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‘(1) The Chancellor of the Exchequer must review the impact of the provisions of section 5 and lay a report of that review before the House of Commons within six months of the passing of this Act.
(2) A review under this section must consider the impact of the changes made by section 5 on—
(a) households at different levels of income,
(b) people with protected characteristics (within the meaning of the Equality Act 2010),
(c) the Treasury’s compliance with the public sector equality duty under section 149 of the Equality Act 2010,
(d) different parts of the United Kingdom and different regions of England, and
(e) levels of relative and absolute child poverty in the United Kingdom.
(3) In this section—
“parts of the United Kingdom” means—
(c) Wales, and
(d) Northern Ireland;
“regions of England” has the same meaning as that used by the Office for National Statistics.’—(Peter Dowd.)
This new clause would require the Chancellor of the Exchequer to review the impact of clause 5 on child poverty and equality.
Brought up, and read the First time.
With this it will be convenient to discuss new clause 5—Review of public health and poverty effects—
‘(1) The Chancellor of the Exchequer must review the public health and poverty effects of the provisions of this Act and lay a report of that review before the House of Commons within six months of the passing of this Act.
(2) A review under this section must consider—
(a) the effects of the provisions of this Act on the levels of relative and absolute poverty in the UK,
(b) the effects of the provisions of this Act on life expectancy and healthy life expectancy in the UK, and
(c) the implications for the public finances of the public health effects of the provisions of this Act.’
In opening for the Opposition today, I shall start with a few general comments on the Bill before moving on to my substantive remarks on child poverty and equality. First, I must mention the new schedule the Government have tabled, at this late stage, on intangible fixed assets. It is yet another example of the Government’s absolute contempt for parliamentary processes—a result of their desperation to cling to power. Although the Chancellor announced this proposal at the Budget, the introduction of this detailed schedule at this stage of the Bill guarantees that Members are denied the opportunity to properly scrutinise it. It circumvents the Public Bill Committee process, which was created to ensure that technical measures such as this one receive forensic and detailed analysis. This is no way for any Government to conduct legislation. With that in mind, perhaps the Minister could explain why this measure has been included at the final stage of this Bill, denying Members the opportunity to properly scrutinise it. Is it a deliberate decision to once again circumvent parliamentary process? Will he consider withdrawing the schedule and including it in the next Finance Bill later this year, ensuring that it receives the proper parliamentary scrutiny it actually warrants?
It appears that Ministers are hellbent on starting this new year in the same fashion that they ended the last—by treating Members of this House as a peripheral part of the law-making process, bypassing parliamentary processes and breaking long-established conventions. The vast majority of Members in this House are fed up to the back teeth with the Government’s attempts to avoid parliamentary scrutiny.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We are here debating the Finance Bill and the Government’s dreadful performance in bringing legislation to the House for much-needed scrutiny. They seem to be incapable of doing that. They seem to be incapable of doing very much these days.
Has it not occurred to the Government that had they entered this place in a spirit of co-operation, they might not have suffered defeat after defeat on this legislation? This Finance Bill is the product of a Government on the run—a Tory party totally consumed by its Brexit civil war, unable and unwilling to posit even the feeblest domestic agenda here for fear of upsetting its nasty, hard-right faction. The Prime Minister’s speech about fighting burning injustices has turned to ash. Her claim that she would end austerity lies in tatters. She occupies our highest public office, and yet the public have no confidence in her—neither do many of her own Back Benchers, for that matter.
Meanwhile, the view is even worse from the Treasury. The Institute for Fiscal Studies said that the Chancellor was gambling with the public finances at this Budget, and it seems that even before the Bill has left this place, he has already lost that bet. The Office for National Statistics recently blew a £12 billion hole in the Chancellor’s spreadsheets by returning student debt to the Government’s books.
So one has to wonder, what is the point of the Tory party—unable to deliver a competent Brexit deal, unable to secure our economic future, unable to meet its own fiscal rules, and unable to deliver a domestic policy programme? It is a party still reliant on the old dogmas of neoliberalism and austerity, unable to see the evidence of its failures. An example of this absurd neoliberal dogma came over the break when, as we heard today, the Transport Secretary awarded a ferry contract to a company with no ferries. If he is looking for expertise in this matter, perhaps I can invite him down to Merseyside, where we have been running ferries since 1330, very successfully—and they are publicly run, I have to say. I invite him to have a go on a ferry up the River Mersey and get the feel for how it works, basically. He will have diplomatic immunity and will not be thrown overboard—I can guarantee that as well.
The Prime Minister is right that under this Government, nothing has changed, but, worse still, nothing is changing. This is all while families suffer. After nine years of punishing austerity, one in five of our citizens live in poverty, and 4.1 million of those are children. Of those children in poverty, two thirds live in a household where someone is working. That is a stain on this Government and a testament to the total failure of their economic policies over the last nine years. We have seen the longest period of wage stagnation since Napoleonic days, occurring at the same time as deep cuts have been made to the safety net. The Government have taken billions of pounds and channelled them into tax cuts for corporations and already wealthy people.
As we have said before, after so many years of failed austerity, Labour will not stand in the way of any additional income for those on low and middle incomes, but there is another option here, which is to ask the wealthiest to pay their fair share. Under our manifesto plans, all those earning £18,000 or less would be protected from any further tax increases, while the richest few and corporations would reasonably pay more. We would introduce a minimum wage of £10 an hour, to give millions of working parents and their children a living wage. We would invest in childcare under our plans for a national education service, to transition to an affordable, high-quality childcare service. We would stop the roll-out of universal credit and reform the social security system, so that it acts as a proper safety net for all in their time of need.
We believe that new clause 1 will highlight the Government’s total inaction on the devastating social crisis that their austerity has brought about. It would force the Government to stare the horrors of UK poverty in the face and review their policies in the light of the very real threat of a major reversal in the prospects of children across this country. Let us not forget that it was this Government who scrapped the child poverty targets that helped the last Labour Government to make enormous progress towards ending child poverty once and for all. That has been reversed by the Tories. They promised a life chances strategy to replace the targets, but sadly that has been pushed on to the Prime Minister’s scrapheap.
Did my hon. Friend notice yesterday that the Government are beginning to backtrack on universal credit? Although they say they will introduce it for 10,000 people, in essence they are backtracking. He may also have noticed the announcement today by an independent organisation that we need to build something like 3 million social houses, not in the private sector, over a 10-year period. Does he agree that that should be looked at and done through council housing?
My hon. Friend is right, and the reality is that we are not going to get it from the Conservative party—it is as simple as that. It seems incapable of doing anything that is in any way constructive for the social fabric of our country.
The Government now pick and choose whichever target provides cover for their devastating treatment of children across the UK, including—when it suits them—using the very targets that they themselves scrapped. That is why new clause 1 is so important. The Government can no longer be allowed to ignore the plight of millions of children across the country.
The statistics do not lie. They show quite clearly that, prior to the Conservative Government coming to power in 2010 with their Liberal Democrat partners, child poverty in the UK was falling. The new Social Metrics Commission, which draws on the widest possible set of poverty measures, states concretely that there are now half a million more children living in relative poverty than there were just five years ago. The whole country knows that austerity is to blame, and we all know who introduced austerity—it was the Government.
I completely agree with the point that the hon. Gentleman is making. Does he agree that the two-child cap, which will apply to all new universal credit claimants from
The hon. Lady is right. The Government appear to want to put misery upon misery on families and children.
Despite the claims from Conservative Members, austerity was not some necessity nobly chosen by the Government of the day, but a political and ideological choice—it is as simple as that. If it was the only option, why did the United States not embark on a similar venture? Why did the likes of Germany and France not undertake a similar level of spending cuts, or Japan, or, for that matter, Australia? [Interruption.] Conservative Members are chuntering, but those are the questions that we need answering.
My hon. Friend makes an excellent point and backs up the point that I was making.
Those countries acknowledged a hard economic fact that appears to have stumped this Government: we cannot cut our way to growth. That has failed repeatedly, from its early use under US President Herbert Hoover, which turned the stock market crash into the great depression, to the International Monetary Fund programmes that have been imposed in developing countries and the economic and social devastation inflicted on Greece. This Government’s austerity agenda is yet another failure to add to that list. They have missed every economic target they have set, and it is the poorest in society who have paid the price.
It is interesting to listen to my hon. Friend’s informed explanation of how austerity has not worked across history. Does he agree that up until the 2010 general election, because of the fiscal stimulus put in place by the Chancellor Alistair Darling and the Prime Minister Gordon Brown, those first two quarters were successive periods of growth, and the economy fell off a cliff because of the austerity introduced by the Conservative party?
My hon. Friend is right. The economy thereafter, with the help of the Liberal Democrats, started to go down the pan. To this day, we have not recovered, and the Government’s own figures indicate that this will go on for many more years. We will have more of the same, and it is not working. When will they learn the lesson? They seem to be incapable. Even the IMF recognises the failure of austerity and has called for increased public spending to offset the negative economic effects of Brexit.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for this fascinating tour de force on the period since 2010. If the Labour party in government was doing so fantastically well, growth was going so well and its economic management was prized highly by the electorate, why did it lose the general election in 2010 and then in 2015? If all was going so well, why did it lose?
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker.
The UN special rapporteur has concluded that the rising level of child poverty is a result of political choices, underpinned by the Government’s callous austerity agenda. I will draw my comments to a conclusion because I know that lots of Members want to comment on how dreadful the Government are, how they try to stitch up Committees, how they do not allow us to have proper debates and how—for the first time since Winston Churchill introduced the notion—they have circumvented the amendment of the law motion. They talk about bringing back control to the House of Commons, but they are bringing back control to about two or three people on the Front Bench, and that does not include the Treasury Ministers.
The Finance Bill before us is yet another Bill of broken promises. It offers further tax reliefs for the rich and for multinational corporations, and it prolongs austerity for yet another year, condemning many families and many children to abject poverty. Labour’s new clause 1 would require the Government finally to assess the impact of their economic policies on the most vulnerable in our society. It would require the Government to face up to their responsibility to come and explain to this House why they are not yet changing their economic policies, despite the obvious evidence that they are doing dreadful—I repeat, dreadful—damage to this country and to our communities.
I am grateful, Madam Deputy Speaker, for the opportunity to speak at this stage of our proceedings. I am extraordinarily concerned about new clause 1, because it would delay the implementation of clause 5, which is a key part of the Bill because it sets the very level at which people in this country start to pay tax. If we are to address the issues that affect those in our country on the lowest incomes, the best way to help them will to be allow them to keep more of their money in their pockets.
That is why a key part of this Government’s economic strategy has been to make sure, year after year, that those on the lowest incomes are able to keep more of what they earn and to help themselves to build their way out of poverty. That means that 34 million people in this country are paying less tax than previously, and many millions of people have been taken out of tax altogether. This was the No. 1 recommendation of the tax reform commission, which I worked on back in 2006, and I am absolutely delighted that it was among the first steps taken first by the coalition Government, then by the 2015 Government and now by the 2017 Government. This Finance Bill means that raising the level before anyone pays tax to £12,500 is being introduced faster than we ever thought possible.
Absolutely. That is exactly the point, because we know that the best way to address poverty is to make sure that more people can earn their way out of poverty. That does not work for everyone, but for those who can do so, this makes a significant difference, and that is exactly why poverty is now at record lows.
Absolutely. That is exactly the point: absolute poverty is now at record lows. That also has an impact on children—my hon. Friend made that point— because the number of children living in workless homes has fallen to the lowest level since records started.
Would not the situation for working families be even worse under a Labour Government, with the proposal announced at the Labour party conference of £500 billion of public spending, which would mean a doubling of VAT, a doubling of national insurance, a doubling of income tax and a doubling of council tax? They are not my words, but those of a Labour MP, Mr Leslie.
I thank my hon. Friend for that precise contribution. I cannot understand why the Labour party has voted against increases to the level at which people start to pay tax, because helping people to keep more of their earnings in their own pockets is fundamental to increasing house ownership and to building a fairer economy.
I trust that my hon. Friend’s question was not a rhetorical one, but perhaps I can try to answer it. As far as socialism is concerned, it is absolutely fine until Labour Members have run out of other people’s money to spend. That is why they are opposed to these things.
I thank my hon. Friend for that point.
I also want to talk about fairness. Yes, it is true that the provision also increases the rate at which people start to pay a slightly higher rate of tax, but the biggest impact is on those on the lowest level of tax. That is why the tax gap—the difference between the highest and lowest levels of income—has actually fallen. The ratio of the average income of the top fifth to that of the bottom fifth of households has fallen, after taking into account all benefits and taxes.
I was very concerned by what Peter Dowd said about precedents, somehow suggesting that such a clause should not be in the Bill. I have had a quick look back at previous Finance Bills, and it is absolutely normal to have a clause that looks like clause 5, which sets out the level at which the Exchequer should start taking tax. If such a provision is not in the Finance Bill, where should it be? Of course it should be in the Finance Bill—it is an absolutely fundamental element of it.
The hon. Lady has got two facts wrong. First, we did not vote against these proposals, as she suggested. Secondly, I was actually talking about the new schedule, not clause 5. If she is going to attack us, she should get her facts right, for goodness’ sake.
I agree that one should always take impacts into consideration, but I strongly believe that the issue raised by the hon. Gentleman of needing to address poverty is best addressed by allowing this Bill to go forward today, especially the elements that involve raising the level at which people start to pay tax, so that they can keep more money in their own pockets. That is fundamental to building a fairer economy, to having a lower gap between those on the highest incomes and those on the lowest incomes, and to encouraging more people in this country to take up the work opportunities available to them under this Conservative Government, with the continuing growth of the economy.
It gives me great pleasure to speak to new clause 5, which is in my name and those of colleagues. As I have previously stated, I declare an interest as chair of the all-party group on health in all policies, and as a fellow of the Faculty of Public Health, following 20 or so years of national and international work in this field.
Under new clause 5, the Chancellor
“must review the public health and poverty effects of the provisions of this Act and lay a report of that review before the House of Commons within six months of the passing of this Act…A review…must consider…the effects of the provisions of this Act on the levels of relative and absolute poverty in the UK”.
There has been a lot of talk about absolute poverty levels, and we would of course welcome any reductions in absolute poverty levels. Those are the most severe levels of poverty, when people are unable to meet basic physiological needs, such as for food, water and shelter. However, relative poverty is a really important measure that we must reflect on, so I want to stress that the review would look at both relative and absolute poverty in the UK. I also want the review to assess
“the effects of the provisions of this Act on life expectancy and healthy life expectancy in the UK, and…the implications for the public finances of the public health effects of the provisions of this Act.”
Yesterday, the Government announced their new 10-year plan for the NHS. In his statement to the House, the Health Secretary talked about the importance of reducing health inequalities—absolutely, I could not agree more—and how we need to reduce the demands on health services. I do hope that the Government will take new clause 5 seriously as an opportunity to ensure that their policies actually meet the objectives they have set out, because it will help to do exactly that.
As important as the 10-year NHS plan is to improve our nation’s health, overwhelming evidence shows that the most important thing we can do is to reduce the poverty and inequality that too many of our citizens face today. The most effective way to do that is to focus upstream by assessing policies, as they are developed, for their effects on poverty, inequality and, ultimately, the health of our citizens. That was why I tabled the new clause.
As the UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights said recently, the cuts and reforms introduced in the past few years have brought about misery and torn at the social fabric of our country. There are 14 million people living in relative poverty in the UK, 8 million of whom are working. That is the highest level ever—I advise those who may not be familiar with the most recent data to refer to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation report published last month. Two thirds of the 4 million children living in poverty are from working households. How are young people who are living in extreme poverty and who are hungry going to excel at school?
What about disabled people? They are twice as likely to live in poverty as non-disabled people, because of the costs associated with their disability. As we heard from Labour’s Front-Bench spokesman, policies on not just taxation but public spending and particularly social security are having a devastating impact on disabled people, and that includes universal credit. More than 4 million disabled people are living in poverty today. They are increasingly isolated and confined to their homes, and I am afraid that the situation is going to get worse, because we have had no real confirmation from the Government of how they will protect disabled people in relation to universal credit.
As analysis from the Institute for Fiscal Studies and others has shown, the lowest income decile has lost proportionately more income than any other group since 2015 as a consequence of personal taxation and social security changes. Last autumn’s Budget had only marginal impacts on 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 poor.
Last week’s Fat Cat Friday heralded the fact that top executives now earn 133 times more than their average worker; it was 47 times more in 1998. In the first three days of January, FTSE 100 bosses earned what an average full-time worker will earn in a year. That is the unequal society that this Government have allowed to run rampant.
When cuts to household incomes are combined with the cuts to public spending and services, the impact is even more dramatic. We have seen disproportionate cuts in Government funding to towns and cities across the north. The effects of all this on life expectancy are now being seen, with gains made over decades falling away. Life expectancy has been stalling since 2011 and is now flatlining, particularly in older age groups, for older women and in deprived areas.
The regional differences in how long people live reflect the socioeconomic inequalities across the country. People may be aware of these figures, because I mentioned them when I spoke in November, but life expectancy for men in the Windsor and Maidenhead local authority, which covers the Prime Minister’s constituency, stands at 81.6 years, while in my Oldham and Saddleworth constituency, it is 77 years.
Even within those areas there are differences in how long people will live. In Windsor and Maidenhead, the life expectancy gap is 5.8 years for men and 4.8 years for women, while in my constituency there is an 11.4-year difference for men and a 10.7-year difference for women. We should really concentrate on those figures. Those health inequalities are reflected across the country.
Inequalities in life expectancy are mirrored by inequalities in healthy life expectancy—how long somebody can be expected to live in good health. Healthy life expectancy at birth across local authority areas varies by 21.5 years for women and 15.8 years for men. In addition, according to the Office for National Statistics, women’s healthy life expectancy at birth decreased by three months between 2009 and 2011. How have the Government responded? They have actually increased the state pension age: people are living shorter lives, and living shorter lives in good health, but we are increasing the time they will be expected to work.
The gains Labour made in reducing health inequalities are now being reversed. The recent Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health report showed 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. Those are the unacceptable consequences of austerity.
Last month’s report by Public Health England investigating these inequalities in life expectancy confirmed what many of us have been saying: austerity has wrought misery and poverty, and has ultimately brought an early death for too many. If the Prime Minister is committed to tackling burning injustices and ending austerity, she needs to commit to her policies being independently assessed for their effects on poverty, inequality and public health, as my new clause outlines.
Reducing the gap between rich and poor benefits not just those who are lifted out of poverty. As the International Monetary Fund’s report five years ago showed, if we increase inequality, we reduce growth, and if we reduce inequality, we increase growth. Trickle-down economics has been shown not to work. As evidence from totemic reports such as “The Spirit Level” shows, society as a whole benefits from decreased inequality, with increases in life expectancy, educational attainment, social mobility, trust between communities and much more. Fairer, more equal societies benefit everyone. Inequalities are not inevitable; they are socially reproduced. They are about political choice, and they can be changed.
Order. Before I call the next speaker, I should take the opportunity to inform the House—this is not very exciting; it is just to set the record straight—that some names that were intended for amendments to the Agriculture Bill were added in error to amendments to this Bill. [Interruption.] I did warn the House that it is not very exciting, but it is important to keep the record straight. For the sake of clarity, let me tell the House that the name of Mike Gapes should not appear on new clause 1, and the name of Kerry McCarthy should not appear on new clauses 10, 17, 8 and 18, and amendments 39 to 41. Having got that important matter straight, I will happily call Mr Kevin Foster.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. Hearing your announcement that Mike Gapes is not in fact a signatory to new clause 1 has, of course, completely changed my view. Clearly that has changed the whole speech I was about to give.
It is useful to be here for this debate on new clauses 1 and 5. I found the speech by Peter Dowd of interest, as always. I know from one of our previous exchanges in the Chamber he will be very disappointed to hear that I am not going to give that promised talk on unpacking the holy trinity today. Even in the two hours available, that is probably not quite something that I can effectively manage. I am, however, going to go through an issue on which Members across the House generally have strong views and about which they are passionate: how we best tackle equality issues so that our policies are effective in ensuring that those who are in poverty have a route out of it.
It was not in pure jest that I made a comment in my intervention on the shadow Minister about spending levels in the United States. People talk about the US not having gone down the austerity route, but instead having had a spur or fiscal stimulus. To spend the same as the US, we would have had to make significant cuts to the public sector to get down to US levels of social spending, and in particular healthcare spending. The US has bizarre outcomes from its healthcare system: it spends more of its GDP on healthcare while achieving worse outcomes. No one in the House would wish to implement that system in this country given that failing of spending more and, bluntly, getting a lot less. It is therefore bizarre for that spending to be cited as a great stimulus. It most certainly was not. The US was still spending far less than us after our programme of austerity to bring the deficit under control.
It is interesting to hear the list of Opposition promises and pledges and to contrast them with the comments of Mr Leslie, who is probably the last credible shadow Chancellor from the Labour party. He made it very clear what he felt about that list of promises. We have just had the festive season, but some people in this Chamber still want to write their letter to Santa. Anyone can sit in opposition pledging the earth, with truly unbelievable amounts of spending on this, that and the other, while saying “It’s alright, someone else is going to pay.” There is always a mythical someone else. No one with any credibility believes that the Opposition’s tax rises would be limited to those earning over £80,000 a year.
We can see the result of the type of policies the Leader of the Opposition has advocated over the past 20 and 30 years when we take a look at Venezuela. To be fair, I suppose relative poverty might be going down in that country, but that is only because the entire country is being completely impoverished. This is where I have always had a slight concern about using relative measures. An argument is often made about numbers dropping in relative measures between 2009 and 2010, but that was because the economy was declining and the whole country was getting poorer. Therefore, the difference in relative poverty between groups was declining. In theory, collapsing the economy would remove relative poverty, but no one feels that that is the way we should go about delivering policy—well, except perhaps those who are fervent advocates of the approach adopted in Venezuela.
The two new clauses ask the Chancellor to review the impact of certain provisions. They do not ask for an independent review; they ask for the Chancellor to review his own policies. Perhaps that reflects how much confidence the Opposition have in the Chancellor. He might be reassured to know that they feel that if the Chancellor reviews the impact of the provisions it will be an excellent analysis that they will want to follow. Again, this is not about creating something truly independent, but about asking the Government to produce a report on Government policies.
Is that not a slightly bizarre argument? I think the Opposition are trying to ask the Government to take into account in the review the priorities we have, rather than the Government’s priorities. For example, they may be putting policies in the Finance Bill to raise taxes to do something specific, whereas we are asking them to look at public health impacts.
New clause 1 says what it says: it asks the Chancellor to produce a review of the impact of provisions and to lay a report of that review before the House. It does not require anything to be done. It does not set out a detailed list of policy changes and how they would be paid for. I do not really see where the hon. Lady is coming from. Members can generally debate all matters that are put before the House, what they believe their impact will be and whether they will make a difference.
I have to say—my Scottish colleagues like to raise this point—that in some areas, for example the Scottish education system, it would be interesting to look at how help is being provided to children so that they have a route out of poverty. In the past, the Scottish education system was one of the highest rated in the world, but I think the Scottish National party has now pulled Scotland out of the global rankings—not because it is going up them, it is safe to say. We can certainly have reviews both ways, and it will be interesting to hear whether comments from SNP Members reflect the impact that aspects of Scotland’s domestic policy, for which it has been responsible for most of the past decade, have had on some of the statistics they wish to complain about.
I welcome the fact that the Bill again increases the earnings that someone can receive before becoming an income tax payer.
In a moment—I did not intervene on the hon. Lady.
Again, those with the lowest incomes will be able to keep more of what they earn. The days when earning £6,500 was considered enough for someone to start paying tax have disappeared. We were actually able to bring forward the increase in tax-free earnings for millions of people. That is a positive measure, which really makes work pay and helps the lowest earners the most.
Any policy that encourages people to be in work and keep more of what they earn, and allows them to save, will help improve their overall health. One of the things that most improves someone’s life outcomes is being in employment. [Interruption.] It is bizarre to be heckled for saying that.
My hon. Friend is giving an insightful speech. One impact of the Government’s policies is the improvement in our Gini coefficient, which is widely recognised as an objective international measure of inequality. According to that objective international measure, our inequality has reduced since 2009-10. Nothing is perfect, but it seems that the direction of policies is working.
As always, my hon. Friend makes a well argued and succinct point. He demonstrates the positive difference that Government policies are making for his constituents and the UK as a whole. It must be said that that difference is being made by a whole package of policies, not just by the Bill. I know that a range of measures will help tackle the health inequalities in my patch, including intervention, better services, better urgent care, ensuring that we realise the benefits of technology in primary care, dealing with things such as rising obesity, ensuring that people have proper diets and continuing the welcome decrease in the smoking rate. It is bizarre that those who can least afford to smoke end up being impacted most by it, worsening already poor health inequalities.
The Bill is welcome. I do not think either new clause brings much to the debate, other than highlighting that people want reviews and statistics. With a genuine review, we think about our policy conclusions at the end, yet we hear Opposition Members say, “We want a review—but by the way, here are all our conclusions about the policies we believe should be adopted, even though we can’t really outline how we would pay for them, other than with a massive borrowing splurge that would need to be paid for by a future generation.”
It is welcome that, as has been pointed out, the number of people in absolute poverty is at a record low —1 million fewer people overall and 300,000 fewer children are in absolute poverty. [Interruption.] We hear a groan, but those are the statistics—the sorts of statistics the Opposition seek through their new clauses. The number of children living in workless homes has fallen to its lowest since records began. Being in work makes a positive difference to people’s lives.
No, I would like to ask the hon. Gentleman whether he believes in policy-based evidence or evidence-based policy. He seems to be talking about policy-based evidence. His argument is absolutely facile. He has no evidence to support it. It is absolutely ridiculous.
For policy-based evidence, we need only look to those who continue to argue that the Leader of the Opposition and the shadow Chancellor should be leading this country, despite the increasing evidence of what their economic policies would do to this nation. Anyone who takes a trip to Caracas will see the outcome there, and still some argue that we should bring those policies to this country. [Interruption.] It is lovely to be heckled all the way through my speech. I sometimes do it myself.
It is somewhat strange for the Government to be accused of not basing their policies on evidence by a party that crashed the UK economy eight years ago, and to continue to hear the excuse that the financial crash merely happened because of bankers in the United States, despite it being a former Labour Prime Minister who, just before the problem with the banks, predicted that a golden era for the City of London was about to start and set up the regulatory system that so badly failed to prevent this country from being exposed to the financial risks and shockwaves. It is somewhat strange to get that lecture on evidence, when there is plenty of evidence of what went wrong a decade ago, when we were left needing to make savings that Labour was planning to make anyway.
Absolutely. We could spend a long time analysing the decision to flog the gold reserves. It was the same Chancellor who claimed to have abolished boom and bust—to be fair, he was right: he managed to end the boom at the end of his term, although he did very little to take us away from the bust. The economic cycle is still there, and those who pretended it did not exist were deluding themselves. They kept betting that things would always go up and then things started to go down.
The other thing that has made a difference in Torbay, whose economy has many jobs in the service sector, the hospitality industry and the care sector, is the introduction of the national living wage, because of which many people have had a salary increase. It is easy for an Opposition to pledge all sorts of things, but it is very different to actually deliver in government an income rise for the lowest earners. More people are being paid more than the national living wage—local employers in Torbay are paying beyond that level to attract the staff they need, given the fall in unemployment. We cannot say that the Government’s fiscal policies have had nothing to do with that; they have made a positive difference to the lives of people in my community and others across the UK.
Absolutely. It is worth remembering, when we hear how the Opposition want to tax people and what our tax policies are, that the highest earners in this country are paying a higher percentage today than they did for all but the last few weeks of the previous Labour Government. The claim that the Government are being much more generous to the highest earners through income tax is completely false. Sadly, my hon. Friend now represents the highest-taxed part of the United Kingdom. I refer to the work of the SNP in making Northumberland a tax haven from its policies, which have hit a range of people on middle incomes. I am concerned that the impacts in Scotland of that policy will see its representatives here in Westminster blaming those impacts on Bills such as this one, when they are due to policies that the SNP, not this Parliament, has imposed on the Scottish people.
I certainly do not believe that the Westminster Government should change their policies to match the SNP’s income tax raid on middle earners and those who drive the economy. On business rates, anyone who has sat through my speeches on the high street will know that I have taken the view for some time that we need to look at how we tax the high street in future. The era of large corner premises being the most profitable place to sell goods and wares is long gone. I have to say that I do not think I will be looking at the SNP’s record for much inspiration when it comes to the question of how to stimulate the economy and boost people’s earnings.
Absolutely. That support was very welcome. However, one of the issues that I am surprised SNP Members do not want to be raised—although perhaps it is not a surprise, when I think about what would be said—is what the impact would be in all these areas if the Bill included a border between England and Scotland, making it harder for business to be done between those two parts of our great United Kingdom. What would be the impact on the economy if Scotland had to experience SNP Members’ overall economic and fiscal policies? Surprisingly, I do not think that they want that kind of analysis to be included in the review.
I was quite surprised by what my constituency neighbour Kirsty Blackman said. She is well aware that the north-east of Scotland—its very engine room, and the area that she represents—has ended up picking up half the business rates in Scotland. Does my hon. Friend agree that it is dangerous for business rates to damage particular parts of the economy and to unbalance it disproportionately, whether in Scotland or in England?
I could not have put it better myself. If business rates unbalance the economy, that is clearly a real issue. It is no surprise that two years ago, when voters in the north-east of Scotland—which is, as my hon. Friend says, the powerhouse of Scotland’s economy—had to decide which party would be the best to drive forward economic policies and represent their interests, the area, funnily enough, suddenly turned quite a pleasant shade of blue, with only a dot of yellow in the middle. That reflected the confidence of those voters in this Government’s policies.
I am conscious that I have been speaking for a little while, and that others wish to contribute. Let me end by saying that I do not believe the two new clauses add anything to the Bill. They were tabled by Members who regularly like to give us policy-based evidence, and who advocate a form of economic management for the country that has failed many times in other countries. There is no reason why it would not fail again here if they were given the chance to implement it. I hope that the House will not accept the new clauses, but will accept that the Bill will make a difference to working families across the country, will help to drive our economy forward, and will have a positive effect on the country overall.
I support the two new clauses. Unlike Kevin Foster, I think that they are very measured. They simply ask the Government to review the impact of the Bill on poverty and inequality.
I do not know what other Members think, but let me describe what I think the vast majority of people in all our constituencies believe, and what they believe this Parliament should be saying and doing. They believe that the current levels of inequality in our country are simply and utterly unacceptable. They believe that the levels of child poverty are simply and utterly unacceptable. They are not interested in someone being able to tell them that there are 2 million children living in terrible poverty, or 1,850,000 children living in absolute or, indeed, relative poverty. That is what those people are sick of, and what I am sick of, and what this Parliament should be reflecting.
Across the country, people are asking, “Can you not do any better? Can you not do something about the fact that there are still pensioners in one of the richest countries in the world who cannot heat themselves properly in cold weather, including at Christmas?” They are asking, “What is Parliament doing when we see children living in absolute poverty who cannot afford to go to school, with shoes and clothes and food being given to them as an act of charity by people in those schools?” They are not interested in whether the figures have gone up by 0.5% or down by 1%. They are interested in what this Parliament is doing about it, and what we are saying.
All these new clauses do is say to the Government, “If you believe, for example, that clause 5, through allowing people to keep more of their income when in work, addresses some of those issues, let’s have a review to see whether or not that is the case.” That is what people would expect.
I am sick of this myself. When I drive around, not just my constituency but the country, I see enormous wealth. I am not talking about people who have worked hard and done well, which we all want to see; I am talking about massive accumulated wealth—not just income—with people able to afford to pay astronomical sums on different ways of life, while half a mile down the street there is a kid in a household that cannot afford to put any proper food on the table.
That is right. Every Member of this House would no doubt say, “Isn’t it great that there are food banks and so many volunteers at them?” I agree with that; I agree that it is good to see in communities across this country, in every part of the UK, so many people who volunteer their time with others donating to them. What I object to is that food banks, which are there as a charity, are used as an instrument of public policy—they are used as a way of tackling poverty. What on earth have things come to in 2018 and 2019 when food banks are a public policy mechanism for dealing with poverty? They are supposed to be charitable organisations for people who have somehow slipped through the net, not places where someone at the DWP sends people to with tokens. That is an absolute outrage, and this Parliament should be seething about it. In saying that, I do not decry the volunteers; this brings the very best out of people, but—goodness me—is that public policy now?
That is what the Minister should be addressing. The challenge that I think every Member of this House would make to the Government would be to ask what is being done to address these issues. We do not want some academic debate about a bit of research here or there which means that the hon. Member for Torbay can say, “There’s 1,000 fewer here and 2% less there.” The levels of poverty and inequality in our country are a fundamental disgrace; why are the Government not raging about that and doing something about it through their Budget?
Does my hon. Friend agree that when he speaks to the food bank volunteers they say to him that they do not want to be doing this work as it should not be necessary because people should be able to pay for the food for their families without having to rely on handouts? They do not want to be volunteering for this because this problem should not exist in 2019.
I agree with my hon. Friend.
In my relatively brief contribution I just want to ask the Government why there is disagreement about these perfectly reasonable new clauses that ask the Government to review the impact on poverty and inequality. When the Minister responds, will he say whether he refuses to keep under review any of the budgetary measures to be implemented through this Finance Bill to see whether they impact on poverty and inequality? Is that honestly what he is saying? If he is not saying that, why cannot he accept a new clause that is asking him to review this? Who disagrees with looking at whether our Government’s policies are actually tackling poverty and inequality? I find this absolutely incredible.
The Minister can say that this is all rhetorical nonsense, but let us see what he says about how he intends to review the impact of the Government’s policies. For example, he knows that one of the key challenges for Government policy is that, despite what they have tried to do, the number of working people in poverty is increasing. That is a policy challenge. It is not a Labour-Tory thing; it is a policy challenge. If the Minister simply retrenches on this, he is not acting as a Minister of the Crown or a Government Minister responsible for our country; he is acting as a Tory party politician, and that is not what a Minister of the Crown should be doing.
I find it sad to have to ask this, but does my hon. Friend agree that perhaps the reason why the Government will not accept the new clauses is that they would provide the evidence that these policies are wrong and that they are harming our citizens?
I agree. I am not sure if the Minister is listening, but that is the point. Surely the Government would want to know whether their policies were working, so that they could do more of them. And if their policies were not working, all of us would want the Government to change tack.
Poverty and inequality should be at the heart of everything the Government do and of everything this Parliament demands. All that the new clauses and amendments are doing is saying to the Government, “Look at what your policies are doing. Look at the impact out there. What are you doing to tackle the utterly unacceptable inequality, child poverty and increased use of food banks that we see in our country? How are your policies going to address this?” That is the purpose of the new clauses, which I totally support.
It is a pleasure to follow Vernon Coaker. In fact, I agree with some of the sentiments that he has expressed. The level of poverty is still unacceptable, and that makes me unhappy. I am also unhappy about the level of inequality across the country and in my own constituency, but I want to support a Government who are doing something about it, not just through words but through actually taking steps to make these things better.
I have enormous respect for Debbie Abrahams, who introduced her new clause 1 earlier. It proposes a review of the impact of clause 5 on child poverty and equality—that is, the impact of raising the level of the personal allowance after which people start paying tax. She also spoke to new clause 5, which proposes a review of the public health and poverty impact of the whole Act. It is enormously tempting to say yes, we should do this. All of us in this Chamber care enormously about poverty and inequality levels. I have a background in healthcare, and I feel very strongly about reducing health inequalities. I am also conscious of the different life expectancies within my own constituency, which are substantial, but we must be careful not to be lured into a sense that reviewing a specific part of an Act will give us an accurate picture of all that is being done and of its impact on, for example, reducing health inequalities.
I want to reciprocate by expressing my respect for the hon. Lady and for the work that she does in this place on mental health. I have huge experience in this area. I spent more than 20 years working on health inequalities and specifically on the assessment of policies to ensure that we get them right. That is part of the reason that I came into Parliament, and I know that this can be done. As my hon. Friend Vernon Coaker said, if we are all so committed to reducing poverty and inequality, let us assess our policies before they are implemented, to ensure that they do just that.
I thank the hon. Lady for her intervention, but we should be a little cautious about assessing a particular bit of policy in isolation without considering other policy areas, because that might result in false information. For instance, if we examined a specific bit of Government spending, it may appear to be doing a fantastic job, but if we do not consider the counter-effect and the money that is being taken away from people elsewhere, it does not provide the whole picture and might lead to poor policy decisions.
I want us to look at the overall impact of Government policy in the round. For example, we should look not only at the impact of raising the personal tax allowance, which is positive because it enables people on low incomes to retain more of what they earn, but at where the Government are investing money. For health inequalities, we should look harder at the extra £20.5 billion going into healthcare and the impact of the NHS long-term plan, published yesterday, which has a particular focus on directing funding to reduce inequalities and increasing funding for primary and community care. Those things will particularly help those in the most deprived areas and those with some of the worst health outcomes.
I know that it is enormously controversial, but universal credit—I will probably get booed by the other side of the Chamber—is helping people into work and is doing so hand in hand with an economy that is strong overall, leading to unemployment in my constituency halving since 2010.
I totally support what the hon. Lady is saying about importance of inequalities and health inequalities, but does she not recognise that two thirds of children in poverty have a working parent? People are trapped in low-paid work, and they are still poor, and she knows from her time on the Health and Social Care Committee that poverty is the biggest driver of ill health and health inequalities.
I recognise that there is poverty in working families, but I do not agree with her use of the word “trapped”. It is important to ensure that people are in work, because that is the best way out of poverty, and then to ensure that we support people to raise their earnings. One way of doing that is through the support available through the jobcentre when people resume universal credit, which now tends to help people to move up and earn more money, and the other is by looking at the wider economy. As the hon. Lady will know, the minimum wage has risen and is rising, but we are also seeing wages rising independent of the minimum wage as a result of a more productive economy. What is actually key to a better level of wellbeing and fewer people being in poverty is having more people in work, which is the case, and a more productive economy, which means that people earn more. We can achieve that through driving up skills and technology, increasing exports and a swath of other things that would take me into a whole other conversation.
My hon. Friend has mentioned some of the benefits of having a working parent or family member, but it also sets an enormously good example for the children. Children brought up in workless households have low aspirations and ambitions when it comes to obtaining work themselves, so somebody being in work is not just about money, it is about psychological and educative factors, too.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. While education standards are rising in our schools—readings levels, for example, are increasing substantially, leading to better opportunities for children—low levels of aspiration are still a problem and, as the teacher I was speaking to at a primary school in a deprived area said the other day, raising young people’s aspirations is key.
I am completely insulted by the point made by Mrs Main. I grew up in in-work poverty. My parents were working, and I saw them struggle day in, day out, but I assure the House that my aspirations were not stopped. It may do some Members good to understand what people living in such conditions have to go through day in, day out, and Members should not patronise people when they simply do not understand the situation.
I thank the hon. Lady for her contribution and for the example she sets. Although she has described a very tough childhood, she is a role model and is playing her part in Parliament.
To be clear, what I said was from a conversation with a teacher, who is doing a very good job in a very deprived school, about her experience. The hon. Lady’s experience might be different but, from this teacher’s experience, although there is so much she can do to help children learn to read, write and perform better in their education, what would make the next difference for those children is for their aspirations to be raised and for them to have a sense of the opportunities for them beyond their needs and environment.
Does my hon. Friend agree that making sure people can keep more of their earnings before they pay tax, introducing the national living wage and reducing the very high taper rate for people on legacy benefits will all contribute to helping people to get out of the in-work poverty trap?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and she reminds me of a constituency case, before universal credit, of a mum who was looking to raise her income but who was coming up against a threshold. If she worked more than 16 hours a week, she would not benefit, so she was trapped in poverty—Dr Whitford used the word “trapped” earlier—because it did not make sense for her to increase her hours of work.
My hon. Friend is making an important point about aspiration. In this House we often get caught on economics and money, but social capital is just as important. In many communities right across the United Kingdom, we need to be helping people to see the true opportunities, both inside and outside their communities, to allow them to realise their true potential. It is important that we consider the social alongside the monetary in all these debates.
I absolutely agree and that is one reason why we have to look at policies in the round. I completely support the policy of taking people out of income tax, but let us look not just at that. Let us look, for example, at the strong economy, at the opportunities that gives people and, beyond that, at the strength provided by having a family and community around people, which also provides the social capital to be able to make the most of their lives.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the challenge for Parliament changes over time? In the Labour years we were very concerned in Parliament about the number of workless households—there were 3 million then. There are now a lot more people in work, but there is this issue, which has been rightly raised, of the quality of that work, of the skills involved and of whether it rewards people adequately. That is the new challenge, but we are making progress.
I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for his intervention.
The hon. Member for Gedling spoke earlier of his frustration. He did not want people to talk about changes in percentages and there being perhaps a few fewer people in poverty, but actually the numbers do matter. The numbers tell us what is happening, and the numbers are moving in the right direction, which is really important. The fact that the numbers are moving in the direction of our having fewer workless households should not be sniffed at or dismissed. Achieving that has been a challenging job, and it has involved a significant effort from many people.
I think I should conclude my remarks, as I am aware that I have been speaking for a while.
New clauses 1 and 5, which call for reviews on specific aspects, have been advocated in a way that suggests that one side of the House cares more about poverty, for instance, than the other, but that is not the case at all. Members on this side of the House care very deeply about poverty and equality within society.
What really matters is the track record of governing parties in these areas. I would raise these questions with the House. Which party in government oversaw an increase in unemployment from 5% to 8%? Which party left office with nearly 4 million workless households? Which party left office with rising absolute poverty? All of us know that it was Labour.
In contrast, under this Government, we have more than 3 million more people in work, the lowest unemployment since the 1970s, 600,000 fewer children living in workless households, falling absolute poverty and rising wages. When it comes down to it, this is what matters—getting right those policies that improve people’s lives, reduce inequality, reduce poverty and make life better for everybody. That is what we should all be backing.
It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend Helen Whately.
I rise to oppose new clause 1, and I do so for these reasons. If any Members were so inclined, they should please come and visit my constituency of North Dorset. If they visited North Dorset, they could easily be forgiven for thinking that everything in the garden was rosy. There are pretty villages, attractive market towns, lush fields, healthy-looking cattle grazing and a strong local economy where unemployment is virtually zero. If Polly Toynbee or Peter Dowd were to arrive in North Dorset and say to me, “Simon, would you take me to your most deprived ward?” I could not, because I do not have one, but I know that I have pockets of deprivation and of poverty in each village and market town in my constituency.
One of the big challenges facing any suite of financial policies is recognising that poverty manifests itself in various ways and guises, but right the way across our nation. It is, I would suggest, far easier to identify large pockets of urban deprivation and poverty. The real public policy challenge is also to recognise and address those of rural poverty, often in sparsely populated areas where the instinct—maybe it is part of the rural community DNA—is slightly to shy away from asking the state, either local or national, for support and to demonstrate a strong sense of resilience and smaller communities trying to work together, although that is no excuse for any Government to shy away from focusing like an Exocet on trying to deliver policies that help to address rural poverty.
I am motivated by this every day. I know the figures move around, but the average national salary for the UK is in the region of £24,000 or £24,500 per annum, as I understand it. In North Dorset, when I was first elected in 2015, the figure was £16,500 and it has just risen to about £18,000, but rural jobs always pay less, if people are in the agricultural sector, food production or the hospitality trade. In those rural areas we do not have those big, high-paying employers. That is why we should always focus on trying to deliver support.
I find myself agreeing with what the hon. Gentleman is saying about rural poverty. I am an MP in Cheshire, and our local food bank expresses real concern about the rise in the number of people who live in rural areas having to access the food bank. He is right about pride, and another relevant group is elderly people, who often will not access help and support, so it is important to mention rural poverty.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her intervention. I am not entirely sure whether her support of me or my support of her has damaged her career more than it has damaged mine. We will leave our respective Whips to adjudicate on that. Nevertheless, she is absolutely right, and she is absolutely right to highlight that often incredibly annoying sense of pride when a retired person comes to an advice surgery. I say, “Look, we can try to help you to get this, that and the other,” and they say, “No, I don’t want to, Mr Hoare. I don’t think it is right. I have never asked the state for anything.” There is some locked-up pride among some of our retired citizens and we must forever say to them that the state in all its manifestations is there to provide. The second duty of the state, after keeping the country safe, is to provide that safety net that delivers self-respect and the opportunity for people to live with some semblance of dignity and happiness, particularly in their later lives.
Those in later life are a group that is often hard to reach. They will never be contacted through the digital economy; they need to be outreached to. I make the point again—I know Laura Smith will agree with me—that one of the great challenges in sparsely populated rural areas is that outreach is often harder, because there is not that dense concentration such that at almost every door one knocks on in an area one would say “Yes, this is the area that requires most attention.”
I thank my hon. Friend for painting this clear picture of rural poverty, but pockets of poverty occur in urban constituencies such as mine, too. Does he agree that poverty is about not only how much someone earns but the cost of living? That is why it is so important that we focus not just on the relative poverty measures that the Labour party focuses on, but on reducing absolute poverty, which is the measure that this Government have succeeded in dealing with.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to pinpoint the cost of living. Opposition spokesmen sometimes dispute this, but it is more expensive to live in a rural area. It is more expensive to heat one’s home. Travel costs are higher, usually in the absence of public transport, meaning that the running of a car is not a luxury but a necessity if one is to access even the most basic of public or retail services.
If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I will not, because I want to refer to the speech by Vernon Coaker. I hope that he will not think it is untoward for me to say this, but the passion with which he delivered his speech was powerful and incredibly compelling. He struck on a point that I was going to make and on which I had jotted down a note or two, and it is a point I have been making in recent speeches around the place. I often admire the Labour party—
There is always a “but”, though. [Interruption.] My right hon. Friend the Financial Secretary to the Treasury says that my career has definitely gone now. I did not even know that I had a career, so that is going to be interesting.
There is usually no embarrassment on the Labour side at talking with passion about the burning injustices that we see in all our constituencies and having a clear determination to do something about them. There is no inhibition at all on the Labour side. On my side—I say this as somebody who has been a member of our party since 1985—I occasionally find that we get slightly inhibited about talking from the heart. Other Members have referred to this. We can bandy the statistics about—relative or absolute, percentage this versus percentage that, up, down, more in this, fewer than the other—but it does not matter, because if someone is poor, the statistics do not affect them: they are poor. They want to know that their elected representatives, locally, in this place and those in Whitehall are doing their damnedest to make their life just a little better.
I make this plea to my colleagues on the Treasury Bench: we on the Conservative Benches do not talk enough about the whys of politics. We talk a lot about the whats, but we do not say why. We find homelessness gut-wrenchingly upsetting. We find the closing down of hope, aspiration and life expectancy intensely moving, and we burn with the desire to help. It certainly motivates me every morning to get out of bed and to do my best for my constituents in whatever way I can by supporting policies that I fundamentally believe have the power to make our local economy, and therefore my constituents’ lives, better. If anybody in this House is not motivated by that fundamental political passion to stir up the soul to go and do something about it, I say to them with the greatest of respect that they should not be here. That, I think, must be our principal function. Members from both sides of the House want to arrive at a place where aspiration, hope and opportunity are available for as great a number of our citizens as we can possibly facilitate.
We also want to make sure that the economy is buoyant. Why? Because warm words butter no parsnips. The emotional speeches may salve our consciences, but we need the economic policies that deliver the taxes and pay for the safety net below which, I am determined, none of my constituents should, or will, ever fall on my watch. We need to be ever vigilant to make sure that our economic policies are delivering that growth.
I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. I say with the greatest respect that he is making a very good speech for the two new clauses. The knowledge gained from reviewing policy implementation feeds into the decisions that go forward, so, at this stage, I invite him to support the two new clauses.
The hon. Gentleman is—what’s the phrase?—pushing his luck on that. I think that the divide here will be on the theoretical and the practical. I am always conscious that we can go to any Minister’s office, or any Department, or any local council, and find gathering dust, spiders and dead flies on many a window sill reports, reviews and assessments of this, that and the other, and they have a pretty short shelf life. I would much prefer to spend Government time focusing on delivering those policies of hope and growth.
It was just a northern smile; that was all.
Does the hon. Gentleman not see that he has massively contradicted himself? His speech, as my hon. Friend Martin Whitfield has said, would indicate that he should really be supporting these new clauses, and yet, when pushed on it, he is not. Does he not agree that that is why people in the outside world become frustrated with politicians who are very good at speaking in one way, but who act in another?
It was all going so well, wasn’t it? I agree with the hon. Lady that many people become incredibly frustrated when a Minister of any political persuasion delivers a speech that makes them think, “Something good is going to flow from this”, but then very little has actually happened when they come to think about it.
I would prefer to do the doing rather than the reviewing. I do not need a whole series of reviews to tell me that there are poor, deprived people who live in North Dorset. I do not need tables of statistics to tell me that I am going to hold the Government to account to ensure that policies are delivered to provide support for those who need it, to encourage a ladder of expectation and aspiration for those who wish to scale it, and to put policies in place to ensure that we remain a civilised and humane society. I do not need a whole bookcase of learned treatises to tell me this. It was strange that the hon. Member for Gedling made exactly that point—that he did not need a whole load of statistics and reviews—when that is actually what new clauses 1 and 5 are calling for.
I do not need these pieces of paper to tell me that it is the first duty of a Government of any colour—even if it were Peter Dowd sitting on the Government Benches and my right hon. Friend the Minister sitting on the Opposition side—to try to ensure that the economy grows and that opportunities are presented.
As well as not needing to do these reviews, does my hon. Friend agree that we should be looking at our track record—at what has actually happened when it comes to getting the deficit and the debt down? Surely that is what people will be looking at. What gives them the most comfort that we will be able to deliver on our promises in the future is that we have delivered on them in the past.
My hon. Friend is right, but I think people will look at it differently. I think that most people in this country come to an evaluation of an Administration, irrespective of which party happens to be in power, based on whether they and their family group feel more secure, more prosperous and more confident about their opportunities, and on whether they can see that the opportunities for the next generation of their family are going to be deeper and wider than those presented to them when they were making their first choices.
If I may say so, my hon. Friend is making the speech of his life. In a finance debate, it is particularly good to hear a speech about burning injustices, and I agree with him that this is the right place to be having this debate. In turn, does he agree with me that employment is at the base of dealing with all those injustices?
My hon. Friend is right. I think that Laura Smith slightly misheard my hon. Friend Mrs Main. My hon. Friend the Member for St Albans said precisely what the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich said, which was that although the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich was in a tight or low-income household, it was a house of work.
Of course, but let me just finish this point with my hon. Friend Victoria Prentis.
Where did we all learn that it was normal and expected to get out of bed in the morning, have a bit of a wash and a tidy-up, get ourselves to school and then on to work, and all the rest of it? It was from our parents. Growing up in Cardiff, I can remember large council estates where worklessness was endemic, and where the welfare state had not been that support, safety net or springboard, but had instead become a way of life for too many people. If that is the case, how on earth can we expect anybody to learn the work ethic?
I chaired the all-party parliamentary group for multiple sclerosis, which two years ago held an inquiry into people with MS who were in work and wanted to stay in work. Without reducing employability to a utilitarian argument, for people to feel that, even with a painful degenerative condition, they could still play an active, productive role in their family’s life, in the life of their community and thereby in the life of the economy nationally, had a huge impact on their mental health. I therefore entirely agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury, who speaks with great passion on this issue.
An understanding of employment and the benefits that flow from it has to be rehearsed again and again by Treasury Ministers and other Ministers. We take this for granted, possibly because it is in our DNA and possibly because it is the only thing that we have ever known, but we must be conscious that there are others in our country who have not. We should be advocates, apostles, evangelisers and any other word one could think of in shouting from the rafters the strong benefits of employment.
Does my hon. Friend agree that not only has employment benefited but, since 2010, this Government have delivered a reduction of 661,000 in the number of children living in workless households—so over half a million young people are now growing up in a home where they are getting those lessons on the importance of work—and have also reduced the number of children living in absolute poverty by 200,000?
My hon. Friend helps me and my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury by amplifying the point.
I said earlier that I was born and brought up in Cardiff. One of my abiding memories was of my late grandmother, who was born in 1908, and what motivated her throughout the whole of her life. She was the daughter of Irish immigrants. When she was at school—a Catholic primary school called St Patrick’s in Grangetown —a teacher brought a child to the front of the class, theatrically held their nose, and said, “Boy, go home, you smell.”
I can remember, in different circumstances in the 1970s, my Catholic primary school in Cardiff called St Mary’s. It was the school that my mother had gone to as well. It drew from a mixed economic demographic. There was a family with three children—I can see them now. If I sound emotional on this point, it is because I am. I am emotional because I can remember—although this may sound entirely preposterous and pompous—how I felt as an eight or nine-year-old, as I was, seeing this family. The mother always looked underfed. The father always looked harassed to death. The children, one of whom was in my class, had a colour of poverty. They had a smell of poverty. Poverty has a smell about it. It has a posture about it. It says, “We are beaten.” At the age of eight, nine or 10, I can remember looking at my classmate and thinking, “What can I do?” I realised that I could do nothing apart from provide a bit of friendship and support, and I did it as best I could, as I am sure that anybody would.
But that impotence of an eight-year-old has disappeared, and I can now stand here as a 49-year-old—[Interruption.] Yes, only 49—I know. I have had a hard life—that is what I tell my wife, anyway. I burn with the sense of injustice that the hon. Member for Gedling expressed. We are all in a position in this place where we are not impotent—we can actually do something about this. If I thought that Her Majesty’s Government were not as committed as I am on this issue, I would be in the Lobby with Opposition Members, but I do not think that. I think that the strategy of the Finance Bill is right. Our values and our principles must shine through. I urge Treasury Ministers and other Ministers to talk a little more about the why of what we are doing in our politics and a little less about the percentages and statistics.
I want to talk about a few issues, many of which have been brought up during the debate. The first is the subject of new clauses 1 and 5, both of which I support, and the way in which they have been written. I stress to the Government, and particularly to Kevin Foster, that the reason why the new clauses call for reviews is that we have no amendment of the law resolution, which means that we cannot put forward more robust amendments that ask the Government to do things. If we could have tabled more robust amendments, we would have done so, and I am sure that the Labour party would have done so as well. The Government have chosen to hamstring us and, as I have said before, when Conservative Members are sitting on the Opposition Benches, they will regret this behaviour. The fact that they chose not to move an amendment of the law motion makes it much more difficult for us to table any substantive amendments, but we are doing our best.
The things that we have managed to do during these Finance Bill debates are unparalleled in the Scottish National party’s history. We have managed to have two substantive amendments accepted to the Bill. I had two amendments accepted to the previous Finance Bill, but they were particularly minor. These ones are much more substantive and call for reviews. One of those amendments fits nicely in this section of our proceedings, as it relates to the public health effects of gambling. I am pleased that that amendment continues to be in the Bill, and I look forward to the Minister bringing forward that review in the next six months, as we have called for him to do.
There are various reasons why a Government can choose to change or introduce taxes. They can choose to have a tax to raise funds for the Government. They can choose to have a tax relief to encourage positive behaviour, or a tax to discourage negative behaviour. They can choose to have a tax to do one of the things that the Opposition and Simon Hoare have been keen to talk about. They can choose their priorities. They can choose to have a tax system that aims to reduce child poverty, reduce inequality and increase life expectancy, and we are asking for that to be the Government’s focus when they are setting taxes.
The Government should be looking at the life chances of the citizens who live on these islands and doing what they can to improve those life chances. That is the most important thing—it is why these reviews are being asked for. Whether or not the taxes that the Government have set are appropriate, we are asking for a change of focus and a change of priority, and I think the hon. Member for North Dorset was agreeing with that.
Forgive me if I am stating the obvious, but do we not also need these reviews because we have Brexit coming up, and we have to be able to reflect on and evidence things?
That is correct. One of the difficult things about looking at the potential outcomes of Brexit is that those stats do not exist. It is all well and good to talk about the fact that there are reviews sitting on shelves gathering dust, but we need stats. We need stats to be able to prove that Government policy does what it says on the tin.
The Minister can stand up and say, “This policy will raise £100 million for the Government,” but I would like to see not only the working beforehand, but the review afterwards that proves that the policy did what the Government intended it to do. I have been clear on a number of occasions that I do not think the Government do enough of that evidencing. The reviews being asked for would allow the Government to provide us with that evidence. Evidence written by the Government, rather than an independent individual, is still a legitimate thing that we can look at. The hon. Member for Torbay seemed to suggest that we would doubt information were it to come from the Chancellor of the Exchequer—surely not! It would be good for him to provide that.
I want to talk about a few things that the SNP has been doing in Scotland and the changes we have chosen to make to not only our tax system, but other systems, and particularly those that affect the issues raised in new clauses 1 and 5. We have mitigated the bedroom tax, which has been a major factor in us having the lowest child poverty rate of any country in the UK. We have increased the number of people from disadvantaged areas who are going to university. We are making major changes to the care system for looked-after children. Those young people have had some of the poorest life chances in the past, and what the Scottish Government are doing on that is hugely important for ensuring that their life chances are improved.
We have increased the pregnancy and baby grant to £600. We are improving access to childcare, and we have the baby box scheme. We are the best country in the UK at paying the living wage—not the pretendy living wage, but the real living wage. People working in Scotland are more likely to be paid the living wage than those working in England. About half of taxpayers in England pay more than they would if they lived in Scotland, and that is the half of taxpayers who are earning the least. We think that that is a progressive measure that is assisting people to get out of poverty.
The hon. Lady is bringing out the successes of the SNP Administration in Edinburgh, but does it not still stand that, after a decade in power and with powers over taxation and healthcare, men and women in Scotland live two years less than other people in the United Kingdom? In fact, we have the lowest life expectancy in the whole United Kingdom. There may be some successes—I support those on care—but certainly on the one thing that matters most, which is keeping people alive the longest, the SNP is an abject failure.
We have not had taxation powers for 10 years, and we do not have the full range of powers. For example, we do not have the full range of powers over public health, so we do not have in Scotland powers such as the public health taxation measures—the sugar tax—that were brought forward in the previous Budget. We do not have the full range of powers, and if Scotland were to be an independent country, with the full range of powers, we would be putting the things we are discussing today at the heart of our Government’s agenda. Our Government have done this and we will continue to do this—we are pushing for fairness.
I will wrap up, because I am aware that I am relatively short of time, but I want to talk about the people who are the poorest and, by the way, the most disadvantaged by the way in which this society is set up. Following the changes to universal credit, those in the bottom 30% of incomes will gain less from the work allowance than they will lose in the benefit freeze. The benefit freeze is costing them more than the changes to the work allowance will give them. Those people, who have no recourse to public funds, are the poorest individuals I see coming through my door, and this Government have caused that situation. This Government have caused a situation in which asylum seekers have got absolutely nothing. This is about the very poorest people, who have got the worst life chances as a result, and this Government are completely failing to do anything to support them or to improve their life chances. This is about people on disability benefits, who are really struggling, and at every turn, this Government have made their lives worse, rather than better. This is about lone parents, who are disadvantaged as a result of universal credit. This is about the increases in food bank usage.
The Government talk about working your way out of poverty. I do not understand how people can have hope when they do not have enough to eat.
I thank everybody who has made a contribution in this very important debate. There have been some extremely passionate and well-argued speeches.
Part of the debate has been exemplified by Vernon Coaker and my hon. Friend Simon Hoare, who spoke in effect about who it is who cares about these issues. We need to recognise that Members on both sides of this House—I do include the Opposition in my remarks—care very deeply about whether our fellow citizens in our great nation are impoverished, are in dire straits, do not have enough to make ends meet, do not have enough to feed their children, or have children who do not the opportunities in life that we wish for our children in turn. Those things matter considerably, and I congratulate my hon. Friend on the quality of the speech he delivered, particularly in that respect.
Something else that lay at the heart of the debate between the hon. Member for Gedling and my hon. Friend the Member for North Dorset, which is whether the numbers matter. Do the figures matter? I think it was the contention of the hon. Member for Gedling that, in a sense, the figures do not matter. In a curious way, that is rather at odds with the notion of supporting new clause 1, because it calls for more figures to inform our decisions. In one sense, of course, the figures do not matter, because what matters is the condition of the people who live in our country. However, figures do matter when it comes to formulating the policy responses we need to address the situation, and if we are, in any meaningful way, to chart the progress, or otherwise, that Governments—ours and the Labour Governments that preceded us—have made on this extremely important issue.
The crux of the argument against new clauses 1 and 5 is that the figures that are being asked for by way of review are either difficult to establish and disproportionately expensive to corral together, or do not lend themselves—even if we did manage to get them—to any meaningful form of analysis. That is the context in which we should consider new clauses 1 and 5. If I may, I will turn now to their specifics.
I do not know whether the Minister is aware of this, but the European Commission does this sort of analysis every year on its programme of policies, so it is not that this cannot be done. Its work covers not just quantitative but qualitative data, which relates to the points my hon. Friend Vernon Coaker made. There needs to be more than what the Government are doing—they do not know what the impacts of their policies will be.
I think I have been misunderstood, and I apologise to the hon. Lady if I was not clear enough. I am certainly not saying that data does not matter—quite the opposite. What I am saying is that we need to have the right kind of data for the exercise to be meaningful and worth while.
New clause 1 would require the Chancellor to report on the impact of changes to the personal allowance and the higher rate threshold on households of different levels of income, on child poverty, on equality and on those individuals with protected characteristics. New clause 5 would require the Chancellor to report on the Bill’s effect on child poverty, life expectancy and public health.
Let me first address the question of the Treasury’s compliance with its public sector equality duty, as referenced in new clause 1(2)(c). Equality and fairness continue to lie right at the heart of the Government’s agenda, and we take our compliance with this duty deeply seriously while deciding policy. That means that Government decisions are explicitly informed by the evidence available of the implications of those decisions for those sharing protected characteristics. I have no hesitation in saying that the Treasury complies with the public sector equality duty.
Further provisions in new clauses 1 and 5 call for the publication of different forms of analysis for clause 5 and for the whole Bill in turn. The Government have been, and continue to be, transparent—more transparent than any other. Changes to the tax system are always accompanied by a tax information and impact note, and each Budget is accompanied by detailed distributional analysis.
TIINs, in particular, are relevant to the questions discussed today. These notes provide Parliament and taxpayers with information on the expected effects of changes to the tax system, and form a vital part of the Government’s commitment to transparency and accountability around tax decisions. In the context of clause 5, for example, the TIIN already sets out the impact on groups of taxpayers according to their age, gender and income tax band, and this data is readily available to HMRC through tax returns.
I will come to the very issue that the hon. Gentleman rightly raises.
Clause 5 will benefit households across the UK. Due to the information collected by HMRC through tax returns, we have various pieces of information on geographical distribution, as sought under new clause 1(2)(d). That is an important point, because much of the information being requested is actually already available.
In addition, the distributional analysis published by the Treasury already sets out the impact of tax changes on households with different levels of income. To be completely clear, the analysis shows how the living standards of households in each tenth of the income distribution will be affected by the decisions the Chancellor and Prime Minister have taken since they took office in 2016. Not only does the analysis meet the intention of new clause 5(2)(a) regarding the effects of the Government’s tax changes on different households, it actually goes beyond that by including changes to welfare and spending on public services, and by considering changes in addition to those announced at each fiscal event since the autumn statement in 2016.
There is, as I suggested at the outset of my remarks, much that we can agree on across the House. Child poverty, public health, life expectancy and inequality are among the greatest issues of our age. We have got on with the job. Absolute poverty rates are at record lows. One million fewer people are in poverty now than under Labour. I say to the hon. Member for Gedling that 1 million is indeed a number, but for every one of those million, their lives have been enhanced. That includes 300,000 fewer children in poverty than under Labour. As we know, the best route out of poverty is through work. There are 3 million more people in work now than in 2010, with 637,000 fewer children in workless households. That is a record of which we should be proud. I urge the House to reject the new clauses.
If I may rephrase St Augustine, who said “O Lord, make me chaste, but not yet,” what we have here is a Government saying, “O Lord, make me charitable and compassionate, but not just now. Let’s do it in the future.” It comes to something when the British Government, with an expenditure of approximately £840 billion a year, say that it will be difficult to get statistics, either qualitative or quantitative, from which they can make policy. That is how it seems to me, but I tell you what: every day when I am in my constituency I see people who are homeless. What have the Government done about that? Nothing. I see food banks opening up all the time. What are the Government doing about that? Absolutely nothing. What are the Government doing about the 24% of homeless people who are from the LGBT community? Absolutely nothing. And then we heard the dross coming out—that is what it is, dross—about intergenerational worklessness. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation—through evidence, through statistics, through analysis—found that that was not a significant factor in homelessness. So we hear all this talk about charity, compassion and working together, but I am afraid it does not wash when it comes from the mouths of Tories.
Question put, That the clause be read a Second time.
The House divided:
Ayes 294, Noes 312.