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May I first congratulate Heidi Allen on her remarkable, thoughtful and excellent speech? I am astonished that she will not be in the same Division Lobby as Labour Members tonight, but I congratulate her nevertheless.
A lot of my constituents are low-paid workers. Many are paid the minimum wage. They work very long hours. Some have two or even three jobs in order to have enough money to feed their families and pay the bills. Even then, some of those families cannot afford to put food on the table seven days a week and have to endure the humiliation of going to food banks with their families. These low-paid workers are not shirkers or skivers, and they are not lazy or feckless. As a matter of interest, they are not the people who caused the financial and banking crisis in 2008, which led to so much damage to the economy and cost the taxpayer billions of pounds to pay off the gambling debts. To go back to what the Conservatives said at the last election, if the curtains of the houses of those workers are drawn at 7 or 8 o’clock in the morning, it is not because they are skiving or being lazy; it is because they only got home from work after midnight.
These are the people in my constituency who rely on working tax credits to top up their poverty pay and who will suffer if these tax credit changes go through. The only crime—I do not consider it as a crime—they have committed is that they are poor. I never thought that poverty was a crime. Most of them would like to get better jobs. Unfortunately, they cannot. These are the people that the House will penalise for working hard to try to sustain their families.
It is not just the working poor who will suffer; as has been said, so will self-employed people. I want to share with the House a constituent’s letter to me, because it encapsulates the problems facing self-employed people. Let us call the lady Isabella. She says:
“I’m writing to ask you to complain as strongly as you can about the upcoming tax credit cuts and to ask what I should do. I run my own business with my husband which is growing year on year but we still only earn a small amount, our family has an income of £13,000. Last year my business turned over nearly £50,000. I receive the full amount of tax credit and it is a life saver and allows us to grow our business and become useful members of society. We have won awards for our work...and we work long hours…to try and make the business become a success.”
She says she does not have a pension, but hopes the business will grow because that will be her pension. If the changes take place, her family will lose £1,700 a year, which, as a self-employed person, she says will make life virtually impossible on the income that she and her husband are making. She asks what she should do and whether the Government want her to close down her business. She says:
“Am I not exactly the sort of person this government purports to be celebrating and supporting?”
Do the Government want her to close down her business and join the ranks of the unemployed?