I regularly speak with my Cabinet colleagues on a host of issues affecting Wales. Prosperity in Wales is my No. 1 priority. It is crucial that those experiencing poverty get the support that they need and that no one is left behind. We will consider the interim report’s findings carefully.
It is good to hear that the Secretary of State will consider the report. The UN special rapporteur praised the Scottish Government for what they are doing to mitigate the austerity cuts from the Tory Government, but he also noted that the powers of the Welsh Government are limited in that respect. What representations has the Secretary of State had from the Labour Welsh Government about getting additional powers to mitigate that and implement welfare in a fairer manner?
The hon. Gentleman raises an important point about the devolved settlement. He will be well aware that the Wales Act 2017 passed through this House not so long ago, but at no stage were there any calls to devolve functions from the Department for Work and Pensions or to devolve welfare, because of the volatility that that creates on the budget.
The rapporteur found that one in four jobs in Wales do not pay enough for people to live on, and that Wales has the worst record of relative poverty of any of the nations and regions of the United Kingdom. Does the Secretary of State believe that the people and the workers of Wales deserve better than that? Will he accept that in-work poverty is a serious problem in Wales, and will he tell us what he is doing to address it?
There are two points that I would make. There were some factual errors in the report, which may well undermine the conclusions, but of course we will respond fully in due course. On the hon. Gentleman’s specific point, I point to the sharp increase in payments from the national living wage, as well as the increases in the personal allowance. As a result, the inequality gap between people who have and people who do not have is at a record low level.
The UN special rapporteur highlighted that low-paid, part-time or insecure jobs are often taken up by women, because of difficulties in balancing work and the disproportionate impact of caring responsibilities. These are, of course, often the women who have been adversely affected by this Government’s increase in the state pension age. Can the Secretary of State explain just how the Government are working for the women of Wales?
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for highlighting women and employment, because there are 63,000 more women in employment in Wales than there were in 2010. I also point out to her the record fall in unemployment. Reducing unemployment is the best way out of poverty, and unemployment in Wales is 3.8% whereas across the UK it is 4.1%. There will not be many times in history when unemployment in Wales is lower than the UK average.
The list of countries that have received this kind of criticism is fairly small, and I think the UK Government should be absolutely ashamed to find themselves on that list. The reality is that people in Wales are in the difficult position of having an uncaring British Government and a Labour Government in Wales that are abdicating responsibility. Is it not the case that the only way that Wales can be a fair country is with the normal powers of independence?
It is interesting to hear that point made by a Scottish Member of Parliament, when that is not the view in Wales. As I said in relation to the report, I hope that the hon. Gentleman recognises that poverty rates are lower than they were in 2010, and unemployment in Wales is lower than the UK average. There are more men in work, there are more women in work and the economy in Wales is growing faster than in any other part of the UK.
I know that the Secretary of State will agree that one way of tackling poverty in Wales is the growth of more high-skill, high-paid jobs, like those in the aviation and tech sectors around Bristol. Does he agree that the policies that the Government are putting in place to spread the benefit of that growth across southern Wales are exactly what is needed to tackle some of the challenges that have been identified?
My hon. Friend raises an important issue and points to some of the policies that we are developing to tackle the root cause. Universal credit is making a significant difference, and I would highlight the growth deals that we are promoting across the whole of Wales. Wales is the only nation of the United Kingdom that will have a growth or a city deal in every part.
The right hon. Gentleman makes an important point. He is well aware that there are myriad complex reasons why people turn to food banks. That was one of the conclusions of the all-party parliamentary group. Food banks have a key role to play in bringing back into the state welfare system people who, for a range of reasons, have fallen out of it. I am a strong supporter of my food bank and food banks across the whole of the UK because of the part that they can play.