I shall not give way. I am sorry; I want to keep time for other Members.
However, this Government have presided over falling inflation, which is now at its lowest level on record, more jobs and, in the current year, above-inflation increases not just in the minimum wage, but in average wages and take-home pay. The crucial decision to cut income tax for the lowest paid contrasts starkly with Labour’s decisions while in power to scrap the 10p rate and to push up employers’ national insurance. Instead of driving up the cost of employment and taking more of people’s wages in tax, we have helped businesses to create more jobs and, crucially, let people in the lowest paid jobs—part-time workers and those on the minimum wage—keep more of what they earn.
As the Chancellor set out, families are £900 a year better off than they were in 2010 and the official figures showing this are borne out by independent research, which Opposition Members used to quote when it suited their arguments. The latest figures from the Asda income tracker show average family discretionary spending power at £185 per week—the first time since its records began in January 2009 that that figure has risen above £180, and an increase of £16 per week since the same time a year ago. In April 2010, before the general election, the equivalent was £172.
As a member of the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee I welcome the fact that this Budget delivers further for business by cutting corporation tax to one of the most competitive rates anywhere in the world, incentivising the employment of young people and apprentices through further changes to employers’ national insurance liabilities, and launching the long-awaited reform of business rates. I welcome the extension of small business rates relief and the high street discount, as well as progress with the valuation system review but, as the Committee’s high streets inquiry concluded:
“The short-term tweaking of the Business Rates system is building up problems for the future and, instead, the....system needs fundamental reform.”
I look forward to supporting the case for fundamental reform. We need to look for a system that removes the bias against our high streets and town centres and rewards businesses that invest and expand. Business rates are currently the only area of taxation where there is not only no incentive, but a positive disincentive to take more people on, and this needs to change. I know that the British Retail Consortium and the Federation of Small Businesses have warmly welcomed the commitment to reform, and I hope that both will be extensively consulted on how it can best be delivered.
I also welcome the continuing focus on investing in skills and helping businesses to do so. The Budget saw the launch of apprenticeship vouchers for businesses to manage their own schemes, and businesses such as Worcester Bosch, Yamazaki Mazak, Titania cyber security, Comco and Green Lighting, which I visited during national apprenticeship week, will welcome the Government’s focus on this aspect.
One of the best things about this Budget is its support for saving. As chairman of the all-party group on credit unions, I warmly welcome both the £1,000 tax-free allowance for savings and the administrative changes that will remove a burden from savings organisations, including credit unions. Last week I attended my local hospital to see the launch of a payroll saving scheme from the Castle and Crystal credit union, which expanded into Worcestershire at my invitation. Such schemes will benefit from the Chancellor’s efforts to make saving more attractive.
In an age where saving for the deposit on a first home has become ever more challenging, I particularly welcome the launch of the Help to Buy ISA. My late father pioneered the policy of right to buy which helped thousands of people to own their first home in the 1980s, and I am hopeful that Help to Buy, combined with this innovative savings scheme, can help thousands more to enjoy the security of owning their own home in the 21st century. Help to Buy has already helped 184 families in Worcester and more than 900 in Worcestershire to get on the housing ladder. With the Help to Buy ISA I hope we can make a difference for hundreds more.
I welcome this Budget continuing the increase in the basic state pension. On the doorsteps of Worcester I often hear from pensioners who are very concerned about the fact that they may be paying income tax on a small pension inherited from a deceased partner. The move to increase the income tax threshold to £12,500 in the future will take thousands of those pensioners out of income tax altogether, which will be an extremely positive reform.