The Economy

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:13 pm on 8th July 2020.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Alison Thewliss Alison Thewliss Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Treasury) 4:13 pm, 8th July 2020

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely correct to make that point.

We are all aware that the crisis will inevitably see an increase in public debt, and my ears pricked up at the Chancellor’s mention of the medium-term public finances being put back on a sustainable footing. That better had not mean more austerity, because after the 2008 crisis we saw that the contractionary policy does not work. It spread misery and hardship, and does more long-term damage to the country’s fiscal position. As we move out of the reactionary emergency policy and into more deliberate methods of restarting and rebuilding the economy, a more radical approach from the UK is needed. Growing the economy and tackling the inequalities we have seen during this crisis must be the priority over deficit reduction.

The past few months have seen measures that would not have seemed possible only a few months ago. Although some of the Chancellor’s announcements today are welcome, we need that bigger, bolder and fresher thinking. We cannot rely merely on the private sector to stimulate the economy; the Government must take the lead. The Chancellor’s statement made mention of the green recovery, vouchers and other types of ideas. Let me expand on what I said to the Chancellor about what Germany has done through the KfW Development Bank, which has changed the whole conversation about energy-efficiency in its buildings. The Chancellor could start to do some of that, not by way of vouchers, but by a cut on VAT on building repairs, as that would encourage people to invest in their properties, in energy-efficiency measures and other types of such activity; it could make a real, lasting difference, rather than just being a voucher.

We support policies such as an employment guarantee for young people, and we welcome a temporary cut to VAT to boost consumption, with low rates for the hospitality and tourism sectors. We hope that that will be sustained beyond the six months, if required. Policies such as a 2p cut to employers’ national insurance contributions would also protect jobs and reduce the cost of hiring staff. We also want to see a national debt plan to deal with the debt that businesses and individuals are suffering, in a way that promotes fairness as well as economic recovery. That would mean working with lenders to ensure that loans, mortgages and rent holidays could be extended to those experiencing financial hardship as a result of the crisis and that alternative payment plans are put in place to help prevent people from losing their homes.

I would be keen to see the pilot on no-interest loans for people on particularly low incomes, which has previously been considered by the Treasury, because it would provide alternatives to high-cost credit, which is exploitative and predatory and ruins lives in my constituency and elsewhere. The reason people are often forced to turn to that high-cost credit is the shameful five-week wait for universal credit, which has been named as one of the biggest drivers of food bank usage and rent arrears in recent years. We could be forgiven for thinking that it is just part of the system, so inflexible have the UK Government been on this issue, but it is a choice and they could change it if they wanted to do so. I very much urge them to do that and to look at the fact that there has been no increase in legacy benefits, because many of the people affected have not seen an uplift and are struggling. The Government need to make the choice to spend the money, cut the wait and lift families out of poverty. The single most effective policy in reducing child poverty would be to increase UC payments, and Scottish National party Members are calling for an increase of £20 a week in UC and child tax credits as part of any stimulus package. Such an increase is supported by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, Save the Children and many others, and we need to make sure that these families are not left behind as a result of this crisis. The Government should also look at the position for those people who are not entitled to that—people with no recourse to public funds—many of whom have been left with nothing.

The policies put forward today are attractive to those who have disposable income, but we have not seen many policies for those who have very little income. For families in Scotland it is too often the case that the Scottish Government have been the grown-ups in the room, presenting a clear and focused strategy for delivering economic growth, while tackling inequalities. It is unfortunate that we have had to look at a Government down here lurching from scandal to scandal to self-inflicted crisis. It is little wonder, therefore, that over the past week we have seen in the polls a majority for independence, at up to 54%. It is no wonder that the Government seem so rattled by that, because it is clearly a direction of travel, so perhaps they would like to reflect on those polls when considering the support given by the UK Government to the people of Scotland.