As a party that believes in low taxation, we welcome a number of measures in the Bill, including those to take more people out of taxation and allow them to hold on to the money they earn. The changes to tax thresholds, the reduction in corporation tax and the tax allowances to encourage businesses to invest in capital or research and development will contribute to the health of the economy and help to close the productivity gap that concerns Members across the House. We will not be voting for the reasoned amendment because we believe there are positive measures in the Bill and because we disagree with some aspects of the amendment anyway.
We do, however, have a few concerns—we discussed some of them yesterday in the welfare reform debate—including about the impact of removing tax credits from people in low-paid jobs and the Government’s misplaced faith in their being compensated by the rise in the national living wage. Rather than making work pay, the measure will act as a disincentive to work for many people, especially young people, to whom the national living wage will not apply and for whom the reduction in tax credits will result in lower incomes. The Government cannot ignore that aspect of their policies.
Mike Wood was optimistic that the gap would be filled by businesses volunteering to pay the national living wage to those not officially covered by it. I sometimes hear Government Members talking about the pressures on small businesses. We cannot have it both ways. On the one hand, we talk about businesses being under pressure and requiring help, including with taxation and business rates, but on the other hand, we say, “By the way, they will volunteer to pay higher wages to those not officially covered by the national living wage.” We cannot gloss over the impact of these changes. I believe the Government are being optimistic about the impact. If it backfires—if many people find themselves less well off in work and work therefore becomes less attractive—one of the key policy objectives of the Budget will not be achieved.
That point is particularly pertinent to places such as Northern Ireland, where, because of low productivity in industry, the preponderance of small businesses and other structural factors, a high proportion of people are employed in low-wage businesses and rely on tax credits to bring them up to a reasonable standard of living.