Inequality and Social Mobility

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:45 pm on 12th June 2019.

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Photo of Margaret Greenwood Margaret Greenwood Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions 4:45 pm, 12th June 2019

Apologies—I am short of time so I will not.

That lower spending includes a cut of £5 billion in support specifically for disabled people. The Institute for Fiscal Studies identified the two-child limit as a key reason for the increase in child poverty to a predicted 5.2 million by 2021-22. The Government must wake up to that reality and understand that as a country, we have no option: child poverty must end.

When we consider social justice and disabled people, the picture is bleak. A report by the Social Metrics Commission shows that nearly half the 14 million people in poverty live in families with a disabled person, yet the basic disabled child element in universal credit is worth less than half that in child tax credits and there are no disability premiums. The equivalent support under universal credit for people who receive severe disability premium is around £180 a month lower than under legacy benefits.

Research by Scope demonstrates the inequality in living standards that disabled people face, driven by the additional costs that they face for essential goods and services. Social security support should ensure that disabled people can meet these costs, and participate as fully as possible in wider society.

The Secretary of State said in a speech in March that she recognised that disabled people often feel on trial when claiming social security, yet she simply proposed merging personal independence payment and employment and support allowance assessments. The MS Society has likened that to

“harnessing two donkeys to a farm cart and expecting it to transform into a race chariot.”

Will she commit to scrapping the existing system of assessments, and replace it with a supportive environment that responds to people’s needs?

The Government repeatedly say that work is the best route out of poverty, yet this is not borne out by the statistics. About two thirds of people living in poverty live in a working household. The UK is second only to the United States in income inequality among the major world economies in Europe and North America. An IFS study in May found that average chief executive officer pay among FTSE 100 companies in the UK in 2017 was a staggering 145 times higher than the average salary of the worker, up from 47 times higher in 1998. This points to a huge social injustice. It cannot be right that those at the top earn so much more than the vast majority of working people.

All too many people are trapped in low-paid, insecure work, unable to pay the bills. In 2018, in-work poverty increased faster than employment, and 4 million workers were in poverty, a rise of over 500,000 over five years. About 840,000 people are on zero-hour contracts in this country, and women and young people in particular are more likely to be in insecure work. Research by the TUC shows that only 12% of people on zero-hour contracts get sick pay, while 43% do not get holiday pay, and they have average hourly pay over £4 lower than those not on zero-hour contracts, yet this Government still refuse to ban zero-hour contracts.

To make matters worse, under this Government employment support is based around the punitive sanctions regime, despite the fact that there is no evidence it leads to people finding work that lasts and lifts them out of poverty. Shockingly, over 1 million sanctions have been imposed on disabled people since 2010, but there has been little progress in closing the disability employment gap, which is currently at 30%. Are we meant to believe that disabled people deserve this treatment? Clearly, disabled people are being punished by this Government, rather than supported. Young people are more at risk of being sanctioned, but again there is a real question mark over the effectiveness of the employment support they are being offered through the youth obligation.

I now turn to the high cost of housing. It has long been assumed that younger generations coming through would do better than their parents, but that is no longer the case. Millennials are half as likely to own their own home by the age of 30 as baby boomers, and the Office for National Statistics has estimated that about a third of young adults were living with their parents in 2017. How can they forge their own futures and start families of their own in these circumstances?

This Government have decimated the provision of social rented homes. Since 2010, the number of new social rented homes has fallen by over 80%, and the number of people in the private rented sector has increased by over 1 million households. The evidence of a crisis in housing is all around us. Rough sleeping has more than doubled since 2010, and over 120,000 children are recorded as homeless in temporary accommodation. What kind of a start in life is that?

Research has shown that greater equality has a positive impact on wellbeing for all, yet in the UK we see widening inequality and lack of social justice having a devastating impact on individuals, families and communities. We see a failure of this Government to tackle the most serious social problems that successive Labour governments have sought to address—poverty, homelessness, disadvantage and destitution. This Government’s austerity programme has decimated social security and led to inequality of provision across education, health, social care and housing.

There can be no excuses. We on these Benches call on the Government to end child poverty, invest in social housing and public services, and take urgent action to tackle rising inequality and the suffering of millions.