Finance (No. 2) Bill

Part of Bill Presented – in the House of Commons at 4:53 pm on 1st April 2014.

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Photo of William Bain William Bain Labour, Glasgow North East 4:53 pm, 1st April 2014

My hon. Friend is entirely correct. It is shameful that the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions has abandoned the child poverty targets of the previous Government and is instead trying to finesse them with some unspecified alternatives. Yesterday, he disgracefully called the bedroom tax a success. That will be long remembered by the 600,000 people across the country and their families and friends who see it not as a success, but as an abhorrence that should be scrapped without delay.

Let me deal with some of the specific measures that are set out in the Bill. On the personal income tax allowance, it has been established by the IFS and the Resolution Foundation that four fifths of the benefit go to people in the top half of the income distribution. As I said to the Deputy Prime Minister in questions last week, the sneaky freezing of the work allowance by this Government, which was announced in the autumn statement and confirmed in the Budget and the Finance Bill, means that £600 million will be removed from the post-tax incomes of hundreds of thousands of people on low incomes. That is another example of the Government giving with one hand through the personal tax allowance, but taking two thirds of it away with the other.

The Government have not taken the steps that are needed to enforce the minimum wage and ensure that there is a real wages recovery for people in the lower half of the income scale. Liberal Democrat Members have spoken in this debate about taking people out of tax, but in the next financial year, 1.6 million low-paid people will still pay national insurance contributions and higher VAT. People will not forget that they have not been made better off by this Government’s fiscal policies, but have been made worse off. This is the first Government in over a century who will have to go back to the electorate with that record.

Despite the changes on individual savings accounts, people have seen the savings ratio in this country fall over the past few years by 3%. People have been forced to draw down their savings to make ends meet. The collapse in real wages has been compensated for by the reduction in the savings ratio.

The measures in the Bill will not be enough for an increase in savings. That is not surprising because people would need to earn more than £125,000 a year to get full benefit from the changes to ISAs. The Government should have come forward with more radical measures to increase saving, particularly for low earners—policies such as the Saving Gateway that was introduced by the previous Government and scrapped almost immediately by this Government in 2010.

The Chief Secretary was quick to boast of the effects the Bill will have on income from tax avoidance schemes, but as the Office for Budget Responsibility and the Institute for Fiscal Studies confirmed after the Budget, there are higher up-front taxes payments, although in a sense they are over-balanced by reduced revenues from 2019-20 onwards. The average benefit of the policy is a mere £90 million a year.

The Government should have been far bolder in the Bill in bringing forward more ambitious provisions to tackle avoidance and evasion. Where are the clauses that would have introduced mandatory company-by-company reporting of taxes paid and profits made? Where are the provisions on beneficial ownership of companies? They were promised by the Prime Minister at the G8 summit, but we have seen nothing of their delivery.

For some of these policies, the IFS has noticed a worrying trend. Yes, the Government have provided extra child care assistance for people through universal credit, but how is that paid for? By £200 million a year cuts to other, unspecified, parts of universal credit. The IFS has said that that is happening across a range of policy areas: permanent giveaways are funded by temporary increases in revenue, but there is no long-term plan about where the money is coming from. With that kind of financial planning, it is unsurprising that the Government are borrowing £190 billion more over this Parliament than they predicted at its beginning.

For business, we welcome the reverse in cuts to capital and investment allowances, but it is stark to consider that the Government’s policy goes up only to 2016. Business needs certainty and does not know what the Government’s plans will be after 2016 for capital and investment allowances. Imagine if we are back in the same position as in 2011 when this Government cut those allowances? I hope that when he responds to the debate, the Exchequer Secretary will offer assurances to business that there will be certainty in investment and capital allowances for the rest of the OBR’s forecast period, because that is certainly not in the Bill.

If we consider the effect of these policies on business investment, the OBR finds that there will be no appreciable increase in investment in the economy as a whole, or by businesses in particular, until 2018. The recovery was supposed to be fuelled by business investment; instead, it is fuelled by consumption, and led by people getting into debt or running down their savings as wages have slumped. That cannot be a balanced recovery in the economic well-being of our country. I also welcome some of the changes made to research and development tax credits, but even after those, this country will have one of the lowest levels of investment in innovation and science, in both public and private terms, of any major developed country. The Bill should have done far more to tackle that record.

Another omission from the Bill is—oddly—the provisions on tax-free child care. They have been much trumpeted by the Government but we do not see them reflected in the Bill, and one can presume only that the Government intend to make them the centrepiece of what will otherwise be a threadbare Queen’s Speech in June. If we consider the details of that policy there are worrying issues. I am pleased that the Government at least did not continue with their stated policy of leaving up to 1 million working poor people on universal credit without any assistance through the tax and benefit system to deal with their child care costs, particular as the child care tax credit was decimated by the Government in 2011.

What about the sustainability of this policy? Where is the provision in the Bill to increase the supply of child care places? As we see child care costs go up for families across the United Kingdom, the cry we hear from constituents is about the lack of affordable places. The Bill could have made progress on that, but the Government simply did not meet the challenge.

I believe that a Finance Bill that concentrated on jobs, child care, a lower starting rate of tax and bringing fairness to our tax system again by introducing a higher 50p rate would have begun the job of securing a recovery for everyone, not just a few at the top. National debt is rising, long-term youth unemployment is doubling, exports and productivity are stagnating, and investment is slumping.

This is the damp squib Finance Bill of a failing and lethargic coalition slithering its the way out of office. Our country deserves better. Next May, it will get it with a Labour Government.