With the greatest respect to the hon. Gentleman, I am not a Welsh Member and I am not a Member of the Welsh Assembly, so I do not feel able to comment. However, I wholly believe that what the Labour party says it will do in government is the action that should be taken, and that we need to crack down on zero-hours contracts.
The Government have presided over the destruction of permanent appropriately remunerated jobs with decent terms and conditions, with the creation of insecure, poorly paid private sector jobs.
At least we have not had the omnishambles of a Budget that we had a few years ago. I am pleased that the Chancellor, albeit secretly, has turned to plan B and is investing in infrastructure. But he is still doing nothing to tackle the cost of living crisis, and he is still ploughing ahead with further unnamed cuts. But we know where some of those cuts are being made. We already know that northern local authorities are bearing the brunt of the cuts in local government spending. Bolton will have lost £100 million from its budget, cutting services to the most vulnerable. Will the Government ever accept that they cannot cut their way to growth; that holding down wages means that more people are reliant on tax credits and many are in poverty?
The proposals on pensions appear to be welcome, but the Budget has done nothing for the 1.6 million pensioners living in poverty. Nor will it do anything for the crisis in social care, which has seen the number of older people receiving support falling by more than a quarter since 2005. Proposals on child care are welcome, but we need action now not in 18 months’ time. I met a woman on Friday in Horwich when I was campaigning for an energy price freeze who told me that she used to work in a nursery, but had to give up her job because she could not afford the child care costs for her own two children.
How on earth can the Government justify sacking tax collectors when the tax gap is somewhere between £35 billion and £120 billion? In 2011-12, before the last round of cuts, 20 million calls to HMRC were not answered. The estimated cost of those calls was £33 million, and the value of customers’ time was estimated at £103 million. Since then, the number of staff has been further reduced. Recent figures show that there were fewer confiscation orders in 2013 than in 2012 and less money was recovered, and only four officials are hunting 124 of the worst tax dodgers. The biggest scandal of all is that the Government say that they reduced the top rate of tax from 50% to 45% because people were avoiding paying their tax. They think that if people are poor they will work harder if their pay is cut. They think that people should pay all their tax, and that will make them better people, getting jobs and working harder. But the rich just have to pay less. They just have to say they will find other means so that they do not have to pay their taxes.
What a nonsense. If the poor do not pay their taxes, they are prosecuted. If the rich do not pay their taxes, they get a tax cut. Even sadder, is that in the only full year that people had to pay the 50% tax, when they could not pre-pay or post-pay their tax bills, it brought in £1.1 billion extra. Perhaps I am a little strange, but I think that £1.1 billion is quite a lot of money. It could go some way towards solving some of the problems in our economy and some of the desperate situations my constituents face.
Until the Government deal with the cost of living crisis facing so many people in Britain today, they cannot possibly claim to be building a fairer society. It is an utter disgrace that in the sixth richest country in the world people are dependent on food banks and children are going to bed hungry. It is a disgrace that people are living in houses with no heat because they cannot afford the bills. It is a disgrace that long-term unemployment is going up. Yet again the Government seem to miss the point. They leave the poor and the vulnerable to suffer.