Finance (No. 3) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 9:27 pm on 12th November 2018.

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Photo of Drew Hendry Drew Hendry Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) 9:27 pm, 12th November 2018

I will give way to the hon. Gentleman later.

This Government also continue to fail the young. [Interruption.] Thank you for that direction, Mr Speaker. I will do my best to keep the pace going.

This Government also continue to fail young people. They could have ended wage discrimination, but they chose instead to keep punishing them. Those young people deserve the same pay for the same work and they deserve a real living wage. As my colleagues pointed out earlier, there is nothing—nothing—for the women born in the 1950s who were short-changed on their pension entitlements. It is no wonder that the argument for an independent Scotland has never been stronger. The Tories’ obsessions make the case for us in Scotland.

I do want to refer to Stephen Kerr, because we rarely agree on anything, but the one thing that we do agree on tonight is fixed odds betting terminals. Delaying the reduction of stakes in fixed odds betting terminals is a disgrace; it will only take more money from vulnerable addicts and put it in the pockets of the bookies and those with vested interests. It is a disgrace that is felt right across this House. Research from Landman Economics has shown that the average fixed odds betting terminal user loses £192 a month, with the average user of a machine capped at £2 a spin losing just £22 by comparison. There is no justification for delaying this action.

It is also clear, from this very debate, how the Tories want to muddy the waters on tax avoidance, as they have on the IR35 changes. If they are not pointing the way to tax avoidance, even when they look to clamp down on it they miss the mark, as we can see with the implementation of the IR35 changes. The loopholes absolutely need to be closed. However, the employers and agencies benefiting most from these schemes have, for the most part, got away with it. With HMRC implementing stringent measures on many who were duped, many are now fearful of being forced to repay immediately with no provisions that reasonable time will be allowed and a payment scheme be made available. Folk are genuinely worried about becoming bankrupt.

Austerity lives on for those who can afford it least. The Prime Minister and the Chancellor spin the line that austerity has ended, or is ending; well, maybe, depending on who you hear it from. But everyone knows, even their rare supporters, dwindling though they are, that that is just a toom tabard of a statement—another Government rebranding exercise. My constituents are making the choice between putting food on their tables and heating their homes. They have had enough of it. Those on universal credit with spiralling debt because they do not know when the next payment is coming, or whether, if it does, it will be correct, have had enough of it.

Universal credit impacts on other communities. After five and a half years, we know the truth. As the OBR Budget document details, the changes to the work allowance reverse only half of the cut that was made to it in the 2015 Budget. Are we seriously expected to cheer this Government for putting back in less than half of what they removed, after years of punishing those who could afford it least? Millions of people have been dragged through this system already, with misery, heartache and poverty—and what have they been told? They have been told that the system works—that they are all wrong—but there are now voices joining theirs.

Even in the Minister’s small concessions, he is admitting this Government’s failure. They should be utterly ashamed of what they have inflicted on people. If Ministers had a shred of decency, they would come to the Dispatch Box and apologise to my constituents and to the far too many others who have had to endure the roll-out of universal credit. Let us not forget that these people will not be benefiting from transitional funding announced in the Budget; instead they are left trying to piece together their lives following the impact on their families, sometimes shattered by this move. They are left wondering how on earth a Government supposed to provide them with a safety net to which they and their families have contributed are left counting pennies while those who have the most still avoid paying their share.

For those to be transitioned to universal credit, £1 billion for the transition does not even touch the sides of what is needed. If this Government were serious about mitigating the impacts, they would migrate people to universal credit without expecting them to process a new application. People who need universal credit support simply do not have anything spare to get them through the transition weeks, be it two weeks or five weeks.

Then there is the new funding for universal support to be announced. I will welcome that; any support is better than none. But again it is more fudge, because, as anyone who has any idea about this mess knows, most of the issues people experience with universal credit are long-running and ongoing well after the initial application. So where is the fund for ongoing universal support? While that was omitted from this Bill and by this Government’s PR machine, the chief executive of Citizen’s Advice made it very clear in her letter to the Work and Pensions Committee when she said:

“Our current agreement does not include funding to provide support to people once their claim is complete.”

Of course, I hear the Government’s other rhetoric that for most people the process is simple and problem free.

I do not want to see any more people in tears in my constituency office. I do not want to see any more families struggling to get along. I do not want to see any more families going to food banks and having to prostrate themselves to get what is essentially a handout in order to keep them going when they should be properly protected under a decent social security system that any forward-thinking country would have. Perhaps that country should indeed be an independent Scotland.