There has been much talk this afternoon about real people. Thinking about the incredibly important subject of living standards, I thought about a real person I met in 2007. In my constituency, in an extremely poor ward, I met a woman who had just come back from work. She said to me, speaking about the then Government, “Why do they bother giving me a pay packet at all? All I get is the leftovers. Why don’t they just give me the pocket money?” She had just been affected by the 10p tax cut, which famously affected 60% of women and was so damaging to the lowest paid.
Living standards is the overriding important issue that politicians try to work on to improve quality of life for everybody. It is the practical application of the famous phrase, “It’s the economy, stupid”, because it is the private economy, the budget, of individuals and families. There are so many levers that politicians try to move to work on living standards, and in the time allowed to me I will focus on two: taxation and jobs.
I mentioned the lady from Hastings, who lives in Bevan court in Hollington. As a low earner, she will now be approaching being taken out of tax. This has been referred to many times this afternoon, and I repeat that taking people out of tax is one of the most important things the Government can do to combat poverty and raise living standards. I urge the Government, however choppy the economic waters get, to ensure that they stick to the commitment to increase the level to £10,000. Aligned to increasing the level is tax simplification, which really would be welcomed.
Undoubtedly the best way to raise living standards is to help people who do not have a job to get one. I welcome the Government’s initiatives in relation to the youth contract and apprentices, because poverty really becomes entrenched where families follow each other into unemployment. I hope that the universal credit will mitigate some of that, with its associated reforms to help make work pay, such as introducing free child care for when mothers go out to work for one hour rather than their having to work a minimum of 16 hours. The best way to improve living standards is to create jobs and the best way to do that is to stimulate the private sector. I thought that the new president of the CBI, Sir Roger Carr, put it very well when he said:
“Government can set the climate, but it is business that must deliver the goods.”
Yes, we can set the climate, but we cannot produce the jobs. We must encourage the private sector to do that. This Government are doing their best to set that climate fair, despite what is going on in the Eurozone and despite the inheritance we had. That is the best way to raise living standards.