dynamic assessment of the tax measures, but perhaps I was mistaken in my understanding of her views. The purpose of the review that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor has announced will be to enable HMRC to see what has happened in the first year. It is right to say that there are long-term effects that will not necessarily be incorporated in that first year’s data, and I think anyone with an understanding of these matters would acknowledge that.
It is perfectly reasonable to make the point that if the 50p rate were to become a permanent feature of our tax system, it could damage the UK’s competitiveness. That is a point that the noble Lord Mandelson appears to support and I believe that Mr Darling, who introduced the 50p rate as Chancellor, saw it as a temporary measure, while Tony Blair has made it clear that he thinks the 50p rate is a mistaken policy—full stop. Our view, however, is that at this time, because of the sacrifices we are asking people to make, the 50p rate does play a role, but we want to analyse what revenue it brings in the short term and to gain an understanding of its long-term effects.
As the additional rate was introduced by the previous Government, I can perfectly understand why the right hon. Member for Delyn is so interested in establishing whether it was a successful policy, but when he talks about public scrutiny of Budget measures I must ask him what public scrutiny was there when the 50p rate was introduced? To what extent was the analysis published then, and to what extent was it published when the 10p rate of income tax was doubled? What information was put into the public domain at that point? As a Government, we have done much more on putting information into the public domain by publishing our analysis. Announcements in this area will be made by the Chancellor at the appropriate time. It is peculiar, however, to hear the Opposition proposing more evidence-based policy making only to reject the notion, it seems to me, that this Government should consider the evidence before making any further commitments.
I turn now to amendment 14, which deals with the impact of tax on inequality. I realise that John McDonnellhas his own views on inequality, some of which may not necessarily be shared by his Front-Bench team. I thank him for tabling this amendment, however, as it provides me with an opportunity to highlight the significant steps that the Government have taken in 13 months to address inequality through the tax system.
First and foremost, the Government are committed to ensuring that the income tax system gives more support to those on low to middle incomes, and rewards the efforts of those who choose to work. That is why the June 2010 Budget announced a £1,000 increase in the income tax personal allowance for those aged under 65. A further £630 increase was announced in Budget 2011. That will make the personal allowance £8,105 from next year. Together, those increases will benefit 25 million individuals, and take 1.1 million low-income individuals out of income tax—an important point that my hon. Friend Stephen Williams highlighted. Basic rate taxpayers will gain by £210 per year on average. That is part of our stated objective to increase the personal allowance to £10,000, with real terms steps in that direction every year.
Income tax is not the only area in which the Government are tackling inequality. All local authorities in England have voluntarily frozen or reduced their council tax in 2011-12 and as a result have qualified to receive additional Government grant equivalent to a 2.5% increase in their band D council tax. We have committed £1.9 billion to ease the burden on motorists, including the 1p cut in fuel duty as opposed to the 6p increase under the plans of the previous Government. We are supporting pensioners through the triple guarantee of state pensions being uprated by earnings, prices or 2.5%, whichever is highest. The television licence will be frozen for the next six years.
Clearly, the Government have taken great strides to tackle inequality in this country.
As was mentioned earlier, we have increased capital gains tax rates from those that we inherited, and our income tax decreases have been focused on the low paid. That is an example of what we are trying to do. The point is how to ensure that we have a competitive tax system so that we have the growth that the economy needs and that benefits all our constituents.
Let me turn to the report requested by the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington.
I draw his attention to the detailed analysis that the Government have published on the impact of direct tax, indirect tax, tax credits and benefit reforms, which can be found in annexe A to “Budget 2011”. The Government have gone further than any previous Government in presenting distributional analysis of how changes to taxes, tax credits and benefits affect households. We have published detailed analysis at Budget 2011, the spending review and the June Budget 2010. That analysis shows that the top decile sees the largest losses from the cumulative impact of tax, tax credit and benefit reforms introduced at Budget 2011 and previous fiscal events. In cash terms, the top decile loses more than twice as much as the ninth decile, and 10 times as much as the bottom decile. That is the case if one looks at the overall impact or in cash terms, as a percentage of net income, or across income or expenditure deciles.
We will make further announcements as and when necessary, but we are publishing much more information on distributional analysis than any previous Government have. It is right to do so, and to take steps to ensure that the House and the whole country can debate such matters with as much information presented in future. A striking contrast can be drawn with regard to one policy—the doubling of the 10p rate—about which the hon. Gentleman and Mr Field had concerns. It was difficult to obtain any information on that policy’s impact, although we have learned in recent weeks that much of the information about that was available to Ministers at the time.
Amendment 30 seeks to provide a one-off £250 reduction in the tax liability of all public sector employees earning less than £21,000. In the June 2010 Budget, we announced a two-year pay freeze for public sector workers earning a full-time equivalent of £21,000. That is one of the many difficult choices that we have had to make to help put the UK’s public finances back on track, and it does not mean that we do not value the work done throughout the public sector. All Members know that those in the public sector work hard for the benefit of society. However, pay freezes of this sort save jobs. Given that we are having to constrain public spending and given that the fiscal deficit requires cuts, a pay freeze will help to mitigate the effect of those cuts. Because we recognise that the freeze will be hardest on the lowest-paid public sector workers, it was announced in the June Budget that those earning a full-time equivalent of £21,000 or less would receive an uplift of at least £250 in both years of the freeze.
Both the Labour party’s manifesto at the time of the last general election and the 2009 pre-Budget report announced a 1% increase for public sector workers across the board, apart from the armed services. No distinction was made between the low paid and the high paid. Under a Labour Government, none of those earning less than £21,000 a year—including nurses, teaching assistants, police community support officers and hospital porters—would be receiving a £250 increase.
What we said at the last general election is not very relevant, because we lost. The other side won, and made a commitment in the Budget. The Chancellor stood at the Dispatch Box where the Minister is standing tonight, and said that 1.7 million low-paid workers in the public sector would receive an increase of £250. What we now want to know is how many are being paid the £250, and, if 1.7 million are not being paid that sum, what steps the Government will take to ensure that they are paid it.
The policy advocated by the Labour party when they were in government would have resulted in none of these public sector workers receiving £250.
We will ensure that the policy on pay increases for low-paid local government workers is applied across the civil service and to work forces with pay review bodies. That will include civil servants, NHS staff, teachers, members of the armed forces and those working in prisons. Many civil servants, nurses and prison officers, and the armed forces, have already received the £250 increase this year and can expect a further £250 increase next year, but other work forces have responsibility for negotiating their own pay deals. Decisions on the pay of local government work forces are for local government employers, rather than central Government, to negotiate. Provision was made in the local government settlement for local authorities to pay the £250 increase, but the fact remains that the decisions are made by local authorities. We gave them the opportunity to pursue the policy that we are pursuing at national level, but it is ultimately for them to decide how to pay their employees.
Where it is within the Chancellor’s control because the money is paid through central Government, those low-paid public sector workers will receive the £250. For those who work in local government, which is not within the control of central Government, we have provided local authorities with the funding to be able to meet that policy objective.
It is for local authorities to determine what they pay their employees, but we have given them the extra money to fund this, and we would like local authorities to fulfil the objective that we are achieving at national level. We do not control local authorities, but we can provide them with the funding, and we did that. Our intention was that all low-paid workers would receive the £250, but we do not—and should not—have the ability to mandate local authorities to pay their workers, and that is currently up to them.
When the Chancellor made his statement, there were no caveats; it was a straightforward commitment to pay 1.7 million workers the £250. The Chancellor gave a moral commitment; it therefore behoves the Government to intervene to ensure the Chancellor’s pledge is fulfilled to all 1.7 million workers, without any caveats.
As I said, where this is within our control, public sector workers earning less than £21,000 are getting the £250. Where it is not within our control, we have funded local authorities; they are funded to make this payment, but it is ultimately for them to decide.
As a former council leader, it occurs to me that Governments were for ever putting conditions on how money for local government should be spent, so surely that could be the case in this respect as well?
This Government believe in localism. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman wants to return to the days when local authorities were highly prescribed as to how they could spend money and everything was ring-fenced, but that is not how we want to operate.
The Minister said earlier that the Government had specifically given this money to local authorities. If we are now hearing that authorities—of all political persuasions, perhaps—such as that of my hon. Friend Mrs Glindon have not been paying it as they should, will the Government take that money back?
No. The funding settlement with local authorities was made on the basis that the money would be available for them to pay to low-paid public sector workers, but it is ultimately their decision.
Returning to the amendment of the right hon. Member for Birkenhead, I understand that it is intended to help enforce the Government’s policies, and I am sure he intends to be helpful. However, we do not believe that using the tax system is the right way to address this; we do not think that will be practical. It would add complexity to the tax system, and I therefore urge him to withdraw the amendment, especially as I know he will return to this subject at a later date.
I have given way to the right hon. Gentleman on a number of occasions, and I think it is time to conclude.
I have explained why the assessment of the additional rate of income tax requested by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor must be prepared by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs. I have explained that the analysis the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington seeks already exists, and I have explained why the Government’s approach to assisting the lowest-paid public workers is the right one. There is no need for these amendments, so I ask for them to be withdrawn.
What is clear is that my right hon. Friend Mr Field has exposed completely the fact that the Chancellor of the Exchequer promised one thing at the election and one thing in his Budget, and has not delivered on that promise completely. I know that we will return to that issue during the next few weeks and months.