Thanks to our stewardship of the economy and the fact that wages are now rising above inflation, we are able to move on from the benefits freeze. From April 2020, we expect that increases will resume in line with inflation.
That entirely misses the point. Research by the Resolution Foundation published last week confirms that the value of child benefit is at a record low, 40 years after it was introduced. Meanwhile, the shambolic Tory Government throw good money after bad in their botched Brexit plans. Is it not time for the Chief Secretary to speak to the Chancellor and ask him to get his priorities right and to give families a much-needed pay rise?
I would have thought that the hon. Lady would welcome the fact that unemployment in Scotland is at a record low level, thanks to our policies of getting more people into work and of making work pay.
Yesterday marked the beginning of the fourth year of the benefits freeze. Since it was brought in in 2016, the consumer prices index has increased by 6.6%, but working-age benefits have been frozen. That literally means that those in the most need can afford fewer necessities. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation says that by 2020, the benefits freeze will have pushed 400,000 into poverty. How can the Chancellor justify that?
I would have thought that the hon. Lady would welcome the fact that we are ending the benefits freeze. It is responsible to do so only when people in work’s wages are rising. Thanks to our economic reforms, our reforms to employment law and our welfare reforms, we are now able to do that.
The benefits freeze is a political choice made by this Conservative Government and this Conservative Treasury; it is not a necessity. It is one of the biggest cuts to social security we have seen in recent times. The entire cost of the work allowance concessions over three years amounts to less than the benefits freeze takes away in one year. When FTSE 100 chief executive pay has increased by 11% in the past year, is it not now time that the UK Government got their priorities in order and protected those who need it most rather than giving tax cuts to the richest?
The hon. Lady obviously has not heard my answer that we are now moving to a situation in which benefits will rise in line with inflation, but let us be honest about the choices that the Scottish Government are making. Their choice is to raise taxes on people earning £50,000 by £1,500 a year, driving business out of Scotland and making the Scottish economy less successful.