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Finance (No. 3) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 8:16 pm on 12th November 2018.

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Photo of Chris Stephens Chris Stephens Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Fair Work and Employment) 8:16 pm, 12th November 2018

It is a pleasure to follow Andrew Bowie. He has proved for me the point I came to when I was listening to the Financial Secretary and putting together my remarks for this debate. Politics is a mixture of rhetoric and reality. It was two years ago at that very Dispatch Box that the former Chancellor, George Osborne, announced that austerity was over, and now the current Chancellor tells us that austerity is coming to an end.

The rhetoric we have heard during the past two weeks has led me to conclude that many Conservative Members are modern-day Warleggans. They remind me of the scene when Captain Poldark—he is no doubt viewed by Conservative Members as some sort of Marxist-Leninist—asked the landowners to cut the price of grain, and George Warleggan said, “Well, if I cut the price of grain, then my profits will decrease, and if my profits decrease, then I won’t have enough money to give provision for the poor.” There it is: modern day Conservativism found in a period drama.

The reality is that, by any measure, this Budget and this Finance Bill benefit the rich on the backs of the very poor. The Resolution Foundation has told us in its research that those in the bottom 30% of the income distribution will on average gain less from the work allowance and income tax changes than they will lose through the benefits freeze. Indeed, a low-income family with children will lose £210 next year as a result of the benefits freeze.

Let us discuss universal credit and the broken social security system in this country. The money announced for universal credit changes is mainly to do with managed migration. Two weeks ago, the Social Security Committee in the Scottish Parliament heard evidence from the Crookston Community Group in my constituency. An eight-year-old boy in my constituency was stopped by a teacher and asked why he was taking so many tomato ketchup sachets. His answer was so he could take them home and put them in boiling water to make soup for him and his family. That makes me want to weep, but it is not a special case. Suzanne McGlone of the Crookston Community Group said:

“While this incident would shock most people, it is actually the lower end of the scale.”

That is the reality of the current social security system.

On top of the cuts, the litany of evidence about the pressures faced by beleaguered staff in the Department for Work and Pensions is coming to fruition. I tabled a parliamentary question, and I got the answer during this debate. I asked a simple question: how many workers in the Department for Work and Pensions are currently dealing with the national tier telephony service? I was advised that 400 staff are now dealing with phone calls. To put that into perspective, according to parliamentary answers, 4,504 DWP staff are chasing social security fraud. That is an unbelievable comparison. DWP staff are telling us that they are having to deal with so many telephone calls from claimants that they are unable to process online journals. What does that mean? It means payment delays, rising food bank use and more people getting into poverty.