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Part of Finance (No. 3) Bill – in the House of Commons at 6:00 pm on 19th November 2018.

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Photo of Debbie Abrahams Debbie Abrahams Labour, Oldham East and Saddleworth 6:00 pm, 19th November 2018

That is absolutely right. I will come on to some of the really worrying figures about how, from birth, our children are being affected because of the poverty that they are experiencing.

What about disabled people? Disabled people are twice as likely to live in poverty as non-disabled people because of the extra costs that they face around their disability. We have seen their social security support become absolutely emaciated. Given that we are the fifth richest country in the world, that is shocking—absolutely shocking. Four million disabled people are already living in poverty, with many now continually finding that they are becoming more and more isolated in their own homes.

Since 2015, as analysis from the Institute for Fiscal Studies and others has shown that those who are in the lowest income decile have lost proportionately more income than any other group as a consequence of personal taxation and social security changes. That is the important thing. My new clause is not just about taxation. We cannot see that in isolation from how we then ensure, as a country, that we are supporting people on low incomes—and that support is completely inadequate. What was put forward in the Budget does not go anywhere near repairing the damage that was done in the summer Budget of 2015.

Last month’s Budget produces only marginal gains to the household income of the poorest, while reducing the number of higher-rate taxpayers by 300,000. The Government’s regressive measures have done nothing to reduce the gap between the rich and the poor. When cuts to household incomes are combined with the cuts to public spending and services, the impact is even more dramatic, and again with disproportionate cuts to Government funding to towns and cities across the north, as evidence has repeatedly shown.

The effects of all this on life expectancy are now being seen, with health gains made over decades now falling away. Life expectancy has been stalling since 2011, and it is now flatlining, particularly in older age groups and for older women. In the same week—the very same week—that these data came out last year, the Government actually increased the state pension age. We know that our life expectancy is flatlining. For women—think about the 1950s-born women—it is going backwards, yet we are still putting up the state pension age. What is going on?

On top of this there are regional differences in how long people will live, with these health inequalities reflecting the socioeconomic inequalities across the country. Life expectancy for men in Windsor and Maidenhead stands at 81.6 years, while in my Oldham and Saddleworth constituency it is 77. Even within these areas, there are differences in how long people will live. Again, in the Windsor and Maidenhead local authority area, the life expectancy gap is 5.8 years for men and 4.8 years for women, while in my constituency it is 11.4 years for men and 10.7 years for women. These health inequalities are reflected right across the country. The gains Labour made in reducing health inequalities are now being reversed.

Similarly, the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health reported last month that infant mortality has started to increase for the first time in 100 years. Four in 1,000 babies will not reach their first birthday in the UK, compared with 2.8 in the EU. These are the unacceptable consequences of austerity. I welcome the Department of Health and Social Care commissioning Public Health England to investigate the causes of this declining health status, but it is very late in the day. Public health specialists—renowned epidemiologists such as Professor Sir Michael Marmot, Professor Martin McKee and many others—have been calling for this for the past 18 months. We already know from the work that they have been doing that they are pointing the finger towards austerity. It is imperative that in addition to stopping austerity, and the misery and poverty that is being wrought, we tackle the inequalities within and between regions and communities.

An analysis of the effects of the Budget’s personal taxation measures is part of this, but it should not be seen in isolation. This would be outside the scope of the Bill, but the Government should be doing an analysis of their social security and public spending cuts. Reducing the gap between the rich and the poor is not just good for the economy. As evidence from totemic reports such as “The Spirit Level” shows, life expectancy then increases, as well as educational attainment, social mobility, trust, and much more. Fairer, more equal societies benefit everyone. Inequalities are not inevitable—they are socially reproduced and they can be changed—but to tackle them in all their forms takes commitment, it takes courage, and it takes leadership.