Amendment of the Law

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:46 pm on 8th March 2017.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Rachel Reeves Rachel Reeves Labour, Leeds West 2:46 pm, 8th March 2017

Unsecured debt, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, grew by 10% last year. That is not secured against anything solid at all. The household income ratio, which is back to being close to the levels of 2008, should sow seeds of doubt in all our minds about the sustainability of our economy. I am concerned about the ability of consumers to carry on bearing this burden. To do so, they will have to increase their debts or have real wage increases, but this Budget sees real wage growth contract sharply because of the sharp increases in inflation as a result of the depreciation of our currency. This is not an economy that is well placed to withstand the strains and shocks that lie ahead.

My argument today is that this dangerous reliance on borrowing and debt is directly connected to the Government’s failure to put wealth and opportunity in the hands of the many rather than just the few. While those on the Government Front Bench keep saying that they are on the side of ordinary people, they have not shown it in their actions today.

Last week, the Institute for Fiscal Studies reported that we are on course for a rapid rise in inequality over the next five years. The bottom 10% of the earnings distribution—those who already have the least—will see their incomes fall in the next few years, particularly due to cuts to universal credit. Meanwhile, those with the most—the top 10%—will see their take-home pay increase by 10%. That is a direct consequence of the Government’s failure to reverse our economy’s growing reliance on low-paid work and low productivity, with one in five people now paid less than the living wage, and deep cuts to in-work benefits, which make it harder for those families in work to make ends meet. That cannot be right.

However, that is not all. The Government have now ignored two independent court rulings by cutting access to disability benefits for over 160,000 people, which will save them £3.7 billion. There is no mention at all of that in the Budget. Switching people from disability living allowance to personal independence payments has also seen nearly 50,000 people lose their Motability cars because their benefits have been cut under the blatantly unfair changes to the assessment rules. That is not the sort of country I want to live in, and I do not think it is the sort of country our constituents want to live in either. Not only is this a betrayal of the hard-working majority the Government promised to put first, but it shows a callous disregard for the poorest and most vulnerable in all our communities. It is also not the way to build the better balanced and more broad-based economy we need to build for the more turbulent times we are bound to see ahead.

Let me set out a few areas where today’s decisions have been misjudged, and how the Government could have delivered a fairer Budget. First, the Government are going ahead with a £1 billion cut to inheritance tax for the richest people in our country. That money should instead be spent on expanding free childcare for families, particularly those on the lowest incomes. Almost half of this inheritance tax giveaway will go to London and the south-east; in fact, 96 of the top 100 constituencies that will benefit are in London and the south-east. But what about our constituencies in the north of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland—in the rest of the UK, which does not benefit by one penny from these cuts in inheritance tax?