Debate resumed (Order, 8 July).
Question again proposed,
(1) It is expedient to amend the law with respect to the National Debt and the public revenue and to make further provision in connection with finance.
(2) This Resolution does not extend to the making of any amendment with respect to value added tax so as to provide—
(a) for zero-rating or exempting a supply, acquisition or importation;
(b) for refunding an amount of tax;
(c) for any relief, other than a relief that—
(i) so far as it is applicable to goods, applies to goods of every description, and
(ii) so far as it is applicable to services, applies to services of every description.
Good morning, Madam Deputy Speaker.
When one cuts through the rhetoric and the headlines that the Chancellor spun, one sees that yesterday’s Budget leaves working people worse off. It is the working families of Britain on low incomes, trying their hardest to do the right thing, who will pay the price for the gap between what the Chancellor said and the truth of what his Budget actually means. The Office for Budget Responsibility has flatly contradicted the right hon. Gentleman’s claim to have lowered taxes, pointing out on the first page of its analysis that tax increases are twice as big any tax cuts over the course of this Parliament. It is a Budget that is entirely concerned with chasing headlines to further the Chancellor’s well known political ambitions, rather than putting the working people of Britain first.
Pulling the rug from under people on low incomes with a hefty work penalty in the tax credits system— 3.3 million working families will lose out from these changes, with 500,000 families losing tax credits entirely—despite Tory denials before the election, will hurt those in work.
I did not realise that the hon. Lady was a conduit for the former Labour Chancellor of the Exchequer. I will certainly look closely at what he said, but I did not hear him say those words this morning.
I want to ask Ministers about the work penalty that they have introduced into the tax credits system. Did they know before the election that they were going to hit those who needed tax credits to make work pay, or was it deliberately hidden from public view because of the shock that such a cut to incomes would create? This was a Budget that exposed the Chancellor’s skewed priorities—a Budget that failed to build the more productive economy that we need, that ducked long-term decisions on vital infrastructure projects, and that sought to substitute spin for the support people need to go to work.
I will give way to the very eager Conservative Members in a moment, but I want to make a little progress.
We do recognise that sensible savings are needed to get the deficit down, and we will support measures that tackle tax avoidance and control overall household benefit levels. We regret that the Budget fails to address the overpayments and errors in welfare expenditure, which have ballooned in recent years during the welfare Secretary’s time in office, let alone his lamentable record on delivering the mythical universal credit, for which so many people are still waiting. As my right hon. and learned Friend the acting Leader of the Opposition said yesterday, we will be a responsible Opposition; we will not oppose for opposition’s sake, and we welcome a number of the Budget measures.
I have not used those words. The hon. Gentleman is reporting words that have apparently been said.
I believe it is important that the Opposition today look at the spin and the headlines that the Chancellor created in his Budget yesterday. Less than 24 hours later, the Budget is beginning to unravel—[Interruption.] Have I said something wrong? The Budget is beginning to unravel and I will explain why, but in the spirit of magnanimity I want to explain that there are Budget measures that we welcome. The Budget fails to address the long-term challenges Britain faces—[Interruption.]
Order. I am desperate to hear what Mr Leslie is going to tell us. Keep shouting and you will not even be able to ask the right questions.
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker.
Many parts of the Budget were suggested by Labour in recent months. Abolishing permanent non-dom status—that sounds very familiar to my hon. Friends. Increasing the minimum wage—again, we have repeatedly called for that. We welcome any action on low pay—by the way, the Conservatives opposed the creation of the national minimum wage in the first place—but this so-called national living wage is unravelling as it becomes clear that it is nothing of the sort. It is the rebranding of an increase in the national minimum wage—as I say, Labour created that in the first place—which, with the tax credit changes, will still leave working families worse off.
We will support steps to tackle tax avoidance—again, we have consistently pressed the Government on that—but this Chancellor has a poor record on hitting tax avoidance targets, with the amount of uncollected tax increasing to £34 billion last year and his so-called tax deals continually failing to bring in the revenues he predicted. In yesterday’s Budget, the Conservatives broke their manifesto promise to deliver £5 billion of savings by 2017-18. The Chancellor made that promise at the last general election, and he is now saying that we might perhaps get it by the end of this Parliament. We will file the supposed £5 billion of tax avoidance measures in the “believe it when we see it” category.
May I say how much I welcome my hon. Friend’s statement that Labour welcomes the Government’s announcement yesterday to move towards a living wage? Will he confirm in the Chamber what he has said elsewhere—that we will engage very constructively, looking imaginatively at the Red Book, to try to make this more comprehensive and to extend it to the public sector? Does he accept that the more success we have in developing this idea with the Government, the fewer people will be eligible for means tests, and that our aim is not to change means-tested benefits in line with such increases, but to make sure that people can earn enough not to be eligible for means-testing?
My right hon. Friend is right that we should be thoughtful about the Government’s proposals. It is sometimes difficult to see through the political fog of the games that the Chancellor is trying to play and the tactics he is trying to use. Oh, the look of innocence on his face! My right hon. Friend is right that it is important to take on questions of welfare reform and work through them methodically. We will not oppose everything just for the sake of it. My right hon. and learned Friend, the acting Leader of the Opposition, was right to say yesterday that while that might be the temptation, we will look at the proposals and be reasonable about those we can support.
We welcome the steps taken in the Budget to reduce pension tax relief for the highest earners, and of course the rise in the personal allowance threshold, as we support steps to cut taxes and try to get a better settlement for those in work.
The hon. Gentleman was doing so well until the little barb at the end of his intervention. Of course we want a situation—there is more political consensus on this than people perhaps realise—in which people in work are better off than they otherwise would be. The problem, which I will come on to later, is the Chancellor’s approach with this particular set of Budget measures. He is pulling the rug from beneath people’s feet while higher wages are not yet available. When we look at the package as a whole, we see that people will be worse off during that period. He cannot just shovel that beneath the rug.
I want to make some progress, but I will give way again in a minute. [Interruption.] I will give way now to Jake Berry if he wants to intervene. [Interruption.] He complains that I am not giving way, but he does not want to intervene.
We will not support self-defeating false economies in the Government’s approach to social security. We do not support an approach that will leave more than 3 million working families poorer, and in turn mean that the poorest children are more likely to grow up into poor adults, which will cost society far more in the longer run.
The Chancellor and Ministers on the Front Bench have a track record when it comes to false economies, particularly during the last Parliament. They scale back nurse training, and then spend a fortune hiring nurses from private agencies, as my hon. Friend Andrew Gwynne knows. They cancel major road schemes, such as the one involving the A14, and then revive them later on at vast expense. They pay redundancy to senior officials at the Ministry of Defence or the Foreign Office, and then rehire them at higher cost. They restrain local councils from tackling fraud in housing benefit, and then the level of overpayments escalates to £1.5 billion. They reduce the number of Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs staff so that phone calls go unanswered from businesses that need to get through, and then are surprised when the tax gap gets wider and revenues go uncollected. And we have a Chancellor with the gall to boast of a northern powerhouse while simultaneously pulling the plug on the electrification of major commuter rail lines.
My hon. Friend will understand the dismay of many across Greater Manchester and the wider northern regions, not just at the pause in the electrification of the line between Manchester and Leeds—and the implications that will have for rolling stock in the north of England—but at the insult from yesterday when we were told that we will get an Oyster-style piece of plastic to use on our Pacer trains.
It has been said many times, but the powerhouse has become a power cut. As time goes on, many—not just in the north but in the midlands—will see through the rhetoric to the reality that they are experiencing.
The Government are undercutting, not supporting, a productive economy. It says everything about the Chancellor that the impact of his Budget has been to worsen the outlook for productivity in our economy over the rest of this Parliament rather than to improve it. The OBR has done the calculations and its prediction is on page 77 of its report. Its conclusion is stark. The Opposition know that more productive businesses, and a more productive economy, are the key to a virtuous circle of higher growth, higher living standards and, as a consequence, more effective deficit reduction. For the Conservatives, productivity springs magically from thin air, but for us it is decent infrastructure and decent public services that can make all the difference to business success.
In his March Budget, the Chancellor did not even mention productivity, so perhaps we should be glad that he at least found time to mention it yesterday, even if we are still waiting for the much trumpeted productivity plan. I gather that it will be published on Friday, although the House is not actually sitting that day so we will not be able to scrutinise the details. Under this Chancellor, UK productivity has, in the words of the Office for National Statistics, undergone a period of “unprecedented” stagnation.
I have spoken to leading businesses in Taunton Deane this morning and the Chancellor’s Budget has been broadly described as “great stuff”. It will load the scales in favour of hard-working people. Surely the shadow Chancellor must consider that a positive policy, unlike the disarray of the Labour party’s economic policy, as mentioned today by the former Labour Chancellor.
I have not read the comments by the former Chancellor, although I keep hearing about them from Members. I will have a good look at them, but it is important that we scrutinise the Government’s record on productivity. Unless we improve productivity in our economy, we will not generate the revenues to deal with the deficit and raise living standards. In 2012 and 2013, our productivity growth was negative, and last year it was just 0.2%. That compares to an average of 2.2% under the Labour Government from 1997 until the global financial crisis hit. It is, therefore, almost beyond belief that on the OBR’s analysis the Budget could lead to lower productivity growth, now estimated to be 0.4% lower than the forecast for next year, 0.2% lower in 2017, 0.1% lower in 2018 and 0.2% lower in 2019—productivity down next year, the year after, the year after that and the year after that.
Is not one of the reasons for that the fact that the Government are creating lots and lots of low-paid jobs and substituting them for high-paid jobs? In particular, there are 800,000 fewer people earning over £20,000 now than there were in 2010. Is that not a catastrophic record of falling productivity? We want to stand up for the middle earners rising, not just the lowest earners.
Government Members will not be interested in scrutinising the compositional issues that are arising in our economy, but the share of jobs that are high-skilled is shrinking back, according to the Office for National Statistics, and being replaced by an increasing share of low-skilled jobs. That is definitely something to be concerned about. In fact, the OBR has voiced its concerns about the productivity threat to our economy, saying:
“If productivity fails to recover as predicted but wage growth continues to accelerate, the MPC could be forced to raise interest rates more quickly” and wage growth will fall short of its forecast.
Having worked in retail for 30 years before coming to this place, I regularly saw good, hard-working people who wanted to work extra hours being prohibited from doing so because of the loss of tax credits. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the announcements yesterday on reforms of tax credits and on a living wage will finally break the shackles for those people and let them take control of their own destiny?
Hold on. Let us just pause to scrutinise that. I think the hon. Gentleman just said that people should be grateful that they are having those tax credits taken away because that will free them up and make work pay—[Interruption.] Hon. Members speaking from a sedentary position call those tax credits a perverse incentive. I just do not think they understand the lives of those on low pay who are struggling to make ends meet and who rely on the support that tax credits have been able to give. That work penalty is going to cause real problems.
If only what Craig Whittaker said was true and there was an incentive. Actually, the former Chancellor stated that the tapers on tax credits would become worse, so that for every pound over tax credit level that people earn, more of it will be taken away—they will have to pay marginal tax rates of 90% on every extra pound they earn, making it harder for them to get off benefits, not easier.
That is very much our critique of the Government today. Of course we want a higher-wage environment and of course we want those jobs to be there, but if we take away that support at that crucial moment, we are going to make people’s lives much, much harder.
No, not yet.
There was no mention of science or research and development in the Budget speech and no steps to increase mobility in the housing market. In fact, the OBR says that 14,000 fewer affordable homes will be built by 2021. How on earth that helps to reduce the housing benefit bill, I do not know. At the same time, the Government are delaying rail improvements, systematically decimating renewable energy investment and kicking the decision on airports into the long grass. There are tough choices to be made, and lower priorities where savings can be made, but the Chancellor has failed to prioritise those public services that boost productivity, and that will cost the country more in the longer run.
Seven Budgets on, it is time that that this Chancellor took some responsibility for his failure to eliminate the deficit this year, as he promised; for the drag on our economy and public finances caused by woeful performance on productivity; for the stagnation in living standards; and for the overruns in the social security budget. Growth has been revised down by the OBR, as has capital investment. These are incredibly difficult times for the wider global economy, but where is the urgent help to support our exports and productivity to tackle that other deficit, which has worsened significantly under this Chancellor—
I shall give way in a moment; I just want to talk about the other deficit: the current account deficit, where our trade gap with the EU has worsened and our balance of payments problems have set alarm bells ringing at the Bank of England. The Chancellor’s priority should be to build up the productive capacity of our economy so we can pay our way in the world, but we are still too vulnerable to external turbulence. It should not be neglected in this way. Britain’s current account deficit has widened to 5.9% of GDP, which the OBR states is
“the largest annual peacetime deficit since at least 1830”.
The OBR also reveals that the Chancellor is £367 billion short of his £1 trillion goal on exports that he promised by the end of this Parliament.
The hon. Gentleman has said several times that he is willing to support sensible measures to reduce the welfare bill. Can he assure the House that that comment will survive the imminent leadership elections in his party? [Interruption.]
Is the hon. Gentleman talking about the imminent leadership elections in the Conservative party or the Labour party? I do not know what is going to happen in the Conservative party leadership contest. There were of course a few little jokes about Boris Johnson, and we will see how that pans out. I know that other Cabinet Ministers are a little concerned about the way that the Budget panned out for them; it is going to be difficult for them over the next few years.
This was the Chancellor’s second Budget in four months. He said in March that that was his Budget for the longer term, yet four months on he has delivered a different plan to a different agenda. He has been chopping and changing, with three different sets of figures in the past nine months alone—so much for his consistency. We learned more about the Chancellor and the nature of this Government in one hour of his Budget speech than we learned in the months of the election campaign. In March, when the Work and Pensions Secretary was pressed about where their £12 billion of welfare cuts would fall, he said:
“As and when the time is right, we will make it very clear what our position is.”
Is it any coincidence that the time is right for these Conservatives two months after an election rather than two months before it?
Before the election, the Conservative manifesto assured us that there would be only a two-year freeze in working benefits, but yesterday the Chancellor doubled that to a four-year freeze in most working-age benefits which will take £4 billion from households by 2020-21. That is one of the fastest-broken promises in political history. [Interruption.] There is an awful lot of noise from Conservative Members. I shall give way to
I think the hon. Gentleman will find that we said in the election that we wanted to focus in particular on business rates. He will know from talking to small firms in his constituency that companies are concerned about the pressures on business rates, but where did the Chancellor mention business rates in yesterday’s Budget? We felt—[Interruption.]
Order. There is far too much noise. In the end, I want to hear, I will hear, and I am sure that you agree with me. Let Mr Leslie speak. He will give way as and when. We do not need be told that he has to give way; it is his choice.
We felt at the election that it was more important to prioritise support for businesses through business rates than through a change in corporation tax—but we lost the election. [Hon. Members: “Hooray!”] Conservative Members feel the need to crow about these things, but the public will be concerned that they said one thing before the election and have done totally different things after it. Yes, the Conservatives did win a majority, but they hid their specific cuts from the electorate—they concealed them. It was a secret agenda, only now partly revealed.
I will not give way because Conservative Members are not being reasonable and letting me make progress with my speech.
The impact of the work penalty in the tax credits system should have been set out at the election. A lone parent with two children working 16 hours a week on the minimum wage would gain just over £400 from the move to the new national living wage, as the Chancellor calls it, but would lose twice that—£860—from the change to tax credits next year. A couple on the minimum wage who work full time and have two children will gain £1,500 from the change to the minimum wage but lose over £2,200 next year from the changes to tax credits. As the Government were hitting the low-paid, the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions was punching the air. Working families did not vote for that, and they will not be fooled by the Chancellor’s hollow words.
May I just take the hon. Gentleman up on the case that he set out? I want to get the figures right. A lone parent with two children who works 16 hours on the minimum wage will, when we add in everything including childcare, actually be better off on the net figures after the Budget.
I will give way to the right hon. Gentleman again if he will confirm that the childcare promise, which was supposed to happen this summer, has been shelved until at least 2017. Is that correct? I will give way to him. This is a debate, so I will give way to him. He wanted to talk about the case studies. He thinks it is—[Interruption.]
Order. As a constitutional expert in this House, the hon. Gentleman knows that that is not a point of order.
So the Secretary of State is saying that the childcare change will come in at the beginning of that financial year—in 2016. We have heard it from the Secretary of State’s mouth, so it must be true: the childcare changes will come in in 2016. That is the announcement from the Government. It is a bit of an improvement on the announcement we heard from the Chancellor yesterday, who I thought said that the childcare changes were being pushed back to 2017.
The reasons that the cost of social security is £25 billion higher than the Conservatives expected are the underlying drivers of low pay, higher housing costs and insecure work. For all the Chancellor’s spin, this is a Budget that attacks the low-paid and will leave many people in the lurch, unable to make ends meet. If the Conservatives think a solution is to pull the rug from beneath the poorest, stigmatise claimants, rub out the statistics that measure child poverty and hope that the issue will go away, they are deeply mistaken.
We have to deliver a practical route out of poverty, provide a ladder of opportunity and view this challenge as integral to our long-term economic prosperity. We must help people into decent jobs that can be sustained. Cutting tax credits in this way and taking far more with the one hand than is being given with the other will leave too many people trapped on low incomes with low living standards. The ladder is being pulled away from those who want to get on. The achievement of the Labour Administration in significantly reducing child poverty staved off billions of pounds of longer-term welfare expenditure. Those who are in work pay taxes and improve the public finances as a result.
I have given way quite generously to Government Members and I would like to make some progress, if they do not mind.
The Institute for Fiscal Studies confirms that the introduction of tax credits played an extremely powerful part in the movement in the child poverty figures. The Conservatives cannot call themselves the party of working people, as they now do, when their Budget leaves millions of working people worse off. How exactly does decreasing their work-related assistance help those who become too sick to work and are on employment and support allowance? Does that policy not run the risk of increasing the number of people who are placed in the more expensive ESA support group, as has been the case in recent years, when the Government have overspent by £4.5 billion on their original plans?
What motivation has a council tenant to get a better job and work for promotion if he or she is on the living wage and the Government take that money away immediately? That is the crude nature of the rent rise that they are proposing. Seeking a contribution from higher earners is, of course, important, and it is one solution, but, as the Government’s own analysis pointed out before the election, going about it in the wrong way will result in perverse incentives and penalties for work.
This was more a Budget of tax rises than a Budget of tax cuts. A rise of more than 50% in the rate of insurance premium tax to raise £8 billion over this Parliament will be a tax hit on the insurance for the family home, the family holiday and the family car. The new car tax will be a surprise that raises £1.5 billion by the end of this Parliament, and—much to the Secretary of State’s surprise—the Government have shelved the childcare tax support that was due this summer until 2017, even if the Secretary of State has now brought that forward by a year.
Does my hon. Friend agree that these measures will further divide communities in high-value constituencies such as those in London, where there are huge gaps between incomes—people with very low incomes are living in the same constituencies as people with very high incomes—and will increase our sense of massive inequality? One of the problems is the failure to deal with the need for a proper living wage. I have experience of introducing a living wage, and it is very hard work. It takes years to achieve, and it means working with businesses. [Interruption.]
I do not think that was a very polite reaction from Conservative Members. My hon. Friend worked very hard during her time in local government to try to support the low-paid by introducing a London living wage, and I think it commendable that local authorities and businesses in London, in particular, have tried to make headway with that. Of course, a real living wage now needs to be about £12 to compensate for the reduction in tax credits.
When we are writing our manifesto for the 2020 election, I shall give the hon. Gentleman a call. I am afraid that we lost the most recent election, but I think it important for us to reflect on what the Government propose and what the Chancellor announced in his
Budget. It is our job as an Opposition to make sure that his spin does not necessarily colour the view of the realities.
The Budget statement revealed that the Chancellor has the wrong priorities for Britain: headlines for himself rather than help for low-income households. We have a chronic shortage of affordable housing, and home ownership is increasingly out of reach for first-time buyers, but the Chancellor’s main housing policy was to reduce the number of affordable homes by 14,000. We need to encourage young people from poorer backgrounds to aim for higher education, but axeing student grants for the least well-off—and, by the way, taking the cap off tuition fee rises, which was not particularly trumpeted by the Chancellor—will make it harder, not easier, for them to do so.
This should have been a Budget to support working people, and to tackle the long-term challenges that our economy faces. The Chancellor is already crowing at his own perceived success in the headlines, but his work penalty in the tax credit system will hit those in work, and leave working people worse off. The Government have failed to make the big decisions that are needed to deliver the modern infrastructure that can make our businesses more productive. They have done nothing to address our alarming and widening trade deficit, and their rhetoric of a living wage has begun to unravel in less than 24 hours.
These are difficult times, and they require tough choices. The deficit needs to fall year on year, our debts need to be reduced, and sensible social security savings are also necessary. But this Budget made the wrong choices for working people and prioritised political gains over the long-term needs of our economy. As ever with this Chancellor, it will be the British people who pay the price for his ambitions.
I welcome—[Interruption.] I must be more statesman-like.
I welcome yesterday’s Budget statement from my right hon. Friend the Chancellor. He is in serious danger of coming to be seen as one of the great Chancellors of this country.
Yesterday my right hon. Friend set out a Budget of great significance. At its heart it is a Budget for working people. First, he set out the steps that we have taken to bring the economy back from its knees, where it was left by the Labour Government. It is only through a strong economy that we can deliver the growth and jobs that working people need. In the previous Parliament we created 2 million jobs, and the budget deficit is now less than half the 10% rate that we inherited. As we look forward, the Office for Budget Responsibility has forecast growth of 2.4% for 2015. That means that for the second year in a row, Britain is expected to have the strongest economic growth of any major advanced economy in the world. The economy will be in surplus by 2019-20, and it will be the largest surplus in structural terms in at least 40 years. Because of the steps taken by the Government, Britain is again standing tall in the world.
Secondly, the Budget sets out the actions we are taking on tax evasion, avoidance and planning, and the imbalances that were left to us in the tax system. This makes a vital contribution to bringing our public finances back into line, meaning that we can continue to provide the essential public services that working people in this country rely on.
Thirdly, the Budget sets out the steps we are taking to boost productivity and skills and to back business. We will have an innovative new apprenticeship scheme, which I hugely welcome, and we will introduce a levy on large employers to fund a big increase in apprenticeship starts and quality. Chris Leslie spoke about productivity. This is one of the ways we will get productivity improvements. In England, firms will be able to get back more than they put in if they train a sufficient number of apprentices—a real incentive to get on and reskill. It is about ensuring that people in this country have the skills they need to get jobs, increase their hours and secure higher pay.
Fourthly, the Budget sets out the work that this Government are doing to support business. It is only when businesses are thriving that the people of our country can thrive too. One of the great things about the last election, apart from the fact that we won, is that it brought into the House so many of my new colleagues who have run businesses, started businesses and know what it is like to cut that pay cheque week in, week out. That is hugely different from the Opposition. We have been relentless in our commitment to cut corporation tax. In the previous Parliament it fell to 20%, the joint lowest rate in the G20. In this Parliament it will fall to 18%, sending out what my right hon. Friend the Chancellor said was a clear message that Britain is open for business.
Fifthly, the Budget sets out the measures that we are taking to reduce tax, to help people save, to help them own their own homes, and to support them in one of the most basic human aspirations—to pass something on to their children—through the changes we are making to inheritance tax.
Indeed. I shall shortly come to how these imbalances created disparities for people in work and trapped on low income.
We are sticking to two of our most important manifesto promises on personal tax. We are starting the journey to raise the tax-free personal allowance to £12,500 from next year. Once £12,500 is reached, as my right hon. Friend the Chancellor said, we will legislate so that the personal allowance always rises in line with the minimum wage—a great move to protect working people. We are keeping our commitment to raise the threshold at which people pay the higher 40p rate of tax to £50,000, starting with an increase to £43,000 from next year.
I consider one measure from yesterday’s Budget to be more significant than all the others—indeed, it is perhaps the most significant measure in all the Budgets that I have listened to during my many years in this House. The Government believe that if people work hard, they should be rewarded. In our growing economy, people should be able to expect a decent wage if they move into work and increase their hours. That is why, starting from April 2016, the Government have announced that we will move to a national living wage—set initially at £7.20, but rising to £9 by 2020. We will ask the Low Pay Commission to recommend future increases to the national living wage that achieve the Government’s objective of reaching 60% of median earnings by 2020. I believe that that is groundbreaking, and I hope that all Members of the House, instead of cavilling about it, will come to support it.
One of the lowest-paid sectors is the care sector, and it is right that it should get a pay increase. The Local Government Association has calculated that to pay the current living wage to all care workers who are directly employed by local authorities, and those employed by private firms that provide services to local authorities, would cost £0.75 billion. By 2020 that will rise to about £1.5 billion, or more. Will that be regarded as a new burden on local authorities for which the Treasury stands the cost, or will it be a further £1.5 billion cut to local authority services?
We have the spending review to address such issues. In my Department here in London I took on contractors about paying the London living wage, and I faced exactly the same debates and arguments about how it was not feasible and how they would face high costs. I insisted that they went away and looked at their productivity. My Department in London instituted the London living wage. Not one job was lost and productivity has improved. I would consider the matter carefully before we take those official statements as the reality.
Is there an economic imperative and also—perhaps more importantly—a moral imperative that, in the relationship between employer and employee, the employer ensures that the employee receives a salary on which they can live? It is not right that the Government make up the shortfall between employer and employee.
I agree that the principle behind the tax credit system has instituted a non-progression period for people locked in low incomes, and I will return to that in a moment.
As someone who has long campaigned for an increased uptake of the living wage—not least by leading a debate on that in the House last November—I congratulate the Secretary of State on creating the national living wage. Will he tell me how many people’s incomes will increase as a result of that policy?
I apologise. That is a matter for his leader but—what can I say? Labour has no leader at the moment.
The hon. Member for Nottingham East was talking about the minimum wage and the living wage, and I want to pick up on something he said a fortnight ago:
“Do not the Government need a serious strategy to address low pay and boost productivity? They should be providing incentives for a living wage and new opportunities for high-quality skills, as a more positive route out of poverty.”
Absolutely. He went on to speak about the Chancellor’s Budget before it had been delivered and said:
“Unless he is planning a rise of 25% in the minimum wage, that will not happen.”—[Hansard, 25 June 2015; Vol. 597, c. 1038.]
Well, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor listened to that and initiated a rise of 38% to the minimum wage. The hon. Gentleman must be overjoyed, and will want to tell the House what a great man the Chancellor is and what a great Government we are.
Let me be clear: we are glad to see an increase in the minimum wage, but the problem emerges with the one-step-forward, two-steps-backward strategy. We cannot consider this question in the round by just brushing away the work penalty that has been introduced into the tax credit system. The Secretary of State must admit that people who depend on tax credits will lose out in the immediate period from April. Is that the case?
No, there is a clear question that needs to be answered. The hon. Gentleman has been asked it but he has not answered, and it would be helpful for us if he would: will he vote against the changes, and do the Opposition plan to reverse the changes on tax credits?
I cannot be much clearer in my opposition to the work penalty to the tax credit system. I do not think that it is right at this time to hurt those who are in work and in low pay. Of course we oppose the work penalty, but we support increases in the minimum wage. After all, it was our creation and something that Labour campaigned on in the election. We are delighted that Conservative Members now feel that they can adopt that policy when they campaigned so vociferously against it.
I notice that the hon. Gentleman said “at this time” when talking about tax credits. We can take note of that. It suggests to me—indeed, I am sure of it—that after the next couple of years Labour will have abandoned its opposition to the measure.
The measures that I set out in the Budget are vital to delivering the commitments that this Government have always made. We are committed to ensuring that a renewed economy goes hand in hand with a renewed social settlement, yet consider what we inherited in 2010: nearly one in five households with no—[Interruption.] Labour Members really do not like listening to this, but they have to hear it—[Interruption.] I will give way in a minute. Perhaps Helen Goodman will sit down. Let me remind her what Labour left behind when it left government: nearly one in five households had nobody working; 1.4 million people had been on benefits for most of the previous decade; the number of households where no one had ever worked had doubled; and close on half of all households in the social rented sector had no one in work. Surely that is a shameful record.
I am grateful to the Secretary of State for giving way. He always tells the House that his politics is based on his faith. Will he explain why cutting tax credits for large families is a fair thing to do when that will be concentrated—I know he does not want to look at statistics—on families where children are living in poverty: Roman Catholic families and Catholics from other minorities? Does he understand that every child matters?
I do understand that, and I am coming on to speak about tax credits. For some time I have believed that the way tax credits operated distorted the system, so that there were far too many families not in work, living in bigger and bigger houses and getting larger while being subsidised by the state, while many others—the vast majority of families in Britain—made decisions about how many children they could have and the houses they could live in. Getting that balance back is about getting fairness back into the system. It is not fair to have somebody living in a house that they cannot afford to pay for if they go back to work, as it means that they do not enter the work zone and their children grow up with no sense of work as a way out of poverty.
This Budget creates clear dividing lines between this Government who help people into work, and the Labour party that created a high-welfare dependency culture. Will my right hon. Friend remind the House of how many people under the previous Government were paying income tax to the state and receiving welfare credits from it? How many people are no longer in that situation?
The answer to my hon. Friend’s question, which I wanted to come to, is that that is the perverse nature of tax credits. About 40% of those on tax credits had tax taken off them, which was recycled through the system with some of it being given back to them. That seems to be a rather bizarre and absurd system.
The tax credit system was the brainchild of the previous Prime Minister, Gordon Brown. The original tax credit system, introduced by the Labour Government, cost £1.1 billion in its first year; the tax credit system now costs some £30 billion a year, most of which is spent on child tax credits. This money was pumped into the system in a clear attempt to chase what was then a moving poverty line. In fact, under the previous Government, £258 billion of hard-earned taxpayers’ money was recycled to be spent cumulatively on tax credits—a huge sum.
We saw massive spikes in tax credit spending in the run-up to election years. In the two years before the 2005 election, spending increased by £10 billion—a 70% increase. In the two years before the 2010 election, it increased by some £6 billion, or 25%. It is worth looking again at the in-between years, when it suddenly flattened but rose before an election. There were disproportionate increases in the child element, in an attempt to keep up with that moving median line. The child element was increased by more than earnings in 2004-05 and from 2008-09 to 2010-11, so that by 2010-11 the child element had increased by 25% more than if it had been uprated in line with average earnings since 2003-04.
One of the worst aspects of the system was the way people had to predict their income for a year. If their actual earnings turned out to be different, they were left with large overpayments or underpayments. This caused misery for families and left a gaping hole in the public finances. Although Labour Members have never owned up to it, we lost billions through that process. To try to deal with the situation, a large disregard was introduced. People then did not have to tell the Government if their income changed by up to £25,000 in the course of a year. To have the disregard at that level was completely irresponsible. It was an attempt to use taxpayers’ money to plug holes in a failing system.
I am very pleased that the Secretary of State has given way. It is ancient history for those of us who are here now. This is the right hon. Gentleman’s sixth year in government and the system is becoming more and more unfair. Will the Department for Work and Pensions carry out an equalities impact statement on the changes in the Budget? [Interruption.] I will repeat that, because the right hon. Gentleman is having trouble hearing. Will the Department for Work and Pensions carry out an equalities impact assessment in relation to changes in the Budget, both on employment and support allowance and on the changes to families, to ensure that ethnic minority families are not discriminated against and that the lives of people with disabilities are not being worsened by this evil policy?
Order. Interventions cannot be used to make speeches. We must have short interventions. There are 29 Members who wish to speak. Let us have short interventions, so that Members can get into the debate.
The key point on tax credits is what they got for all of that: unsustainable spending that went up jerkily, but by huge amounts; and a subsidy for employers, which enabled the payment of lower wages and completely distorted systems, and presented a bizarre set of incentives for moving in and out of work. It is now well documented that for many people it made sense to work only 16 hours —no more, no less—and we saw spikes in the employment data at 16 hours. There were huge spikes of people clustered around 16 hours, because it did not pay to work anything else.
Families set up their lives around the 16-hour week limitation and businesses had to react to that, which affected our productivity.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Budget will deal with this and make people’s lives better?
I do. As my hon. Friend makes clear, if people can afford to work only 16 hours, businesses will not invest in them and their training because it will not be worth their while. That means their chances of progressing are nil. Many rotated and crashed out of work directly, because they had no sense that they could go on any further. She is absolutely right.
We believe that two-fifths of those who received tax credits ended up paying for the tax credits they received. It was a bizarre system.
This Government are different. We are building on the firm foundations of a welfare system by balancing the books and fixing the economy, while continuing to provide a strong safety net to support the most vulnerable. Our record in the previous Parliament spoke for itself, so I am going to say it again. Despite all the doomsday predictions from the Opposition—
No, no. Honestly, I am not that kind.
Despite the doomsday predictions that the hon. Lady and many of her colleagues made, this is the actual result: 2 million more people in work; 2 million more apprentices; the proportion of workless households at an all-time low; and, perhaps most importantly, the proportion of workless households in the social rented sector at a record all-time low. That is a real record of success on which we will build. That is what we are going to do with the Budget.
Research from Oxford university predicts that the number of people going to food banks, as a result of the Budget’s changes to welfare, will increase by 1 million to 2 million. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree with that assessment? If not, how much does he think it is going to increase by?
I must say that that would have to be pretty quick work. If they have done that much work in a matter of hours, I want to employ them in my Department. No, I do not agree with that, and here is why. I fully support food banks. What people do to help with food banks is a very good idea. However, the figures on usage put out by food banks have all been proven to be incorrect. In Germany, 1.5 million people a week use food banks and its benefit system is meant to be more generous than ours. In Canada, more than 800,000 a month use food banks. This country has a very low number compared to other countries. Those figures speak for themselves.
As we build on this, we must meet our commitments to protect the elderly and the most vulnerable, protecting those benefits that provide for additional costs arising from disability or caring, and protecting pensioner benefits.
My right hon. Friend the Chancellor and I make no apology for that, with good reason. When we took office, pensioners were some of the most vulnerable people suffering from a very, very low income. We have begun to put that right, and we intend to be proud of it.
It is right that we provide extra support for those who face the biggest challenges in changing their income levels. Spending on the main disability benefits—disability living allowance, personal independence payment and attendance allowance—will be higher in every single year to 2020 compared with 2010. Our commitment to protecting the most vulnerable is why we have protections in place on policies such as the benefit cap, so that people are exempt if someone in a household is claiming DLA, PIP or working tax credits. Wherever possible, we are introducing measures on a flow basis to give people the time and knowledge to prepare for the changes.
We are also ensuring that people on benefits face the same choices as those in work and not on benefits. Our measures will mean people making decisions and choices about their lives, which is why we are introducing the two-children element on a flow basis, and why we are lowering the benefits cap to £23,000 in London and £20,000 elsewhere, emphasising that it is not fair for someone on benefits to receive more than many people in work. I think that that principle is well accepted and popular around the country. In London, about four in 10 households earn less than £23,000, and outside London the same proportion earn less than £20,000.
I just do not agree with that, I am afraid. We have set out to protect disability living allowance and PIPs so that those in the greatest need are protected and their benefits continue to rise. As I said, we will help those in work and capable of work through the living wage and childcare support. We will get people back to work and doing more hours. I do not agree, therefore, with what the hon. Lady says; we have gone out of our way to protect those in the greatest need.
We have presented today a package for working people that will incentivise those who can work to go back to work and work the hours they need to improve themselves and their families. My hon. Friend is absolutely correct. This is exactly the drive the Government are making.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The other point that has not come up but which my right hon. Friend the Chancellor has made clear is that the amount of money we pay to people outside Britain to pay off our debts is money that we cannot spend on education and health. Getting the deficit down and paying off our debts has to be the best thing we can do for people on low incomes, who need those services.
No, I have given way twice to the hon. Lady; I am going to make some progress.
We remain relentlessly focused on supporting people to move into work. Universal credit is now rolled out to half of all jobcentres in Britain, and by the new year will be rolled out to all of them and will then be expanding. It will provide people in work with even better help and support, meaning that those on low pay will do better as a result of universal credit, which was a big reform that was opposed by the other side but which we will deliver and make work.
As I said earlier, and as my hon. Friend says, in all these areas, we inherited a country riven by deep unemployment, debt and a massive deficit and unable to pay its way. In many senses, it was in a worse state than Greece. Look at the difference five years later. I believe that the next five years will see a renaissance in Britain, as we become an economic powerhouse, both in the north and the south, and more people get back to work earning a decent wage—in fact, a living wage.
Order. I might be able to help. Both Front-Bench speakers have taken over an hour already. If other Members want to speak, we need to get to the end.
Order. The two Cheshire Members need to take their seats. They cannot remain standing. It is a long way home and they ought to rest themselves.
Opposition Members never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity to apologise for wrecking the country’s economy. The shadow Chancellor criticised my right hon. Friend the Chancellor and said there was no mention of science and technology. My right hon. Friend has a very proud record of investment in the north of England, as part of the northern powerhouse—
Order. Mr Evans, you will be making your speech very shortly. The danger is you will have nothing to say because you will have already made it.
I thought it was altogether too brief. My hon. Friend was just getting into his stride. I feel we need another intervention. I agree with him—how could I not? The Opposition never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity. They should have said years ago, “We’re sorry; we won’t do it again. We need to spend some more time thinking about what we did wrong.” We intend to give them that time.
I have to say to my hon. Friends that I really have to make some progress, because lots of Members want to speak. They will have a chance to speak later.
With universal credit, people will get up to 85% of their childcare costs paid, which is up from 70% under the previous system. In addition, there will be 15 hours of free childcare if someone has a two-year-old, or a three or four-year-old, and if they are working, while the 30 hours of free childcare a week will be worth £5,000 a year. By the way, the 30 hours of free childcare will start exactly when I said it would—it will be cutting in in the 2016-17 period.
Order. First, it is a point of order, so the Secretary of State should sit down until I have heard it. Secondly, I think we can recognise it was a point of clarification, so we can carry on.
In that case, to clarify, the 30 hours of free childcare for working parents with three and four-year-olds has not been delayed; it will start to be introduced in September 2016. Thank you very much; now let’s move on.
If someone needs support to improve their skills or talk to their employer about increasing their hours, universal credit comes in again. For the first time, it will stick with them and help them to increase their hours, which is why it will complete the process of supporting people back into work. Even with the changes we are making, the welfare system will remain generous.
No, no; the hon. Gentleman had his chance.
About five in 10 families with children will still be eligible for tax credits as a result of these reforms. These figures show that we are taking a balanced approach to welfare—an approach that expects people to stand on their own two feet whenever possible but which provides them with the support to do that, by reducing their taxes, providing childcare, skills and back-to-work support, introducing universal credit to make work pay and asking employers to play their part by increasing wages at a time when our economy is growing.
In conclusion, ours is an approach that continues to provide a generous safety net and support for those who need it and expects people to face the same choices as those in work and not on benefits. At its heart, it is about moving from a low-wage, high-tax, high-welfare country, to a high-wage, lower-tax, lower-welfare country. It is a positive vision for Britain under a one nation Conservative Government delivered by a great Chancellor and a great Prime Minister.
When the Chancellor delivered his Budget speech yesterday, he made the oft-repeated claim that the
“best route out of poverty is work.”—[Hansard, 8 July 2015; Vol. 598, c. 333.]
That was probably true once, but it is no longer true—it has not been true for a number of years. The truth today is that, for millions of low-paid workers, poverty persists no matter how many hours or how hard they work. For people who are bringing up children on low or, indeed, average incomes, the costs of housing and of childcare mean that they are running to stand still. I have said before in this House that in-work poverty is the great scandal of our age. Sadly, very little was announced yesterday to tackle the underlying drivers that are stifling the opportunities and aspirations of the working poor.
Instead, we learned that the axe of the £12 billion-worth of cuts will fall most heavily on low and middle-income families. Last week the Government announced changes to the way in which child poverty is measured. Having heard yesterday’s announcements, it is not hard to understand why they did that, because the lowering of the threshold for tax credits and other changes announced yesterday will take income largely from the pockets of working parents and compound the projected increases in child poverty arising from the last round of cuts.
I am sure that the hon. Lady is well aware that Scotland’s childcare offer is significantly better than that enjoyed by people in other parts of the UK, and that our housing situation is not exacerbated by real rent imbalances similar to those experienced in London and the south-east of England in particular. I will pick up on that later.
The hon. Lady will also be aware that the Scottish block grant is calculated on the basis of the contents of the Red Book. The money currently allocated to Scotland is determined by this Chamber, so this Budget is relevant to everybody throughout the UK. It would be very wrong to ignore the fact that the purse strings are still controlled here, and that is one of the reasons why I argue for those powers to be sent up the road to Scotland, where we can use them more wisely.
I want to return to the issue of child poverty and the paper exercises conducted to measure it. Whatever we do to massage the figures, I do not think any of us can avoid the evidence of our own eyes in our constituencies. We are seeing growth in child poverty on the ground. We see it in the rise of food banks, which have already been alluded to, and in the larger number of people coming through MPs’ doors with income-related problems. That is also being experienced by advice bureaux. We also see it in the evidence of organisations that work directly with vulnerable families and those on low incomes.
In my constituency, one in five children is growing up in poverty. That might come as a surprise, because we enjoy some of the lowest unemployment in the whole country. A very small percentage of people are not in work, but many thousands of people are in low-paid work, and it is those working poor who are going to be most affected by what was announced yesterday.
More families than ever are running to stand still, and under this Government more people are being left behind. The UK has a deeply polarised labour market, and the ability of people in low-paid work to get ahead is severely curtailed.
I will not give way at the moment.
Amid all the rhetoric and the hyperbole of Budget day, it would have been very easy to form the impression from the media lines being trotted out yesterday that tax credits are predominantly a benefit paid to unemployed people, when in fact the opposite is the case. In Scotland, the overwhelming majority of tax credits are paid to working people. In fact, half of all families benefit from tax credits, and 95% of tax credits in Scotland are paid to families with children. We should make no mistake about where the cuts are being targeted.
It is inevitable that today we will consider the short-term consequences, because those cuts will put acute pressure on families, but we should be under no illusion that growing up in poverty has serious long-term consequences for children, too. It is associated with poorer educational attainment, poorer job prospects, poorer health throughout life and lower life expectancy. That is why asking families to bear the brunt of the cuts is so short-sighted. It has not only an enormous social cost, but an enormous economic cost: it holds back our economic progress and productivity, which are what we should really be focusing on and trying to improve.
The Government have tried to argue, today and yesterday, that the cuts will be offset by increases to the minimum wage and changes to the personal allowance, but that claim simply does not stand up to scrutiny. I think we all welcome the announcement of a long-overdue increase in the minimum wage to £7.20 an hour from next year and, indeed, the changes to national insurance, but let us not kid ourselves that rebranding the minimum wage as a living wage will actually make it a living wage.
There is already a living wage: it is calculated by the Living Wage Foundation and is already used by employers in the public, private and third sectors, including, I am very pleased to say, the Scottish Government. The living wage is based on the actual cost of living and it is already £7.85 an hour outside London and is due to go up again in November. We need to be absolutely clear that £7.20 is not a living wage and it will not offset the cuts in tax credits.
The critical point about the living wage is that it has been calculated on the basis of low-paid workers claiming their full entitlement to tax credits at the present rate, so any cut in tax credits means that the living wage will have to go up even further in order for it to provide enough for people to live on. If the Government take on board only one of the points I make today, I want it to be that one.
Scotland has already shown the progress we are making towards a high-skill economy. I was interested to hear yesterday’s announcement on improving the apprenticeship scheme in England. I hope the Government will aspire to do what the Scottish Government have already done. The uptake has been phenomenal and we are well on course to reaching 30,000 apprenticeships a year, which is far more proportionately per head of population than the current number in England. The Opportunities for All scheme guarantees a place in education or training for every single young person. It has been a phenomenal success, with more than 90% of our young people going into sustained employment afterwards. Instead of waiting until people have been unemployed for a year before intervening, we are intervening early so that every school leaver gets those opportunities. The approach is much more carrot than stick. The scale of the uptake shows that in Scotland we are committed to having a more successful economy and to growing it to meet the needs of our population.
I want to return to tax credits and not be distracted from them. Today the Resolution Foundation, which has done so much to promote the living wage and highlight the issue of in-work poverty, has said that the living wage would need to be £10 an hour by 2020—not the £9 announced yesterday—to keep pace with the cost of living under the new tax and benefits regime. Let us be clear: we are not going to get out of the poverty trap with this rebranded minimum wage. We need to bring it up to the level of a living wage if we are going to take away the support currently provided through tax credits.
The huge cuts in tax credits will make the gap between the minimum wage and the living wage even greater and it will leave the earnings of low-paid workers even further below the actual cost of living. At present, a family with two children where both parents work and who live in a house with average rent will be below the breadline, and the changes announced yesterday will not change that. Such families will still struggle to keep their heads above water and their children will still grow up disadvantaged.
We need to recognise that bringing up children is expensive—for everyone, in all income groups—but children are not some sort of luxury lifestyle accessory. Having children and encouraging family life is an essential, necessary and natural part of the human life cycle. For some years, however, we have made it really difficult for younger adults to even contemplate starting a family, simply because of the pernicious combination of low pay, job insecurity and exorbitant housing costs.
That brings me to the differential impact of this Budget on women, because, in spite of the progress that has been made, women are still heavily concentrated in low-paid work. We are far more likely to be working part-time or in zero-hours jobs, and we are more likely to be the primary carer of children or, indeed, frail or disabled relatives. Too many women end up in low-paid, part-time work such as cashiering or cleaning simply because they can work their hours around their family responsibilities. While I welcome the increase in the personal allowance, we need to recognise that many of those women working part time in low-paid jobs will not see the full benefit of it. Indeed, the key beneficiaries are, of course, higher-rate tax payers like ourselves, and 80% of the benefit of the increase will fall in the upper half of the income spectrum.
I have a number of questions for the Government about limiting tax credits to two children. I am not sure why they would do this—certainly in Scotland, we have a worryingly low birth rate so we should not be trying to deter people from having more children. I ask Ministers for clarification about the basis on which the number of children eligible for support through tax credits will be determined. Will it be a couple’s first two children together, or will children from a previous relationship be counted in the total? What will happen, for example, if a woman has her first child with a partner who already has two children from previous relationship or if a mother’s third child is the father’s first? As anyone who ever runs a constituency surgery will know, these are not abstract questions, and I hope Ministers will address them this afternoon.
Does the hon. Lady not agree that it is absolutely right for those on benefits to make the same choices as hard-working taxpayers, including choices about how large their families should be?
The point I am trying to make is how important it is for us to have children. If our birth rate stays as low as it is, we will be storing up long-term economic problems for ourselves. Scotland has the lowest birth rate in the UK and one of the lowest anywhere in Europe. That is precisely because people know that they have to combine their incomes even to get a starter flat. They do not have room for a baby, they do not know how they would pay for a baby if one parent had to work part time, they do not know how they would be able to continue to pay a mortgage—still less a mortgage on a bigger house—and they do not know how they would pay the rent. People have to make serious choices, but the bigger social picture is that we must absolutely encourage people to have a family and encourage family life.
I will make sure that the hon. Lady’s questions are answered in the winding-up speeches, but there are all sorts of provisos involved. If two families are joined, the original child element is kept. Following up the point made by my hon. Friend Maria Caulfield, the six deciles in the middle can end up paying for others to have more children than they can afford themselves. This is a point about fairness: they are the ones paying, but they do not feel that they can afford to have more children themselves.
The key point is that a falling birth rate is not good for anybody in whatever decile. Even those of us who do not have children are going to be dependent on the next generation being large enough to support us in our dotage when we need people to come in and look after us. The economics do not stack up. In the context of worryingly low birth-rate projections, we desperately need to encourage and make it easier for people in all deciles to decide whether having children is a possibility for them.
I have to say that I was appalled at the reference on page 88 of the Red Book to
“protections for women who have a third child as the result of rape, or other exceptional circumstances.”
I know this point was picked up yesterday, but I think the implications need to be addressed more thoroughly. It is perhaps important to acknowledge that rapes do not necessarily result in pregnancy. After all, rape is a crime that affects pre-pubescent children and post-menopausal women, as well as people of child-bearing age. How does the DWP intend to establish that a child has been born as a consequence of rape? Will there seriously be a box to tick on the form? Will a criminal conviction against a perpetrator be required?
We know that rape is one of the most unreported and poorly prosecuted serious crimes in the UK, with most surveys suggesting that 85% of women who are raped do not report it—for a variety of reasons, not least because most victims know their assailants and know that securing a conviction is a very long shot under our criminal justice system. Many simply do not want to put themselves through another traumatic ordeal.
I put it to Ministers that the women most likely to become pregnant as a result of rape are those in long-term abusive relationships who are being repeatedly assaulted. They are among those least likely to report rape, and those in the most extreme danger if they do. So I ask again, what will this “protection” mean in practice?
How will the DWP arbitrate? Will women be believed? What steps will be taken to preserve their dignity and privacy? I would like to hear some answers to those questions.
Does my hon. Friend agree that these circumstances could stigmatise the child and run contrary to our obligations under the UN convention on the rights of the child?
My hon. Friend raises a very pertinent point—we should not be stigmatising children whatever their parentage. This could indeed cause many problems.
Before I conclude, I want to address the lowering of the benefits cap. One aspect that always seems to get lost in the debate is that the main driver of the excessively high benefit payments we see in London, the south-east and a few other hotspots across the UK is excessively high private sector rents. In most cases, the claimant does not see a penny of that money; it goes straight into the pockets of the private sector landlords. This is a very serious problem, but I think the Government are tackling it from entirely the wrong angle. They need to address the chronic under-supply of affordable housing, because until they address that underlying issue, rents will continue to soar and housing—to rent or to buy—will continue to be completely unaffordable for people on low and average incomes, by which I mean people who earn normal wages doing normal jobs. Plans to force housing associations to sell their properties to tenants will only make matters worse.
I remember that when the benefits cap was first introduced, I went to the Library to look at the impact on my own constituency. There was a grand total of three claimants affected, and two of them were people in temporary accommodation—they were in a short-term transitional situation. That was simply because our rental market was not quite so out of control as the rental market in some other parts of the UK.
My main concern about the new benefit cap is that it is entirely arbitrary and will mostly affect people in the private rented sector in high-rent hotspots. Fundamentally, it does not tackle the underlying problem of affordable housing supply, which is one of the main drivers of income poverty right across the UK. Instead, it seems to me that this arbitrary cap will create perverse incentives for people to move to areas or stay in areas of low economic growth where housing is more affordable but jobs are more thin on the ground. That gets us to the heart of the problem with this Budget. It puts a desperate squeeze on low and middle-income families, but there is little in the Budget to boost productivity. There is nothing to give Scotland a competitive advantage or give us a jobs boost. Instead, those who have already carried the can for the banking collapse of 2008 will stay trapped in work that does not pay.
Austerity has been a failed policy. It has held back our economic recovery and has harmed the most disadvantaged people. That is why we need powers over our economy, our employment and our benefits system to be devolved to the Scottish Parliament, where we can use them to build a more successful and a more equitable country that is in everyone’s long-term interest.
Order. If Members can restrict themselves to up to 10 minutes and no more than 10 minutes, including interventions, everybody should get equal time to contribute.
As the City’s MP, it would be remiss of me not to touch on the issue of the bank levy. When it was introduced in the immediate aftermath of the financial crisis, it was specifically designed to reflect the cost to the public purse of the implicit insurance provided by the Government to the finance sector. The suspicion is that more recently the bank levy has become as much an instrument to assist in deficit reduction.
I understand why the Chancellor sought to outwit his political opponents in March’s coalition Budget—that close to an election, I guess there were few votes to be gained by siding with bankers—but now that we have political stability, I welcome his commitment to ensuring that in future the replacement surcharge does what was initially intended. I suspect that this will sufficiently impress HSBC to stay for now, although I appreciate that perhaps too much good will has been expended by the Government on the ring-fencing arrangement for much to change in that regard—despite the threat to the international competiveness of the UK financial services from elements of the Vickers regime.
The more significant medium-term threat to banks remaining headquartered here in London probably arises from the “reckless banking” legislation. Once this is properly tested in the courts, it will be instructive to see just how many senior executives in the largest global banking conglomerates regard London as a place where they will be happy to be domiciled. That is work in progress for most of the City and the Treasury.
I shall say a quick word on the infrastructure and airport capacity debate. My constituency will undoubtedly be adversely impacted by the enlarged flight paths that will accompany the proposed third runway at Heathrow. I am also deeply concerned about air quality, even before the prospect of additional aviation pollution. However, all of we west and central London MPs need to recognise the national interest. There were certainly only anti votes when I supported Crossrail, which has disruptively carved its way through several residential districts in my constituency, but this major infrastructure is essential. Similarly, the UK and London economies desperately require additional airport capacity.
I would have been keener had the Davies commission come out in favour of Gatwick, but it has unequivocally come out in favour of expansion to the north-west of the Heathrow site. It is a finely balanced judgment, and I think there will be some funding problems when we come to put this in place in the years to come, but with reluctance I now take the view that the Government should move ahead with minimal delay and implement the Davies commission’s clear conclusions.
The Government have been wise to raise their horizons in addressing the sustainability of the UK’s recovery in an ever-expanding sea of global debt. At the last emergency Budget, in June 2010 as the last Parliament began, the Chancellor assumed that the then £1.32 trillion of accumulated national debt would cost some £66.5 billion annually to service. The debt pile has now risen to £1.63 trillion, but here’s the rub: we are expecting that to cost only about £51 billion a year in debt interest.
At this point, it should be said that the Chancellor’s determined rhetoric of fiscal retrenchment has earned him the confidence of the capital markets, which I am sure would rapidly have deserted any Labour Finance Minister. However, there is a herd of investors in the capital markets pricing Government debt with a deceptive, even dangerous, sense of calm. Incidentally, it is worth noting that the record low global interest rates apply to Government bonds issued by all but the most basket-case economies, even in the eurozone. In large part, there is a fear that deflation might be here to stay and that a prolonged period of stagnant or very low growth could be in the offing.
I will not, if the hon. Gentleman will forgive me; we are under a strict time constraint.
In such uncertain circumstances, taking on Government debt often seems the safest bet in the markets. The impact of quantitative easing and the excess demand for bonds, driven largely by EU regulatory requirements to invest in safe havens, have both helped to reduce the cost of borrowing by Governments. At the same time, however, our own Office for Budget Responsibility, along with the International Monetary Fund, is projecting healthy growth for the UK economy in the years to come. They are both predicting not a period of Japanese-style deflationary stagnation implied by the pricing of Government debt but solid year-on-year growth at a rate of 2.5% to 3%. The trouble that lies ahead for the UK economy is that once the markets catch up to this reality, it is a racing certainty that the cost of servicing our debts will rise, and fast.
In short—and perhaps paradoxically—it is a sustained economic recovery that risks blowing a huge black hole in future years’ budgets as the UK continues to grapple with the vastly expanded debt that has been accumulated over the past decade. That is why the Government are absolutely right to say that drastic and determined Government action on deficit reduction is essential for the medium-term health of the economy. The Chancellor is right to tackle the debilitating impact of entitlement in much of our welfare system, and now is clearly the time to do that, while the sun is shining. Given all the difficulties in the markets, and all that is going on in Greece and China, our positive economic news might not be around for much longer.
At the beginning of this year, analysis by the McKinsey Global Institute revealed that global debt had risen by some 17% since the final quarter of 2007, when the collapse of Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers was in the offing. The racking up of debt on this scale represents the biggest experiment we have ever conducted in the global economy. Short of the unleashing of a burst of unprecedentedly high levels of output and sector-wide productivity growth, or alternatively a programme of fiscal contraction hard to imagine in an era of welfare dependency and universal suffrage, it is impossible to see how the developed world will ever be able to repay these levels of debt properly.
Historically, Governments have dealt with debt piles by allowing a little inflation to develop. The other option is to introduce what the economists call fiscal retrenchment. The double whammy of the 1930s depression and the cost of fighting world war two in the following decade left all western economies with equivalent debt levels relative to national income. Between the 1950s and 1970s, yields from Government bonds were deliberately set at just below inflation. As a consequence of the alchemy that comes with compound interest, a lot of our debts were paid off.
That might seem to be a comforting parallel, but there are key differences today. One is that we live in an age of free cross-border capital flows, and much of our borrowing comes from international sources. The model of squeezing creditors by means of negative real interest rates and rising prices simply will not work when credit is denominated in a foreign currency or in a deflationary era. We need only look at the ongoing travails of the eurozone to see the limits of imposing financial repression when nation states are locked into a monetary straitjacket.
Much is made of the fact that one third of UK Government bonds have been mopped up by the Bank of England, which has helped to keep interest rates very low—we have now had 76 consecutive months at the emergency 0.5% rate. More distorting still is the fact that more than 40% of our gilts are owned by foreigners. In this uncertain world, those overseas creditors might take on the chin the impact of artificially low returns on their bonds, but they may be considerably less sanguine about the impact of currency risk. The market sentiment towards sterling is currently benign, despite record current account deficits, but if that were to change and if the pound were to fall, sterling-denominated gilts in the hands of foreign investors would rapidly lose their value. The prospect of such overseas creditors losing confidence in the UK economy would then be very real.
For that reason, the Government’s actions are of critical importance. They must persist in reducing the deficit as a matter of national urgency, to ensure that we collectively start to live within our means as rapidly as possible. What really concerns me, and what should concern policymakers, is that at the moment it is difficult to imagine the circumstances in which the cost of credit might be rapidly increased—as will be necessary in the years to come—without the economic roof falling in.
It is a pleasure to follow Mark Field in this debate. I listened carefully to what he said about the issues of importance to his constituents, and it struck me that the issues of importance to my constituents are very different. The Budget has been presented to us as a Budget for working people, and a one nation Budget because we are all in this together, but I have to say to those on the Government Front Bench that it just will not be seen in that way in the north-east of England.
I have no quarrel with the Government’s desire to drive up wages, to increase productivity and to broaden and deepen the private sector employment base in the north-east of England, but we do not think that those things will actually happen. We believe that we will get all the welfare expenditure cuts but not the increased wages or the longer working hours, or the chance to earn a living in the private sector marketplace.
The maximum grants for students from households with incomes below £25,000, which encourage youngsters to go to university, are being converted into loans. In my constituency, one elector in five is a student. The change will mean that those in the very poorest households will be the ones leaving university with the highest debts, and that just does not seem fair. Similarly, the assault on working families tax credits will penalise the working poor. That point was very well made by Dr Whiteford
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that these proposals will result in young people from deprived backgrounds being penalised and discouraged from going to university? No student should have a debt around their neck at the very time they want to make progress in life.
May I just offer a little help to new Members? You cannot just walk into a debate and intervene straight away. You need to listen to the debate for some time before intervening.
There is an issue for those who rely on working families tax credits and who are in relatively low-paid jobs in the north-east of England. Let us take the example of a lone parent with two children who is working 16 hours a week on the minimum wage. Once both changes have come into place, the Chancellor’s living wage announcement makes up about £400, which is just under half the £860 that person would lose from the tax credit change. I listened to the earlier exchange between the Front-Bench teams. I take into account what was said and accept that it might ameliorate the position; none the less, the change is shown in the Red Book as a saving to the Exchequer, which means that it is money that my constituents get now but will not be getting in the future.
The reduction in the employment and support allowance to jobseeker’s allowance levels will not help anyone find a job; it just makes them poorer. The public sector pay freeze of 1% for the next four years is on top of a public pay policy that saw a freeze for two years from 2011, then below-inflation settlements of 1% up to the current financial year. This will be the longest sustained public sector pay freeze ever, and it is just not fair on the workers, especially the low-paid public sector workers. The benefit tapers have been narrowed, and on top of all that there is the benefits cap itself. I am not against the cap in principle, but reducing it from £26,000 to £23,000 in London and imposing a lower regional ceiling of £20,000 outside London is harsh on the English regions.
The Chancellor has burdened housing associations with an unwanted right to buy, which is good for the few but not for the many. Local authority housing stock is still burdened by the bedroom tax, which is not just unjust but actually counter-productive in communities such as my own constituency where a private one-bedroom bedsit in Jesmond costs more to rent than a two-bedroom council flat in Walker. Yet full housing benefit will go to the one-bedroom flat, and those in the two-bedroom local authority- owned flat will be penalised by £8 a week. I do not see how any of this helps the north-east. Certainly, it does not help to make work pay.
In some parts of the country, it may be reasonable to argue that employers should pay better wages rather than rely on the state to top them up, but the danger for the north-east is that those who rely on working families tax credit will not be able to get extra hours at work to make up for the shortfall in their weekly income and will not be able to get a pay rise because there is not sufficient profitability in the business for that to be sustained.
I understand some of the right hon. Gentleman’s concerns and I appreciate that we live in two different worlds, but does he not think it slightly ironic that he is more or less making the case that was made from the Conservative Benches 20 years ago when the minimum wage was brought in? It was said that it would somehow lead to a reduction in jobs. That is the case he is making today, yet it was one that he eschewed two decades ago.
The even greater irony is that I was the Government Chief Whip when we put through the minimum wage legislation. My hon. Friend Mr Betts was the Whip on the Committee that went right through the night on this. But that is going down memory lane. Indeed, it was the current Secretary of State for Defence who was making the case in the Committee at the time. There was some substance in the point, which is why I make it now in relation to the specific circumstances of the constrained nature of the private sector economy in the north-east of England. A broader, deeper and stronger private sector economy is the way forward for our region. It will help to give us the wages and the breadth of job opportunities that the south-east of England enjoys.
The great hope offered by the Government to the north-east is in their northern powerhouse initiative. The Chancellor is right to take regional policy seriously, but he just does not seem to understand how the north-east of England works and what precisely it needs. Indeed, he did not reference us once in his Budget speech when he was going through the offers to the other English regions. The only practical manifestation of the Government’s northern powerhouse policy so far is in the rail upgrades, and they have been delayed.
When I was the regional Minister in the previous Labour Government, I met representatives of Hitachi in Downing Street. They were considering locating in the north-east of England, and wanted to discuss how they could bring that about. I give credit to the current Government for having seen that programme through, because it does involve Government support and they could have cancelled it but they did not. But it was a shared endeavour, and it was certainly coming into place well before the northern powerhouse initiative.
However, the hon. Gentleman is quite right that it is exactly the sort of initiative that we would like to see for our region. If it comes under the northern powerhouse brand, I shall take no exception to that.
The problem is that we do not know the geographical boundaries of the northern powerhouse initiative or the functions ascribed to it. We do not even know whether it is some form of local government reorganisation or a regional economic development initiative, or both. We are being told in the north-east that we must sign up to a metro mayor, but not why. The Government have given no details of the powers, functions, workings, accountability or budget for the post, yet they say we must have one.
The past five years have seen a plethora of initiatives that have had no practical impact on the problems in the north-east. The new local enterprise partnerships simply do not have the resources and capacity to address the scale of the problems. The LEPs have been followed by city deals, enterprise zones, regional growth funds, local growth deals and joint leadership boards. They are fragmented, piecemeal initiatives that collectively do not amount to an effective, focused regional policy from the Government. Metro mayors risk being just the latest addition to this confused approach. There is a serious question as to whether so many proposed policy responsibilities can and should be invested in one single individual. People in Newcastle who rejected the local government version of the elected mayor in 2012 and the wider north-east should at the very least be given a choice on this in a referendum.
The past five years have seen a persistent focus on structures and process at the expense of any real, meaningful action. We continue to lag behind in jobs. We have high unemployment and a lack of skills and investment in infrastructure. We simply cannot afford to waste the next five years dithering on structures.
I rise today to congratulate the Chancellor on his Budget. His amazing job yesterday is warmly welcomed by most of the country. I am disappointed to follow Mr Brown, who said that the Budget will make no difference—he probably said the same thing about previous Budgets brought in by the same Chancellor. Surely unemployment is down in his constituency; I cannot believe that it has gone up. What did his Government do, in all the years they were in power, to help people in the north-east? They did not do anything, which is why there have been problems. This Government, though, have made a difference.
I am also disappointed to follow Dr Whiteford. I found it astonishing that she should be advocating that people on benefits should be allowed to have—encouraged to have—more than two children. Completely responsible people who recognise that children are expensive to bring up and cannot afford to because they are not on benefits subsidise those who the hon. Lady would like to have three, four or five children. That is completely mad.
The hon. Lady completely misrepresents what I actually said and what the record will show I said. The point I was trying to make was that half of all families in Scotland receive tax credits, a huge majority of whom are in work. They are people who work extremely hard.
I recognise that most people getting tax credits are in work, but I still do not believe that people who are in work, not receiving tax credits, acting responsibly and having the number of children they can afford should be subsidising those who want to have more children. That is completely topsy-turvy economics; perhaps it is how some Opposition Members from Scotland deal with economics there, but it is not what we want to do here in London. I am very disappointed by the hon. Lady’s attitude, and I feel that she completely misrepresents what the Government are doing.
I congratulate the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions on doing a fantastic job in bringing the welfare budget under control. It was not under control for many, many years—it was completely out of control, which is one reason why this country got into such difficulty with the deficit.
One of the things that we hear about in the Budget is the importance given to increasing productivity, but if we are to increase productivity, we need incentives for investment in the economy. The Government are incentivising those who have financial assets by changing the inheritance tax rules to benefit the type of people who sit on the Government Front Bench. That is the reality of what they are doing. If we want to make sure that work pays, we need to drive investment in the economy, and we need incentives for business to do so. [Interruption.]
Order. I certainly think that we have got the message. Can we have short interventions? I have a lot of speeches to get in, and someone cannot intervene on a Member who is intervening.
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker.
I will ignore what the hon. Gentleman said because, again, it is topsy-turvy economics. We are trying to increase investment in business to provide more jobs. We have created 2 million more jobs in the past five years, and that is carrying on. Apprenticeships are increasing, which will help people into work. In my constituency of Mid Derbyshire, which started off with 1,267 claimants in 2010, the figure went down to 340 this May. That is a huge reduction. I would still like those 340 people to be in work.
Some hon. Members have talked about youth unemployment. I started off in Mid Derbyshire with 350 such claimants; the figure is now down to 80. That is a huge increase in the number of young people who have jobs, thanks to our brilliant local industries. Young people are better off in work—everyone is better off in work than on benefits. We want to stop the culture of people relying on benefits.
As the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions said, when the Labour party was in government, it put up benefits before an election, flatlined them and then put them up again before the next election. Labour Members should not be playing politics with benefit claimants, who need honest, clear benefits. Those who need benefits will get them under this Government, but we want to get more people into work because that is better for their self-esteem and health; it is also better for their children to have as a role model someone who is in work.
When it comes to the relationship between the individual and the Government, it is healthier not to be recycling money and taxing people into poverty, only to give them some of that money back. Does my hon. Friend agree?
My hon. Friend makes a very good point, and that is exactly what the Government are trying to escape from. They are trying to raise the tax threshold, so that more people keep more of the money that they have earned. That must be a good thing to do. We need to grow the economy and get the finances under control, with the national debt falling.
The hon. Lady rightly talks about the need for honesty in politics. Obviously, she believes profoundly in what the Chancellor has proposed in his Budget. Why, then, was that not set out for the electorate to take a view on before the election? Why was it hidden away until after people voted?
As the hon. Gentleman knows, we did not know what the result of the election would be. We did not even know that we would be in government; we thought that we might be in a coalition. It might have been the Labour party in a coalition. We have now had a Budget that sets out extremely clearly for the electorate exactly what we will do over the next five years. We want to invest in business. We want to help businesses, so that they can employ more people. That has certainly happened in my constituency, as it will have done in his constituency and those of every hon. Member, because business has created so many jobs. The climate is right for business. Britain is open for business, and we need to get more people working hard.
We have created 2 million more jobs in the past five years, and we intend to create 1 million more. That is a target. It is how we will increase the productivity of this country and the wealth of the individuals in it.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. One of the ways in which we will do that, hardly mentioned by Opposition Members, is by changing inheritance tax. People have paid taxes on their money. They have bought their houses, and it is good to allow them to leave their houses to their children, so that they can benefit as well. The housing market is difficult for younger people. If parents can leave their houses to their children, that will benefit society.
Something that has not been mentioned at all is the 2% commitment on defence. I would have thought that everyone in the Chamber would welcome that; it was certainly welcomed by Government Members yesterday. I cannot believe that no one wants to mention it at all. Surely the Opposition believe that that is a very good thing for the country, to secure our safety and security here.
Labour Members should welcome the fact that the success of our long-term economic plan has created jobs and is encouraging growth, which has meant that spending on welfare as a percentage of GDP has been falling since 2012.
I should like to finish because time is short—I apologise, Mr Deputy Speaker. This is a good Budget for jobs, for employment and for this country. I commend the Chancellor and the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions on their sterling work and on how they have put this country on a much better footing.
I represent a south-west London suburban constituency, not an area normally associated with high housing stress, difficulties and problems. I have had the great fortune to be the MP for Mitcham and Morden— the place of my birth—for the past 18 years. Half the people I see at my advice surgery come to me with housing issues.
For 16 years, before I first entered the House, I worked for Battersea Churches Housing Trust and, before that, for Wandsworth Council in the homeless persons unit. I have seen long queues for bed-and-breakfast accommodation. I have seen people in desperate straits, but that has not prepared me for the length and depth of the problems that people face in securing housing in my constituency.
I sometimes hear myself tell constituents things like, “Oh, please don’t go homeless on a Friday or a Monday, because God only knows where the council will be able to put you. You see, they can’t take into account the fact that your daughter is doing her A-levels or O-levels, that your mum is ill, that you have a job. They have to put you in temporary accommodation where they can find it.” These are things I say without even thinking about them.
On a Friday night, I regularly see vulnerable children with vulnerable mothers go off to bed and breakfasts on the other side of London, if not in Birmingham. I am not ashamed to say that I wake up in the night and think about what happens to those families—what sort of accommodation they are going to and how they will manage. However, it is not on behalf of those people that I stand to talk this afternoon because many Opposition Members will do that more eloquently than I can.
The people I want to speak for are all those in good jobs who save their money, but cannot get a foot on the housing ladder. They cannot buy their homes partly because they are being eased out of London by those who already own a home: the buy-to-let landlords. Housing is becoming an investment model, rather than somewhere to live, have a family, put down roots and become part of the community. It has become a real problem for that generation. The possibility of buying the home in London that my family had in the fifties and I had in the eighties is not there for the generation coming up now. We have to do something for them if we are to avoid the family breakdown and problems that will inevitably arise if we do nothing.
For those reasons, I welcome the Government’s announcement that they will look at the £14 billion in tax breaks that landlords can claim every year. There are not many things that I, the Chancellor and my hon. Friend Jeremy Corbyn, who is standing in the Labour party leadership election, agree on, but reform of buy to let and how buy-to-let landlords are treated in the tax system is one of them. The Exchequer gives tax relief on mortgage interest payments, money spent on repairs and maintenance, and even accountants’ fees to help landlords to take full advantage of the relief. Some of the tax breaks help tenants—we should encourage landlords to keep their property in a good state of repair and to improve living conditions—but it is completely unfair to give landlords a £6 billion tax break on mortgage interest payments.
Why is it right to subsidise the mortgages of people buying their second, third or fourth home with taxpayers’ money when so many people cannot afford even to take out their first mortgage? People paying off the mortgage on their own home that they live in do not get those tax breaks. We should be incentivising buying to live, not buying to let. Mortgages for landlords are cheaper than mortgages for first-time buyers, in part thanks to that subsidy, and it distorts the housing market. As of last week, the cheapest two-year buy-to-let mortgage cost less than half the cheapest two-year first-time buyer deal, according to brokers. That puts first-time buyers at a real disadvantage compared with buy-to-let landlords, who are swamping the market and shutting out first-time buyers. A third of Members of this House are themselves buy-to-let landlords.
The changes announced by the Chancellor yesterday are a drop in the ocean and do little to tackle the ridiculous double taxpayer subsidy of private rental landlords. We are, in effect, giving a double taxpayer subsidy to buy-to-let landlords because we give tax breaks of £6 billion that encourage people to buy to let and monopolise the housing stock, and then, when tenants cannot afford the growing rent, the taxpayer has to give them housing benefit. Housing benefit paid to private landlords has now reached £9.3 billion, or 38% of the total bill. With fewer people able to buy homes, there is more demand in the private rental sector, which in turn pushes up rents.
I am pleased that the Government have agreed this is a problem, as the Budget shows, but their proposals utterly fail to confront the buy-to-let taxpayer subsidy in any significant way. The flawed principle that landlords can claim tax relief on their mortgage interest will remain; landlords will simply get a slightly lower tax relief. The Government’s own documents estimate that it will save the taxpayer just £665 million pounds a year by 2020—just one tenth of the £6 billion in mortgage interest claimed back in tax breaks by landlords in 2012-13.
To seriously tackle the root causes of the housing crisis in this country, we have to go further than reducing these unfair tax breaks by a meagre 10%. Taxpayer subsidies should be used to help people to get on the housing ladder, not to pull the rug from under their feet. By looking again at mortgage interest tax breaks for landlords, and cutting them by more than just 10%, or even limiting them to new builds, the Government could save up to £6 billion pounds—the equivalent of grants to housing associations that could enable them to build 100,000 new social housing units. Spending the money on building new homes, instead of on existing bricks and mortar, also helps to stimulate the economy and provides jobs. For every £1 spent on housing construction, an additional £2.09 of economic output is generated.
Is my hon. Friend as worried as I am about the amount of ex-local authority housing bought by buy-to-let landlords that, unlike properties that remain in council ownership, is in a very bad state of repair?
I totally agree, but may I make it clear that I am a big supporter of the right to buy? I believe it has liberated a lot people, but it is the opportunity for all, or all who can, that I want to save today.
Correcting the flaws in the tax system would stop the housing market from being distorted to disadvantage first-time buyers.
My problem with the current plans is what they will do to the security and continuing support that housing associations can provide, but if the Government can provide a model whereby we can replace those properties, one for one, my answer is: almost certainly.
Many constituents come to me afraid they will never be able to save enough to put down a deposit on their first home; most of their monthly pay packet goes straight on rent and there is nothing left to save. Their rent is driven up by buy-to-let landlords, who monopolise the housing supply and charge what they want. As a result, 82% of people in London who do not own a home believe they will never be able to do so. If the unfair advantage given to buy-to-let landlords is removed, more people will be able to buy their first home; in addition, there will be reduced demand in the private rental sector, so rents and the housing benefit bill will fall. I urge the Chancellor to look again and do more with buy-to-let mortgage tax breaks.
Standing here now, I realise how wise were the words of my hon. and good Friend Christopher Pincher when he, during his maiden speech, suddenly understood the significance of the occasion and said,
“nobody is looking forward to the end of my speech more than I am”.—[Hansard, 2 June 2010; Vol. 510, c. 526.]
I can assure the House that this is definitely the case for me, too.
Having said that, I am delighted to have been called in this debate following the first Conservative Budget for 19 years, as during the election economic competence was one of the key issues raised on the doorstep. I know that many of my constituents will be pleased that the Chancellor has already implemented promises made in our manifesto, especially the increase in the lower tax threshold and the introduction of 30 hours of free childcare.
I pay tribute to my predecessor, Dan Byles. He was my local MP, so I can confidently say that he served our community with true integrity and commitment. Dan stood up resolutely for his constituents and was seen as champion, fighting for them on issues that mattered—none more so than the mitigation and compensation for those affected by HS2. I will continue to fight for that cause in the manner for which he was so respected. As a result of Dan’s hard work and that of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, unemployment dropped to the lowest level ever in our constituency. Dan was rightly proud of that.
It was an outstanding achievement for Dan to win the seat in 2010, with the smallest Conservative majority of just 54 votes, although I note that, following the last election, 54 is a cushion that many colleagues would be delighted with. As his constituency chairman in 2012 and 2013, I confidently predicted that not only would he win in 2015, but I would ensure that we doubled his majority. Having now increased the majority to nearly 3,000—[Hon. Members: “Hear, hear!]—that may be the only target that I have been happy to get wrong by such a considerable margin. Indeed, should this career not work out, then, given that margin of error, I see a possible future as a pollster. [Laughter.] I am sure that many constituents and indeed many Members of this House will join me in thanking Dan for his work and send him and his family the very best wishes for their future.
My own route into politics was not exactly a traditional one. Until recently, I subscribed to the thoughts of the eminent historical figure Blackadder that “Wanting to be a politician should actually ban you for life from ever being one.” I grew up in the renowned Conservative heartland that is Durham city and attended the local comprehensive, Framwellgate Moor. My dad was one of 15 children and moved from Ireland in 1960s, when he met my mum in London. They moved back to her native north-east and eventually set up and built their own business, which they have now run for over 40 years, employing many local people in the process. It was from them that I learned the Conservative belief of aspiration, and that with hard work and resilience almost anything is possible. They inspired and encouraged me to start my own business at 21, and it is some testament to them, and to the tolerance of the British people, that I still ran that business until I was elected to the House just a few weeks ago. I will miss my three staff—Laura, Allison and Georgia—but I am sure that they now realise they did all the work anyway and do not really need me.
The North Warwickshire and Bedworth constituency is a wonderful mix of towns and villages, boasting a rich history of coalmining and industry. The small market town of Atherstone sits on the old Roman Watling Street, and the town centre has changed very little in 750 years, even though the traditional hatting industry has now disappeared. The town still plays an annual Shrove Tuesday ball game, a tradition that has survived for over 800 years, although given the physical nature of this game, the lifespan of competitors is significantly less.
Coleshill is a historic coaching town in the western part of North Warwickshire, lying close to the outer edge of Birmingham. It is a thriving community, which also hosts successful companies such as Sertec, BMW and a host of others at its Hams Hall estate. Incidentally, it is also famous for being the town that invented Brylcreem.
The largest town is Bedworth. Although predominantly thought of as an ex-coalmining area, it also formed an important part of the 19th-century silk ribbon weaving industry of Coventry and North Warwickshire. One world famous ribbon maker still operates in Bedworth—Toye, Kenning and Spencer, which produces high-class medal ribbons and masonic regalia that are exported around the world. In the centre of the town is Bedworth’s hidden gem, the picturesque Nicholas Chamberlaine almshouses, managed by the Nicholas Chamberlaine Trust, which celebrates its 300th anniversary this year. Bedworth also proudly hosts the largest and most famous Armistice Day parade in Britain, which is always held at the exact hour, day and month each year.
The constituency is dotted with many smaller villages that all have their own identity, such as Fillongley, Austrey, Newton Regis, Warton, Grendon, Baddesley, Shustoke, Mancetter and—not forgetting my home for the last 15 years—Shuttington, a small village that is famous not just for the Wolferstan Arms pub, but as the birthplace of Charles Bonner, a recipient of the Victoria Cross.
Our major local issue remains HS2. The line will run through a number of areas, such as Water Orton, Kingsbury, Middleton and Polesworth. I will do all that I can to support residents in their opposition to the HS2 route, and to assist them with their mitigation and compensation cases.
The main hospital in our constituency, George Eliot, has undergone a huge transformation in recent years, thanks to the hard work and dedication of the staff there, working in partnership with the Government. It has recently achieved a good rating, and I will work with it to ensure that this excellent upward progression continues.
I am very proud of the previous Conservative record on increasing apprenticeships, and this is an area that I will continue to champion. It is important that we not only deliver high-quality qualifications that benefit local students and employers, but give pupils a real choice in the path that they take when leaving school.
Finally, we are rightly respected across the world for our outstanding military, and it is great to see many colleagues now on these Benches who previously have served their country. Although I did not serve myself, I am very proud of the nearly 10 years that my wife Karen spent in the RAF, seeing active service in the first Gulf war. In such volatile times, we must remember that the first duty of Government is to protect their citizens. Equally, there is a duty that, when we ask our brave servicemen and women to put themselves at risk for their country, we do so safe in the knowledge that we have provided them with the best possible training, equipment and resource to do so. On that, I welcome the Chancellor’s commitment to the 2% figure.
I want to finish by expressing my thanks to the people of North Warwickshire and Bedworth for electing me to be their representative in Parliament. This is a role that I do not take lightly or underestimate. I relish the challenge of making North Warwickshire and Bedworth an even better place to live over the next five years.
There can be no greater privilege than becoming a Member of this House, the mother of all Parliaments, and I am particularly proud to be delivering my maiden speech as the Member for Bradford South. This great sense of pride and privilege has been possible only because the good people of Bradford South placed their trust and confidence in me. For that, I will be eternally grateful, and I promise I will never let them down. I am proud to be the first woman to represent Bradford South, and to be the first woman parliamentarian from the transformational Ruskin College.
My predecessor, Gerry Sutcliffe, served Bradford South for 22 years from 1994, following the untimely and sad death of the hugely respected Bob Cryer. With Gerry’s departure, the House has lost a generous, approachable and extremely popular Member. Many in this House, from all political parties, will have benefited from his sound advice, his sharp wit, and perhaps most importantly, his pearls of wisdom about this season’s football player transfers. Incidentally, you would get such pearls irrespective of whether you had actually asked for them.
Bradford South is one of five constituencies covering the metropolitan area of Bradford. We are renowned first and foremost for our proud industrial and cultural heritage, but we are also recognised by the discerning for other—often under-appreciated—reasons. For example, the village of Howarth was home to the great literary Bronte family, a fact known all too well by the Japanese tourists who annually pay homage. Our creativity is legendary, a fact recognised by UNESCO when it bestowed upon Bradford the prestigious UNESCO city of film status. In the world of British politics, few would be aware of the fact that it gave birth to the Independent Labour party, fighting for social justice, thus giving its chairman, Keir Hardie, his seat in this House in 1900. In the world of sport, I know that all Members will be aware of the fact that we are home to the world-famous Bradford Bulls.
I have spoken about Bradford as a place, but, as the cliché goes, a place is only as good as the people who live there, and in that regard I am most fortunate indeed. The people of Bradford South are fair-minded, good-natured and hard-working folk. In return, they rightly expect fairness and justice, security and respect in old age, a decent education for their families, affordable homes to call their own, access to free healthcare on demand and a job that pays a fair day’s wage. These fundamental needs are what all people in our country should expect. I promise to dedicate my next five years to working to ensure that these fundamental needs are respected and upheld for the people of Bradford South. Sadly, they are all too often beyond the grasp of hard-working people in my constituency, and that must change. I will campaign tirelessly for Bradford South until these fundamental needs are met to their fullest. It will be on these fundamental needs that I will hold this Conservative Government to account during this Parliament.
I am in the Chamber today to pursue the same struggle that led Keir Hardie to this House some 115 years ago—the fight for social justice. People living across Bradford deserve social justice, a phrase that is sometimes overcomplicated by academics and commentators alike. To me, it is not complicated; nor is it to the people of Bradford. By the same token, neither is injustice complicated—the upwelling of discomfort in the pit of your stomach in the face of injustice will be familiar to all.
We see injustice on pensions. We would all agree that we need to look after the elderly, yet pensioner poverty is still a reality. Those who have worked hard all their lives and paid into the system deserve dignity and security in old age, yet far too many of our older generation are still struggling to get by. This simply cannot be right and it must change.
We see injustice in housing. As a country, we need to ensure that all our citizens have access to affordable homes—a home to raise their family and a home in which to enjoy their retirement years. We need a housing sector that delivers for the ordinary people of this country.
We see injustice in access to healthcare services. Too few people are able to access timely appointments at their local GP surgeries and NHS dentists. As a country, we need to look after our young and old, our mums and dads, our daughters and sons. Without good health, so much else becomes increasingly difficult, or even impossible—working a job, looking after our families, playing in the local park. Good healthcare services are the cornerstone of a thriving community. Our healthcare services need to support our local communities and at the moment that is simply not happening. Increased resources for those critical services must be a priority.
We also see injustice in access to further education. Too few of my constituents are able to access the courses they so desperately need. Without access, they will not be able to develop the skills critical to a prosperous career in the global market we inhabit. The reason for that is simple: insufficient investment. Education equips people for a successful and prosperous life, where they get on and are able to cope with life’s challenges. In Bradford, we are blessed with two outstanding education institutions, Bradford College and Bradford University. They have transformed the life chances of countless generations of young people in Bradford over the decades, but—without sufficient resources—their ability to continue to transform the lives of Bradford’s people, both young and adult learners, will be stunted. In higher education, the abolition of the student maintenance grant, announced yesterday, is a backwards step, which will limit aspiration and undermine the concept of one nation that the Government seek to champion.
We also see injustice when we look at the number of jobs that pay a fair day’s wage. Weekly pay in my constituency is significantly below the national average, and the consequences of that are stark. For example, HMRC child poverty figures reveal that in my constituency an appalling 28.3% of our children—the future of this country—are stranded in poverty. Without family incomes rising in line—and, indeed, above inflation—children are always the first to suffer. We need those children to become the scientists, the artists, the wealth creators and the inspirational leaders of tomorrow, but we condemn them to the most deplorable start in life. That must change. At first sight, yesterday’s Budget announcement on the living wage appeared to offer hope to the working poor, but closer scrutiny reveals that any benefits accrued will easily be wiped out by deep cuts to in-work benefits.
I pledge to stand up for the people of Bradford South against such cynicism, and I conclude with words of warning from Martin Luther King, who said:
“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
It is a great privilege to follow Judith Cummins—a fine constituency and a fine city. I am sure that she will do an excellent job as the constituency’s new MP. I also pay tribute to my hon. Friend Craig Tracey, an outstanding individual who will, I am sure, do a great job for his constituents. I also pay tribute to his good lady wife for her service to Queen and country.
At a time of uncertainty abroad—be it in Greece, Russia or the middle east—the Chancellor delivered a Budget that prized economic stability at home. It was a one nation Budget that will provide security for working people in Weaver Vale, greater Cheshire and the north-west as a whole. Despite the chaos in the eurozone, Britain is still growing faster than any other major advanced economy in the world—faster than America and Germany. Our economy grew by 3% last year, a figure revised upwards from the 2.6% we expected in March. Our long-term economic plan is working. Indeed, before the election, the US President commented that the UK must be doing something right on its economy.
British businesses, backed by the Government through tax cuts and the removal of red tape, have created 2 million new jobs since 2010. I know that businesses across Weaver Vale welcomed the announcements made by the Chancellor yesterday about the extension of the employment allowance to £3,000 and the news that corporation tax will fall to 18% in 2020—from the 28% we inherited five years ago.
Earlier, the shadow Chancellor said that science and technology were not mentioned in the Budget, but the Chancellor has a fine record on such investment, including in Sci-Tech at Daresbury. The previous Labour Government took investment away from Daresbury, and when I became MP for the area in 2010 I was advised by the then Chairman of the Science and Technology Committee—he is no longer a Member, but he was a fine Chairman and I pay tribute to him—to watch like a hawk to ensure that the new Government did not take away investment from Daresbury as the previous Government had done. Instead, the Chancellor invested £150 million recently in big data, and I was proud that, just before the election, IBM signed a £130 million partnership with the Science and Technology Facilities Council that will secure high growth and high-tech, well-paid jobs for my constituents in the long term. That is good for my constituency and for the country, as we become an international hub for science and technology and big data.
The OBR has predicted that a further 1 million jobs will be created over the next five years, but we are the party of ambition and we want to go further. We are working towards a target of full employment—a job for everyone who wants one and a country that is open for business. In the past five years, Government-backed schemes such as the right to buy, have helped 200,000 people on to the property ladder. That is vital, because home ownership is central to the aspirational country that we are building. Owning their own home means so much more to families. I was born in a council house, the youngest of four children. My family lived there for 20 years and, in 1972, Ted Heath’s Conservative Government offered us the opportunity to purchase the property, so my parents did so. My father died when
I was a teenager and my mother had security in old age and retirement because they had invested in that house. The right to buy is central to the Conservative party’s philosophy that everyone should have a home of their own.
Yesterday, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor gave Britain a pay rise. Over the course of the Parliament, the introduction of the national living wage could be worth more than £5,000 to someone working full time for the minimum wage. I need not tell the House how much that extra income will mean to hard-working families trying to get on. Not only will working people earn more, they will keep more of what they earn. Typical taxpayers will pay £905 less tax than in 2010, thanks to the increases in the personal allowance over the last five years.
I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman has seen the analysis from the Institute for Fiscal Studies today, but it says that the minimum wage announcement will not go anywhere near compensating for welfare cuts in cash terms. People currently on tax credits will be significantly worse off and the reform could cost 3 million families an average of £5,000 a year. That is the IFS’s calculation.
I have to confess that I have not seen those figures, but the Government’s overall mantra is “A higher wage, lower tax, lower welfare economy”, which will benefit all of our constituents. That is in contrast to the Labour party, which had a high-tax, low-wage, high-benefit culture. That is the debate we are having today: the Conservatives want high wages and low benefits and I believe that the Budget will move Britain in that direction. That will be good for the country, for my children and for our country’s future. We are a beacon in Europe, as its second biggest economy, and if we continue down the same road, in 10 to 15 years we will become the biggest economy in Europe. The whole world is watching this great country, and we are the beacon for how things can be done in difficult economic circumstances.
I want to add to what my hon. Friend Mr Betts said. The IFS has said that it is “arithmetically impossible” for the Chancellor’s national living wage to offset the loss of income from tax credits. I recommend that the hon. Gentleman reads that. Will he and other Government Members who have said similar things to him today also advertise a surgery on tax credits and invite their constituents to see how they feel about it and whether they think this Budget makes things better?
I am most grateful to the hon. Lady. I will indeed look into those figures. I hold surgeries every Friday, so I will see constituents about that. What I would say to her is that unemployment in Weaver Vale has dropped by 70% since 2010, and that is 80% full-time, good quality jobs.
I am not saying it is easy, but these difficult decisions have to be made. When Gordon Brown introduced working tax credits, he said the figure would be £2 billion. It is now £30 billion. The Labour party has to decide—I asked this question yesterday and did not get a reply—whether £30 billion is too much, too little or about right. We have to make these difficult decisions, but the hon. Lady makes an important point. I am not saying for a moment that it will be easy, but we are the party of aspiration. We are the party that always makes work pay, which is something that did not happen under 13 years of Labour.
My hon. Friend will recognise, as those of us on the Government Benches do, that we will still be paying out tax credits in the same numbers that we were paying them out in 2007 and 2008, under the last Labour Government. What we are talking about is the sudden spike to which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions referred in his speech.
My hon. Friend makes a powerful point. Working-age benefits are something we have to tackle so that we can eradicate the deficit and start paying down the national debt. That is what I believe in. I believe that the Government are right: a higher-wage, lower-tax, lower-welfare economy. Britain is open for business. That is the future for our country.
I am grateful to the people of St Helens South and Whiston for the faith they have placed in me to represent them here in this great Chamber. St Helens South and Whiston has a proud economic heritage and is at the heart of British industry and innovation. It is therefore only right that we continue to build on innovation and provide more and better jobs for our residents. This is a key element of my maiden speech.
First, I pay tribute to my immediate predecessor, Shaun Woodward, who had a distinguished ministerial and parliamentary career. I pay tribute in particular to his work in Northern Ireland and his support in securing the construction of the new St Helens South and Whiston hospital and the demise of the workhouse that was our hospital. I wish Shaun every happiness and success.
I would like to express my sincere appreciation for the genuine support given to new Members by the Commons staff. They are simply wonderful people and a credit to Westminster.
My constituency gave the world household names such as Pilkington and Beechams, as well as being home to the first railway trials, at Rainhill, when Stephenson’s Rocket became famous the world over. It is a constituency that quite literally enabled Britain to become the industrial powerhouse of the world. Britain would not be what it is today if it was not for the coalmines of Bold, Clock Face, Cronton and Sutton Manor. Over 30,000 people were once employed in my constituency in the great British industries of coal, manufacturing and pharmaceuticals, all of which revolutionised the world. Sadly, these jobs are gone, replaced too often by low-paid, short-term, part-time and insecure agency employment. I have seen nothing that the Government have done to help to eradicate that. We have 8,600 children in working families that are receiving either child tax credits or child and working tax credits. I am deeply concerned about the impact of yesterday’s Budget on those families.
However, today I want to talk about how my constituency can once again make Britain great and how it can be at the leading edge of innovation and creativity. Just last year, NGF Europe, based in my constituency, won the Queen’s award for innovation. Although I worked in the glass industry for 37 years, I will not pretend to know exactly what a small filament diameter glass cord actually does. But what I can say is how proud I am that they are made by skilled workers employed by NGF Europe, continuing our great glass-making tradition.
My constituency sits at the heart of the much talked about northern powerhouse—it was previously the northern way—as a generator of wealth and jobs. We aim to be a centre for logistics in St Helens and Whiston—a centre with connectivity and a place where industry and manufacturing can grow once again. The development of advanced manufacturing is our goal, leading to good, well paid jobs, high-level skills development, work experience and qualifications.
As hon. Members can tell, my constituency has always been at the heart of industrial change, and its heart has suffered from that change. Losing so many jobs from our economy crippled many families and tore not only the heart but the soul from their lives. My constituents literally lived through industrialisation and de-industrialisation. My hope is that they will live through further advanced manufacturing and industrialisation.
In 2008, the global financial crisis, caused by Lehman Brothers, had a devastating impact on my constituency. Quite simply, our plans were put off track. The Government of the day had to borrow to save our banks and, perhaps even more importantly, the savings of ordinary working-class people. But that was by the same Chancellor who paid off more debt than any previous Government on record. I am proud of that Chancellor.
The result of change has been the creation of a resilient people, often innovative in their own way and willing to try something new—proud people, with values underpinned by trade unionism; people who are warm and caring, with a great sense of humour. We have over 13,000 unpaid carers and over 400 recorded young carers—that is, children caring for their parents. It is estimated that there are 2,000 unrecorded young carers. As hon. Members will see, we are a strong community, compassionate and caring. We help each other. Above all else, my community has a strong heart—a resilient heart. That is why I want to see economic development that repairs the wounds of the past and gives each and every person an opportunity to shine—an opportunity to embrace new industries so that they can thrive.
In trying to grow our economy, we have great support. Our businesses are supported by a remarkable chamber of commerce—one of the largest in the country and twice awarded British chamber of the year. It is nationally recognised for its passionate approach to tackling the skills agenda for both employed and unemployed young people and for supporting business start-ups. We are also supported by a local enterprise partnership that is focused on business growth and ensuring fairness and equity in the jobs market. We connect industry, colleges and universities to nurture innovation and advanced manufacturing. My constituency shares its values with the rest of Liverpool city region, in that it is outward looking and strongly committed to helping our young people and graduates into work.
A strong economy goes hand in hand with a strong society, and we have an excellent voluntary sector. I pay tribute to the 93 voluntary organisations and the army of volunteers. We are proud of the many volunteers who support our Willowbrook hospice, awarded the Queen’s award for volunteering. We are proud of and thankful for all the support and volunteering given to our food banks to ensure that our families do not go hungry. We are very proud of St Helens and Whiston’s new state-of-the-art hospitals, a major NHS employer that provides the highest standards of medical care and just last month was recognised for providing the best patient experience in the UK.
We have St Helens—Saints—the internationally recognised rugby league team, twice former World Club champions and current Super League holders, now at Langtree Park, our world-class new stadium, and also providing good employment opportunities. Indeed, Russell Crowe, the star of “Gladiator” and “Les Misérables”, chose to come to Langtree Park rather than appearing at the Oscars this year.
We will continue to look forward to the economic challenges, building on the strength of our excellent manufacturing base. We will continue to champion skills, transport and business growth at every opportunity. We will continue to afford all the people of my constituency the dignity of work that is respected and rewarded with fair and just conditions and pay. My constituency already plays a leading role in manufacturing and in exporting goods to Europe and the rest of the world. We are willing and able to play an even bigger role in championing the growth of advanced manufacturing and exports of the future.
My constituents and I believe that Government should encourage and support such economic growth by investing in infrastructure and incentivising the private sector to invest to do what Britain is best at—innovating, producing, and exporting—thereby reducing the trade deficit and increasing revenues so that all people may benefit. This is my focus and my firm intent during this Parliament. I will not let my constituents be let down. I will ensure that my voice is heard and that my constituents get a fair, just hearing in this great Chamber.
It is a great pleasure to follow the maiden speech by Marie Rimmer; I have a sneaking suspicion that she is going to be quite a formidable presence on the Opposition Benches during the next five years.
Britain has come a long way over the past five years. Tough decisions have been made to get the country’s deficit under control, to reform the welfare system, to make business more competitive, and to create new jobs. Unemployment in my constituency has fallen by more than 50% since 2010. In the black country, part of which I represent, there has been a significant manufacturing revival such that the region has been one of the fastest-growing of any in the United Kingdom over the past two years.
At the heart of this Budget is a recognition that we need to continue the work to rebalance the British economy away from London and the south-east, to make sure that we have a productive and balanced economy in the midlands, the west midlands and the north.
Devolution of power, funding and decision making is absolutely fundamental if the regions of the United Kingdom, including the black country, are to reach their potential.
We need to encourage more jobs and investment in the black country, where we have a huge number of brownfield sites that can be used for development. One need only think of the industrial heritage of the black country to know that huge swathes of its land can be used for the development of industrial sites and for housing. I urge the black country’s local enterprise partnership and local authorities to identify appropriate brownfield sites for economic development to bring new jobs, taking advantage of the powers and responsibilities that the Government are offering to develop those sites. We should not go down the route of a recent idea by Dudley council to develop a huge industrial site on green-belt land just outside Halesowen. That is a very bad idea. I am the first to want to get jobs and investment into the black country, but the policy of Dudley’s LEP and local authority should be to focus first on brownfield in developing new jobs and opportunities.
At the heart of the plan to make Britain a more productive economy is further investment in skills to make sure that our young people are equipped to take advantage of the opportunities out there. That is why I welcome the Chancellor’s announcement in the Budget of a levy on larger companies to encourage further investment in quality apprenticeships. There have been 4,000 new apprenticeship starts in my constituency since 2010, but we need more and we need them to be better matched with the available opportunities in the local economy. That will build on the success of the Government’s city deal in the previous Parliament, which saw a significant level of investment, with about £1 million coming into the area for the development of a science and technology apprenticeship centre at Halesowen College.
Those are precisely the sorts of high-quality opportunities that we need in our local economy to encourage a greater focus on science and engineering—for example, to support the supply chain of Jaguar Land Rover. At the heart of this Budget, and absolutely fundamental to the future of the country and of the regions of Britain, is the continuation of the work that we started over the past five years to tackle the productivity problem by investing in high-quality skills so that people can take advantage of these opportunities.
While the Budget recognises the need to rebalance the economy and to make our businesses more competitive by cutting business taxes and creating more jobs, there is also—this has not been mentioned so far—the welcome commitment to further substantial real-terms increases in our national health service over the next five years. The Budget is clear in its commitment that this Government will support Sir Simon Stevens’s five-year plan for the NHS to continue the work of making it one of the best health services in the world. This Government, through this Budget, are committed to those real-terms increases over the next five years.
As the Financial Secretary to the Treasury is on the Front Bench, I want to make the case—which fits into the narrative of the new Government on one-nation Conservatism, supporting people and making a more resilient and productive economy—that some of the new money being allocated to the NHS should be focused on improving mental health care. I was chairman of the all-party group on mental health in the previous Parliament. The argument is strong, given that mental health will become the most important health challenge that we face over the next 20 to 25 years. I am pleased that the Conservative party manifesto had specific pledges on mental health in the NHS, focusing on extending the range of availability of psychological therapies across the country, that are now being translated into action in government. The previous Labour Government introduced the IAPT—improving access to psychological therapies—programme, and the coalition Government invested £500 million in developing it. Now we need to take it further to give it to anybody who needs it.
I support the hon. Gentleman’s comments about mental health. I hope that some of the extra funding could go towards reducing the long waiting lists for IAPT, particularly where people are on benefits such as employment and support allowance and want to get off them and back into work. I hope we can work at a cross-party level to reduce the waiting lists for those crucial counselling therapies.
I thank the hon. Lady; she makes a very good point. The Conservative party manifesto had a commitment to extend the range and availability of psychological therapies. The Department for Work and Pensions has been running pilots on specific forms of back-to-work support for people suffering from mental health problems—for example, individual placement and support.
We need to invest further in child and adolescent mental health services because—this is why I raise the issue in the context of the Budget—it makes economic sense to do so. It fits into the thrust of the Budget, which is that we need to build a more resilient and productive economy. We have a commitment to invest in perinatal mental health. If we get the investment in mental health care right, it will lead to huge economic benefits for Britain, a more productive society, stronger families and more resilient individuals—people capable of stepping up to the plate and taking advantage of the opportunities out there.
I urge Ministers to be sympathetic to the cause of mental health in the national health service as they consider further investment in our public health system, and to continue the work of achieving the Conservative manifesto commitment to greater parity of esteem between mental and physical health in the NHS.
A more productive economy, a more competitive business environment with lower taxes and a focus on high-quality skills and further job creation in a highly competitive global economy, combined with investment in our health service and in meeting the key health challenges of the future, such as mental health care and building more individual resilience—all that is the true measure of a one nation Conservative Government. We are creating an economy that can generate millions more jobs, building on the jobs that we have already created in the last five years, and a more entrepreneurial society, in which people are prepared to take risks and invest for the future. We are building not only a more competitive economy, but a more compassionate society.
Order. The speeches are getting a little long, but I do not want to impose a time limit, especially as the next two speakers on the Opposition side will make maiden speeches. If we can keep speeches to eight minutes and interventions to an absolute minimum, we will get through everybody.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for giving me the opportunity to make my maiden speech in this magnificent Chamber. The sense of history and occasion in here is tangible. It has long been a place of high emotion and drama, from the plotting of Guy Fawkes to the second world war, when it was bombed no fewer than 14 times. Those events should remind us of the fragility of liberty and democracy—something we must never forget.
We in the SNP are invested in an open, civic, inclusive and aspirational polity that seeks a better Scotland in a better world. We have made many friends in this place already, and I hope we will continue to do so.
I represent a constituency that is one of the most beautiful and diverse in these islands. Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk is vast and varied, stretching almost from one coast to the other. Its many towns and villages are proudly independent, and each has its own identity, traditions and history. As a native, I am delighted and proud to call the Scottish borders my home. I urge anyone to visit—all my colleagues seem to have done the same, but my constituency is the first one you come to as you cross the border—and to see the many and varied attractions, from Sir Walter Scott’s home at Abbotsford to the ruined abbeys across the region. You will find no warmer welcome anywhere, I promise.
Hon. Members should know, however, that borderers have fierce pride, huge family loyalty and, if roused, fire in their hearts. For centuries, political authority was loose in my constituency. Indeed, some parts were known as the debatable lands. Cattle were moved backward and forward over the border, clan feuds were common and arguments were often settled in brutal fashion. In this Chamber, convention has it that opposing Members are separated by two sword lengths. That has never been a propriety observed in my part of the world.
Close by in Northumberland lies Flodden, where in 1513 Scotland’s finest fell in a battle that is remembered across the borders in our common ridings in places such as Hawick, Coldstream and Selkirk. Every year, the Selkirk common riding honours the single Scottish warrior who crawled back holding an English banner. The Liberal Democrats must now understand what that feels like. [Laughter.]
I want to single out one Liberal Democrat in particular—my predecessor, Michael Moore. Michael was an immensely hard-working MP, who was rightly held in great affection in the constituency. I have always found him a warm, gracious and principled adversary, as well as a highly capable politician. One of his greatest achievements was his private Member’s Bill in the last Parliament, which legally bound our Governments to allocate 0.7% of GNP to overseas aid. That is a worthy testament to an honourable career. I am sure that all Members will join me in wishing him all the best for the future.
Our borders landscapes are not just varied and beautiful; they are a hugely important part of our economy, generating revenue and sustaining employment. We do, however, face real disadvantages. Rural Scotland, including my constituency, can feel like a forgotten land—a policy afterthought: take technology infrastructure and, in particular, mobile phone spectrum licensing, where the UK Government’s clamour for money leaves rural areas short-changed. If other countries can mandate 99% coverage and insist on rural areas being covered first, we can too.
Rural areas also suffer from poor transport links. As the argument rages over HS2, we would be happy just to get better conventional rail. Of course, our new Borders Railway opens in September. That is a welcome investment by the Scottish Government. Now, we must examine the feasibility of extending it to Hawick and Carlisle. I call on hon. Members on both sides of the Border and from all parts of the House to join me in advancing that important project.
We also need support for our Scottish farming communities. This is an area where the UK Government are wantonly failing to provide assistance. The EU’s common agricultural policy provides a lifeline for many farmers, but Scotland will end up bottom of the payments league on pillar 1 by 2019 and is already at the bottom on pillar 2. UK Ministers have cynically failed to pass on more than €220 million of convergence money that was intended for Scotland. On pillar 2, the EU’s newest member state, Croatia, already has a budget more than 20 times that awarded to Scotland. That is a remarkable abandonment. UK Ministers have been not so much sleeping on the job as comatose in the corner.
The Prime Minister promised to respect Scotland, but he and his Government continue to neglect our national interests. The Smith commission agreed that Scotland should lead on EU fisheries talks when appropriate. There was therefore an expectation that when the UK Minister was unable to attend talks some weeks ago, the Scottish Cabinet Secretary would do so. The UK Government blocked that, and instead sent an unelected Conservative peer with no involvement in fisheries. Such behaviour flies in the face of assertions by the Prime Minister and his colleagues that all parts of this United Kingdom are equal. Indeed, it presents a compelling argument for Scottish independence—and so does the behaviour we have seen from the Government in recent days. To reject every single SNP amendment to the Scotland Bill, while also suggesting that it should be amended in another place, is to laugh in the face of Scottish democracy.
Moreover, the crippling austerity Budget with which we were presented yesterday completely ignores the traditional Scottish—and, indeed, United Kingdom—values of fairness, protection of families, and decency. My hon. Friend Dr Whiteford made an excellent speech that gave a voice to some of the vulnerable groups the Budget targets.
But there is hope. There are times when the Government’s stubbornness can be broken by the will of this House, as we have seen today with the suspension of plans for English votes for English laws. Ministers have retreated in the face of parliamentary numbers, and we have sent them homewards to think again. I welcome that, and urge them to learn their lesson and do the same more often.
Despite the Government’s hostile actions, we have not come to this place to agitate for independence. We are here to protect and promote Scotland’s interests, and to stand with all those who will oppose austerity and work for freedom, human rights and social justice. We want to be constructive, and to fulfil our constitutional role in opposing this Tory Government—and, at times, opposing the official Opposition too. Our 56-strong SNP team were elected to this place in the most powerful affirmation of a people’s democratic will ever seen within the Union. The move towards a better, fairer, more democratic Scotland took a huge leap forward in May. This is our time. We come from an ancient nation, but we bring new thinking. I urge all Members to listen to what we have to say, for we have much to offer.
Let me end by asking Members to reflect on the words of the French philosopher Voltaire—[Hon. Members: “Ooh!”] I am sorry that it is not Robbie Burns. Voltaire famously remarked
“we look to Scotland for all our ideas of civilisation.”
We may be the elected representatives of a highly civilised nation, but my colleagues and I come here without conceit. We know that we will not always be right, but we want to listen, make friends and forge alliances. We seek fairness and a fair hearing, and we will always sit at the right hand of those who are at hame wi’ freedom. Like all in this place, regardless of politics or party, we want to do what we can to build a better world. Let that better world be the continuing and permanent vision and aspiration of each and every one of us, and, together, let us spare no toil in making it so. [Applause.]
It is a pleasure to follow Calum Kerr. I wish him a long and distinguished career in the House. I hope that he and his colleagues will forgive me if I add that I hope to see his seat represented here for a long time. We are, of course, relieved to learn that the SNP is no longer agitating for independence from the House. As a Unionist, I am greatly reassured by that.
It is also a pleasure to follow the maiden speech of Marie Rimmer. Many people have asked what the boundaries of the northern powerhouse will be, but I can see that, in typical northern fashion, she will be boundless in pursuing the interests of her constituents. I pay tribute to her for making a characteristically warm speech. I also pay tribute to Judith Cummins.
I warmly welcome the Budget as both a strong plan for the country’s finances and an important statement containing a considerable number of measures that will affect my constituency. As many Conservative Members have already noted, the continued strength of the recovery in the economy is impressive. Our growth is outstripping that of the rest of the G7, employment continues to rise, and unemployment continues to fall.
In my constituency, substantial progress has been made over the last five years under a Conservative-led coalition Government. Since 2010, there has been a fall in the number of people claiming jobseeker’s allowance, and an even more impressive fall of 58% in youth unemployment. Those may sound like the dry statistics that are pronounced all too regularly in the House, but they are much more than that. They reflect real people. The 49% fall in unemployment in my constituency represents 713 people: 713 people with greater prospects, greater financial security and greater peace of mind when it comes to providing for themselves and their families.
It is against that background that I want to speak briefly about two specific measures in yesterday’s Budget. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor’s announcement of a living wage of £9.00 an hour by 2020 is to be welcomed. Tackling low pay is part of our plan to move to a higher-wage, lower-tax, lower-welfare society, building a more productive Britain and giving families the security of well-paid work. This measure will benefit 6 million workers across the country, and will boost pay for those who are currently earning the minimum wage by £5,200 a year. To see just what that means to working families on low wages, one had only to look at the expression on the face of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, such was his obvious joy at the announcement.
Beyond the euphoria of that moment, however, it is worth considering the careful balance that has been struck between the new living wage for employees and what we must do to offset the resulting cost to employers. Small businesses can be reassured by the plans to extend the employment allowance to £3,000, cutting the jobs tax for firms, so that a business will be able to employ up to four people, full time, on the new national living wage and pay no national insurance at all. Larger companies will benefit from a reduction in corporation tax from 20% to 18% between now and 2020. As part of the Government’s plan to make work pay, the announcement of an increase in the personal allowance is also significant. A further 727 people in my constituency alone will pay no tax at all, and the total number of beneficiaries will be some 34,677. Again, those are seemingly dry statistics, but there is a real, positive story behind them.
While the Chancellor was able to pull the living wage rabbit out of the hat, the nettle that he had to grasp was that of tax credits. Members will, I hope, forgive me for reminding them that tax credit expenditure trebled in real terms between 1999 and 2010 to an estimated £30 billion—a far higher level than was expected by the “prudent” Labour Chancellor of the time. Some Chancellors can be accused of robbing Peter to pay Paul, or giving with one hand and taking with the other. However, the policy of tax credits itself, created by the last Labour Government, meant that the state would, in effect, tax with one hand and “give” benefits with the other, thus creating an inefficient cycle of tax and spend. The policy succeeded in greatly inflating the size of the welfare state and bloating the system that was required to administer it, but by taking money away from people in tax only to credit it back to them later, it did little to increase their net income and standards of living. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor is now faced with the unenviable task of unpicking that knotted system, built up under 13 years of Labour rule. It is no easy task, but the Budget makes some important headway.
As I have said, I welcome my right hon. Friend’s Budget. I believe that, by allowing people to earn more and, most importantly, to keep more of what they earn, it will raise the living standards, prosperity and wealth of the country as a whole and my constituents in Hazel Grove in particular, and I commend it to the House.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for giving me an opportunity to contribute to the Budget debate.
As we heard from my hon. Friend Calum Kerr, history is important. We can learn much by studying the social and economic conditions of the past, and my constituency holds many lessons that are relevant today, for I represent the part of Scotland that endured the clearances. Indeed, it would be remiss of me if I did not begin my speech by paying tribute to the remarkable families, and the crofters, who lost their livelihoods, their homes and their lives during that shameful period of history.
The clearances were perpetrated during the 18th and 19th centuries when highlanders were forced from land they had held for generations. The clearances shifted land use from farming to sheep raising because sheep were considered more valuable than people. In the process, a way of life was exterminated to further the financial ambitions of aristocratic landowners. The evictions that took place are remembered for their brutality and for the abruptness of the social change that they prompted. At the time this Parliament compounded the inequity by implementing legislation to prohibit the use of the Gaelic language, the playing of bagpipes and even the wearing of tartan. The cumulative effect devastated the cultural landscape of the counties that I represent and the resulting impact destroyed much of Scotland’s Gaelic culture.
This Parliament’s policy ultimately failed, although I suspect that the Chagos islanders would recognise this account. In those dark days the cries and pleas of innocent families were ignored. If they were lucky, those families were dragged screaming from their homes, evicted and left to face destitution. If they were unlucky, their homes were simply set alight as they sat within them. The clearances forced the migration of highlanders to the sea coast, the Scottish lowlands, and further afield to the new worlds of north America and Australasia. Today more descendants of highlanders are found in those diaspora nations than in Scotland itself. These dispossessed highlanders travelled the world and applied their creativity and resource in ways that have benefited all of humankind. The economic and social contribution of the ancestors of people from my constituency stand today as a shining example of why the free movement of people is something no Government should hesitate to encourage.
As we debate the Government’s Budget, it is unfortunate that the cries and pleas of many people in my constituency continue to be ignored. Whereas in history the people of the highlands were burned out of their homes so that others could profit from sheep, the beneficiary of this Budget will be the financial markets that continue to take precedence over people. The impact will be that vulnerable people will face impoverishment owing to lack of economic opportunity, low wages, Europe’s lowest pensions, further experimentation with the failed system that we know as universal credit, the erosion of working tax credits and, frankly, the stifling lack of imagination that is self-evident in the austerity these measures promote, and that has raised the UK to be the fourth most unequal society in the developed world in terms of wealth inequality. For many in my constituency, past and present, the hardship, misery and impoverishment that accompany this inequality are the only consequences of the Government’s long-term economic plan that has been over 300 years in the making.
While some here today speak of economic laws, I choose to highlight the fact that many of our fellows are starving. It is time we recognised that economic laws are made not by nature, but by human beings. These laws are chosen for implementation by human beings and their effect will be felt by human beings. A further £12 billion of cuts, accompanied by a punitive sanctions regime, will do nothing except ensure that the jeely piece, of which my hon. Friend Stewart McDonald spoke in his maiden speech, will remain a significant feature of childhood for far too many of our children.
I have lived in the highlands of Scotland for the greater part of my life and I can confirm that Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross is one of the very largest parliamentary constituencies by area and, despite what many of my colleagues will claim, it is easily the most beautiful—spectacularly so. It is a great honour for me to represent a highland seat in this Parliament. It seems clear that in my constituency at least, few ordinary people have had that privilege.
Beautiful as my constituency is, it is subject to great acts of vandalism. Cape Wrath is the only site in Europe where live 1,000 lb bombs are dropped. The bombing is enormously destructive to fragile wildlife and excludes communities from the proximity for up to 120 days each year. Similarly, Scotland’s oldest royal burgh, Tain, is tormented by fast jets flying as low as 150 feet to drop 1,000 lb concrete bombs just a few miles from housing estates and primary schools. It is instructive that while many of my constituents work tirelessly to protect our marine animals, our rivers, our wildlife and our environment, this Government consider it acceptable to bomb the land that we consider precious. I say instructive because this seems to be the manifestation of the one nation ideal that my hon. Friends and I are expected to be impressed by, but from which communities in my constituency derive only disadvantage.
I have spent much of my adult life in the voluntary sector, working with those cruelly challenged by the UK Government’s long-term economic plan. Like others, my family and I pay the punitive electricity charges and excessive carriage charges that this Government impose. We are exposed to the reform of rural fuel duties that has brought a new and vital meaning to the word “failure”. My communities prepare for the disastrous repercussions of the recent announcement of the closure of three Royal Bank of Scotland branches in our rural areas, and our businesses endure the iniquitous transmission charging regime maintained by this Government, which acts as the main obstacle to securing energy supplies and wealth for Scotland.
We are used to empty promises, but in the early days of this Parliament, Scotland has chosen to watch as the promises of something
“as close to a federal state as possible”,
“all the options of devolution are there and are possible,” are publically erased from the Scotland Bill. The Government know that for many, this Budget visits hardship on disadvantage.
Like my hon. Friend Ronnie Cowan, I grew up fascinated and inspired not just by the technological achievements of Project Apollo, but by the social achievements of the civil rights movement. As a child I learned of the bravery of Rosa Parks and how she changed the world, and as an adult I learned of the personal challenges met and overcome, and of the uncommon political imagination of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. In those individuals I found examples not only of bravery but of imagination; the imagination to perceive the benefit of change in a world that aspires to achieve, not receive.
Many of those who supported me on
I made the decision to stand for election to this Parliament knowing, as Mrs Parks did, that
“I had the strength of my ancestors with me”,
“test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much, it is whether we provide enough for those who have little”.
In that task we will not be found wanting for, like Roosevelt:
“We are going to make a country in which no one is left out.”
Order. Before I call the next speaker, we are getting tight on time and now that the maiden speeches are over I will be a bit stricter. I do not want to impose a time limit, but if we can keep speeches to about seven or eight minutes—that is a maximum; Members should not feel that they must use all that time—we will get everybody in.
It is an honour to speak after Calum Kerr, who spoke eloquently. I was particularly interested to hear how his constituency is similar to mine and faces many of the same issues—it is a rural constituency where rural broadband and transport are key issues. I was also interested and honoured to speak after Dr Monaghan who made an equally passionate speech. I look forward to hearing many more speeches from him on similar subjects in the future.
This Conservative Budget is a Budget of core Conservative values—financial security, national security, and making work pay—and I wish to identify three different areas that I think should have cross-party support. The first is preparing our young people and getting them into work. It is about apprenticeships and the first step for our young adults to make their way in life. There can be little criticism of a scheme that helps to provide the foundations of the highly skilled workforce that we need for a competitive British economy. Through the apprenticeship levy, businesses are encouraged to take on and train our next generation, which will benefit from in-work training. We created 2 million apprenticeships in the last Parliament, and are committed to creating 3 million more—an ambition that surely must be welcomed.
The second point is about ensuring that for those in work, work pays, and that is achieved through the introduction of a national living wage. The concept of a living wage has had support from many quarters, including small and large businesses, parties across the political spectrum, and consumers across the country. The previous Government increased work opportunities across the country, and those in work must be paid fairly for the work they do, and be able to support themselves and their families from their own income. The new living wage starts to address that issue.
The living wage will also make headway in closing the gender pay gap. Historically, women have suffered more from low pay than men, and that has been a key factor in the gender pay gap. By increasing the minimum wage to a living wage, women stand to benefit and we take another step towards wage equality. Some have said that the amount the living wage is set at may not go far enough quickly enough. I note, however, that Edward Miliband called for an £8 minimum wage by 2020. The Chancellor has given us a £9 wage by the same date.
Thirdly, and critically, we must live within our means as a country. We cannot leave unnecessary debts to the next generation. In 2010 many said that it was not the right time to reduce the deficit. We had one of the highest deficits in the western world and we were coming out of recession with high unemployment. However, those who did not support the deficit reduction in 2010 must surely support it now. This year, the economy is predicted to grow by 2.4%, making us the fastest-growing western economy. We have the most competitive corporation tax in the G20. Our businesses have created 2 million more jobs since 2010, and the Office for Budget Responsibility forecasts that 1 million more will be created in the next five years. If now is the not the time to cut the deficit, when is?
The question must not be whether to cut the deficit to bring the country back to a surplus, but how. A Budget that makes efficiency savings, reduces tax avoidance and ensures we have a welfare system that rewards work must be, and is, the fairest way to achieve a stable recovery for all.
The hon. Lady and many others on the Government Benches have referred to the cut in corporation tax and the low and competitive rate of corporation tax in this country as an aid to economic development. I appreciate that we need to maintain competitiveness on corporation tax, but I put it to her that all that has happened in the past eight or nine years is that British companies have used that tax cut to build up something in the region of £550 billion of cash reserves that they are not investing. The weakness in the Budget yesterday is that it did nothing to encourage those companies to invest and raise productivity.
In a global economy, where companies can invest in any country they choose and base their operations anywhere around the globe, it is absolutely essential that we get companies to invest in our country. We are ensuring that that happens by setting a competitive rate of corporation tax.
I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for his intervention. Investment in our country is growing, which is why we have an increase in revenues.
For all three reasons, this is a Conservative Budget that is a Budget for all. It is founded on principles that should command cross-party support.
I pay tribute to those who have made maiden speeches. Dr Monaghan spoke passionately about inequality and the disadvantaged. I think many of us will share those sentiments. I have been to his constituency and it is very beautiful. I am pleased that I can still go there on holiday without having to go abroad. The hon. Gentleman was generous to his predecessor. John Thurso chaired the Finance and Services Committee in this House and did an excellent job of putting the internal finances of this House into good shape. He should be congratulated on that. My hon. Friend Judith Cummins mentioned her predecessor, Gerry Sutcliffe. I would have to say, with a bit of tongue-in-cheek, that Gerry has certainly left a big hole in the defence of the parliamentary football team, but I will move on.
The Budget has certainly received big headlines, but I will try to focus on one or two details that probably do not make quite such good reading for Government Members. The Chancellor is coming back in the autumn with his forecast for cuts to departmental spending. Local authorities in the previous Parliament had £10 billion of the £27 billion of Government grant cut—nearly 40%. That has disproportionately affected poorer authorities in the north. The forecast is for another £9.5 billion of cuts in this Parliament on top of that. Local authorities have done very well to be as efficient and effective as possible with the spending they are left with. They simply cannot carry on delivering the services that our constituents want from them if those £9.5 billion cuts follow on from the cuts in the previous Parliament. Why has local government been disproportionately singled out for cuts compared with other services? That is the question the Government have to answer.
There are two areas where I think there is a particular problem. I support the principle of the Government’s devolution proposals if they are not simply a mechanism for passing on more cuts for local authorities to deliver. We have to have some concerns about that. I would say, however, that, given that they are primarily about trying to rebalance the economy and with the talk of the northern powerhouse, we should look at what has happened to local authority spending on planning and economic activity. Local Government Association figures show a massive 55.4% cut in spending on planning and economic development in high-cut authorities in the last five years, and even in medium-cut authorities, that figure is 47%. Those sorts of figures will not support the economic regeneration and development in the north that the Government and everybody else want, which is a matter of particular concern.
We have a real problem in social care. The NHS has had some protection, but 300,000 fewer elderly people are getting social care from local authorities now than in 2010, because authorities now offer it only to those in the greatest need. Age UK says that more than 1 million people needing care are not getting it, which puts pressure on the NHS and accident and emergency units and results in beds being occupied by people who should be in their own homes being properly looked after; and this year, there will be a further cut of more than £1 billion to those services.
We cannot carry on like this. If we are going to have proper joined-up health and social care, social care needs some protection as well. I raised this point with the Secretary of State. Social care has some of the lowest paid employees of any sector in local government or any other service. If the living wage is applied at £9 per hour to everyone in the social care sector, it will cost local authorities about £1.5 billion by 2020. Local authorities cannot find that money on top of the cuts they have to make anyway. They simply cannot do it. This is an added burden that the Treasury must bear by giving that money back to local authorities. Instead of showing in the Red Book, as it does, a £1.5 billion saving in the welfare budget, the Treasury has to give this money back to local authorities to compensate them—and that does not include the cost of paying other workers in a similar way.
I hoped the Budget would boost house building in this country, but let us look at the hidden effects. The cap on local authority borrowing has not been lifted, but the rents that housing associations and local authorities can charge have been reduced from the commitment by the previous Housing Minister, Mr Prisk, who promised rent increases of CPI plus 1% over 10 years, to a 1% reduction per year. The Chancellor said yesterday that it would come from efficiency savings. No, it will not. Housing associations and local authorities cannot cover 4% a year less in rents through efficiency savings. The LGA has said that it will reduce the ability of local authorities and housing associations to invest in new homes and improve existing ones, while the National Housing Federation said today that, on a conservative estimate, it would reduce the amount of money available for development by £3.9 billion and mean 27,000 fewer social homes being built. That did not appear in any of the Budget headlines. I repeat, some 27,000 fewer social houses will be built because of the Budget and there will be a £50 million loss to the housing account in my own city of Sheffield. Those are figures that the Chancellor did not crow about yesterday, but they are there in the bottom lines of the Red Book.
There are additional problems, particularly for housing associations and local authorities, arising from the impact of welfare reforms, rising rent arrears, extra collection costs and the uncertainty of the right to buy scheme. These are all issues that will affect the ability of associations to borrow more money. They have already borrowed on the strength of the forecast rent increases, and now those increases have been taken away from them. No one can run a business like that, with the Government constantly chopping and changing the forecast revenue streams.
There is this idea of extra rents for higher-paid social housing tenants. Outside London, I think it is £30,000 a year. That is not particularly high pay for a family. Why should families who have been social housing tenants for years and have suddenly started earning £30,000 be penalised? It does not happen to owner-occupiers. What sort of system will be set up to do this? Will local authorities and housing associations have to means-test their tenants to identify those who earn more than £30,000 a year? Otherwise, how are we going to do it? When someone starts to earn £30,000, will their rent suddenly jump up overnight, or will there be a system of tapers? It is just another system where, as people earn more, the state takes more back. How does that make work pay? How is it consistent with the rest of the Budget? There are some questions that the Government simply have to answer.
Does the rent increase apply to supported housing with care? Housing association and local authority arrangements mean that the wage costs for those packages are about 80% and it is not possible to get out of them. If the rent revenue to fund them suddenly drops, those care supported packages and that particular sort of specialist accommodation will no longer be viable. Have the Government thought that through or will they exempt rents in care and supported-package housing?
Finally, I want to address the issue of 18 to 21-year-olds not having an automatic entitlement to housing benefit. A lot of these people are very vulnerable indeed. The Albert Kennedy Trust told me the other day that 24% of people who go to Crisis and Centrepoint are from the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community. They are often very frightened and very worried. They have probably just come out to their parents and are frightened to go home because they are not welcome there. Are they now going to be excluded from entitlement to housing benefit? What will the exceptions be? How will the Government set them down, and will they consult on them so that they are actually meaningful?
A lot of the detail in the Budget did not come out in yesterday’s headlines. I am really worried about the effect of the impact of cuts on local authorities—will the Government fund the living wage?—and about the impact on the development of badly needed social housing, which will be drastically cut by the Budget.
It is a delight to follow those who have already spoken, including the hon. Members for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (Dr Monaghan) and for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk (Calum Kerr), who made their maiden speeches.
It was interesting to hear the hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross talk about the clearances in a dark period of history. That took me back to learning the history of my own church, where I was baptised and confirmed, in Plympton on the outskirts of Plymouth. It was desecrated by troops loyal to Cromwell in reprisal partly for its support of the royalist cause in the civil war. It is interesting to see the statute that stands outside it today. I enjoyed the speech of the hon. Member for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk. We have had the UK and US versions of “House of Cards”, and given the content of his speech, we know he could write the Holyrood version.
I welcome the Budget outlined by the Chancellor yesterday and the many steps it sets out. I am particularly interested in the investment plan for the south-west of England. The description that has been given of infrastructure in the southern part of Scotland reminded me of last night’s Adjournment debate on infrastructure in the south-west, for which there is a £7.2 billion investment plan. That is about not just the big ticket projects, such as the Stonehenge tunnel, which will open up the A303 into the south-west, but the smaller projects, such as creating the new station in Edginswell in my constituency; the south Devon link road, which will open at the end of this year after a nearly 60-year wait; and the investment towards opening the Whiterock business park, which will create new opportunities for high-skilled, high-paid jobs in an area that perhaps for too long has been reliant on more seasonal employment and lower-paid trades.
The living wage is also welcome. The work of many of the social care staff in the bay has been undervalued for too long. Obviously, there needs to be a discussion about what will happen with local government funding, but it is right that their work is being valued more than perhaps has been the case in the past.
On investing in productivity and the future of our economy, I am pleased about some of the investment that has already gone into my constituency, including the coastal communities fund, which is delivering improvements. Gooch & Housego has used the regional growth fund to expand its production facility in Torquay, and, as we speak, the coastal communities fund is being used to help bring more shops to our high street. There is also support for the future electronics and photonics innovation centre, which, although it will serve Torbay, is about 100 metres over the border in the constituency of my hon. Friend Dr Wollaston. Its work with South Devon College will provide real opportunities for local companies and local students.
I also welcome the news about the increase in the tax allowance, which will take more of my constituents out of income tax altogether. This will combine with the impact of another year’s welcome freezing of the fuel duty so that people can see the real benefits stemming from the result of the general election on
The debate on the living wage is interesting. Last year, I become the first Conservative candidate or MP in 102 years to attend a meeting of the Torbay TUC, when I was invited along to discuss its living wage campaign. Afterwards, it pointed out that I had just broken that particular record. I have certainly been pushing my local council—sadly, not a living wage employer—to look at picking this up, and I am pleased that compulsion will now apply from a national level.
It would be remiss of me not to reflect on the support offered to our NHS. Torbay has many attributes, and one is that we have an older than average population. One ward in my constituency has 9% of the entire population aged over 85 and it is soon to become 10%, which presents a range of challenges for managing chronic illnesses and care conditions, along with other elements that follow from that type of demographic. In Paignton, too, the number of over-60s is expected to be 30% above the average, so I welcome the continuing support for the NHS and hope that we can work closely at the local level to deliver an integrated care package for local people to ensure they get the best available services.
In reflecting on some of the proposed changes to benefits, it has been interesting to hear some of the protests over the last 24 hours. We should recall that back in October 2013, Labour’s spokesperson on this subject claimed that Labour would be “tougher on benefits” than the Tories. It is interesting to hear all the vitriol coming one way without hearing any proposals to clarify what Labour means. Yesterday, the acting leader of the Labour party, Ms Harman, mentioned that some benefit cuts would have been inevitable, so let us hear some of them outlined. We understand that other Labour Members oppose that and want to put up taxes instead, but it is somewhat hypocritical for them to come here and criticise every policy without putting up their own. The visionary aspect comes from the fact that we are outlining our policy today, knowing that it will be Labour’s policy tomorrow.
I very much welcome the continuance of the £90 million coastal communities fund. Comments have been made today by a couple of London colleagues about aviation infrastructure. My appeal would be to make the debate about aviation for the whole country and how best to service the whole country rather than how to provide an extra runway for the south-east. Many routes to key markets in the south-west inevitably pass through Heathrow, but we need a wider aviation debate, not just one—probably for the third time in this place—about whether there should be an extra runway at Heathrow or Gatwick. That debate becomes too narrow for me as an MP representing a constituency in the south-west of England.
It is a pleasure to welcome the Budget. As a practising Christian, it would be remiss of me not to say that I have some concerns about the proposals on Sunday trading. For me, Sunday—certainly at St Matthias in Torquay, which I currently attend—is a joyous and fun day. It is a day when people can come to church as a family, but its value is not attained only when people come to church—often people spend time with their families and enjoy a day that is different and special by comparison with the other six days of the week. There is nothing missing if there are 18 hours during which people cannot visit a large Tesco or Sainsbury. I respect the fact that other Members take a different view, but for me there is something special about Sunday, so any changes made must be appropriate. I am not sure how productive it would be to have a shop in Torbay opening until 5 pm while one in Teignbridge can open only until 4.30. I await with interest the detailed proposals that the Government will bring forward.
The hon. Gentleman makes an interesting point, and many Labour Members agree with him on this issue. However, if one area agrees to extended opening, as many no doubt would, is not the reality that the neighbouring areas will have to do so as well, so the devolution issue is a bit of a red herring?
I would not necessarily agree with the right hon. Gentleman. There were issues involving local licensing authorities, going back to before the reforms that were brought in a decade ago, which meant that some authorities would permit later closing than others. That had worked for some years. There might be a challenge for local planning authorities, however, in that if slightly later opening were permitted, there could be pressure for development on the edge of their area to get around restrictions in neighbouring communities. I understand the difference that the proposals would make for consumers. At the moment, we all know that large supermarkets tend to open between 10 o’clock and 4 o’clock on Sundays, although some of them exploit the ability to have browsing time beforehand.
This is a positive Budget. It is one that we can take pride in, and it will take the country forward. It is notable that it has been based on policies that were agreed and supported by the electorate. The policies were endorsed by 51 of the 55 MPs in the south-west, and I am pleased to be able to support them today.
I should like to start by congratulating all those who have made their maiden speeches this afternoon. I pay particular tribute to the excellent speeches by my hon. Friends the Members for Bradford South (Judith Cummins) and for St Helens South and Whiston (Marie Rimmer).
It will be easy for me, as a Hull MP, to keep my remarks about the Budget fairly brief. That is because the words “Hull” and “Humber” did not appear once in the Chancellor’s speech, or in the Red Book, despite the northern powerhouse being a key policy for the Government and Hull being an important city in the north. As my right hon. Friend Mr Brown said, we all want to broaden, deepen and strengthen the economy in the north, but it looks as though the northern powerhouse has now become the northern power cut, particularly in regard to investment in rail improvements.
Just a few days ago, the Minister with responsibility for the northern powerhouse, the Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, James Wharton, appeared not to know where the north was, so I shall help him by saying that we are the ones who had our rail investment paused, unlike those in the south, where no such pause has taken place. But never mind—we have been offered a plastic Oyster card to make up for the cancellation of the electrification of the TransPennine Express route and the lack of any new rolling stock.
I also want to talk about renewables. The Humber area is working hard to be the UK’s renewable energy estuary, in the interests of energy security, of fighting fuel poverty and climate change and of growing this important area of our economy for the nation. It is therefore unhelpful to keep getting so much hostility to renewable energy from those on the Government Benches.
The Budget introduces a change to the climate change levy, which will now also apply to companies that use renewable energy. That will effectively be a charge of £490 million for companies that have switched to renewable energy, and it will discourage firms from using renewable energy in the future. By 2020, the cut will amount to £910 million a year, which will discourage investment in renewable energy sources.
The Chancellor claims that this is a Budget for “working people”. The centrepiece is the pledge of a living wage of £9 an hour by 2020 for those over 25. Younger workers get no such pledge. That is not the living wage. Of course we welcome the increase in the minimum wage—we called for it in our manifesto—but what the Government have announced will not be a living wage because the rate will be too low by 2020. Outside London, the living wage needs to be over £10, not £9, to be worthy of the name. Also, the rate proposed for 2020 is lower than the current London living wage, which is £9.15.
“there is simply not enough money going into the new minimum wage to anywhere near compensate…people on tax credits”.
We should be cutting the need for tax credits rather than the tax credits themselves. It is a fact that 75% of children in Hull North live in households that depend on tax credits. They will be worse off overall, just as they were at the end of the 2010 Parliament. One of my constituents, Maureen Craven, will also be worse off even though she is doing the right thing. She told me:
“I have had my grandson living with me since he was four months old. He is now seven years old and I rely on my child tax credit to buy shoes and school uniform.”
Such families, who are doing the right thing, will be affected by this policy.
It is also difficult to take the Tories seriously on the living wage when they have failed to enforce the legal national minimum wage. There have been only two prosecutions for minimum wage non-payment since 2010, and the number of inspections for compliance is falling. Will the Government get tough with big businesses to enforce a living wage? Will they help small businesses that have genuine fears about being able to afford the living wage? Will lower-paid local government workers, who will have years more of 1% pay increases, be paid at the living wage level? Will councils be funded for the costs they have faced—in the light of the cuts—over the past five years? As my hon. Friend Mr Betts said, there are already growing concerns about the care sector and how it will cope with an additional cut of £1.5 billion that will have to be borne by local authorities.
When it comes to motivating the richest to increase productivity, it means, in the Tories’ view, boosting their income, including unearned income. There is no austerity for them. That is because the Tories have always thought that all wealth creation comes from those at the top of the income scale. For the poorest workers, and everyone in the public services, it involves cutting real incomes and redefining child poverty to cover up the deed. Their welfare to work is really welfare to charity, as we will see, I am sure, at Hull’s food banks. It is the food banks that will need the longer Sunday opening hours, and not local shops, as the Chancellor announced in the Budget.
This was a Budget of selective austerity. It will leave people in a more complex poverty trap. They will have more debt and their work will not pay. After the millionaire tax cut, children of millionaires now get to inherit more unearned income to fund—in the Chancellor’s own words—“their lifestyles”. Meanwhile, aspiring youngsters from working families in Hull trying to get the qualifications for skilled jobs that we want in the city see student maintenance grants axed and turned into loans, and the cap for tuition fees removed.
Let me raise very quickly my concerns about limiting support to two children. It is a particularly ill-thought through policy and will lead to more and more children living in poverty. I am appalled—I use that word advisedly; I do not normally speak like this—by what the SNP spokesperson highlighted yesterday. She spoke about the proposal that a woman who had been raped and conceived a child would, if it was a third child, have to go to the DWP and provide evidence of the rape, and about the stigma that could be attached to the child. It is a disgraceful policy that the Government have brought forward.
As Jonathan Freedland stated today in the media, the rabbit that was pulled out of the hat was very thin. Under close scrutiny, things do not stand up. We will see falling incomes, especially in places like Hull and especially for lower paid women workers. The Chancellor talked about trying to improve wages for people in this country, but that will not be reflected in what this Budget actually delivers.
I congratulate all those who have made their maiden speeches today, including the hon. Members for St Helens South and Whiston (Marie Rimmer), for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk (Calum Kerr), for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (Dr Monaghan) and for Bradford South (Judith Cummins), as well as my hon. Friend Craig Tracey. They all made excellent speeches.
I welcome the Budget, as it ensures security for working people by putting the public finances in order, and sets out a plan for a more productive and balanced economy. I was particularly pleased to see a number of measures that will make a real difference to my constituents in Lewes. The first was the announcement on transport. The freezing of fuel duty for another year is to be welcomed. My constituency, like many, is rural—many residents are heavily reliant on cars, as the area has little or no public transport. Many businesses are reliant on farm vehicles and heavy goods vehicles.
Any increase in fuel duty would have had a significant impact on the amount of money in the local economy, so the freeze is very welcome, as is the announcement on ring-fencing vehicle excise duty and making the owners of more expensive cars pay more. The money raised will be ring-fenced for the English strategic road network. That is welcome news for my constituents, as more money will be used to repair existing roads and to pay for improvements to roads such as the A27, for which Edward Miliband pledged that he would cut funding if Labour was elected. The A27 in my constituency is a busy and congested road, and this year alone there have been a number of deaths from accidents. The investment in that road is very welcome.
In addition, investment in rail infrastructure is very welcome indeed. Yesterday, I spoke in a Westminster Hall debate on the issues we face locally in dealing with Southern rail. A number of MPs from Sussex, Surrey and London and from both sides of the House were there to raise issues about trains being consistently late, consistently cancelled and consistently overcrowded. I am sure that many hon. Members who came here by train today, the day of the tube strike, know exactly what I mean.
Our line from the Sussex coast up to London is at capacity. I was pleased to read in the Budget that the Government will extend the scope of the Lewes to Uckfield study, which is taking place this summer, to consider improving the line between London and the south coast and to re-examine the Department for Transport’s feasibility study on the Brighton main line, too. That is a real way to get a second rail main line from the Sussex coast to London. This work cannot come soon enough for the residents of Sussex.
As a nurse, I very much welcome the extra £8 billion to be invested in the NHS to provide a seven-day-a-week service. Due to the changes made locally by hospital management, which I raised in Health questions this week, patients from areas of my constituency such as Seaford, Polegate and Alfriston now have to travel to Hastings for basic services. The extra £8 billion will go towards more local services and making services available at weekends and evenings, so that local people can obtain the care that they need every day of the week.
Housing is a huge issue in my constituency—not just the availability of housing, but its affordability for those who want to buy or rent. I am pleased that the rent-a-room relief will increase from £4,250 to £7,500 next April. I am also pleased that a level playing field between buy-to-let landlords and homeowners will be created by addressing mortgage tax relief for landlords. In my constituency, family homes are increasingly being bought for student lets and used as houses in multiple occupation. This change will free up family housing for local people in my constituency.
Finally, I welcome the welfare changes announced yesterday. As someone from a working-class background, I am only too aware how much of a struggle life can be on a low income. I am pleased that the Budget supports low-paid workers by increasing the tax threshold from £10,600 to £11,000 now and to £12,500 by 2020. I am also pleased about the announcement on the living wage. We have heard much debate about that this afternoon, but it is definitely welcome.
A report last year by the Scottish Public Health Observatory found that changes to tax and benefits could do more to impact on health inequalities than changes to health care itself. It found that the implementation of a living wage is among one of the most effective interventions to reduce inequality and improve health. According to Public Health England, there is currently a seven-year difference in life expectancy between those who receive benefits and those who do not. Anything we can do to get people off benefits and into work must surely be welcome, and the living wage is one way to do that. Introducing the living wage is a massive step forward.
I welcome the Budget, which moves Britain from being a low-wage, high-tax, high-welfare economy to being a high-wage, low-tax, low-welfare society, and I congratulate the Chancellor on it.
Yesterday, the Chancellor trumpeted one nation. If one nation means anything, it is that Britain cannot succeed through London and the south-east alone. Building on Labour’s great devolution legacy in Scotland, Wales and London, we are pleased to see the devolution agenda for England moving forward, but we in the west midlands were surprised that there was but a throwaway reference by the Chancellor yesterday to the midlands powerhouse. Little wonder that the Birmingham chambers of commerce accuse the Chancellor of hot air and say it is time that he backed the midlands engine.
Does the hon. Gentleman acknowledge that the midlands engine and the devolution we are undertaking in this country are supposed to take a bottom-up approach, rather than a top-down approach? It is up to the authorities in the west midlands to come to the Chancellor with their proposals, rather than for the Chancellor to dictate to them.
On this issue, we are at one. We are working together in the west midlands to construct the midlands powerhouse and realise the full potential of the midlands. What was surprising yesterday was that the Chancellor waxed lyrical about the remarkable Greater Manchester, mentioned the northern powerhouse in considerable detail and referred to just about every other part of Britain, and at the end of his remarks made a throwaway reference to the midlands powerhouse. That has not gone down well in the midlands.
Crucially, at the next stages what the Chancellor cannot do is empower but impoverish. One of the great problems with this Government is that everything they do is characterised by a fundamental unfairness of approach. Some £700 million has been cut from the budget of Birmingham City Council—£2,000 for every household—yet in the Chancellor’s own constituency there has been an increase in spending power of 2.6%. Likewise, the West Midlands police have been treated unfairly. If they were treated fairly, they would be entitled to £43 million more—enough for 500 police officers back on the beat.
We will never be one nation while the Chancellor and the Government continue to demonise and divide, with their talk of shirkers or strivers, work or benefits. I was born in poverty—my father a navvy, my mother training to be a nurse; they worked hard to get on. I have always believed that those who can work should work, but I object to wicked caricatures of the sort we heard yesterday in relation to the young homeless—“they come out of school, they go on benefits, then they want to get a flat”.
Three years ago, I hosted in the House of Commons the Homeless Young People’s Parliament in Parliament—quintessentially middle England, middle Scotland, middle Wales young people, the best of Britain, who had ended up homeless, overwhelmingly through no fault of their own. Last Friday, I was at Orchard Village, which serves young homeless people in my constituency. It is substantially dependent on housing benefit for its income and now faces closure.
If we are to be one nation, the Chancellor cannot continue to play politics with the United Kingdom, posing one nation against the other. EVEL—if ever there was an accurate acronym, that is it.
As for the Tories being the party of working people, they introduced in the Budget a tax on aspiration, saying to working families in social housing, “If you get on, you have to pay much more or move out.” The party of working people? On Sunday trading, I agree with what was just said. One of Labour’s greatest achievements, the weekend, is now threatened by this Conservative Government, who would compel seven-day working, in reality forcing millions of retail workers, particularly women, to work on Sunday and putting at risk thousands of small stores all over the country.
The party of working people, with the so-called living wage? Yesterday, when the Chancellor spoke about this, he grinned like a Cheshire cat and the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions punched the air, as if England had scored the winning goal in the World cup. The living wage? Twelve years ago, I was a founder member of the drive for the living wage, working through the former Transport and General Workers Union, with the East London Citizens Organisation and London Citizens, to organise, for example, thousands of cleaners in Canary Wharf and the City of London and the first-ever strike in the history of the House of Commons to win the living wage. This is not the living wage or a “new contract” with the British people, as the Chancellor called it this morning; this is a con trick by a cunning Chancellor, who gives with one hand and takes away with the other.
In the west midlands, 56% of families are on tax credits and 300,000 children depend on tax credits. Yet a family with two children and one full-time earner on £20,000-plus now faces losing £2,000: for every £1 they get from a higher living wage, they will lose £2 in tax credits. What is the Government’s answer? They say, “Ah, the £9”. That is £9 in 2020, but they are cutting tax credits in the here and now.
The hon. Gentleman is making an excellent speech. Does he agree that there has been a further attack on working people in that public sector workers have been told there will be a 1% pay rise every year?
The hon. Gentleman and I both come from a trade union background. I feel for public servants such as the firefighters, the police officers, the nurses. All those who do excellent work for the communities we serve, who have already been squeezed for five years, now face but a 1% increase for the next four years. Effectively, that means a substantial cut in the living standards of millions of public servants.
The Chancellor says that the £7.20 rate will start next April, but the real living wage—I repeat, the real living wage—is already £7.85, or £9.15 in London; that is not based on cutting tax credits. As for the Chancellor being the workers’ friend, I did not come down with the last rainfall, and neither did the country. It is not a living wage if people cannot live on it. As the reality dawns and millions feel the pain of what the Chancellor has done, the last 24 hours of triumphalism on the part of the Conservative party will give way to the grim reality as Government Members go back to their constituencies and explain why they are inflicting cuts in living standards on the hundreds or potentially thousands of families they represent. The IFS’s verdict today is absolutely damning: for 13 million families, the living wage will not compensate for the tax credit cuts, and the poorest will be hit much harder.
When it comes to the Tories as the party of working people, let us not forget that this was certainly not a Budget for young working people. The crucial test of any Government is how they treat the next generation. Young people need the basics in life to get on—a decent job or education, and a roof over their heads. The Budget fails on all those points. It locks young people out of the living wage, makes higher education increasingly a luxury and cuts housing benefit for thousands who would otherwise end up homeless.
At this defining moment for our country, we must ask ourselves about what kind of country, economy and society we want. For me, it is an economy with a real living wage, not a phoney one. Crucially, as I have argued for throughout my trade union life, it is the high-pay, high-quality, high-productivity culture of the kind that can be seen in the Jaguar factory in my constituency. We need a serious long-term economic plan if we are to promote such a high-pay, high-quality, high-productivity culture throughout our country, but the Budget failed lamentably on the fundamentals of productivity, skills, homes, rail and road. Ultimately, this country will never succeed and working people will certainly never succeed if we proceed on the basis of a low-waged, low-productivity economy.
What kind of country do we want? It has to be one in which our citizens are safe where they live and work, their children are protected and we are protected from terrorism. It is therefore fundamental folly for the Government, having cut 17,000 police officers, to continue down the path of cutting 17,000 more police officers. What kind of society do we want? Before the Budget, the OECD was right to warn against measures that would slow recovery and harm the poor, but that is exactly what will now happen.
Rick was a lifelong Tory and an ex-sergeant-major in the British Army, but he has joined my local Labour party. He told me, “I was a lifelong Tory, but I have joined the Labour party because I believe in both aspiration and support for the vulnerable.” He is in sharp contrast to a cunning Chancellor who gives hubris a bad name and is ambitious not so much for the country as for himself. After the last 24 hours—and the last century—now and in the future, the simple reality is that the party for the working people always was and always will be the Labour party.
It is a pleasure to follow Jack Dromey, and we have also heard five excellent maiden speeches this afternoon. Between them, they covered Walter Scott, the Brontës, George Eliot, Roosevelt and Voltaire. I do not want to sow any dissension within the ranks of the Scottish National party, but I will leave it to the hon. Members for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (Dr Monaghan) and for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk (Calum Kerr) to sort out between themselves who has the more beautiful constituency, to which they both laid claim. All five maiden speakers exhibited the great passion with which I am sure they will defend their constituents in the future. I hope that they would all agree that in setting any budget—for a household, a company or a country—it is best to start with reality.
The reality that we face is a deficit of £90 billion a year and a national debt of 80% of GDP. That should have a sobering effect on all our considerations and, clearly, the former Chancellor Alistair Darling is well aware of it, given his remarks this morning. I hope that where he leads the official Opposition will follow. It is the easiest thing in the world to run up a deficit and a Government can become very popular in doing so. As the House knows, it is very painful to get it back under control.
The Budget can be commended on many grounds, but its most important characteristic is that it means we can anticipate our national finances returning to surplus during the lifetime of this Parliament—and a healthy and growing surplus at that. To have eliminated a deficit of £150 billion is a historic achievement.
I am delighted that the Chancellor set out a clear, smooth plan that will get us to a surplus of £10 billion—a larger surplus than was anticipated previously—by the end of this Parliament, and it will grow from there. I recognise the point the right hon. Gentleman makes, but I am proud of what the Chancellor has managed to achieve. I am sure the right hon. Gentleman would accept that the elimination of a deficit of £150 billion is no mean feat.
As we all know, the best way to eliminate a deficit is to achieve growth in the economy. The best news, which I am sure we would all endorse, is the forecast from the OBR of continuing growth in our economy. It is a solid basis on which to build. I especially welcome the extra 8% investment from business in 2014, and the fact that that is expected to grow this year and next will be an important part of our recovery programme. It is great that we are achieving that growth notwithstanding the external headwinds. The shadow Chancellor was a little ungenerous in criticising us for having fewer exports to the eurozone: we are growing as an economy, but the eurozone is in a sorry state and it is no wonder that our exporters are suffering at the moment.
All economic forecasts, however, including those of the wise men and women of the OBR, are of course vulnerable. We only need to look at China and Greece at the moment to realise that no one with any credibility would ever claim that we can abolish boom and bust. I therefore welcome the Chancellor’s publication of the new rules of the fiscal charter. This Government, once they have returned the country to surplus within this Parliament, will still be looking to the future. The fiscal charter will help this and, in particular, future
Parliaments to hold the Government to account, to ensure that in normal times they continue to pay down our national debt and restore our national fortunes. Without sound and sustainable public finances, there is no economic security for working people. With sound and sustainable public finances, we will ensure that by the 2030s Britain is the most prosperous major economy in the world.
The whole House would recognise that that prosperity, while welcome, is not a goal in itself. It would be a hollow success if that prosperity was not widely shared among all our citizens. That is why I welcome the Chancellor’s creation of the national living wage and the raising of the basic tax threshold to £11,000. I am delighted that it is a one nation Conservative Government who are seeking to take the lowest paid out of income tax altogether. I went on record supporting the principle of a living wage during the election campaign. It seems to me a positive step in ensuring that work pays for all those who undertake it. The principle that we have a society in which everyone has access to work and is fairly paid for it is surely a good one. Higher wages and lower taxes must be a principle that surely Members on both sides of the House would endorse. The natural corollary of that is that in good times there will be lower welfare expenditure.
I welcome the progress on corporation tax, making the UK an enormously fiscally attractive place in which to operate a business. Combined with the employment allowance, this will ensure that the costs for business of meeting the new national living wage are offset. Similarly, I note what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions said earlier about tax credits. The original system cost just over £1 billion but has risen to £30 billion, which is not sustainable. It needs to be addressed, and I note that we will still maintain expenditure on tax credits in real terms at around the level spent in the 2007-08 fiscal year, under the last Labour Government.
Lastly—I recognise that time is short, Madam Deputy Speaker—I welcome the Chancellor’s announcement on the road fund and the increased expenditure on the NHS to meet the NHS’s own five-year plan, as recognised earlier by my hon. Friend James Morris. My constituency of Horsham has had to accept significant additional house building. That is a concern for many residents. Those concerns will not be eradicated, but they can be mitigated if we all know that there will be enhanced infrastructure to meet the needs of an expanding population. That is especially the case with healthcare, and I look forward to taking up specific issues with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health. I welcome the additional expenditure on the NHS as a positive recognition that, while we cannot have increased NHS spending without a growing economy, a growing economy may also place increased and different demands on the NHS. I congratulate the Chancellor on an excellent Budget.
First, may I congratulate all the Members who have made their maiden speeches today? It has been fascinating to hear what they had to say and about their constituencies, which are very different from my constituency of Luton North.
The Budget has given me a tax cut that I do not need, which has been paid for by young people, students, the poor and public sector workers. Social justice would require the opposite of that, so I do not buy the idea that the Chancellor has somehow inched towards the centre ground of politics. He is still a right winger, concerned primarily with helping and protecting the wealthy. As my hon. Friend Jack Dromey has recorded today, the IFS calculates that 13 million UK families will lose an average of £260 a year, while those with estates of £1 million will not have to pay any inheritance tax, so we know where the Chancellor’s heart really lies.
Much more interesting than the Budget, which is a typical Tory Budget really, is the OBR’s report, “Economic and fiscal outlook”, published at the same time. There are indeed myths about the economy that have to be dispelled. Britain’s economy is not healthy; indeed, the opposite is the case. Britain is a low-wage, low-investment, low-productivity economy. Indeed, the productivity of Germany and France are 25% greater than Britain’s and we are sixth in the G7, with only the ailing Japan behind us—so there are problems, and the Budget will not make much difference to that fact.
Over several decades, Britain’s manufacturing sector has shrunk drastically, and it is now far too small to sustain what we need ourselves. As a result, our trade balance, especially with the rest of the EU, is in enormous and chronic deficit. In his Budget statement, the Chancellor made very little reference to the wider macroeconomic environment—which Jeremy Quin touched on—and that is very worrying indeed.
The Government chant their mantras about the Government deficit and public finances while private debt is surging once again. An asset price bubble continues to grow that will inevitably burst, with drastic consequences for households and the economy as a whole. One million of our people are now dependent on food banks—a number that will be dwarfed when the crash comes. I use the word “crash” because that is what we face, with inept and misguided economic policies at home and global factors again driving us towards recession. China’s economy is decelerating and is now in a share price crisis; Japan’s economic weakness continues, with no end in sight; the eurozone is a basket case; and the USA has seen a false economic dawn, with another asset price bubble driven by corrupt share buy-back schemes, among other factors.
“Demand is slowing, share prices will be devastated, and recession is coming, with downturns that will be remembered in 100 years.” Those are not my predictions but the words of Crispin Odey, one of London’s leading hedge fund managers, who tends to get his predictions right, including on the 2008 crisis. My own conclusion is simply that globalisation—neo-liberalism—does not work and that leaving the financial markets and the global corporations free to do what they like, with no effective economic borders to constrain them, has caused one disaster and another is coming.
The Government’s claimed economic success since 2010 is a mirage. After 2010, they first tried savage cuts in public spending, in theory to reduce the public finance deficit, but by 2012 they realised that this was simply driving the country into recession, so they reduced their pressure on the economic brake and tried a bit of quantitative easing. Asset prices began to rise, notably in housing, and consumer spending edged upwards, producing a modest rise in economic growth. However, we still have low productivity—a chronic disease in Britain’s economy—and we still bump along, sustained only by low wages and income from asset sales to foreigners: another version of selling the family silver, as Harold Macmillan so famously put it.
The one advantage that Britain does have is its own currency, able to flex to appropriate parities with other currencies. After the 2008 crisis, sterling depreciated against the euro by 27% and against the dollar by 31%, offering a degree of protection against the worst ravages of the crisis. But even that example has been wasted, with sterling surging against the euro from €1.02 to €1.40, increasing our export prices and decreasing import prices by over a third, and driving Britain’s ongoing and gigantic trade deficit with the rest of the EU. That deficit—over £1 billion a week—is equivalent to exporting at least 1 million jobs to the continent. Page 71 of the OBR report shows a gigantic current account deficit of some 6% of GDP—about £100 billion, or £1,600 for every person in Britain.
There are sensible alternatives to all this economic nonsense, and with much more time I would have been pleased to spell them out. In the short term, however, we must not be fooled into believing that the Government and their predecessor coalition have got things right when all the elements are present for another economic crisis. The Government are doing nothing to protect our economy from the next crisis, and they must not be allowed to escape the blame when it comes.
Before I conclude, I must again emphasise my concern about the sterling exchange rate. Some Members may remember that I raised my concerns about sterling’s over-valuation with Gordon Brown during his time as Chancellor. He responded sotto voce that it was not Government policy to target the exchange rate. In more recent times, I have raised the same issue in this Chamber with the Prime Minister and the Chancellor, with similar measured, if negative, responses. In my very last oral question before Dissolution, I again asked the same question of the now-departed Business Secretary, Vince Cable. He responded, astonishingly, by suggesting that there was no evidence that the exchange rate was a significant factor in the economy’s performance. Only a few days later, it was reported that manufacturing was suffering from the high euro exchange rate and that the economy was being sustained only by domestic consumer demand, with the main risks coming from the eurozone.
Much has been made of Britain’s greatly improved automotive sector, which I applaud. It is true that we make excellent-quality vehicles, including the Vauxhall Vivaro, made in Luton, but it remains the case that we import twice as many cars from the rest of the EU as we export to it. Had I had an opportunity to do so, I would have reminded Vince Cable of the big depreciation after 2008; the rapid recovery from the 1992 exchange rate mechanism debacle, driven by a large exchange rate reduction; and even the 1931 departure from the gold standard, which laid the foundation for the economic recovery from the inter-war depression.
An appropriate exchange rate is not a sufficient condition for economic success, but it is a vital one. Had Britain been stuck in the euro, at a parity perhaps as high as €1.50 to the pound, the economy would have been utterly wrecked, with Britain almost certainly crashing out of the euro, probably bringing down the whole euro edifice in the process.
The Government are riding for a fall if nothing is done to bring down Britain’s bloated exchange rate, and soon. Writing recently in The Guardian, Larry Elliott said that the Government were sitting on an economic time bomb. That is surely the case, and the priority must be to bring down sterling’s exchange rate with the euro. The Budget must be seen in that wider context and the Chancellor’s mind should be focused on those wider international dangers, otherwise we will all be in trouble.
I congratulate all those who have made their maiden speeches today. I remember making mine only a few weeks ago. I was glad just to get it over with, to be frank.
What we heard in this place yesterday was one of the great set-piece Budgets—a resetting Budget—along the lines of Lord Howe’s in 1981, Lord Lawson’s in 1986 and, in a less positive way, Gordon Brown’s Budgets of the early 2000s, when he decided to do away with the careful fiscal management he inherited from my right hon. and learned Friend Mr Clarke in favour of a massive expansion of the welfare state and the hyping up of supposed golden rules, which seemed to change according to his whim or to disguise unsupportable Government expenditure.
The Budget contained many measures that will be welcome in my constituency, in particular the extra money for the national health service. Solihull has an ageing population with particular health challenges, so that money will go a long way there. The higher personal allowance, which I will return to in detail, is a fantastic move for the population of Solihull, as it is a hard-working town. I am delighted to report that its unemployment rate is 1.6%. That is because it is the hard-working engine of the west midlands.
The Chancellor has effectively reset how the state interacts with the economy and the individual, subtly, cautiously and over time. In the Opposition debate on tax credits, I acknowledged the important role that tax credits play in many of my constituents’ finances. They help them to get over humps in the road in their lives and can be very helpful. I am pleased that the Chancellor recognised that, as I knew he would, and that the overwhelming majority of people who receive help through the tax credits system will continue to do so.
In the same debate, many of my hon. Friends made the point that tax credits were propping up low pay and effectively trapping many people in welfare dependency, and that many people on salaries far higher than the national average were receiving state help when, frankly, they should not be. Over the past decade or so, many of our fellow citizens have moved into a relationship with the state that, over the long term, is unhealthy for their career ambitions, business more widely and the nation’s finances.
The Chancellor has pressed the reset button on that situation. We will see a freeze in working-age benefits and a narrowing down of the people who can claim tax credits. To ease the transition away from tax credits for some people, there is a raising of the personal allowances, which cuts out the middle man by letting people keep more of their own cash, rather than having to go through a complex tax credits system. There is an expansion of childcare provision; the introduction of the living wage, which will rise to £9 by 2020; and support for business, as part of this transfer, through lower corporation tax—something that was opposed by the Labour party in its manifesto—and the ongoing reduction in national insurance contributions for new employees.
The Government are moving from being a nanny who keeps individuals wedded and chained to a fiendishly complex system prone to substantial fraud and endemic overpayment, to being a facilitator. Good Governments should be there to create the correct environment for individuals and businesses to flourish. If that is brought to fruition, it will mark the end of Brown economics, and not before time.
That is all big-picture stuff from the Chancellor, as we would expect, but I should like to say something about the smaller bits of the Budget, and the good news that we have received. I was delighted that he accepted Budget submissions from me and from my hon. Friend Oliver Colvile. We asked him to raise the rent-a-room scheme allowance, which had been languishing at just £4,250 a year since 1996. By raising it to £7,500, he has made up for nearly 20 years of inflation, and will help thousands of home owners who want to let a room to make ends meet, or even just to have some extra company at home. The measure should also increase the availability of rooms to rent in the private sector, which will be particularly helpful to young people who want to strike out on their own in the world.
Another welcome step was the decision to up the compensation for Equitable Life members by an estimated £80 million. There are many former members of Equitable Life in my constituency. It is a black mark on the Labour Government that they first allowed the development of a regulatory regime which effectively allowed the world’s oldest mutual to collapse, and then, when its administration was found wanting by the parliamentary ombudsman, wriggled like mad to avoid paying what was due to people who had seen their life savings largely disappear. When the country had the money with which to compensate the members of Equitable Life, the Labour party chose not to use it.
I believe that it does great credit to the Chancellor, and to my hon. Friend the Economic Secretary to the Treasury, that they have not forgotten about those wronged individuals, but—despite the global recession, and despite having inherited the worst public finances since the war—have sought to help. The compensation is not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but the Government, like the coalition before them, are doing their best within the confines of the current fiscal position.
There are many other highlights in the Budget. The apprenticeship levy, for instance, will help to secure fairness in the apprenticeship system, and the best employers will be rewarded. Like my hon. Friend Kevin Foster, I am no fan of trading on the Sabbath, but I welcome the Chancellor’s indication that it should be up to local mayors to set Sunday trading hours. Should we have an elected mayor in the “midlands engine”, I shall welcome the opportunity to lobby for a sensitive approach, along with my friends in local church groups. That is real devolution.
Finally, there will be a great deal of cheer over the freezing of fuel duty, which means that it is 18p lower than it would have been if Labour’s anti-motorist plans had been implemented.
That is what this Budget is all about. We are on the side of normal people who want to get their kids into work, keep more of their cash, and interact with the state in the right way. It is about a hand up, not a handout. The Budget sends a loud and clear message: we are the workers’ party now.
I congratulate Members who have made their maiden speeches today. I will not list them all, as some of the Scottish constituencies in particular are quite lengthy, but they all spoke with great passion about the areas that they represent. I especially welcome my hon. Friend Marie Rimmer, who has served in local government for a long time, and has been a great public servant. I am sure that she will repeat that role in the House.
I believe that, in the Budget, the Chancellor has put rhetoric above reality. He has talked about a northern powerhouse, but at the same time he has put key transport projects at risk. He has offered nothing positive to constituents such as mine, not least because he has been unable to establish whether my constituency is part of the northern powerhouse. As for the living wage, about which I shall say more shortly, it is nothing of the sort. Perhaps the clearest example of rhetoric over reality, however, was the Chancellor’s statement that this was a Budget for one nation. This is not a one nation Budget; it is divisive. It is a Budget that says, “If you lose your job, if you are sick, if you have what the Chancellor deems to be too many children, if you get disabled, if you’re young, if you’re disadvantaged—you’re on your own.” This is not a one nation Budget; it is a two generational Budget.
It is clear that the Government have taken a cynical decision to attack young people, presumably on the basis that they are less likely to vote. If there is anything that will motivate young people to vote, I believe it is this Budget. Let us look first at the so-called living wage. I see no reason to limit it to people over the age of 25. Are people not adults at 24, 23 or 22? Is their contribution any less deserving at that age? I am worried that employers will, in effect, be incentivised to sack people when they reach the age of 25. What a fantastic 25th birthday present that will be.
Many others, including the Living Wage Foundation, have commented that next year we will not see an above-average increase in the living wage: we will see an increase in the minimum wage, and that is what we should go on calling it. It is not only a rate far lower than that proposed by the independent Living Wage Foundation and already paid by living wage employers, but when we consider the tax credit cuts, it represents a huge reduction in income for the many who will receive it.
What about those good employers who already pay the living wage rate of £7.85 an hour? What message does the Budget send out to them? Whatever the headlines proclaim, the details tell a very different story. A single parent in my constituency on the minimum wage stands to lose around £1,500 a year under these proposals. A couple could lose around £2,000 a year. For both of them, it is about 10% of their annual income. I agree that subsidising low pay with tax credits is not the way ahead for this country, but for five years this Government and the Chancellor have made no attempt to tackle in-work poverty. The focus has been on the low-wage insecure economy that we still see today. They cannot take away tax credits without putting in place a proper system to replace them.
Rebranding the minimum wage is not a proper system to tackle low pay. This Budget is an attack on the family. Penalising the third-born and denying families access to tax credits is not a humane approach and will only increase child poverty. I have heard it said that the state should not support more than two children. Are the Government trying to prevent the third child from attending school or accessing the NHS or other public services? Of course not. That would be ridiculous, but the cost of a child’s education far outweighs the cost to the taxpayer in tax credits. That exposes this proposal as a cheap, cynical and calculated attempt at division.
A further attack on young people is the replacement of student maintenance grants with loans. I recall Government Minister after Government Minister speaking out in favour of the £9,000-a-year tuition fee system on the basis that the least well off would be supported by grants. That did not last very long, did it? How many will now decide that what they will have to repay is so prohibitive that they cannot even contemplate higher education? Starting a working life with debts of over £50,000 is surely a daunting prospect for anyone, and we already know that the loan system is unsustainable because of the low levels of repayment. The new system will increase debt and decrease opportunity.
One of the big challenges that we face is in relation to housing benefit costs. I note that the Budget proposes a modest reduction in social housing rents, but it seems completely to ignore the spiralling cost of private rents, which make up the bulk of the increase in the housing benefit bill. One serious consequence of the measures in the Budget is that the reduction in income for housing associations and council housing revenue accounts will reduce further the amount of social housing that is built. It has been estimated that around 27,000 homes a year will be lost as a result of these measures. That will put more pressure on the private housing market, increasing the housing benefit bill further. What we need is meaningful action to reduce private sector rent levels, but we have heard nothing from the Government about that.
Another worrying measure is the removal of housing benefit from those under 21. It means that if people are young, work hard, move out of the family home and are then unlucky enough to lose their job, they will lose their home as well. What kind of message does that send out to children who want to get on?
The proposal that households with higher incomes should pay more rent will penalise young people in work. Those who are living with their parents but are saving up for a home of their own will be penalised. Already a constituent in this situation has told me that the money they were putting aside for a deposit will now be used to pay the increased rent that their parents will have to pay. How is that going to create more homes for everyone?
As for the northern powerhouse, I could not get an answer yesterday, but I think we are getting closer to finding out where it is. I note that in the Red Book there is something called “Transport for the North” which will be established as a statutory body with statutory duties. That will help us to identify where the northern powerhouse is. I see that an interim partnership board already has representatives from Manchester, Liverpool, Sheffield, the north-east, Hull and Humberside, but there is no mention of Lancashire or Cheshire. About half the north-west does not appear to be in the northern powerhouse at all. There is nothing in the Budget for my constituency, and across the country there is nothing to tackle chronic insecurity in the workplace, or to encourage the transition from part-time to full-time work. There is nothing about job creation, improving public transport, or creating a sustainable and fair economy.
It can be no coincidence that the Budget projects personal borrowing to increase significantly over the next few years, because what we have is a conjuring trick of the Chancellor giving with one hand and taking back with both hands. He is taking more than he is giving, and people will discover that reality in the next few months once the headlines have faded. Members of the House will have to deal with the reality of a con trick.
Order. I am reluctant to introduce a formal time limit at this stage, but if all Members take six minutes then everyone will have the chance to speak. I hope that I will not have to require a time limit and that Members will behave courteously towards other Members.
I congratulate all those who have made their wonderful maiden speeches today. I received a tweet from a constituent that said: “I’m seriously scratching my head to that bit.” Members might ask, “What bit?”, because we were scratching our heads to quite a few bits of the Chancellor’s Budget speech. My constituent was referring to the bit about the minimum wage, or the “living wage” as the Chancellor likes to call it. I fully support the increase to £7.20 an hour, rising to £9 by 2020, but that is an increase in the minimum wage; it is not a living wage, however many times Government Members like to say it is. As I have said previously, “You can fool some of the people some of the time, but you can’t fool all the people all the time”, yet I fear that is what they are trying to do.
The Living Wage Foundation currently considers that to achieve a minimal acceptable standard of living someone must be paid £7.85 outside London, and £9.15 in inner London. That is the living wage. If the Chancellor needs some help, perhaps he could congratulate Brent council on its work in championing the £9.15 living wage, and on incentivising employers to pay it. The Opposition need to humanise the Government’s policies as they seem not to know many of the people whom their policies adversely affect. The living wage calculation is also based on tax credits that have helped to boost low wages, but if those are removed, the living wage would be £11.65 an hour—that is how much someone would need to be paid if tax credits are removed.
I want to support working people—we all do, and, I might add, more seriously on the Labour Benches. The Chancellor seems to feel that working people live a lavish lifestyle that he wants to curb. Before the election, Jenny Jones asked the Prime Minister to put to bed rumours that he planned to cut child tax credit and restrict child benefit. David Cameron replied: “Well thank you, Jenny. I don’t want to do that.” What has changed?
Brent has the above average number of 5,609 lone parents, which is 11% of all households. Some 64% of families in Brent Central are receiving tax credits. It is okay to have universal credit—I agree with that; I used to work in the employment service—but the Institute for Fiscal Studies has stated that 13 million families will be affected by the benefit cap, and that 3.4 million working families will lose £1,000 a year. There will be an increase in absolute child poverty.
Why is that happening? In Brent, we have large Muslim and Irish communities. Many families have more than three children per household. I would like to challenge the Chancellor to do a husband swap with some of my constituents. I am sure they would be able to give him advice on managing budgets and debt. Given that family breakdown costs the country an estimated £49 billion a year, this is a false economy. The OBR has forecast that household debt will rise even above the record levels seen prior to the crash in 2007-08. What does that mean for the future of our country? The root cause of welfare spending is low pay and high housing costs, so in one fell swoop the Chancellor could build more affordable and social housing, and more people would be in work and paying taxes. We should just stop playing politics and make it happen.
Millions of households are forecast to plunge into debt. We will see another increase in homelessness and children living in absolute and relative poverty. That is not scaremongering—this afternoon the IFS has said just that. Is this really the legacy that the Chancellor wants as he launches his bid to become the Prime Minister? He has lost weight, he has got longer trousers and he has styled his hair differently. All he needs now are some workable policies for working people. The Chancellor always mentions fixing the roof while the sun is shining, but he always forgets to mention the Thatcher legacy of £19 billion worth of household repairs that Labour had to make. Now, with these supposed fixes, the first Tory Budget in almost 20 years is taking the roof from over the heads of my constituents. He should be a little bit embarrassed about that.
The Chancellor spoke about apprenticeships. The reality is that the majority of apprenticeships in the previous Parliament were rebranded jobs. People were already working for companies and their jobs were rebranded as apprentices. We have actually seen a reduction in apprenticeships of almost a quarter, from 82.3% under the Labour Government to 63.2% under this Government.
As I said, I used to work in the employment service. I welcome the simplifying of the benefit system, but I am afraid the Chancellor needs to seek some advice from the Social Security Advisory Committee and examine any variations in his policy. Do not say that young people in university have a future and then burden them with about £53,000 of debt when they finish. It was estimated that 923,000 young people would take up maintenance grants in 2014-15. Do not tell me that that will not have an effect on my constituents and young people in Brent Central when they are choosing whether to go on to further and higher education.
This is a reminder of who the Budget is really for: the haves, not the have-nots. I see nothing in the Budget that aims to address the scandal of a 50% increase in long-term youth unemployment among black, Asian and minority ethnic—
It is a privilege to be able to speak in the Budget debate. It would be remiss of me not to accept that a number of good points have been made today and I do not want to demean them. One point clearly relates to the Ulster Unionist party policy on the living wage, which the Conservatives have adopted. That will be extremely helpful, but I have concerns about how it will be implemented. There needs to be support for employers and businesses along the way, particularly small and medium-sized businesses. It may have the effect of SMEs employing fewer people to meet that living wage so I hope the Government have a plan in place to bring forward definitive proposals to help those small and medium-sized businesses.
Secondly, I am extremely positive about the reduction in corporation tax. I come from Northern Ireland, to which the Government have helpfully promised to devolve corporation tax. The reduction here will make our 12.5% much more realistic and help make us competitive with our neighbours in the Irish Republic. We have a land border with another EU state, so I welcome the reduction set out in the Budget, which will make it much easier for us to implement our reduction. Thirdly, I also welcome the 2% year-on-year increase in the defence budget, which is helpful and will leave the UK right at the centre of world defence.
A lot of today’s debate has been taken up with tax credits. I note that 164,100 families in Northern Ireland are in receipt of tax credits and that almost 70% of them are working families. In recent months, one of the huge difficulties in our constituencies has concerned the HMRC helplines available to people making inquiries about their tax credits, and that is only going to get worse after the reduction. I therefore appeal to the Government to invest more resources to help constituents who are worried they might lose some or all of their tax credits. It is a worrying time for them. It is difficult even for us, their elected representatives, to get answers. HMRC needs to do a major job of work to provide that assistance and support mechanism. I feel that there is going to be a huge reduction in the tax credit element, which will create particular issues in areas such as Northern Ireland, where we have a lower wage base. These families, many of whom are working, cannot afford to spend up to 60 minutes on the phone waiting for answers to their tax credit queries, but that is what is happening.
I am also concerned about the effect on the Barnett formula and the Northern Ireland Executive budget. The Government will know of the difficulties around the welfare reform proposals in Northern Ireland. I noted in yesterday’s statement the reference to the Stormont House talks. I want to make it clear that there was no agreement around those talks, as we have now realised, because some parties are now reneging on the proposals. We want to ensure that the £90 million agreed for welfare reform, to be taken from other budgets, can be implemented, because it is important for those suffering in our communities, such as the most deprived and the severely disabled. It is important they have the help and support they require, so I am looking to hear from the Government how we can ensure that the people most in need can be assisted.
The Budget is a curate’s egg: there are some good parts, but there are also some difficult issues to deal with, particularly around tax credits.
I have heard a lot of self-congratulation and hubris and I have even seen some fist-pumping from those on the Government Benches about the long-term economic plan, of which this Budget is part, but the people of Redcar and Teesside have seen what the last five years of the Tory’s economic plan have meant for them and will be forgiven some scepticism about what they heard yesterday.
In Redcar in the last five years, we have seen six food banks a week, where formerly there were none; we have seen nearly 2,000 people hit by the bedroom tax and forced from their family homes; we have seen people sanctioned for accidentally filling in a form wrong or for missing an appointment because a child has had to go to hospital; we have seen pay freezes and redundancies and half of all women on less than a living wage, many of whom will be reliant on tax credits. Nationally, we have seen 500,000 more children in absolute poverty since 2010; the biggest fall in wages since 1874; rampant job insecurity; escalating private debt; a ballooning trade deficit; a shocking productivity record; and stagnating business investment.
In fact, if the Chancellor had any decency or integrity, he would have left himself a note in May saying, “I’m afraid there is still no money”, because the past five years have seen a greater increase in debt than under 13 years of Labour, a total failure to eradicate the deficit as promised, the loss of our triple A rating, mass under- employment, terms and conditions being undercut, a huge increase in bogus self-employment and rampant low pay.
What about this Budget and how it should deal with those issues? As many of my colleagues have said, it is a Budget of smoke and mirrors. Its living wage is not actually a living wage: it is 65p per hour less than the living wage should be. Some 4,000 people in my constituency of Redcar will be worse off because of the impact on tax credits, and the one nation narrative is divisive.
The Budget turns nation against nation, public sector workers against private sector workers, north against south, the inherited haves against the have-nots, the young against the old, and taxpayers against fellow citizens.
As for the northern powerhouse, it is nothing more than a slogan. The north-east was not even mentioned in the Budget speech. One in three children in the north-east is still in poverty. Our unemployment rate is still the highest in the country, and the trend in our region is going up, not down. We lost 60,000 public sector jobs and they were not magically replaced, as predicted, by private sector jobs. Those left now have the indignity of a pay rise of less than 1% for the next five years.
The plug has been pulled on infrastructure, and that includes the cancellation of the electrification of the railways. Spending on transport in the north-east is £5 per head compared with £2,600 per head in London. Local authority budgets have been cut by a third, despite higher levels of deprivation in our area. All we have got from this Chancellor is the change of name from the A1 to the M1, without any accompanying infrastructure investment.
In summary, I congratulate the Government on finally acknowledging that the past five years have been a disaster for wage levels, but their solutions provide nothing but smoke and mirrors and will leave my hard-working constituents, who are doing their best to feed their families and get through the month, worse off than ever.
I shall keep my remarks brief, to allow time for other speakers.
I fully agree with what my hon. Friend Justin Madders said about the northern powerhouse.
The so-called living wage is a complete sham. Even the national minimum wage is not enforced in this country, with the TUC estimating that 350,000 workers are already paid below it, so what guarantees do we have that a living wage would be enforced?
I want to focus most of my attention on the changes to tax credits to limit them to two children. It is wrong to punish children by putting them into poverty for being born into families with one or more siblings. I would also like to stress that there are 3,000 children in this country waiting to be adopted. Since baby P, there has been a huge increase in the need for fostering and adoption places. Many of those placements are found in kinship care and often in families who already have children. If the Government insist on going ahead with capping tax credits at two children, will they provide some flexibility and exempt those who choose to adopt or foster one of the 3,000 children who are desperately seeking a home in this country?
This Budget is an attack on the younger generation. Cutting housing benefit for under-21s will particularly affect lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth, who are more likely to find themselves homeless. Student grants are now gone and have been turned into loans, thereby passing more debt on to some of the poorest students as they graduate and begin life. The fact that the so-called living wage does not apply until age 25 just goes to show that there is little understanding of the fact that someone aged 25 or under still needs a roof over their head and still needs to buy food. All that costs the same as it does for a consumer or renter over the age of 25.
Frankly, this Budget does not work for young people, the north or families. Worst of all, I left the Chamber after the Budget speech thinking that, although I personally will be better off, family members of mine who work in minimum wage jobs and who try to balance the demands of having young families are worse off, and that is wrong.
I shall tackle three areas and be brief. First, student finance has clearly been a controversial issue for a number of Parliaments. The tripling of tuition fees in the last Parliament was obviously highly controversial, and we now know that it was also an unsustainable system, with almost half of current students unable to repay their loans and the Government building up a huge amount of debt.
What is curious is that by abolishing the maintenance grant, the Government seem to be repeating the mistake. The Chancellor boasted yesterday that students from poorer backgrounds had not been put off going to university, but as hon. Members have pointed out, that was partly because these maintenance grants existed. Taking them away is likely to make that less the case. We should not underestimate the numbers involved. I was surprised to find that at Anglia Ruskin University in my own city, 5,697 students were in receipt of maintenance grants, while at the University of Cambridge, there were 2,720. Almost 8,500 young people in my constituency will, I suggest, all be angry when they learn about this.
The problem is not solved either, because more debt is created for the next generation, and the Government’s cunning plan to solve all this is to sell off the student loan book and raise huge amounts of money from it. We know that is controversial, too. Warning bells should be ringing if people read the small print on page 59 of the Red Book, where the Government say they will “review the discount rate”. What that basically means is that students will pick up the tab. They will notice this—and they will be loud.
My second point is about the proposal to limit public sector pay rises to 1% for the next four years. I do not think anyone knows what the economic situation is going to be in four years’ time. Frankly, it is hard to predict for four weeks when it comes to interest rates, oil prices and all the rest. One thing I do know is that rents in a city like Cambridge are shooting up and up. What that means is that for public sector organisations such as our national health service, recruitment—already difficult—will become near impossible in the future. Some of the high-flying research scientists in Cambridge are, in fact, public servants, and they had been waiting to see a sign that things were going to improve. I fear that what the Chancellor has done is in effect to write their exit visa to other countries. Our brightest and best—the people we need if we are to be competitive in the future—are being told that they can expect 1% over the next four years. That is not sustainable.
Finally, let me deal with housing, which is the key issue in Cambridge. There was nothing in the Budget to deal with the things that really matter in a city like Cambridge—nothing on more affordable housing, nothing on the huge trend of people from foreign countries buying up housing off-plan before it is even built, and nothing on the dreadful insecurity faced by tenants in the private rented sector, who are a different group of people these days. Conservative Members stole quite a few things from Labour’s manifesto, but they could do with stealing some of our proposals on the private rented sector, which would really help. As for the extension of the right-to-buy process, I have to say that almost half of all council homes sold in Cambridge under right to buy since 1980 are now back in the private rented sector, building up the housing benefit bill, which has increased by 51% since 2010.
Let me conclude by making one or two general points about the assault on council housing, including the threat to lifetime security of tenancy. Many people have told me about the difference it made to them when they actually got a council home that really was a secure home for them. People cannot be treated as if they are simply pawns in a game that can be moved from place to place. We are talking about people’s homes; if they are not secure, it makes thing very different for them.
Conservative Members have no understanding of what council housing was intended to be. It used to be a public service, not a safety net. We need to remember that tenants pay rent, and some of these houses have been paid for time after time. Extraordinarily, if there is any cross-subsidy going on, all too often, thanks to the vagaries of housing finance, it is happening the other way round, so council tenants are subsidising the wider community. Who can forget the dreadful “daylight robbery” situation under the last Conservative Government when council tenants were in effect subsidising all those on housing benefit.
The housing situation is deeply complicated. I finish by saying that the great goal of British housing policy was mixed communities. Nye Bevan famously said that he wanted a situation in which
“the doctor, the grocer, the butcher, the farm-labourer all live in the same street”.
We can update that image. We know that mixed communities work best, but they are hard to achieve, and this “pay to stay” is exactly the wrong thing to be doing. We need people to stay in their communities, not to be driven out. What a ridiculous situation it is when people who have done well are faced with a false choice, as my hon. Friend Justin Madders suggested. An income of £30,000 in a city like Cambridge is not extraordinary. My friend Councillor Kevin Price, the executive member for housing in Cambridge, tells me that people will face a 45% rise in rent if this proposal goes through. For a lot of those people, the sensible thing to do would then be to work fewer hours or for one person in the household not to go to work at all, which is the exact opposite of what the Government are claiming to want.
There is a real danger that we could lose our mixed communities and create no-go areas and dumping grounds of despair, fomenting future discontent. That is not about building one nation; it is about a divided nation, at a time when we should be bringing people together. I genuinely urge Conservative Members to think hard about these dangers and to step back from these proposals. These might just be a few lines at the bottom of a page in the Red Book, but they could do serious damage to our communities. and I urge Conservative Members to dissociate themselves from them.
Let me begin, as others have, by congratulating all those who have made their maiden speech during the debate: my hon. Friends the Members for St Helens South and Whiston (Marie Rimmer) and for Bradford South (Judith Cummins) and the hon. Members for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk (Calum Kerr), for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (Dr Monaghan) and for North Warwickshire (Craig Tracey). The House enjoyed hearing from each of them today and we look forward to hearing from them again in the years to come.
Yesterday’s Budget contained a number of ideas that we support, not least because we campaigned for them at the election. For example, we argued that the pathway to a surplus that the Chancellor committed to in March would in fact lead to spending cuts so extreme that they would not be credible. We discovered yesterday that the Chancellor had caved in and accepted our argument. He has deferred the planned surplus for a further year, and I have to say that that was a sensible U-turn. He might have told us that that was what it was, but he did not. As a result of his U-turn, the scale of the cuts, though still substantial, will no longer be as extreme as he suggested in March.
We said that it was unreasonable to try to take £12 billion out of the social security budget in two years. The Chancellor has done a U-turn on that as well. He now plans to do it over four years. We also campaigned for Britain to have a pay rise, stating that an increase in the national minimum wage was key to reducing the cost of welfare. The Chancellor has accepted that argument. On the basis that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, we welcome his change of heart on that as well.
It is a great disappointment, however, that productivity growth is so low. My hon. Friend Kelvin Hopkins was right to draw the House’s attention to what the Office for Budget Responsibility had to say about that. It has stated that productivity growth has fallen short of expectations once again. It is a relief that this Budget speech at least mentioned productivity—there was no such mention in March—although it was accompanied by a very thin package. My right hon. Friend Mr Brown and my hon. Friend Diana Johnson pointed out that the cancellation of the electrification of the TransPennine line was a glaring failure if we are to bring about the infrastructure investment necessary to improve productivity across the country. It is a big disappointment that so little is being done.
It is a tragedy that the Chancellor is accompanying his welcome U-turns with such a swingeing attack on the incomes of working families. The analysis published today by the Institute for Fiscal Studies highlights the fact that the proposed tax credit cuts focus on working families. It is working families that are going to be hit. They have been badly let down by a party that had promised to be a party for working people. That promise seems to have been torn to shreds in everything other than the rhetoric. Vital support has been ripped away at a time when so many of those working families are already struggling to make ends meet.
In 2010, the Chancellor promised that
“we will bring down the benefits bill”.
At the beginning of this year, the Institute for Fiscal Studies said:
“Real terms benefit spending…is forecast to be almost exactly the same in 2015–16 as it was in 2010–11.”
The benefits bill has not been brought down. The reason is that, in the previous Parliament, the Government failed to tackle low wages and rising private rents, which are the real drivers of welfare spending. As a result we saw 400,000 more people who are in work forced to rely on housing benefit to pay the rent, and 1.5 million more people paid less than a living wage at the end of the Parliament than was the case at the beginning. That led to a £25 billion overspend on welfare by the Secretary of State’s Department. With this Budget, working families are being told to pay for that failure—so much for being on the side of working people.
The Chancellor is cutting tax credits immediately, but taking five years to increase pay. As my hon. Friends have pointed out, the tax credits cuts hit immediately, full scale, from the beginning of the next financial year. The pay rises intended to compensate for them, which in fact do not compensate for them, are being phased in over five years. Working families are losing out in a very big way. This is not about making work pay, but about making working families pay, which is wrong.
Today, the IFS said:
“Unequivocally, tax credit recipients in work will be made worse off”.
That is the reality of what was announced in the Budget yesterday. The Chancellor’s decision to cut tax credits leaves 3 million families worse off. Working families who are doing the right thing are finding that the rug has been pulled out from under them. A couple with one person working full-time on average earnings will lose more than £2,000 in tax credits next year. A single parent trying to provide for her two children, working 16 hours a week, will lose £860 in tax credits next year. Those losses are nowhere made up for by the modest pay rise that that person is likely to receive.
I cannot help wondering what happened to the families test. The Prime Minister promised that
“every single domestic policy that government comes up with will be examined for its impact on the family.”
Well, here are working families being hammered. The measures clearly fail the families test, but they are being announced nevertheless. That is another broken promise from this Government when so many families are losing out.
The IFS says that the striking consequence of yesterday’s cuts is that the work incentive effects of universal credit—if we ever see universal credit; only 1% of benefit claimants have been switched on to it so far, and at that rate it will take 150 years or so to roll out fully—are being substantially reduced.
I have made it clear that we welcome the increase in the national minimum wage—indeed, we campaigned for it. However, as my hon. Friends have pointed out, just because the Chancellor calls it a living wage does not make it a living wage. My hon. Friends the Members for Birmingham, Erdington (Jack Dromey) and for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Justin Madders) emphasised that point in particular. The Living Wage Foundation, the custodian of the living wage, made the position clear last night. It said that
“this is effectively a higher National Minimum Wage and not a Living Wage.”
That is the reality. Simply calling it a living wage does not make it one. The Chancellor is trying to sell us a dud.
That was not the only dud in the Budget speech. I cannot resist the temptation of quoting what the Financial Times said about the Budget speech yesterday: “When you heard” the Chancellor
“say six times in his Budget speech that he had moved British towards a ‘lower tax society’, he made a small but important mistake. He really meant ‘higher tax’.”
Of course that is right. The living wage is based on the full take-up of benefits such as tax credits and housing benefit. With the cuts to tax credits, the current figure for the living wage will no longer be enough and will certainly have to be revised upwards. We are in favour of tax cuts for those on middle incomes and we support the increases in the personal allowance and the higher rate threshold, but cuts to tax credit mean yet again that the Chancellor is giving with one hand and taking away with the other.
What a missed opportunity the Budget was to promote a proper living wage by introducing Labour’s plan for tax breaks for firms that pay a proper living wage! My hon. Friend Dawn Butler drew attention to the excellent initiative that Brent Council has introduced along those lines. It is clearly succeeding, and our make-work-pay contracts could have started to boost wages straight away.
My hon. Friend Cat Smith was right to point out that, once again, young people have been badly hit by the Budget, but where there are good reforms, we will support them. We support the Government’s plan for a youth obligation, which is strikingly similar to our manifesto pledge and the Institute for Public Policy Research proposal that underpins it. The principle of earn or learn is right. Of course, it is absolutely vital that the right exemptions to the withdrawal of housing support should be in place. My hon. Friend Mr Betts underlined that absolutely rightly. Can the Minister confirm in winding up that young people leaving care, those who are at risk of abuse or homelessness and those who are the parents of young children will still be eligible for housing support under these proposals?
We will not support cuts for disabled people. We were told in the election campaign that the £12 billion package would protect the vulnerable and the disabled, but cutting employment support allowance will hit those who are assessed as not fit for work, which is the reason why they are not on jobseeker’s allowance. That includes people with cancer and people with Parkinson’s disease. Ministers said that they would protect sick people in these changes; instead, they are cutting their support, and that will hit some very vulnerable people very hard. It will also drive even more claimants into the ESA support group at even higher cost. In 2010, Ministers said that they would cut the cost of ESA. In fact, given their failure to manage assessments and the failure of the Work programme for ESA claimants, costs have rocketed. ESA will cost £4.5 billion more this year than they said it would in 2011, but that is no justification for punishing the sick.
There is nothing in the Budget to boost the number of homes being built. The cost of renting and buying is soaring out of reach, particularly in London and south-east.
My hon. Friend Siobhain McDonagh drew attention to that. Yet again, rather than tackling the housing shortage and bringing rents down, the Government have chosen to cut housing support.
We welcome the Chancellor’s U-turns from his election campaign, but this is not the Budget that working people need. It leaves working people worse off. Working people needed a Budget that supported them and their families, not one that cut the support that so many people rely on. We support reform that protects those who cannot work and that makes work pay. We will not support cuts that make working families pay.
Before I call the Minister, the House should note that several Members who have taken part in the debate were not here for the beginning of the speech of Stephen Timms. That is discourteous. Some Members who have taken part in the debate are still not here. That is extremely discourteous and has been noted.
This has been a lively debate on a summer Budget that puts the country’s security first—economic security, national security and financial security for the record numbers of people in this country who are now working, including the 2 million who have joined the workforce since 2010. It is a Budget that continues to carry Britain toward a secure, prosperous future by backing the aspirations of working people at every stage of their lives.
For too long, we have been a low-wage, high-tax, high-welfare society—one that took money away from the poorest in taxes, then gave it back to them in the form of tax credits and welfare. In this Budget, we are changing that around. We are setting out to build a high-wage, low-tax, low-welfare economy: an economy in which work always pays and working more always pays more; an economy in which working households are supported through higher wages and lower taxes, not subsidised through a tax credits system that even Labour Members have described as simply not sustainable; an economy that gives 2.5 million people—those on the lowest pay today—a 10% direct pay rise and establishes a living wage that could, at this Parliament’s end, exceed £9 an hour.
How does the hon. Lady deal with the comments from the IFS? Does she dismiss them, or is she saying that the IFS is absolutely wrong to say that, as a result of a small increase in their wages but a bigger cut in their tax credits, 3 million people will be £5,000 a year worse off? Does she disagree with that figure or, if she accepts it, how does she justify it?
The IFS figures do not include, for example, the full impact of the increased offer of free childcare. According to the Treasury figures, eight out of 10 working households will be better off as a result of the changes, acting in combination, by 2017.
As a country, we have 1% of the world’s population, we produce 4% of global GDP, and we are responsible for 7% of the world’s welfare payments. That is not right, it is not sustainable and it needs to be reformed. In introducing the reforms, we have set out four principles. The first is protecting the most vulnerable—that is fundamental. It is why we will honour our commitments to uprate the state pension according to the triple lock; we will neither means-test nor tax disability benefits—in fact, all disability benefits are exempt from the four-year freeze of working-age benefits—and we will increase funding for domestic abuse victims and for women’s refuge centres.
The second principle is to expect those who can work to look for work and to take work when it is offered, because work is the best route out of poverty. The third principle is to place the entire welfare system on an affordable and sustainable footing, fulfilling our commitment to run a budget surplus, because that is the best route to long-term economic security.