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Health Inequalities

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:53 pm on 4th March 2020.

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Photo of Philippa Whitford Philippa Whitford Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Health and Social Care), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Exiting the European Union) 4:53 pm, 4th March 2020

I do. I respect the work that Labour did, and child poverty was falling. Interestingly, the upturn in child poverty we have seen did not happen with the crash in 2008; it happened after the 2012 welfare changes. That is striking. The impact of Government policy has been austerity in every way and in every approach to individuals, families and communities. We have seen slow income growth for the vast majority of people over the last decade. There has been absolute inequality. The majority of the growth that there has been, has been at the top. The national living wage simply is not a living wage. More people are in insecure work—zero-hours contracts, the gig economy—and do not have protections. As the shadow Health Secretary mentioned, in all the discussion about covid-19, we have been trying to highlight that people on low pay and insecure contracts do not get sick pay, yet we will be asking them to stay at home for two weeks and self-isolate. In the meantime, the wealthiest people have actually trebled their wealth. So categorically we have not all been in it together over the last 10 years.

In addition, we have seen a restriction on public expenditure. The regressive welfare cuts of 2012 and 2016 have reduced support for families by 40%: the benefit cap, the benefits freeze, the two-child limit, the five-week wait for universal credit, which puts people in rent arrears and debt, personal independence payments, the bedroom tax. Eighty per cent. or more of these cuts have affected women directly because they tend to be lower paid, to be carers and to rely more on services. In the main, they are responsible for children. The disabled have also been particularly hard hit. We have not seen a cumulative impact assessment of female lone parents who are disabled and have three or more children. Some of them have had their income slashed.

There have been cuts to local government and services. Interestingly, the least deprived areas face 16% of cuts, while the most deprived on average had 31% cut from their local government budget. I have heard Labour Members talk about between 40% and 60% cuts in their local government budgets. There are changes in the pipeline to move £300 million from local authorities in the north to the south. I wonder if that will be reversed now that the Conservative party has won some seats in the north.