– in the House of Commons at 1:23 pm on 22nd November 2022.
Debate resumed (Order,
Question again proposed,
(a) provision may be made increasing the rate at which energy (oil and gas) profits levy is charged to 35%,
(b) provision may be made reducing the percentage in section 2(3) of the Energy (Oil and Gas) Profits Levy Act 2022 (amount of additional investment expenditure) to 29%, and
(c) (notwithstanding anything to the contrary in the practice of the House relating to the matters that may be included in Finance Bills) provision may be made for and in connection with extending the period for which the levy has effect until 31 March 2028.
The Question is the first Ways and Means motion on the Order Paper. At the conclusion of the debate, the Question on that first motion will be put to the House. I will then put forthwith the Questions on the remaining Ways and Means motions and the money resolution. I remind the House that the scope of the debate is the content of the autumn statement, as well as the motions on the Order Paper.
It is a privilege to open the second day of debate on the autumn statement for the Government. Last Thursday, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor presented this House with a plan to tackle the cost of living crisis and rebuild our economy—a statement that was honest about the challenges we face and fair in its response. His three priorities, and the priorities of this Government, are simple: stability, growth and public services. The people of this country need us to take the difficult decisions on their behalf, and that is what we will do.
In yesterday’s debate, we heard how our plan leads, among other things, to lower energy bills, higher long-term growth and a stronger NHS and education system. The subject of today’s debate is sustainable public finances and taxation, and the House will understand if I focus my remarks on those aspects of the statement.
For the record, and as the Chancellor revealed, the Office for Budget Responsibility judges that the UK, like other countries, is now in recession. Overall this year, the economy is still forecast to grow by 4.2%. GDP then falls in 2023 by 1.4%, before rising by 1.3%, 2.6% and 2.7% in the following three years. The OBR says that higher energy prices explain the majority of the downward revision in cumulative growth since March. It also expects a rise in unemployment from 3.6% today to 4.9% in 2024, before it falls to 4.1%.
One of the most salient points, and an issue we cannot and will not ignore, is inflation. Last week, the Chancellor called inflation “the enemy of stability”, noting its impact on mortgages, household bills, businesses and unemployment. We are experiencing very high levels of inflation, the primary cause of which, according to the OBR, is global factors. Those who question that should remember the following: yes, inflation is high in the United Kingdom, but it is higher in Germany, at 11.6%, in Italy, at 12.6%, and in the Netherlands, at 16.8%. The reality is that the pandemic is still casting an economic shadow, with the lasting impact on supply chains having made goods more expensive. As Members will understand, this has been significantly exacerbated by Putin’s illegal invasion of Ukraine.
The OBR forecast the UK’s inflation rate to be 9.1% this year and 7.4% next year, although I note that the OBR has said that actions taken as part of the autumn statement will help inflation to fall sharply from the middle of next year. Tackling high inflation needs fiscal and monetary policy to work together, with the Government and the independent Bank of England acting hand in glove. It also needs the world to believe that this country will always pay what it owes. Thanks to the decisions this Government have already taken, the OBR has said that the peak of interest rates is likely to be lower than it would otherwise have been, in turn benefiting our economy and public finances.
But we cannot be complacent. That is why we are committed to rebuilding the public finances. The decisions the Chancellor made last week will mean that over the next five years, borrowing is more than halved. This year, we are forecast to borrow 7.1% of GDP, or £177 billion. Next year, it is 5.5% of GDP, or £140 billion, then by 2027-28, it falls to 2.4% of GDP, or £69 billion.
The Chancellor also confirmed two new fiscal rules. The first is that underlying debt must fall as a percentage of GDP by the fifth year of a rolling five-year period. The second is that public sector borrowing over the same period must be below 3% of GDP.
Given that the Government since 2012 have broken virtually every fiscal rule they have set themselves, why should we pay a blind bit of attention to this new fiscal rule? Why would we believe anything that those on the Tory Front Bench say about their fiscal rules, which are brushed aside as and when they feel like it?
I always enjoyed intervening on the hon. Gentleman when he was a shadow Minister and I was a Back Bencher, and I have great respect for him. The Opposition may want to airbrush from history the extraordinary events of recent years—the pandemic and now the invasion of Ukraine—but any Government would have to adjust to those circumstances. These were not minor events; they were once-in-a-generation events, and they have had a huge impact.
Overall, the autumn statement delivers a consolidation of £55 billion, with just under half from higher taxation and just over half from spending reductions. The consolidation ensures that excessive borrowing does not add to inflationary pressures and push interest rates up further. In the short term, we are taking difficult decisions to make sure that fiscal policy keeps inflation in check, but doing it in a compassionate way that still provides support to the most vulnerable.
I thank the Minister for giving way; he is being very generous. The OBR says that Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs compliance measures and chasing social security fraud against the Department for Work and Pensions will bring in £2.8 billion, but the Green Book says that social security fraud is £2.2 billion, which suggests only £0.6 billion coming in from tackling tax avoidance and evasion. Why is that figure so low, when the estimate is £70 billion of tax avoidance and evasion?
The hon. Gentleman asks a perfectly good question. He will be aware that we have made huge progress on closing the tax gap, which effectively means that we are making huge progress on cracking down on tax avoidance. There is always further to go, but we have scored significant savings from those measures over the forecast period.
The upshot is what the Chancellor rightly called a “balanced path to stability”. We are tackling inflation to help all our constituents with the cost of living, while at the same time providing the stability that business needs to be able to invest and grow. We want low taxes and sound money, but sound money has to come first.
What worries me about the Budget is the lack of focus on how the economy will grow in subsequent years. If we have an austerity Budget, public investment is falling; exports are falling because of Brexit; and consumer spending is going to fall because household budgets are being crushed by the cost of living crisis. That leaves business investment. Are businesses seriously going to invest when all other areas of growth are collapsing?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. The key issue for growth at the moment is inflation. What on earth do we think is causing consumers to rein back spending? The answer is that this year, this country will have to find an additional £150 billion to pay for the higher cost of energy—that is the equivalent of an entire NHS. Yes, we are taking difficult decisions, but that is the best way to ensure that we get inflation down, in partnership with the independent Bank of England, and build the platform of stability that businesses need to grow and invest. On the point about Brexit, if it was causing the problems, why do the Netherlands and Germany have higher inflation? He should think about that.
On tax, the House will have heard the Chancellor say that we will be fair by asking those who have more to contribute more, and by avoiding tax rises that most damage growth. That means, for example, that while some taxes are rising, we have not raised headline rates of taxation. Tax as a percentage of GDP, meanwhile, will increase by just 1% over the next five years.
On personal taxes, we are reducing the threshold at which the 45p rate becomes payable from £150,000 to £125,140, which means that those earning £150,000 or more will pay just over £1,200 more a year. At the same time, we are maintaining at current levels the income tax personal allowance, the higher rate threshold, the main national insurance thresholds and the inheritance tax thresholds for a further two years until April 2028.
In the summer leadership contest, the Prime Minister set out his plan to see a dramatic cut to the 20p tax rate at the end of this decade. Is that ambition still held by the Prime Minister and the Chancellor?
As I have said before, my hon. Friend is a champion for his constituents. In oral questions, he raised an important point about tax on fuel and he now mentions tax on income. We face an extraordinarily difficult position and I am sure that even he would agree that inflation is the ultimate tax. Inflation undermines savings, hits the poorest the hardest and hits the entire economy in every part of the country. We have had to take difficult decisions on income tax, but of course, in future fiscal events, we will announce what we will be doing with taxes.
The current tax changes include the fact that the dividend allowance will be cut from £2,000 to £1,000 next year and then to £500 from April 2024. The annual exempt amount for capital gains tax will be cut from £12,300 to £6,000 next year and then to £3,000 from April 2024. Those are not insignificant changes, but they still leave us with more generous core personal allowances than countries such as Germany, Ireland, France and Canada.
To make our motoring system fairer, we have also decided that electric vehicles will no longer be exempt from vehicle excise duty from April 2025. We are keeping previously announced cuts to stamp duty to support the housing market, but only until
Moving to the all-important business taxes, we have decided to freeze the employer’s national insurance contributions threshold until April 2028, but we will retain the employment allowance at its higher level of £5,000. That means that the smallest 40% of all businesses—the ones that are crucial to our growth—will still pay no NICs at all.
On VAT, we already have a registration threshold more than twice as high as the EU and OECD averages, but we will maintain it at that level until March 2026. We will implement the internationally agreed OECD pillar 2 global corporate minimum tax rate to make sure that multinational corporations pay the right tax in the right place. At the same time, we will take further steps to tackle tax avoidance and evasion. Further to the intervention of Chris Stephens, that will raise an additional £2.8 billion by 2027-28.
Ahead of the autumn statement, there was much discussion on the merits or otherwise of windfall taxes applied to profits resulting from unexpected increases in energy prices. Our view is that any such tax should be temporary, not deter investment and recognise the cyclical nature of many energy businesses.
In my short time in this job, I have tried to cram a lot of facts into my head, but I do not have that split immediately to hand. I will write to the hon. Gentleman after raising the matter with my officials.
To return to windfall taxes, in that context, we will increase the energy profits levy from 25% to 35% from
The Minister is being generous with his time. On the specific point of the windfall tax, there have been calls in this place since October last year for a temporary windfall tax on the extra profits of oil and gas companies. Does he accept that, had the Government moved more quickly to do that, they might not have faced as much blame for not reacting quickly enough to the global events that he mentioned and that people would perhaps think that the Government were managing the crisis better? At the moment, a great deal of the criticism is about not the events themselves, but the Government’s lack of reaction and poor management of them.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady. We introduced a windfall tax in May. When we consider the timeline relative to the invasion of Ukraine, that is pretty swift. By that point, it was clear that we had an extraordinary surge in energy prices. Of course, as a Government, we would not ordinarily want to take such steps, but I think there is consensus that, when profits are rising so sharply and consumers are having to pay such high prices, we should look at putting that kind of regime in place.
Can the Minister tell us more about what he means by “temporary”? Earlier this year, we heard that the windfall tax would be temporary. We have heard about lots of taxes, such as the 45p tax, being temporary. Indeed, income tax, which was introduced in 1799 by William Pitt the Younger, was going to be a temporary measure to deal with the Napoleonic wars, yet here we are dealing with it. What does the Minister mean by temporary, and when will it end?
In response to the criticism of Christine Jardine about not responding fast enough to proposals to extend the windfall tax, I would say that changing the rules of the game regarding tax for some of the biggest investors and employers in different regions of the United Kingdom is a huge thing for a Government, so proceeding cautiously in response to changing events and to the precise quarterly profits that those companies posted was exactly the right thing to do.
My right hon. Friend puts it perfectly. These are significant changes for the industries concerned and one should not go about it in a wanton fashion. We have to try to carry the industry with us, which is why, for example, we have a very generous investment allowance in the North sea levy. As I said, I think the wider public support that but he is right that we have to go about it pragmatically to ensure that we balance the interests of investment with raising the revenue.
Let us not forget that that revenue is going to fund support for energy bills at an extraordinary level through the energy price guarantee, which the OBR now estimates will cut £900 from the typical energy bill this winter. Next year, with the new energy price guarantee, a further £500 will be cut. We are taking these difficult measures to be compassionate and help those at the bottom the most: earlier this year, the amount of energy support for the most vulnerable was £650; next year, it will be £900. We are taking serious steps to support the most vulnerable.
It is extraordinary to hear that response to the question about levying a windfall tax and those comments about the pragmatic approach that the Government took when the oil industry companies themselves were saying, “We’re happy to pay more tax. Take more money from us. We’re making so much money.” So the Government were incredibly slow to act.
It is not a stock answer. How could it be a stock answer when I have not taken an intervention like that before?
Neale Hanvey will I am sure forgive me but, on his substantive point, we have delivered a significant windfall tax, but with the investment allowance that balances the interests of investment in the sector against needing to raise revenue. I repeat, where is that revenue going? It is to help families throughout the United Kingdom, including in Scotland, because we are stronger together when the support of the Treasury, at the heart of the United Kingdom, helps everyone in every part of this country.
The final issue to address with regard to taxation is business rates, which I know many colleagues feel strongly about. We believe that bills for business rates should accurately reflect market values, so we will proceed with the revaluation of business properties from April 2023. However, we will soften the impact on businesses with a £13.6 billion support package over the next five years. Nearly two thirds of properties will not pay a penny more next year and thousands of pubs, restaurants and small high street shops will benefit. Furthermore, we are extending and increasing the retail, hospitality and leisure relief scheme from 50% to 75% in 2023-24, showing that this is a Government committed to protecting the businesses that make our high streets and town centres successful.
These are not easy times to bring in these sorts of measures, but that does not mean the Government will shy away from difficult decisions. Our priorities, expressed through the autumn statement, are stability, growth and public services. Today, we are debating specific tax measures and the importance of sustainable public finances, but what the Government are delivering is much more comprehensive than that—an integrated response to what the Chancellor last week called
“a global energy crisis, a global inflation crisis and a global economic crisis”.—[Official Report,
The bottom line is this: because of the difficult decisions that I have outlined today—the decisions this Government are not afraid to take—the OBR confirms we will see less severe inflation and a shallower recession, but perhaps most importantly, unemployment is forecast to be 70,000 lower than would otherwise have been the case. That is 70,000 real families who will benefit. At the same time, when growth returns, we will be in a better position to pay our debts, ensuring those are not simply passed on to future generations. That is the promise of this autumn statement—a statement that is balanced, honest and fair—and I commend it to the House.
Before I call the shadow Minister, I notify colleagues that I do not want to put a time limit on, but my guidance is that, if everybody speaks for eight minutes, we should be able to fit everybody in comfortably. That was the guidance yesterday, so it has been equal on both days. I call Tulip Siddiq.
This week, we have heard lots of statistics and figures flying around. The OBR has estimated that real household disposable income per person will fall by 7% over the next two years. That is the biggest fall on record, taking incomes down to 2013 levels. We have heard that our tax burden is set to rise by around £30 billion more than originally forecast in March. It is the highest level since world war two. We have heard about inflation rising to 11.1 %, a 40-year high, with food prices rising by a staggering 16.4% in the year to October.
Just for a minute, I want to explore what these statistics and figures mean in practice to our constituents and to hard-working people across the country. They mean that a single mother on the South Kilburn estate in my constituency cannot afford to buy a Christmas present for her child. They mean that a hard-working nurse in my constituency who is already struggling to make ends meet and cannot afford her energy bills will be paying more tax. They mean a young carer who is already skipping meals because she cannot afford to eat will fall into more debt and may be pushed into the arms of unethical, unsecure credit loans. In all honesty, can Conservative Members really tell me that the measures outlined in their autumn statement will help vulnerable people such as those in my constituency? Do they think it is fair that my constituents have to bear the brunt of a Tory economic crisis that was built in Downing Street? I am sure the Minister and other Conservative Members will say—
In Labour’s plans, are there any plans for any tax cuts and, if there are, where are they?
I welcome the hon. Member’s intervention. If he listens carefully to my speech and pays careful attention, he will hear all our economic plans laid out, so please pay attention.
The Minister kept talking about how the Government have no choice and how they have made difficult decisions, but the truth is that there is always a choice, and if the Labour party were in government, we would be making fairer choices and better choices that would suit our constituents.
If I am not mistaken, we have just increased substantially the national living wage, increased benefits in line with inflation and increased pensions in line with inflation, while, unfortunately and regrettably, putting up taxes on the wealthy. Exactly what does the hon. Lady not like about that?
The things we do not like about this Budget are the fact that the Government will still not impose a proper windfall tax, which I am coming to, will still not abolish non-dom status and will still not listen to us about private schools. If the right hon. Gentleman pays close attention and listens to my speech, he will learn about the things we do not like in his autumn statement.
My hon. Friend is making an excellent speech. Does she agree that, once we get past the smoke and mirrors of this autumn statement, it is nothing more than ideological austerity on steroids?
As always, my hon. Friend, who is a doughty champion for his constituents, speaks the truth, because when we examine the autumn statement carefully, we see what will actually happen to hard-working people in this country and how they are bearing the brunt of an economic crisis that Conservative Members created in Downing Street.
I will make a bit more progress, but I will come to the Members in a minute. I am happy to take interventions.
We of course welcome that, after months of kicking and screaming, the Government have decided to adopt Labour’s policy of strengthening the windfall tax on energy giants, but they are still leaving billions of pounds on the table by giving a tax break to companies drilling for new polluting fossil fuels. Labour would have raised over £10 billion more—£10 billion, at the time of a cost of living crisis, is an enormous amount—over the next three years than the Government’s proposal by closing that unfair loophole, taxing oil and gas at the same level as other countries such as Norway and backdating the tax to January of this year.
The hon. Lady paints a grim picture of the situation—undeniably, there is a grim situation—but she seemed to forget that this Government have spent £400 billion on covid. I remember that, at about this time last year, she talked about choices when Labour was advocating for another lockdown, which would have done even more damage to our economy. When she talks about choices, does she not agree that spending £400 billion to save jobs, save lives and get us out of the covid situation was the best choice? Yes, we have to pay that money back and that is what we are doing now.
May I remind the hon. Gentleman that the Tories have been in government for 12 years now and may I remind him about everything that happened during covid, including burning personal protective equipment? Maybe he has forgotten about that, and maybe he has forgotten about the amount of fraud that took place during covid. I can send him the details because he looks incredulous. Maybe he does not know how much fraud there was during covid, but we will send that to him. I also remind the hon. Gentleman that, after 12 years of economic mismanagement by this Conservative Government, the UK is forecast to have the lowest growth in the G7 over the next two years, with growth stagnant over 2023 and 2024. That is not a record the Government should be proud of.
Let me return to the energy companies, because even they admit that they do not know what to do with their excessive profits. The Chancellor chose to protect that tax break for the energy giants and let the cost land on working people. He also chose to ignore Labour’s calls to scrap non-dom status, which is currently costing us more than £3 billion a year. Why will the Government not undertake that policy? If Labour was in government, we would be stretching every sinew to generate revenue for the hard-working people of our country.
When the Tories came to power in 2010, national debt was just under £1 trillion, yet I remind Conservative Members that it is now £2.4 trillion—so much for the party of sound finance.
As always, my hon. Friend is right, as is his point about how every time the Conservatives bring in a fiscal rule about lowering debt, they end up breaking it.
May I ask for some clarity on the hon. Lady’s remarks about oil and gas? What exactly is the Labour party’s position on whether we should have more oil and gas? If it thinks that we do need oil and gas, what would it do to achieve that?
I am not quite sure what the hon. Gentleman means. Of course we need more oil and gas, but we have said clearly that we should make fairer choices and tax those who say that they have too much money as excessive profits. That is what we are saying, and the hon. Gentleman needs to listen carefully. Labour would also have ended the VAT exemption for private schools, which would raise £1.7 billion every year. That would have been a fairer and more effective way of fixing the Tory economic crisis and bringing the deficit down, instead of pushing the burden on to hard-working families.
I am afraid the hon. Gentleman has already had his chance.
What worries me is not just that the Government are failing to adopt fair and straightforward measures to fix the mess they caused, but the fact that there is no plan for growth. I was shocked to hear the Minister say how one of the principles is a plan for growth, because I heard nothing in the autumn statement about growth. We have heard from Conservative Members—I know they will keep repeating it—that this is due only to global factors.
On growth, the Government are protecting our investment in research and development, and innovation, which is a long-term route to growth. The hon. Lady said that Peter Dowd was correct about the deficit and debt, and it is astonishing that we are still having to educate the Labour party, 12 years later, about the difference between deficit and debt. This Government inherited a £149 billion deficit, and every measure they took to try to put that right was opposed by those on the Opposition Benches. No wonder the debt increased when we inherited so big a deficit. It is a good job we got that deficit down, because otherwise we would not have been able to cope with covid in the way we did.
I am not sure there was a question in that intervention. I thank the hon. Gentleman for his patronising lesson, but Labour Members do not need it. After 12 years of watching the Tories destroy the economy, I am afraid we do not need lessons from Conservative Members.
I am sure we will hear a lot today from Conservative Members about how only global factors are to blame for this country’s stagnant growth, but that is shameless. Everyone knows that Britain’s problems started long before covid, and long before Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine. Instead of endless Tory excuses, the public deserve an apology for being made to pay for the Government’s last Budget, which sent mortgage rates spiralling, and for 12 years of economic crisis from the Conservatives, which has left the UK completely exposed to external shocks, with inflation sky-high, wages stagnant and living standards in freefall.
When Labour was last in government—since Aaron Bell mentioned it—the economy grew by an impressive 2.1%. Since 2010, under the Conservatives, growth has been 1.4%. Conservative Members speak about educating the Labour party, but perhaps they should educate themselves.
The Governor of the Bank of England told the Treasury Committee last week that the US economy has grown by 4.2% since the pandemic, and the GDP of eurozone countries is 2.1% higher, yet the UK economy is 0.7% smaller than at the start of the pandemic. Let us not just blame global factors. We are not performing well as a country, and let us be under no illusions: this Conservative economic crisis has been 12 years in the making.
After over a decade of stagnation, we are not recovering. Guess what? We are heading into a recession. This morning the OECD published its projections—these are not my projections but those of the OECD. First, it believes that the UK will have the lowest growth in the G20 over the next two years apart from Russia. Secondly, the UK is set to be the only OECD economy that will be smaller in 2024 than it was in 2019. Finally, it shows that we are the only G7 country that is currently poorer than it was before the pandemic.
Labour has a serious long-term plan to get our economy growing again, powered by the talent and effort of millions of working people and thousands of businesses. At the heart of that is our promise to invest in good jobs in British industries through our green prosperity plan. From the plumbers and builders needed to insulate homes, to engineers and operators for nuclear and wind, we will make Britain a world leader in the industries of the future, and ensure that people have the skills to benefit from those opportunities.
We are also pushing forward with our start-up review, which will untangle the problems holding new firms back, and help to make Britain the best place to start and grow a business. In government we will strive to fix business rates, and replace them with a fairer system that is fit for the digital economy and does not put our high street businesses at an unfair disadvantage. Our modern industrial strategy will support the sectors of the future, and an active working partnership with business. Finally, we will fix the holes in the Government’s failed Brexit deal so that our businesses can export more abroad.
Businesses across the country are supporting Labour’s plan for growth. [Interruption.] Jonathan Gullis is chuntering from a sedentary position, but he would do well to listen to the chair of Tesco, John Allan, who said that Labour is the only party with a plausible growth plan. The Federation of Small Businesses, which has endorsed our plan to fix business rates so that our high streets thrive, has warned that the Tories’ plans in the autumn statement were high on stealth creation but low on wealth creation.
The hon. Gentleman has had plenty of opportunities—no more giving way.
The Government’s failure to make fair choices and grow the economy has seen our public services starved of the resources they need. Not only have Conservative policies been bad for people who rely on public services; they are also economically illiterate. Weaker public services mean a weaker economy. As the OBR has set out, rising long-term sickness and a backlog of 7 million people waiting for NHS treatments is a toxic combination. It all adds up to a labour market that is more dysfunctional than at any time in recent history, with hundreds of people out of work because of long-term sickness under this Conservative Government.
My hon. Friend is making an excellent speech. The role of Prime Minister requires transparency. It may be a matter of personal choice for people not to use our national health service that others so desperately rely on, but does my hon. Friend agree that, for many, it is particularly galling that we have a Prime Minister who does not use the national health service that his party broke?
I hear the hon. Member chuntering, “Why does that matter?” It matters because people send us to this House to be their voice, and we are meant to represent the everyday struggles they face. If politicians do not know about the everyday struggles of the NHS, because they have never had to wait in A&E for 24 hours with their child, or hold on to the phone for six hours to get an appointment, they do not know what the NHS needs.
My hon. Friend is making a top-banana speech—it is fantastic. On public services, in Norwich and Norfolk we know that the two local authorities face a combined budget deficit of £60 million, which will have a massive impact on our ability to provide social care to an ageing population. We have heard much from the Government about support for public services, including the NHS, but does she agree that if social care is cut, it is the NHS that bleeds? Everyone knows that, yet the Government have failed to recognise it.
I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention. The Chancellor used to be Health Secretary, and when he left that role he said that one of his biggest regrets was not fixing the crisis in social care. It is surprising that, now he is Chancellor, he seems to have forgotten that for some reason. The Government have turned their back on all the people who need that care. My hon. Friend is a doughty champion for his constituency and he is absolutely right to point out the everyday struggles of his constituents.
We know that vacancies are a huge challenge facing the NHS right now in getting waiting lists back down. The Labour party has a plan to fix that with the biggest expansion in medical training in history, including thousands more places for nurses. The Royal College of Physicians estimates that our entire NHS expansion package will cost £1.6 billion a year. We could fund all of that and have some money left over by scrapping non-dom status. Why will the Government not accept that? A leaked email from the Chancellor reveals that he privately supports Labour’s flagship health plan to double the number of medical school places. We have seen that email. Why will he not put that into practice?
The shadow Minister is making a forthright and passionate contribution. If I may, I urge some caution around Labour’s current policy to limit or restrict the number of migrant workers that the UK relies on. I worked in the NHS for more than 25 years and, for the latter part of that, much of our recruitment for specialist staff was from abroad because of successive Governments’ failure to plan. Will she take that on board?
I thank the hon. Member for his intervention. I will take that on board. When I was in hospital having my children, every single nurse who looked after me through a difficult labour was from abroad, and there has been a 96% drop in nurses coming to work in my local hospital. I absolutely agree with him; that is a fair point to make.
Speaking of children, I will turn briefly to childcare. There was no mention whatsoever of funding for childcare in the autumn statement. The lack of affordable options is keeping parents out of work—I am sure everyone recognises that—and having a devastating impact on our economy. Under the Conservatives, UK childcare costs have increased at twice the rate of wages, and for two thirds of families the cost of childcare is the same as or more than their monthly rent or mortgage payments. Those extortionate prices are simply unaffordable for many parents, and many people are being forced out of the labour market.
We know that 43% of mothers consider quitting work altogether and 1.7 million women are prevented from taking on more paid work due to childcare costs. That is terrible for productivity and detrimental to growth. Once again, whether it is NHS waiting times, cuts in rail investment or a lack of affordable childcare, the British people are paying the price for Tory economic incompetence through weaker public services.
The Tories have lost all claims to be the party of economic responsibility. The Conservatives have broken their own fiscal rules a total of 11 times since they came into government in 2010. They have spent 12 years weakening the economy, and they crashed the markets in the middle of a cost of living crisis, leaving working people like my constituents paying the price.
In government, Labour would do things differently. We would make fairer choices and treat taxpayers’ money with the respect it deserves. We would ensure that the single mother on the south Kilburn estate could buy her child a Christmas present, that the hard-working nurse could turn on her heating during the bitter winter months, and that the young carer I referred to could have three meals a day.
Our country is a great country. We have fantastic strengths. But because of the Government’s choices, we have been held back with 12 years of stagnant growth. It is clear that it is time for the grown-ups on the Opposition side of the House to take charge. It is time for a Labour Government.
It is a privilege to be able to speak in this important debate. After a number of years of not being able to speak from what was my favoured position on the Back Benches, I have chosen to do so because it is the Budget, which impacts on all my constituents and those many businesses and organisations across Aldridge-Brownhills that, for many years, I have not been able to name-check. I hope you will allow me a little indulgence, Madam Deputy Speaker, if I name-check one or two of them.
I appreciate and understand that, as a Government, we have to make tough decisions and we face some of the same deep challenges as many other countries around the world. It was right to support people and businesses during the pandemic, and the Government did a fantastic job of that, rolling out furlough, business support and benefits so quickly to help people at a time when many of us—in fact, probably all of us—felt a degree of uncertainty about what was happening. It was also right to develop our fantastic vaccination programme and roll that out. I pay credit to Walsall Borough Council for the work that it did and all the team at the Oak Park leisure centre. Today, it is absolutely right that we stand in solidarity with Ukraine against Putin’s illegal invasion. I have just returned from the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, where it was incredible to see the support from the UK and other NATO members. Putin cannot be allowed to continue with this illegal invasion. It must be stopped.
I turn to the Budget. I mentioned those factors because they set the scene for where we are and why we face a tough autumn statement. I welcome the confirmation from the Government that we will protect the triple lock for pensioners and increase benefits by inflation, which I recently raised in the Chamber with a Minister from the Department for Work and Pensions, as it was of deep concern to my constituents. The raising of the national living wage, the commitments to health and the support for household energy bills are welcome and most needed.
I turn to education. I joined Conservative Members in writing to the Chancellor as, having spoken to my local headteachers about school budgets, I was really worried. Energy prices pale into insignificance against the many other challenges and pressures that they face. I therefore really welcome the Chancellor’s decision to allocate £4 billion of extra funding to schools over the next two years. The importance of a good education cannot—and should not—be ignored, nor underestimated, wherever someone lives and comes from and whichever school they go to. I am a proud daughter who went to a comprehensive school and later studied with the Open University to get my master’s degree.
We have some fantastic schools in Aldridge-Brownhills. I recently visited Ryders Hayes Primary School in Pelsall, which has an excellent training facility. Just last week, I was at Brownhills Ormiston Academy, where I was honoured to be part of its act of remembrance. In this place, we know that from school and education flow skills, universities, apprenticeships and employment. It is through skills, employability and jobs that we will grow our economy. It is through growing our economy that ultimately we generate the money to invest back in our great country and our people. It is through manufacturing and production that we can trade and export goods as well as services and knowledge. What I really seek from the Government and the Chancellor is more detail on the plan for growth; that is critical.
Research, innovation and silicon valleys are all to be welcomed, but what about manufacturing and the myriad small and medium-sized businesses that form the backbone of local economies—for example, Brownhills Glass, GJF Fabrication, JC Payne and Imperial Bathrooms in my constituency—and the nation of shopkeepers? We also have fantastic companies that support young people, providing training and skills for the future. The drive, ambition and personal commitment of some of those companies are enabling us to grow our local economy and jobs. That has to be applauded.
Returning to business and growth, taxes on fuel, freezing the NICs threshold, the changes to dividend tax, and indeed raiding the R&D tax credit scheme do not do much to encourage businesses and the many hardworking owners of small companies who work hard just to keep their businesses going and to keep them growing. Changes to business rates, which my hon. Friend the Exchequer Secretary mentioned, are absolutely to be welcomed, as is the targeted support for businesses’ energy bills in April, but may I gently urge the Government to provide as much detail as possible? We need greater clarity sooner rather than later, because that is what will give small entrepreneurs not just stability but confidence.
Small Business Saturday is coming up very soon—at the beginning of December—giving all of us the opportunity to celebrate small businesses in our constituencies. I invite my hon. Friend the Exchequer Secretary and his team to visit Aldridge-Brownhills and the fantastic businesses we have there—perhaps we could even find a female entrepreneur, given that we as the Government are encouraging female entrepreneurs. They would be welcome.
I could make many other points, on council tax and some of the band tax benefits. I know they will cause some difficulty to some of my constituents—the people who are juggling paying their bills with filling their car with fuel and paying the mortgage. I am conscious of the time, however, and perhaps I should not push my luck in my first outing back on the Floor of the House. It is important that we remain compassionate and that we remain on the side of these people. As you would expect, Madam Deputy Speaker, I shall support the Government in the Lobby tonight, but I am grateful to have had the opportunity to put on the record some of my constituents’ concerns.
Opening yesterday’s debate, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury said that this was not a return to austerity. That made me wonder what the Government call a forecast drop of 7% per person in household living standards. Over the past 12 years, we have had Tory Prime Minister after Tory Prime Minister after Tory Prime Minister—I could go on, because there have been quite a few of them—telling us that this is the end of austerity, but in that time what we have seen is growing inequality and mortgages rising, and now we have record inflation and energy costs are skyrocketing.
This Tory Government have presided over nothing but austerity, and they offer people no hope of anything else. They have presided over the continued chaotic mismanagement of the UK economy that forces ordinary people to pay the price. That view is shared by many people. When preparing for this speech, I looked at all the different resources—people who have made contact to comment on the Budget statement and the events of the past few months. It was really difficult to narrow them down, because so many people representing so many organisations across business and charities have been critical of the way the Government have handled and are handling things. I will pick out just a few. Paul Johnson, director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies, said:
“The truth is we just got a lot poorer. We are in for a long, hard, unpleasant journey…that has been made more arduous than it might have been by a series of economic own goals”.
He went on to mention the disastrous mini-Budget of course, but he also stated:
“Very clearly, Brexit was an economic own goal. Economically speaking that has been very bad news indeed”.
I notice that no one else dares to speak of Brexit in this Chamber, but the damage is real and has been done. Scotland voted resolutely against Brexit; we voted to remain in the EU and were ignored, and now we are paying the price. In a very impressive speech, Tulip Siddiq made a lot of persuasive arguments, but I noticed again that Labour dares not go there, because when it comes to Brexit, they have taken the clothes off the beach and put them on themselves. It is not good enough.
Let me go further and quote the UN Human Rights Council, which includes nations such as Brazil and which has urged the UK Government to implement an energy poverty strategy that addresses the impact of rising costs on child poverty targets. It has gone further still and asked the UK Government to
“improve food security, in particular for children, adolescents and persons with disabilities”.
Does that make the Tories feel proud? It is almost unbelievable. Scotland deserves much better than that.
The Food Standards Agency consumer insights tracker points out that the proportion of people who cannot afford to eat a healthy balanced diet rose to more than a third in October. More than a third of people cannot afford to eat a healthy balanced diet. A quarter of people reported eating cold food because they could not afford to cook. About a fifth are turning off fridges and freezers with food inside them because they reckon they cannot afford the energy to run those appliances. That is a disgrace. All the nations of the UK deserve better. The people I represent in my constituency and across Scotland definitely deserve better.
The Resolution Foundation points out that, far from the Government taxing the rich, as we have heard in this Chamber—taxing those who can most afford it—it is the people in the middle who will be squeezed by a near 4% hit on their income, which is a bigger hit than high earners will experience. The Resolution Foundation warns that the statement means nearly 20 years of wage stagnation between 2008 and 2027 due to the weak forecast for pay and the effects of inflation, hurting people in their homes, hurting families and hurting children. The foundation further points out that households living in harder-to-heat homes with larger families are particularly hard hit by energy bills—nearly a quarter of them are affected. It is worse for people who live off the gas grid—a large number of people in rural communities of the sort that I and many others represent. Look at what they have been offered. Yes, it is great to see a doubling from £100 to £200 in the support for off-gas-grid households, but that is nowhere near enough. Are Ministers living in the real world? At the moment, the minimum oil or kerosene delivery is £500. The amounts offered will not touch the sides, and people living in off-gas-grid households will pay far more than £4,000 for their average energy bill.
In mainland UK, heating oil can be bought for 82p per litre, but we in Northern Ireland are paying £1.08 per litre. Fuel poverty is a major problem in Northern Ireland.
The hon. Member makes a good point about affordability for his constituents. This is a major issue for people in rural communities across the nations of the UK, especially Scotland, although Northern Ireland fares similarly in having a colder climate. These are big, big issues for people. There is no real acknowledgement in the autumn statement of the difficulties for people living their real lives in that type of accommodation in those areas.
The OBR pointed out that Westminster’s Brexit
“will result in the UK’s trade intensity being 15 per cent lower in the long run than if the UK had remained in the EU.”
The Bank of England Governor Andrew Bailey said the UK has suffered a “dramatically” worse recovery than the US or the EU. Government Members like to pretend that the only things that have happened are the war in Ukraine and the global pandemic, but they must take responsibility for the economic self-harm they have imposed on people across the UK and in Scotland through their Brexit ideology, which is resolutely failing and being proved to fail on a daily basis. Scotland deserves better than that.
The CBI director general says of the situation:
“There was really nothing there to tell us that the economy is going to avoid another decade of low productivity and low growth”.
On labour shortages, he called for a practical approach to immigration and urged the UK Government—he might do the same for the Labour party—to be “honest” with people over the UK’s “vast” labour shortages, and said:
“we don’t have the people we need, nor do we have the productivity.”
Scotland deserves better than this.
Business after business ignored. Organisation after organisation ignored. Expert after expert ignored. The UK Tory Government ignore them all. We have seen non-doms protected. Bankers’ bonuses are now unlimited. Many companies are still avoiding their tax responsibilities and public services are facing their most brutal cuts. The Health Foundation pointed out that the whole health budget amounts to only a 1.2% increase in real terms over the next two years, which is well below the historic average of 3.8%. For Scotland, that means having to draw back on the services we can provide. We are focused on trying to support people with fair pay settlements, so they can navigate the cost of living crisis. The Health Foundation also shows that if spending per person had matched the EU average, the UK would have spent £40 billion more than it has done.
On the climate, where have all the good promises gone? Where have all the warm words gone on taking the global climate crisis seriously? In fact, the autumn statement undermines Scotland’s climate change goals and underlined the dangers of Scotland being held back. The UK Government are pushing ahead with nuclear, which is the most costly and the slowest form of energy to deliver, and has the highest environmental impact. The UK already has the most poorly insulated homes in western Europe. There is nothing to change that situation. They still have not delivered, after a number of betrayals, the Peterhead carbon capture and storage project. They have put a higher—higher!—windfall tax on renewable energy producers than they have on oil and gas. That is quite incredible. They have deterred and deferred the uptake of electric vehicles. At a time when momentum was growing for people to invest in an electric vehicle to be better for the climate, what do this Government do? They introduce a pretty high tax to put people off doing that. People will persevere with their petrol and diesel for a bit longer, and burn more carbon-intensive fuels.
In Scotland, the Scottish Government have been working to protect people, despite a real-terms cut of 10% since December due to inflation. Any Westminster increase as a result of the autumn statement will more than be wiped out by inflation. We prioritised public sector fair pay and are prioritising funding to help households, businesses and people to get through this period, but we are reaching the limit. In fact, the limit of what can be done, without borrowing powers and the powers we need to look after our people properly, has already been reached, in sharp contrast to this place. Under Westminster, we continue to see growing inequality, mortgages rising, inflation rising and energy costs skyrocketing. When we compare countries of Scotland’s size or smaller, we find that, for them, independence works. Compared to the UK, those countries are wealthier and more equal, and have higher productivity, lower poverty, lower child poverty and lower pensioner poverty. They have higher social mobility and higher business investment.
Scotland has not voted Tory for nearly 70 years, yet we are saddled with this. Scotland did not vote for Brexit, and we do not want it. Scottish people, families and children are bearing the brunt of Westminster’s legacy. Scotland is being denied the people it needs to strengthen its communities, its businesses and our country. Scotland has voted time and time again to have its say on its future. It cannot be denied. The choice is between the toxic approach here in Westminster, or a normal independent country.
It is obviously foolish for the Opposition to pretend that a pandemic and a continental war, with its associated energy shock, would not be felt economically in this country. At the same time, it is clearly preposterous for them to try to talk down the UK economy as some kind of basket case, when we compare very favourably to some of our peers on debt to GDP, employment is still very high and we have an economy that exhibits so many underlying strengths. At the same time, it is fair to say that the autumn statement was greeted with some dismay on the Government Benches. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has obviously had to make some very difficult and challenging decisions, given the economic headwinds we face.
First of all, however, I should point to one of the bright moments in the statement, which was the Chancellor’s pledge on education funding. The £2.3 billion extra on top of what is already in the baseline over the next two years was very welcome. I am grateful to the 27 colleagues who, along with me, signed a letter urging the Chancellor not only to protect schools funding, but to invest further. Our view was that one of the groups most hard hit by the pandemic and that awful disease was children. The case for investing further in their education to deal with the backlog, helping them to catch up and ensuring they can have productive lives in the future, felt to us morally strong and it would have been indefensible to cut that spending. We are therefore extremely pleased that he responded in such a positive way.
I have only a few minutes, so I want to outline three lessons from the recent turmoil, two warnings and a hope for the future. The first lesson is predicated on a phrase that does not go down well in either marriages or politics—the four little words, “I told you so.” For those of us who have been tracking the path of the UK money supply over the last 10 years, the underlying inflation, which was baked into our system and has emerged over the last 12 months, has not, I am afraid, come as any great surprise. The fact that the Bank of England has been slow to recognise the importance of monetarism and money policy over the last couple of years is a cause of great dismay, not least because a number of us consistently raised this issue with the previous Governor when he was in front of the Treasury Committee and since. The denial of the kind of Bank of England orthodoxy that the money supply mattered has come back to haunt us in a big way. The enormous growth in the money supply has outstripped the growth in our economy—yes, coming out of the crash in 2007-08, but in particular coming out of the pandemic—and resulted in the inflation in this country that is now taxing every family. It is hard to see that the Bank has moved with alacrity to deal with it—if anything, I think the criticism is that it has been a bit slow—but I hope the lesson we learn for the future, and on which this House should concentrate and focus, is that the money supply matters. When we look around the world we see consensus around a loose monetary policy for far too long and we need to bear that in mind.
The second lesson is that the Bank’s handling of the bond market really matters as well. We had assumed that that was a benign market that we could take for granted, but it became clear that the Bank’s hangover from its quantitative tightening—its declaration of sales forward into the market—had a significant impact. That was then exacerbated by the so-called fiscal event. We also bear huge losses on that market from the Bank’s dealings. Admittedly, there have been profits in previous years, but the fact that we are bearing about £11 billion-worth of losses from the Bank’s trading in that market matters. Also, within that market, we discovered to our horror that pension funds were effectively gambling with borrowed money, shorting inflation through the so-called LDI— liability-driven investment—strategy, which became so systemically problematic for the economy that the Bank had to intervene again. That points to lax supervision and comprehension of the weaknesses in the bond market.
The third lesson is that we as a House have perhaps not concentrated enough on the operations of the Debt Management Office. I have yet to see anywhere an obviously declared policy decision to move our debt more towards index-linked or inflation-linked bonds. We have moved from 6% of our debt being index-linked 10 or so years ago to about 22%. That is a near-quadrupling of the figure. As I think the Chair of the Treasury Committee—my hon. Friend Harriett Baldwin—said yesterday, that effectively means that the Government were shorting inflation. At a time when we had lost track of the money supply, or in fact, had decided that the money supply did not matter, that proved to be a foolish bet.
When I was on the Public Accounts Committee a couple of years ago, we looked at index-linked debt on the whole of Government accounts. If I recall this correctly, the answer we received was that there was no long-term risk of widespread inflation because there were global forces that were becoming deflationary, rather than inflationary. The points that my right hon. Friend is making illustrate well the poor analysis in that approach.
I completely agree. I remember well debates with Mark Carney, when he was head of the Bank of England, about the combination of a rise in the money supply and the underlying inflationary effects in our economy being masked by deflationary effects, not least of global supply chains, and the fact that we now have so much stuff made and imported from China, as well as the effect of the internet. Once the curtain was pulled back and we had problems with our supply chains—and that curve of deflation bottomed out—lo and behold, the money supply suddenly became important again. Let us hope that we learn that lesson for the future.
Notwithstanding the difficult decisions that the Chancellor has made, another opportunity is coming for us to trim the sails: the Budget in the spring. As we move towards that moment, I hope that we can look towards some positive changes in the global economic environment. Hopefully, the war in Ukraine will start to recede. International container prices are already falling, as are energy costs. We can therefore think again in the spring and I hope that we will bear two things in mind.
First, we need to bear in mind that, in a tight labour market, tax rises can prolong inflation. If we, through tax rises, give people, in effect, a take-home pay cut at the same time as they face higher costs because of their mortgages and generally because of the cost of living, they are likely to start to demand more from their employers. I am afraid that that has a possibility of sparking a wage and price spiral, particularly as we know that the secondary effects of that inflation will take some time—possibly months, if not years—to work their way through the system. I would bear that in mind when we think about possible tax rises, particularly from fiscal drag.
My second concern—I give this warning to Ministers—is that chasing debt to GDP could become a hare that they are unable to catch. If the actions taken from a fiscal and monetary point of view damage our GDP number—if GDP falls—we have to work even harder to reduce costs, or debt, against that number. If the action taken to reduce the numerator in the equation paradoxically damages the denominator, the equation becomes harder and harder to reach. If we base our ability to reach that debt-to-GDP ratio on a lower figure—particularly with a 3% GDP debt limit—through tax rises, the only way to avoid a doom loop is to tax and tax, even if we know that we can never fill in the hole that we are digging.
Finally, let me turn to my hope for the future. When we get to the spring Budget, I hope not only that the global winds that are blowing against us will have receded somewhat, but that, frankly, we can restore our belief in capitalism. My strong view is that the only way that we will get out of this hole—a number of Members have said this in the past few days—is through growth. We will not tax our way to prosperity, nor will we tax our way out of this debt-to-GDP problem. We need to inject growth into the economy. The only way to do that is to let the wealth creators free by loosening the ties that bind them and by looking at the regulation and taxation on capital, in particular, so that people are willing to take risks. One of the most dismaying choices in the statement was the proposed increase in capital taxes, not least because that changes the risk-reward ratio, meaning that it is less likely that people will go out and start a business.
Although some of the decisions about research and development, including the vast amount of money that is being pumped into that across the whole UK, are extremely welcome, unless there is a strong, pullulating, dynamic private sector out there to pick up the ball and run with it, all the intellectual property that the money creates will just end up overseas, where plenty of venture capitalists and entrepreneurs will be willing to pick that up and run with it.
Believing again in capitalism, allowing people to keep more of their money and to invest it, and building businesses for the future will be critical to our overall success in the months, years and decades to come. As we move towards the spring Budget, I hope that Ministers will look again at the five-year OBR forecast, remembering that it is there not to be fulfilled, but to be beaten and bested. It is there to warn us of what might happen so that we can take action now to avoid it. I hope that come the spring Budget, that is exactly what the Government will do.
There is much to be outraged by here. The Prime Minister was the Chancellor and has been in government for most of the past 12 years, yet the Government blame others for the mess that we are in. They blame economic headwinds, but never turn the blame on the Members who caused the trouble in which we find ourselves.
It has been a political choice to govern like that—to run the economy into the ground; to slash living standards through economic mismanagement; to under-invest in the NHS; and to blame nurses, who are now paid less in real terms than they were when the Chancellor took over the NHS. For 12 years, the Government have under-invested and let stock market speculators make millions and tank the pound. The only growth we have is in inflation.
Real wages in 2022 are still lower in than they were when Government Members came to power in 2010. Families in my Ealing, Southall constituency cannot afford any more of this Government. They need a general election to be able to afford school uniforms, heating and travel.
The Government do not make decisions; they delay. When they had the opportunity to close valuable tax loopholes enjoyed by the richest private schools and private equity fund managers, they did not. Families are now paying the equivalent of over £4,000 more in taxes than they were before the Prime Minister was Chancellor under Boris Johnson. We can see where this Government’s priorities lie. While untargeted tax breaks for oil and gas giants will cost the taxpayer £8 billion over five years, the tax burden for ordinary working people is set to rise to the highest level since the second world war. That is not growth. It is stagnation, and it is shameful. According to the Financial Times, last month’s stand-in Tory Government cost the country £16.8 billion in increased borrowing costs. The country cannot afford this Tory Government—not at the fuel pumps, not in the supermarkets and not with mortgage costs.
We are not safe with the Tories either. Under the last Labour Government, the UK was spending 2.5% of GDP on defence; the Tories have not matched that in the 12 years they have run the country. No wonder the Defence Secretary looked so cross after Cabinet last week. On the energy independence that we need to stay secure from Russia, the Chancellor again risks our safety. The measures announced in the statement risk the very future of our solar industry, and the Prime Minister insists on holding to his ban on onshore wind. We cannot afford this Tory Government.
This autumn statement is a wasted opportunity. The chance for a fresh start after the Budget that broke the pound has been squandered. This Government are holding Britain back. We need my right hon. Friend Rachel Reeves and my right hon. and learned Friend Keir Starmer at the wheel. The current driver is asleep. With a vision for green energy independence, investment, equality and growth, only one party has a plan, and it is on the Opposition side of the Chamber.
Madam Deputy Speaker, you would never imagine from listening to Labour Members that we had just been through the biggest public health emergency in a century, the biggest European war for three quarters of a century and the biggest energy crisis since the 1970s. That is not a light task for any Government to deal with. Yes, of course, as the Prime Minister said, some mistakes were made in the handling of things back in September, but the reality is that this is a challenge facing Governments across the western world. Despite all the rhetoric that I hear from the Labour party, there is much in this country to feel that we can benefit from—it is not universally a bad news story. None the less, like other countries across the western world, we face enormous challenges in turning things round.
I absolutely agree with my right hon. Friend Kit Malthouse about the need to drive growth. He was absolutely right to look back over the discussions of recent years about inflation and whether it had gone away. A simple lesson of economics is that the moment somebody says that something will never come back is the moment we need to start worrying that it will come straight back. Inflation is here and we have to deal with it. It has been driven by a huge increase in energy costs, the destabilisation caused by the war in Ukraine, the collapse in global supply chains in the wake of the pandemic and the continued lockdowns in China, which have created real issues for businesses here and internationally.
I want to focus on three things. One of them is very much a UK problem, which we have to deal with as a matter of urgency: the number of people who have left our labour force in the past few years. This country is much more seriously affected than other nations. We have to get to grips with the problem. The explanations for it are multifarious—it is not simply about long covid or backlogs in the NHS—but if we do not solve it, it will be a continuing issue.
I call on Conservative Front Benchers to look back at what we did in 2010. As the Labour party has conveniently forgotten, we inherited unemployment at nearly 3 million and rising, and real difficulties in our labour market. The programmes we put in place made a real difference to the long-term unemployed and to people who were sick, off work and claiming employment and support allowance: they helped them, step by step, back into the labour market. Over the years, they made a real difference to the situation that the long-term unemployed in this country face.
The reality is that the longer someone is out of the workplace, the more difficult it is to get back in. People need support and guidance. I was very encouraged by what the Chancellor said about increasing Access to Work coaching, but we need to go much further. We need to learn from what was done in the Work programme and other programmes and look at how we can put support back in place for the long-term unemployed. If we do not do something about it, they will become further and further away from the workforce.
My right hon. Friend makes an important point. Does he agree that one of the most worrying aspects of the trend that he highlights is the increase in younger people being signed off as long-term sick, often with mental health issues? They are not being treated effectively by our NHS and are not getting effective employment support either, so they are at the greatest risk of spending the rest of their life cut off from the labour market.
Absolutely—that is a crucial issue. We need to start working with those people to help them back into a workplace environment. They are better off there: if people are out of work, they tend to have poorer health, live less long and have mental health problems. My right hon. Friend is absolutely right.
We must now put back some of the conditionality that, for understandable reasons, was taken away during the pandemic. There cannot be an expectation that people will simply stay on out-of-work benefits indefinitely. Our welfare state should be a ladder up which people climb, not a place in which people live.
My second point is about energy. There is no doubt that we have to do more to drive energy independence in this country. I have listened to Labour and SNP Members: they seem to think it is better for this country to ship gas all around the world in great tankers, with much higher emissions as a result, than to generate it from the sources available in this country. We need UK gas and we should develop it. The tax measures that have been put in place to encourage investment in the North sea are the right thing to do.
It cannot just be about fossil fuels, however. It is also right to develop nuclear. I completely disagree with the SNP on the issue: renewables are an essential part of our future, but the reality is that the wind does not always blow and the sun does not always shine. We need a core capacity to generate electricity in this country, and nuclear will be a crucial part of that. We also need to drive more progress on the renewables front. The most obvious missing piece is to ask why we do not have an obligation in this country, as a matter of rule, to put solar panels on the roofs of new houses and commercial buildings. I say to Government Front Benchers that that should be central to our policy. I have supported it for a long time, and I know other Conservative Members support it. We really need to get on with it.
Thirdly, a project that commands support on both sides of the House and that must drive future growth is the expansion of Heathrow airport. When we voted on it in this House four years ago, it had a majority of nearly 300. There was support from Labour and from the SNP—not the party, but individual Members. There was support from Northern Ireland, from Wales and from across England. It is a project that would lead to better regional connectivity, helping the levelling-up agenda, and would strengthen our trade ties around the world. It is essential. It is a project that has somewhat lost its way because of the pandemic’s impact on aviation, and there are clearly issues to address around aviation emissions, but this is not a project that will happen overnight. It will take a decade to bring to fruition, and by the time we get into the 2030s we will have short-haul planes coming on to the market that will be driven by new generation fuels such as hydrogen and sustainable aviation fuel.
We cannot simply say to future generations, “We are going to can this project. We are not going invest in our main gateway to the world; we are going to leave this to one side.” Those on the Labour Benches, the Northern Irish and Scottish Benches and the Conservative Benches all voted for it, and there is a duty on all of us to throw our political weight behind the project to get it back on the agenda and moving forwards. We need to take a symbolic step that would send a message to the world that this country is focused on growth. I say again to those on my Front Bench: please bring the Heathrow expansion project firmly back on to the Government’s agenda. This country needs it. We have needed to take difficult decisions. It has been essential in the short term to take decisions that are going to be difficult and unpopular, but now we have to focus. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor is absolutely right about the Budget in the spring. We need to focus on getting the economy growing again.
The autumn statement last week failed to put forward a serious plan for growth. Instead, the Government have put the cost of their economic mismanagement on to families, and those who will suffer the most will be the middle and lower wage earners.
This is a pattern we have seen from the Tory Government since they took office 12 long years ago. Since then, we have seen five Prime Ministers and seven Chancellors. We have also heard different promises being made to the country about a long-term economic plan, a strong and stable Government, getting Brexit done and an oven-ready Brexit deal. We have also heard about “growth, growth, growth” and about being ready to rebuild, ready to unite and ready to restore trust. Against all of that, according to the Office for Budget Responsibility, living standards will fall by 7% over the next two years. I might also add that the UK is now the only G7 country with a smaller economy than before covid.
The last thing families in Lewisham East need is yet another round of austerity, but sadly that is what they are getting. This time last year, I told the then Chancellor—now the Prime Minister—that the local housing allowance was far too low, but I was ignored. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation has said that failing to increase the local housing allowance leaves renters and low-income households the hardest hit. With the allowance at its current level, people are being left in unfit homes. Last week, I was contacted by a constituent who was anxious about the welfare of her children. They are living in accommodation with severe damp and mould, alongside infestations of mice and rats. I am deeply concerned that one of the children has a dry cough, breathing problems and nosebleeds. That is unacceptable, especially since Awaab’s death from exposure to mould shocked the nation last week. It is a dereliction of duty for this Government to allow my constituents to live in those conditions.
The heart of the problem is that the Conservatives are not what they claim to be. They are not a compassionate Government who put the needs of deprived communities and people first. A further report has stated that almost one in three children in the UK are living in poverty. That is absolutely outrageous.
I hear the plight of the families that the hon. Lady mentions, but those properties should never have been allowed to get into that state in the first place. Who is responsible for looking after those properties? Would it be the local council? Why did it not go round to fix the mould problems in the first place?
The Government really need to take responsibility for cutting budgets. Local budgets have been decimated since 2010, austerity has increased and my own local authority’s budget has been cut by 50%. Councils are unable to provide the services that are so desperately needed. We see this when we look at universal credit. I am pleased about the increase in the national minimum wage, but when we look at when that is going to be put in place and at the increase in taxes, there are so many issues that make it more difficult for families.
Furthermore, children who grew up during the pandemic are going to face tougher challenges than previous generations. For instance, according to the Local Government Association, the number of children needing help from councils for mental health issues has increased by 53% in the past four years, yet the autumn statement has put nothing in place to deal with that situation. This could have been a compassionate statement. A warm homes programme to insulate people’s homes would have been a start, but the Government have chosen not to do that. Instead, the less well-off have been unfairly hit while the bankers have been given tax breaks. The Chancellor and the Prime Minister might be trying to appease both wings of the Tory party, but they are failing the country in the process. We need a general election.
It has been clear from this debate and the previous debate that the backdrop to our economic discussion is one of continuing post-pandemic global economic disruption and the rise of global inflation, caused not least by Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. If anyone still believes that we do not live in an interconnected and interdependent world, they are simply not looking at the evidence around us.
Part of the difficulty in assessing the data is the opacity of some of the figures on post-pandemic global trading and investment, but some patterns are now clearly beginning to emerge. According to the Office for Budget Responsibility, in the fourth quarter of 2021, UK imports from the European Union dropped by 18%, but global imports from the rest of the world were up by more than 10% and UK exports to the European Union in July this year reached an all-time high of £17.4 billion. In other words, despite the fact that there are greater barriers to trade on the European Union side than on the UK side, British exports to Europe are actually managing to be more robust than European exports to the United Kingdom. So let us be clear: we do not need a new relationship with the European Union, Swiss or otherwise. We do not require freedom of movement, integration into the European single market or integration of EU law into the UK.
My right hon. Friend has outlined some impressive figures. Does he recall that one of the themes of the Brexit debate was that our trading patterns should change? We said that there was a big wide world out there to which we had to look, from a trade point of view, that we had become over-reliant on the EU and that there were more exciting markets elsewhere that were growing much more strongly and that we could participate in.
I entirely agree. The concept of the bloc in trade terms is very second half of the 20th century. We need to look at the growing markets that give greater opportunities for the United Kingdom in goods and services. The fact that they are not immediately geographically adjacent to us should not be our primary concern. We need to move with the trends in the global economy, not focus on what is a largely ossified view of the world based on the post-second world war consensus.
When we look at the origins of the inflation that we are facing in the United Kingdom, we see that there are several of them. They have been referenced a lot during this debate. The post-pandemic supply issues are still ricocheting around the global economy and particularly harming developing countries at the present time. Also, the central banks—not just the Bank of England but the Federal Reserve in the United States and the European Central Bank—got into a group-think on what they laughingly call the modern monetarists, which means that they are not monetarists at all. They believed that they had found some sort of monetary alchemy through which they could continue to print money faster than the economies were growing without creating inflation. I believe that is why there is higher inflation in the United States, the United Kingdom and Europe than in other countries—notably Switzerland, which sits in the middle of the eurozone but did not follow the same expansionist monetary policies.
By far the greatest boost to inflation has come from Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, however. That has come about in a number of ways, which I will come to in just a moment, but we must remind ourselves that inflation is not just an economic evil; it is a moral and social evil as well. The poorest people in our society are hit the hardest by inflation because they spend more of their income on non-discretionary items. It also transfers money from the savers to the borrowers in society, which is not something that a Conservative Government should want to see. The Government have done much in this statement to protect those on low and fixed incomes, including an extra £26 billion in cost of living support, particularly on fuel, on top of what we have spent already, and an extra £11 billion on uprating benefits. The Government introduced those two items to protect those on low and fixed incomes and, taken together, they are the size of the United Kingdom’s defence budget. These are not small sums. Our increased spending on education and health is hugely welcome, especially as we catch up on the post-pandemic disruption, but to be frank, even the generous sums put forward by the Government will largely be eaten up by inflation until we get it under control.
And that is before we come to the most frightening item of all, the fact that this year we will be spending £120 billion on debt interest payments. For reference, we spend only £134 billion on NHS England each year, so we are spending almost the NHS budget on debt interest payments. We need to recognise that we cannot increase our debt further. As my right hon. Friend Kit Malthouse said, around 20% of our debt is now index-linked and is therefore very vulnerable to rises in the retail price index. Duncan Simpson, the chief executive of the TaxPayers Alliance, said:
“The spiralling cost of servicing the national debt is deeply concerning. Taxpayers’ money that should be spent on frontline services or keeping rates down is instead going towards interest payments that outsize the costs of government departments.”
If we cannot raise debt any further, either we have to see spending come down or taxes go up, or we have to increase Britain’s wealth from the rest of the global economy. The latter is difficult in current global conditions and the Government have correctly, but rather disappointingly, from a political perspective, had to see taxes rise. That sets a clear way in which to see our future priorities. The first thing is to bear down on inflation. At the same time, we have to get control of the public finances and then we have to get our taxes back down.
I hope the Opposition will reflect on this point today. We have heard from the Opposition Front Bench on both days of this debate that we are facing a recession made in Downing Street. Currently, the greatest source of global inflation is Putin’s invasion of Ukraine and rising global commodity prices, particularly food and fuel, which is causing potential starvation in vulnerable states, with widespread social dislocation and increased international migration.
I will not give way.
Those who talk about a recession made in Downing Street might want to ask themselves how much they are absolving Vladimir Putin of the global inflation we see today and whether, in fact, they are neglecting their duty to be patriotic at this time.
Conservatives do not want to see taxes rise. If we have to see temporary rises in taxation, the necessary corollary is that, as soon as inflation starts to be controlled, we will see those taxes coming down again. I would go further than my right hon. Friend the Member for North West Hampshire in one respect: this is not just a debate about growth, because any dummy can borrow tomorrow’s money to spend today and call the increased activity “growth,” which has been central to every Labour Government since the second world war.
The Government need to focus on wealth creation, in which we turn our unique intellectual property into goods and services that do not exist today, or into better goods and services than exist today. That means dealing with the supply-side constraints on the economy, making more private capital available to scale up companies, getting more international investment in the United Kingdom and making us more competitive globally. No one in the world owes us a living, and no Government can guarantee increasing living standards to the next generation. Only a successful free-market country in a free-market world can achieve that, and the sooner we get there, the better.
This is a cost of chaos Budget. Everyone is now paying the price for Conservative incompetence. This Conservative Government crashed our economy with their reckless, unfunded tax cuts. They have presided over years of low growth, low investment and declining productivity, and now they are eroding our public services and hiking taxes on ordinary people, all while slashing taxes on the big banks and refusing to close the windfall tax loophole that has allowed Shell to avoid paying a single penny.
The British people need a Government with a plan for a fairer economy that can secure future prosperity.
I will not give way, as the right hon. Gentleman has just spoken.
The British people need a Government who truly value public services, and who focus on removing barriers to economic growth by tackling workforce issues and rebuilding trade, yet all we have instead is Conservative chaos and incompetence. Thanks to the Conservatives’ economic mismanagement, Britain is getting poorer; we are all getting poorer.
Families across the UK are set for the largest fall in living standards since records began. The coming months will see family budgets put under extreme pressure. Mortgage payments are set to explode, doubling to their highest level on record next year. Energy bills will be almost £2,000 a year higher than they were in 2021, and the weekly shop is becoming more and more expensive. This is simply unmanageable with the tax rises announced by the Chancellor.
The Conservatives’ disastrous mini-Budget cost the public finances £30 billion, and now the Government have hiked taxes by £24 billion, forcing the public to clean up their mess. Everyone will be hit by unfair stealth tax rises, and more than 5 million people will be dragged into a higher band as a result, yet they will not see any benefit from the higher taxes they pay.
The Conservative Government are trying to pin the blame for all our economic woes on global factors, but the fact is these global challenges are hitting the UK harder than other major economies. We are set for the worst GDP decline in Europe next year, we are the only G7 country to have a smaller economy than before the pandemic and we have the third lowest growth forecast in the OECD.
Businesses are also really struggling right now. Conservative chaos and incompetence are forcing small businesses to suffer under crippling uncertainty, and many have already closed their doors. Last week, I spoke to a group of independent publicans in my constituency, and every single one had grave concerns about the future viability of their business. One publican told me that their current situation is 10 times worse than during the pandemic, because this time round they have no support from the Government. The business rates relief announced in the autumn statement is cold comfort to a sector that was promised a fundamental review of the unfair rates system. The previous reduction of VAT to 5% gave hospitality a lifeline during the pandemic, and the publicans I speak to say that a return to this rate would provide much-needed relief in the new year as the cost of living really starts to bite.
Publicans also need urgent clarity on energy bill support after April, as they will not be able to survive without continued assistance. I urge the Government to listen to the concerns of the hospitality sector, which is so integral to business, British industry and local communities. I would welcome a statement from the Minister for Enterprise, Markets and Small Business, Kevin Hollinrake, on the steps the Government will take to support hospitality in the months ahead.
I was pleased to hear the Chancellor finally acknowledge workforce constraints in his speech last Thursday. Economic inactivity is a huge barrier to growth, and I welcome the review of the issues holding back workforce participation. In his review, I urge the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions to consider the impact of our inadequate childcare system on women’s participation in the labour market.
The Conservatives must also accept that their failure to deliver effective public services has led to a dramatic increase in the number of people who are long-term sick. The OBR forecasts that an additional 1.1 million people will need health and disability benefits in four years’ time, taking the number registered as unable to work to a record high of 3.5 million.
The UK’s labour shortages cannot be filled by a review of workforce participation alone. We must also look at our broken visa and immigration system, and acknowledge the impact that Brexit has had on our labour market. Brexit has also been disastrous for UK trade. Rather than opening up opportunities for global trade, businesses have been inundated with red tape. The OBR forecasts that the UK’s trade intensity will be 15% lower in the long term than if we had remained in the EU. Trade is vital for economic growth. It is way beyond time that the Government finally got a grip and started rebuilding our trading relationships.
The Liberal Democrats are the only party with a comprehensive plan to rebuild trust and co-operation with Europe, to rebuild ties with our largest trading partner and to grow our economy. The Conservatives have no plan for future prosperity. We need a plan for an innovation-led economy aligned to net zero; one that sustains economic growth and fuels a fairer society with high-quality public services. Instead, the Conservatives have inflicted higher taxes and weaker public services on everyone, all without a proper mandate and all to pay for the damage that they caused in the first place.
It is a pleasure to follow Sarah Olney. I want to take a few minutes to make a few brief points, which I hope go with the flow of some of the excellent speeches we have heard. Before I do, I want to say something about the nature of last week’s autumn statement. One Opposition Member said that it was full of smoke and mirrors, but it was nothing of the sort. It was a straightforward, honest, blunt assessment of our economic situation and fiscal circumstances. Before the autumn statement, I made the point that if anybody in this House could be trusted to come up with the most “untricky”, straightforward, honest fiscal event, it is the Chancellor of the Exchequer, my right hon. Friend Jeremy Hunt, and that is exactly what he did.
Opposition Members have been suggesting, yet again, that we are not spending enough and we need to spend more. I say to them that all the way through the pandemic and the lockdowns, theirs were the voices calling for further lockdowns and more restrictions. Even though we were spending hundreds of billions of pounds supporting families and businesses, Opposition Members were calling for yet more spending. Who did they think was going to pay for that? These moments of reckoning we are facing were always going to come, and the statement presented by the Chancellor last week reflected the honesty of that.
As other Members have said, the backdrop to the statement is the global energy crisis, which is fuelling the cost of living pressures that so many families in our constituencies are facing. An extraordinary number of households in this country lack basic financial resilience; they do not have the savings and reserves to enable them to withstand the shocks we have seen in the past two to three years. So I welcome the cost of living measures that my right hon. Friend has brought forward in the autumn statement.
We have heard the idea that this package lacks either compassion or financial firepower behind it, but next year alone the cost of living measures will cost £26 billion, and that does not include the extra £11 billion cost of the full uprating of working-age benefits. As one voice who had consistently been calling for the full social security uprating at this event, I welcome the clarification that the Chancellor brought, but this is a very expensive policy. We are talking about implementing the triple lock on the state pension and the full uprating of social security for working-age people by 10.1%.
I pay tribute to the right hon. Gentleman for being one of the few voices on the Government Benches who have spoken about the need to uprate benefits. However, does he not agree that part of the problem with the cost of living crisis, which is not necessarily a new thing, is that it highlights the inadequacy of the current social security system and why we must have a root-and-branch review of what had gone wrong long before the war in Ukraine and long before covid?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that intervention, and I will go on to say something about that, but I agree with the point he is making.
Over the past 10 to 11 years, what the Government have done, in essence, is hold back increases in working-age benefits while boosting the state pension for older people. That is very much part of the picture. When wages did not increase in the way we wanted them to, following the last financial crisis, we saw an increase in in-work poverty as a direct result. I wish to flag up three areas that should be longer-term concerns for this Government.
I welcome the additional spending on health and education announced in the autumn statement, but let us not forget that our spending on education, as a percentage of GDP, has been squeezed over the past 10 or 20 years; this is a long-term trajectory. As a country, we are not spending anything like as much as we should be on our skills and vocational education if we are to see increases in productivity. We are also not spending as much as we should on our armed forces and on defence. We are not spending what we should be on these other areas because three large areas are not sustainable in the long run and they are constraining Chancellors of the Exchequer in their decisions.
The first area I wish to flag up is the triple lock. I called for it to honoured during this cost of living crisis, but there are long-term question marks as to its sustainability. I asked the House of Commons Library to do some calculations for me. It found that over the past 10 years if we had increased the state pension by CPI—the consumer prices index—inflation rather than by the triple lock measures, we would have saved almost £13 billion. If we had applied the same uprating measures to the state pension as we did to working-age benefits, that figure would have become about £23 billion. The triple lock is a very expensive long-term policy. It has played a hugely important role in lifting many pensioners out of poverty—no one will forget the derisory 75p increase in the state pension that the last Labour Government made—but I want those on the Treasury Bench to bear in mind that we need a more honest discussion about that area.
The second area to mention, which has already been flagged up this afternoon, is working-age benefits and economic inactivity. Some 9 million people in this country are economically inactive. Many of them have good reasons for this, such as older people and students, but there are millions of people in this country who could work—many of them want to work—but are finding themselves increasingly distant from the labour market.
The right hon. Gentleman will know that the Select Committee on Work and Pensions is looking at some of what he is discussing. Is he as concerned as I am that a good number of disabled people were in work during the pandemic but there has been an increase in unemployment among them since, because employers are moving away from home working? We need to look at incentives to help disabled people, particularly in respect of home working, and to be creative in some of our thinking.
I agree with the hon. Gentleman’s point. A number of trends since the pandemic should be causes of concern: the drop in the number of older workers; the increase in younger people with mental health issues who are being signed off on long-term sick; and the trend in disabled workers that he mentions. There is a lot there that the review of working-age people needs to get to grips with. We all meet employers in our constituencies who complain that they cannot hire workers and cannot find enough staff, yet we are paying millions of people to not work. There is a hugely important job to be done in this area in the longer term.
The final area I wish to flag up is NHS spending. For an increasingly large number of people, certainly in my constituency, the vision and model of the NHS is just not working. NHS dentistry is ceasing to operate for a great many families. People are emptying their savings accounts so that they can go private to pay for hip and knee replacements, which they cannot get on the NHS. That is happening under the Welsh Labour Government in Wales, but some of the same pressures and trends are at work elsewhere in the country as well.
We continue to find more and more funding for the NHS every year, but this health service is not meeting needs, particularly those of working-age people. We are not seeing people who are facing long-term sickness getting their health needs addressed. Especially important—I flagged this earlier but I will finish by reiterating it—is the crisis in mental health in our country, particularly for younger people. If we do not invest in mental health and real solutions for younger people, we are going to see increasing numbers of them signed off as long-term sick.
Last week’s autumn statement failed to address our major economic problems. We have had 12 years of cuts leading to the collapse of our public services. The Government are now proposing another round of austerity, but, Mr Deputy Speaker, there is nothing left to cut.
The Chancellor’s statement leaves people facing a winter of hardship, with the Institute for Fiscal Studies admitting that we have just got “a whole lot poorer”. It leaves our NHS, councils, schools, transport and police all unable to cope financially. It does nothing for small businesses struggling with bills and at risk of going under, or for new businesses, such as the independent vet practice, Bridge Referrals, in Boldon in my constituency, which has raised its concerns with me about soaring energy bills.
The statement also does nothing for our local government services. Councils have lost billions from their budget and cannot cope with more cuts. It does nothing for public sector workers who have seen their pay eroded—their wages are worth less now than they were in 2010. The autumn statement proposes more real-terms pay cuts, pushing more public service workers into food poverty. We have already seen reports that nurses, teachers and firefighters are now reliant on food banks. It does nothing for our NHS. As Health Secretary, the current Chancellor caused a huge amount of damage to our NHS with cuts and privatisation, leaving us with a waiting list of 7 million, 132,000 staff vacancies across our NHS, and another 165,000 vacancies in care. Now he wants to pretend that the NHS is being protected. Well, it is not. We can all see the push towards a two-tier system that prices the poorest out of healthcare.
There was nothing in the autumn statement to protect the lowest paid and most vulnerable in our communities. With average rent up by more than 8%, and some landlords asking for as much as a 15% rise, there was nothing to protect private renters. There was nothing for the 800,000 children living in poverty who do not even get a free school meal, and nothing for families who are living in fuel and food poverty.
I am in daily contact with people who are struggling—struggling not with a choice of heating or eating but because they are now unable to do either. Kathleen, a 73-year-old woman from Wardley in my Jarrow constituency, emailed me to say that she has cut back on both heating and eating and does not know what else to do. Then there is the couple living in Hebburn with two kids. A year ago, they still donated to the food bank. Now, they are using it themselves. They are turning to the food bank for blankets to keep warm and food for their kids. They have given up their car. They are both still working, but their bills and food prices have risen so much that they are now struggling and are at risk of losing their home.
So many people tell me that they cannot see any hope of things getting better. There is no light at the end of the tunnel. That is what the last 12 years of a Tory Government and the Chancellor’s autumn statement have done, and are doing, to our communities. On top of this, the autumn statement will force families such as the couple in Hebburn to pay more in tax, as the freeze in the income tax threshold equals a pay cut for millions. We have a stealth tax rise and a rise in council tax. We cannot carry on like this.
When the Chancellor said that the UK will “pay our way”, he meant that our communities will pay. When he said, ahead of his autumn statement, that
“everyone will have to make sacrifices”, he did not actually mean everyone. The UK billionaires who increased their wealth by £55 billion last year will not be making any sacrifices. The companies that made obscene excess profits will not be making sacrifices. Those who can afford to make sacrifices are not being asked to pay for the crisis that their class has caused.
The OBR’s assessment is that this never-ending austerity will lead to a further decline of 7% in our living standards. Yet the Chancellor claims that his Government are compassionate. There is nothing in the autumn statement that shows compassion. A compassionate Government would ensure that our kids were not hungry. A compassionate Government would introduce a one-off 1% wealth tax on households with more than £1 million, generating £260 billion, but, instead, the Government are content to force people into deeper poverty while lifting the cap on bankers’ bonuses. People in our communities need investment, not more cuts. In her summing up, will the Minister tell us when the Government will stop making the political choice to keep people in poverty?
“There is nothing in the autumn statement that shows compassion” was one of the last sentences from Kate Osborne. With the triple lock protected, benefits up by 10.1%, the household energy cap extended, a £900 support package for households on means-tested benefits, £300 support payments to pensioners, £150 to individuals on disability benefits, energy bill support extended into next year, a below-inflation 7% cap on social rents that will save the average renter £200, the education budget protected at £2.3 billion—she did mention children—and an increase in NHS spending of £3.3 billion, is there anything but compassion running through this autumn statement?
I am happy to go so far on economic policy. There is a fair cop that we have made some mistakes on economic policy—that is a perfectly fair cop. But we cannot go into a different galaxy of common sense, where there is no economic credibility, and pretend that that is the reality. I have to question those on the Opposition Benches: if their solution to the economic crisis we face hinges on non-dom status and private schools and does not mention private enterprises, growth and global factors, we are in a different galaxy.
I will go back to where I was planning to start my speech by saying that I had the great pleasure of being parliamentary private secretary to the Chancellor—or more accurately Chancellors—in the build-up to the statement. I must say that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor is a fantastic Member of Parliament and last week delivered an incredibly difficult statement both eloquently and with an underlying level of compassion that we should be very proud of.
The Chancellor set out quite firmly the circumstances we face as a country. All these factors—the pandemic we have gone through, in which we spent £400 billion trying to keep the economy on track, the supply chain issues that came from that global pandemic, the damage that has done to the businesses up and down the country and the costs they face, the increases and challenges to shipping or the 630,000 people who have dropped out of the workforce since the pandemic—are inflationary and have created huge pressures. The OBR report, which I am sure the Labour party has read with great interest, clearly identifies global headwinds as the primary cause of the situation we are in. Does anybody from Labour want to challenge that? No—we are moving on.
The second thing we must look at is Vladimir Putin’s war. My right hon. Friend Dr Fox made some interesting points about patriotism and how we address these economic circumstances. We have spent £2.3 billion as a country on the situation in Ukraine, but there has been something along the lines of £150 billion of additional spending on energy within our economy over the past year. That is a huge increase; as the Chancellor would quickly point out, it is another NHS, and £55 billion of that is coming from Government coffers—again, I would suggest compassionately—to households and businesses up and down this country.
We face a challenge of inflation, of war on our doorstep and of global markets losing confidence. That has a ripple-down effect and, unfortunately, the circumstances we find ourselves in mean that the Chancellor had to make some difficult decisions. I think he did so in a way that tries not only to help individuals and families with the cost of living but to provide confidence that Britain can pay its way in the world. When Opposition Members bandy around somewhat childish policies, whether on non-dom status or private schools—it doesn’t half feel as if we are back in the 2015 election with those two; I cannot wait to see the new version of the “Ed stone”—it seems to me as if we are on a different planet.
I wanted to add some notes of caution, however, because I was not entirely happy with everything in the statement. First, there are the labour shortages we face. We increased working-age benefits—I believe there is a compassionate argument for that—and the minimum wage, but our small businesses are struggling to recruit and retain staff, and I worry about the impact that that will have on the labour market. It will have to be monitored very closely.
Secondly, more money for the NHS is of course welcome, but only if we see a proportionate increase when it comes to outputs. We have left the NHS in a difficult situation: covid restrictions are still in place in a lot of venues, and we need to remove them as quickly as possible. Hospitals have been operating at around 80% to 85% of capacity en masse. We cannot get back to previous levels and clear the backlog, which requires us to go above 100%, if we are operating at an 85% building capacity.
However, I very much welcome the Chancellor’s comments on having a workforce plan, which will help to create a longer-term, sensible solution for the NHS, particularly in dentistry and mental health, in which our workforce numbers are woefully low.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way and, in particular, for raising mental health. I have been looking just today at the startling figures stating that 215 young people took their lives in 2021—the highest figure since records began. The workforce needs nurses and doctors, but also psychologists and mental health professionals going forward—I refer the House to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests on that point. It is crucial that we address those issues to support young people and their potential.
I completely agree. We have to be aware of the situation that the pandemic created in mental health. We talk about and acknowledge mental health a lot more, which is a positive thing for society, but our health workforce is well behind where we are as a society on conversational issues. We also have to address pressures relating to image and social media, which affect young people in particular, and the fact that, although we are all so much more connected through mobile devices, we are so much more isolated and judge ourselves in those circumstances. I thank the hon. Lady for raising that point.
On mental health, I am sure that my hon. Friend will back the cross-party “No Time To Wait” campaign that I launched with my friend James Starkie. Our pilot from the Royal College of Nursing is ready to be picked up by the Government to get more mental health nurses into GP surgeries. We know that 40% of all GP appointments are now related to mental health. Will my hon. Friend be a doughty champion for that cause?
Well, what choice do I have? As a note of caution, I think we get a little lost when we talk about GP practices. I am not sure that the model of primary care that we have become so used to is necessarily the most efficient. There are other models, and indeed, using online technology can sometimes be considerably better. I add that note of caution about using GP practices, but other than that, my hon. Friend is a fantastic champion and he has got his clip for social media.
I will add another note of caution, about education. The increase in the schools budget is incredibly welcome, but I am slightly concerned about the lack of mention of further education. Some of our colleges are in a very difficult situation, and I worry that we may not have addressed that in the autumn statement. That is also somewhat underlined by the investment zones and the fact that the Chancellor announced a shift towards using higher education in particular in less-well-off areas, which, I have to say, may be a mistake. If he had extended FE into that mix, it would perhaps have been a more interesting and appealing prospect.
My final note of caution is on levelling-up funding. Although the Chancellor announced that round 2 would be happening, he was silent on round 3, and I am slightly concerned that it will get lost in the mix.
There are positives, however. Capital expenditure is maintained, R&D is maintained and the gigabit roll-out is maintained. All those are incredibly important. The shift towards nuclear and the backing for Sizewell C are incredibly important. As a Derbyshire MP, I hope that we will go further on small modular reactors. We as a country need to pursue the fantastic prospect from Rolls-Royce because it will play a huge part in our energy mix. We are incredibly lucky that 40% of our energy now comes from renewables, but we can go much further. Nuclear plays a huge role in that, and we need to continue banging that drum.
I will finish on a positive note: energy efficiency. We had a policy that came out as a stimulus package. It was far from effective, actually, and if I have a note of agreement with those on the Labour Front Bench, it is around energy efficiency and the fact that we need to do more. We need to reduce demand for energy and make sure that homes, particularly for those who are less well off, are better insulated. I have seen some of that on the ground. The social sector part of that particular scheme was effective—it was the private sector bit that was terrible—and I would like to see more done on that front.
In short, with some notes of caution, I think the Chancellor did a rather good job. Tackling inflation will be incredibly difficult, but it is absolutely the right thing to solve. Alongside that, I would add, as my right hon. Friend Kit Malthouse said so elegantly, that growth and confidence are vital for the future of the economy, and if we do not have those in the mix as well, I do not know what we are doing here.
It will be of little surprise that I intend to speak against the autumn statement, because it unjustly places the burden on the ordinary people of the countries of the United Kingdom. At the weekend, I was at a performance of a show called “Kelty Clippie” by the Kingdom Theatre Company. That performance took me back to a time when our mining communities took pride in their work, when our yards built rigs, when Rosyth was a substantial naval base and local businesses were able to thrive.
While the discovery of North sea oil and gas promised an embarrassment of riches for Scotland, Gavin McCrone’s report that disclosed the fact was hidden by successive Labour and Tory Governments. Scotland’s economy and industry were subsequently dismantled. Oil and gas have kept the UK Treasury pumped full of cash, and Scotland’s industry has been decimated. I did not come here to dot the i’s and cross the t’s of Tory policy that has been rejected by the people of Scotland for all my life. I came here to argue Scotland’s case: the autumn statement places the burden on ordinary people. They already faced a cost of living crisis, but then we had the £30 billion cost of the incompetence of the former Prime Minister and Chancellor, who will now receive a stipend of more than £100,000 for blowing up the economy. That crisis is on top of 12 years of Tory austerity, and is not because of profligate public services. They are breaching the supposed core principles of free marketeers. Failure is supposed to self-regulate markets.
The public’s money has been used to bail out failing bankers. The public’s money is now bailing out failing energy companies, and the UK’s largest producer of—[Interruption.] Sorry, somebody keeps phoning me; I am going to switch it off. The UK’s largest producer of semiconductors was to be purchased by a Chinese company. That has been blocked by this Government. That is because it is an essential service, they say, and it cannot be foreign-owned, but many of the UK’s energy suppliers are foreign-owned. What is more essential a service than the provision of energy?
The autumn statement is not about fiscal responsibility; it is a frantic response to the utter incompetence of this Tory Government. There is one point on which I agreed with the Chancellor when he spoke—his slip of the tongue that this is the English Parliament. It certainly feels like it from my position. What place does Scotland have here? We have a smattering of Unionist MPs, but Scotland is shouted down from the Government Benches. Our people are ignored. Over the last nine months, £8 billion of North sea oil and gas revenue has flowed into His Majesty’s Treasury. The percentage share for Scotland was zero. The block grant gets tighter every year. The Scottish Government are pilloried. The Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition at last week’s PMQs spoke about the renewables revolution and investment to deliver jobs and prosperity, but who for? Not for Scotland. The profits still flow to His Majesty’s Treasury and to corporate interests.
Energy for 2.8 million homes is cabled directly from Scotland’s territorial waters to England. There are no jobs for Scotland. There are no supply chain jobs. The yards sit idle. There is a continued plundering of our resources, and it sincerely saddens me that the Scottish Government replicated UK policy with the ScotWind licence, passing vast profits to corporate interests. A 25-year licence worth an estimated £350 billion was sold for a measly £700 million.
The autumn statement delivers nothing for Scotland. Scottish councils are losing out on levelling-up funds administered by Westminster. Despite the many risks of freeports for employment rights and protections, Scotland loses again. The Chancellor has failed to set out costed plans for how these freeports will operate, be funded and be essential to regeneration, job creation and trade with European and other overseas markets. This all shows that the empty promises of Brexit are exactly that—empty.
The Chancellor said that his priorities were energy, infrastructure and innovation, but Fife is losing out on all three. Where is the investment for direct ferry links from Rosyth to Europe, now that European motorways of the sea funding is no longer available? Where is the investment in renewables and the jobs bonanza we were promised to secure the future of the BiFab yards? Why are families across Fife and my constituency being plunged further and further into fuel poverty, forced to pay skyrocketing energy prices, extortionate standing charges and higher rates on prepayment meters or, sadly, forced into self-disconnection because they cannot afford to pay? There will be even less help from April next year.
One achievement of Tory policy over the last 12 years is the growth of food banks, and even they are under threat from this Tory Government. The Kirkaldy food bank is facing immense costs because need has increased vastly. Its monthly costs used to be around £2,000, but they are now approaching £20,000, and the food bank may have to close. Where will people turn to then?
The Government should be ashamed of this statement, which places the burden of their failures on the backs of the people. It is time for Scotland to take the full powers of an independent country. Our vast resources must be put to work for the common good of the Scottish people.
It is a pleasure to speak in support of this autumn statement. In the time available to me, I will talk about an issue that has come up a lot today, but I will talk about it in a very particular way to illustrate the problems we have with it. That issue is inflation.
Inflation is at the heart of our economic problem. Inflation is the reason why food prices are high. Inflation is the reason why energy prices are so difficult to manage. Inflation, as we have heard from many Members, is the core reason why the debt interest bill that the Government have to pay is now so high. We have heard a lot about the different global causes of this inflation, but it is worth making the point again that this inflation is happening in every single western country—it is happening in most countries in the world, not just western countries. We should never stop underlining that point. This is not about escaping political responsibility—I am not playing a party political game here—but we can deal with the problem only if we understand its true causes.
The first cause, as mentioned by my right hon. Friend Kit Malthouse, is about central banks and the policy of quantitative easing, which pumped several trillion pounds into the economy over the last 10 years. Regardless of people’s view as to whether that was necessary at the beginning as we came out of the financial crisis, many people rightly ask whether, if we—not just globally, but the Bank of England—expand the money supply to such a degree, it is a shock that, at some point, when there is an exogenous factor such as the war in Ukraine, inflation appears to be structurally embedded and higher than it was before. The Bank of England and global central banks, such as the US Fed and the European Central Bank, need to examine their policies over the last 10 years that have contributed to the global rise in inflation.
The second global cause of inflation is what has been going on in China. Its zero covid policy means that its growth rate this year is 3.2% or 3.3%, while its growth target is 5.5%. China tends to hit its targets—at least officially—so that shows that it is not soaking up global demand in the way that it did, which is also having a big impact. At the same time, it hurts supply chains across the world, particularly this country’s manufacturing businesses as well as others, which need China to be open.
Those problems have contributed to inflation, but I do not want to focus on them. I want to focus on the cost of energy, because that underpins many other things in our economy. Indeed, the difficulties that the pound sterling, the euro and many other currencies had, and still have, against the dollar in the last couple of months were in large part because of energy prices being priced in dollars, and the impact of that on the world economy.
We are trying to decarbonise our economy, as hon. Members on both sides of the House agree, but oil and gas are still hugely significant to absolutely everything in the economy. Structurally, demand for oil and gas from the developing world—not primarily China, but India and sub-Saharan Africa—is rocketing, because the people in those countries want to have what we have. They want to industrialise and make their lives better, and they need energy to do that. At the same time, we are seeing lower investment in new oil and gas by major energy companies. That is happening for myriad reasons, but principally because the messages that we have been sending around the necessary green investment have made shareholders demand higher returns for shareholders rather than those profits going into investment.
The long and short of it is that we do not have enough oil and gas and the demand for it is rising, so prices are going up. Although the war in Ukraine has hugely exacerbated and accelerated the difficulty, it is worth saying that the problems with energy have been building for a long time. Even when the war in Ukraine concludes, as we hope happens soon, prices will still be higher than we have been used to.
Every economic expansion in the world over the last 300 years was founded on not just innovation but cheap energy. We have to be honest as a House, as a country and as the Conservative party that all our hopes and dreams about what our economy should do—all the funds that we want to put into the NHS, all the infrastructure that we want to build, all the tax cuts that we want to give—are founded on having affordable energy for individuals and businesses.
What are we going to do about that? All hon. Members on both sides of the House agree that we need more renewable investment—more nuclear, more wind, more solar. We will always talk about investing more in those things, so it is about not just the investment, but our ability to get it done. I am sure many Members will share my frustration at the gap between our intentions, whether through legislation or policy, on the investments that are made and the big numbers that we talk about and see, and the slow deliverability of that on the ground. In energy in particular, the amount of time it takes to get a nuclear power station off the ground is too long. The amount of time it takes even to get a wind farm and wind terminals off the ground is too long; in fact it is getting longer. On solar, we have problems with planning in that area as well.
I thank my hon. Friend for what he is saying. The Science and Technology Committee, on which I sit, is currently looking at our nuclear investments for the future. Is he aware that, for example, the number of documents submitted in planning for Sizewell C is over 4,000 compared with about 1,000 for Hinkley Point C and it is basically the same design? Is that not an example of what he is talking about?
It is, and I would love to speak much more about that point, but I do not have much time. I would just say that we must start to take seriously the issues of delivering much more renewable energy on our own soil, and of exploring oil and gas in the North sea to the maximum we can. A lot of the other economic debates we have are largely irrelevant in the context of that energy challenge.
We have heard a lot today about investment for public services. I remind all Members, particularly Opposition Members, that we cannot oppose measures for the growth of our economy, and we cannot always oppose investments or incentives for investment for successful businesses or individuals and, at the same time, say that we need more investment in our public services. We need to remember that the only money spent by the Government is the money that we generate as a private sector and private enterprise. That is why we need to tackle inflation, that is why the core of tackling inflation is dealing with the cost of energy and that is why I support this autumn statement.
Let me be absolutely clear: the only thing this autumn statement achieves is further inequality, further injustice and further unfairness to our communities, and that is after 12 years of the devastation of our communities through a well-thought-out, well-planned ideological agenda.
In my constituency of Bradford East—let us deal with facts; Conservative Members want to talk about facts, so let us talk about them—50% of children are living in absolute poverty. Fifty per cent. of those may not even have a hot meal today. Many of those families will be using food banks—as Neale Hanvey said, where they can be made available—in a tragic society in which food banks are now more dominant than fast food places. That is the stark reality.
What does this autumn statement do to alleviate the poverty in my constituency? What shall I tell the children in my constituency about what this autumn statement does for them? What does it do to make sure every child will get a hot meal today? What does it do to make sure that families—including working families—will not use food banks? Those are the questions that my constituents and those of hon. Members in this House will be asking us when we go back. It is fine playing ping-pong or flashy economics across the Chamber, but that is not the question we will be asked.
This statement is a missed opportunity, just like the last statement was, the statement before that and, tragically, the statements we have had over the last 12 years. I am astonished when I come to debates such as this and see Conservative Members—they have even done it today—using that defence, as though the last Labour Government 12 years ago are suddenly to blame for all the economic problems we face today. I remind hon. Members: they may be able to use that argument for the first, second or third year, but we are four general elections forward. We are on our fifth Prime Minister. We have changed God knows how many Chancellors. They cannot use that argument today. We have to move on, accept responsibility and place it where it lies.
The fact remains that the UK is the fifth largest economy in the world. Our country is the fifth richest on the planet, yet when we leave this House and its ivory towers, and go to my constituency and those of other hon. Members, we see a country that looks nothing like one of the richest. We see ambulances backed up queuing, children crammed into bursting classes, hospital wards overflowing into corridors, GP appointments that can never be booked, trains that do not run on time, buses that do not turn up, police officers that cannot attend crimes, social security that provides very little security, rivers that are literally sewers, and homes that are riddled with damp and mould. Those are not signs of the fifth richest country; they are signs of a country that is broken and has been broken for a long time—for 12 years.
We know where the blame for our broken country lies. It lies with the party in government that has squandered and misspent over a decade in power. It lies with the party that imposed cruel austerity on our public services. But I do not expect this Government to understand. After all, they are led by a Prime Minister who is not only the richest Member of Parliament, but one of the country’s richest citizens. He is twice as rich as the King. He has never known hardship. He is supported by a Chancellor who has never been hard up or had to scrimp and save like my constituents, or choose between heating and eating like my constituents. He has never asked how he is going to get from one day to the next, as my constituents have.
If I come across as angry, perhaps it is because I am angry. I am enraged that over the past 12 years this Tory Government have robbed my constituents in Bradford of their futures, to line their own pockets and the pockets of their friends and donors. I am enraged by the fact that, despite the country falling down around their ears, with crumbling schools and hospitals, they still will not admit the carnage they have caused. Indeed, they sit there and they cheer.
As someone who probably speaks with the same sort of vim and vigour as he does, I always admire the passion of the hon. Gentleman in the Chamber. He laid out a litany of issues across our country. Of course I am not in denial of those situations. Can he promise the House, and members of the public, that if Labour were in government, taxation on individuals—not the wealthiest, but average income householders—would not increase at all in any of Labour’s fiscal policies to help to deliver on their fiscal plans? General taxation would not in any way increase—can he deliver that promise to the House right now?
The hon. Gentleman, who I normally have good banter with, tragically on this occasion illustrates the very point I make. His constituents expect him to scrutinise his own Government, who are not alleviating poverty even in his constituency. When he goes back to his constituency, I suggest he asks those questions of constituents and they will provide the answer to the question for him, which is this: it is his Government who for the past 12 years have made their lives a misery.
The hon. Gentleman is making an outstanding contribution. Does he agree that gross greed and the deliberate exploitation of people lies at the heart of the fundamental problem we have in our society? We must talk about that, challenge it and eradicate it.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. Going back to my opening lines, the reality remains that what this statement does—perhaps the surest thing it achieves—is further inequality, injustice and unfairness.
I will not give the hon. Gentleman time again. He asked a question and I gave him a perfectly good suggestion: to go and ask his constituents. He will find the answer there.
What is shocking is that Conservative Members sat there and cheered and applauded when the ex-Chancellor delivered the fiscal event that crashed our economy. They cheered, and people in Bradford and elsewhere across the country now face unaffordable mortgages. They cheered at soaring energy bills. They cheered at spiralling food costs and they cheered at mounting fuel prices. That disconnect with the rest of the country, that incapability to understand the challenges that people in Bradford and elsewhere face, is why this autumn statement delivered next to nothing for my constituents and why no Tory Budget ever will.
After 12 years of failure, carnage and chaos, it is even more apparent than ever that the Tory Government have run out of ideas and run out of road. They have no mandate from the country and no support from the public. Instead of presenting this watered-down Budget that fails to properly address any of the challenges and hardships that people in Bradford face, the Government should have done the right thing—the principled thing—and called for a general election. But the reason Conservative Members—including the Prime Minister—will not call for a general election is that they know their fate. They know that, in a general election, the British people will repay them for the hardship, chaos and absolute devastation that they have brought to our communities. Let me assure them again: when a general election is called, the British people will pay them back with interest at the ballot box.
I think that Madam Deputy Speaker suggested eight minutes for speeches. We have had some slippage on that with a few speakers. So could people try to stick to that figure? You will do that, won’t you, Mr Bell?
Thank you very much, Mr Deputy Speaker. It is a pleasure to follow Imran Hussain, although I utterly reject his thesis and characterisation of the response of those on the Government Benches; that is not appropriate in respect of this statement or the previous one. These are undoubtedly difficult times and they require tough decisions. That is what we saw from the Chancellor last week. The priority is to restore economic stability and sound money and, most of all, to tackle inflation.
I thank my hon. Friend Bim Afolami for talking about inflation, as did my right hon. Friend Kit Malthouse. As my hon. Friend said, the inflation that we are experiencing, which is happening everywhere, is the most pernicious thing that we have to tackle right now. We have not had inflation at this level since I was in short trousers. The priority with inflation is to get on top of it quickly. If we allow it to persist, it will make everyone poorer again and again—it erodes people’s savings and the value of people’s salaries, which affects the cost of living—so we must tackle it. The measures that the Chancellor set out last week do that.
At the same time as tackling inflation, the Government are protecting people from inflation through the energy price guarantee—it is very expensive, which is another reason why we will need to make savings elsewhere—and maintaining the triple lock. A number of my constituents wrote to me about that—I have a considerably above-average number of pensioners in Newcastle-under-Lyme and had a lot of correspondence about it. I assured them that I would go to the Chancellor and fight for them. I am pleased that he listened to me and like-minded colleagues and that we will put up the state pension by inflation. We will also put up pension credit by inflation in the new year and all benefits, including in-work benefits.
I agree with my right hon. Friend Chris Grayling that we need to restore more conditionality. In a world where we have quite close to full employment at the moment—I accept that, as the OBR said, there may be some increase in unemployment—we need to encourage those who can take on more hours or go back into the labour market to do so. We are also being fair in protecting people from inflation through our biggest ever increase in the national living wage, which is now up to £10.42 an hour for those over 23—a boost of over £1,600 to annual earnings.
It is not just about stability; it is also about credibility and being honest with people, as the Exchequer Secretary said when opening the debate. It is about being honest and credible not only with the markets, but with the country. If we are to be honest and credible in this Chamber, we should acknowledge that mistakes were made in the mini-Budget. I thought the decision on the 45p tax rate was a mistake, and I communicated that privately to the Chancellor. That decision was reversed and now, contrary to what we have heard from some, we are asking those with the broadest shoulders to bear the burden of taxation and lowered the 45p rate threshold to £125,000. Overall, this statement is a mixture of spending restraint and tax rises, but we are making sure that the burden falls on those who are most able to afford it—completely contrary to what Opposition Members have said today.
The Opposition do not seem to have a plan of their own. We kept being promised one today by the shadow Minister, Tulip Siddiq, but there never seemed to be one. The shadow Chancellor herself did not offer anything in her rather over-the-top response to the Chancellor’s statement last week. Again and again, people have brought up the last 12 years, but I repeat the point I made in an intervention: we inherited a £149 billion deficit and we worked hard to reduce it, repeatedly opposed by the Opposition. The national debt has increased because borrowing each year does that.
The Opposition like to blame global financial circumstances for situation—they like to say it was made in America—but the truth is that, as the International Monetary Fund said, by 2007 we were running the biggest structural deficit of any country in the G7. The idea that we should put the Labour party back in charge of another difficult situation is for the birds.
We are genuinely dealing with a situation largely caused by unprecedented external economic shocks. The biggest of those shocks was covid—a once-in-100-years event. That cost £400 billion—money we ultimately have to pay back, and as interest rates on Government debt rise, repaying those debts becomes more burdensome. I believe that £400 billion was money well spent: it saved jobs, it saved businesses and it saved lives. We should all be proud of what we did through covid, but we have to face the fact that there will be a reckoning.
The same is true of the energy shock. We have the first war in Europe for 75 years, and a once-in-50-years energy shock has followed. I think we can be proud of our response, both abroad in our support for the Ukrainians, in materiel and training for their armed forces and diplomatic support for Volodymyr Zelensky, and at home in shielding people, households and businesses from that shock, but it is expensive. As my hon. Friend Mark Fletcher said, that costs an extra £150 billion; the Government are bearing a third of the cost, but it is a cost for everybody to bear, equivalent to an extra NHS. We need to find ways to pay for that.
Speaking of the NHS, the Chancellor—as befits a former Health Secretary and a former Chair of the Health and Social Care Committee—has protected our NHS in these difficult times, giving an extra £7.7 billion over the next two years to tackle precisely the issues we have heard about today, which I recognise in my own constituency. It is difficult for ambulances to get into hospitals because hospitals are operating beyond capacity, and it is difficult to get people out of hospital and into social care.
The ABCD plan proposed in the summer is the right approach; we need to tackle the backlog and get people seeing their GPs again. Putting extra money into the health service, even in these difficult economic times, is the right thing to do, as is the £4 billion we are putting into schools. We are protecting the budgets that matter the most to our constituents in places such as Newcastle, and no doubt Bradford East as well. The money will put real-terms per pupil funding back up to above 2010 levels—more than the Labour party has pledged to give schools.
We are also protecting the commitments we made during the general election to level up. Newcastle-under-Lyme has secured £34 million through the future high streets fund and the towns fund. Speaking of high streets, which are critical in constituencies such as mine, the business rates package we have offered—£14 billion over the next five years—and the long overdue revaluation, which will make a huge difference to business rates in the centre of Newcastle-under-Lyme, are extremely welcome, as is the new relief for retail, hospitality and leisure being extended 50% next year and 75% the year after. That will make a real difference to the viability of existing shops in my town centre and the viability of the new shops that people open.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for setting out clearly a number of the financial issues that have been impacting the cost of living and need to be addressed. Does he agree that, in addition, we need to look at decentralised finance? With the collapse of FTX, and the fact that almost 10% of the UK population have some kind of engagement with the cryptocurrency markets, we need to ensure that consumer protection is at the forefront of what we are doing, have a deeper look at regulation and move that forward at speed.
I thank the hon. Lady for raising cryptocurrency, FTX and so on. She may know that I recently held a Westminster Hall debate on the pernicious reach of cryptocurrency into sport, and that one of her SNP colleagues held a separate debate on it. The Treasury needs to listen carefully to the issues being raised around cryptocurrency, and particularly the damage it is doing to young men, who are very susceptible to “get rich quick” schemes.
I am pleased that the Government resisted the temptation to cut long-term capital budgets, such as Sizewell C, the levelling-up fund and our investment in R&D, which is where we will get growth from in the future.
To conclude, these are difficult times, but I think we are taking action that is appropriate and fair. We are making sure that those with the broadest shoulders who can bear the burden do so. We are splitting the cost of covid and the energy price shock between tax rises and spending restraint. The OBR itself expects our package to reduce peak inflation and peak unemployment, and the Bank of England now expects lower inflation and lower peak interest rates, which will look after mortgage holders. All the while, we are looking after the NHS and our schools, as our constituents expect us to do. I have every confidence in the Chancellor and his statement, and in our ability to steer the economy through these troubled times.
What a fascinating 60 days it has been. We were told 60 days ago by hon. Members on the Government Benches that they welcomed the fiscal event and statement from the former Chancellor, Kwasi Kwarteng. In fact, as I recall, 60 days ago they were shouting, “More!” They then demanded that the Scottish Parliament follow suit and pass on the tax cuts they were introducing—so risible, it is incredible. And now, 60 days later, they welcome this U-turn and a completely different statement.
I want to speak first on whether this autumn statement benefits the wealthy or the poorest. The key test of that is found in two books. The OBR questioned the Government’s DWP and HMRC compliance measures that raise £2.8 billion a year by 2027-28. The Green Book tells us that of that £2.8 billion, £2.2 billion will be chasing social security fraud and error. By my sums, that means £0.6 billion is being used to chase tax avoidance and evasion. What a timid way of dealing with tax avoidance and evasion. The Tax Justice Network and the Public and Commercial Services Union estimate tax avoidance and evasion to be worth £70 billion, so the Government are seeking to recoup less than one hundredth of that tax avoidance and evasion—you really could not make it up. What message is it sending to the tax avoiders and evaders that the Government will be spending only so much and seem to be able to recoup so little?
Does my hon. Friend agree that it is the oil giants, such as Shell and BP, and the FTSE 100 bosses, recording record profits and pay rises, who should be shouldering the burden of the Chancellor’s austerity budget, not our constituents who are struggling to make ends meet in a cost of living crisis?
I thank my hon. Friend for making that point, because we should be looking at an excess profits tax across the board. It is quite right to mention the oil and gas companies, but they are not the only ones who benefited from the pandemic. We now seem to be being told by the Government that tax avoidance and evasion somehow disappeared during the pandemic. That is the only conclusion we can reach when we look at the figures in these documents.
In addition, the Government seem to be making no attempt to discuss how we tackle energy prices. People have a very real perception that the regulators are on the side of the energy companies, not the consumers. That is exactly what the people on the streets believe when they talk about energy. We should start giving the regulators more teeth and encourage them to use their powers to go after the energy companies that are making excess profits, as well as to bring prices down for consumers, because that has to happen.
My hon. Friend is making a powerful point about the absolutely crushing effect that energy costs are having on families and communities. Does he agree that off-gas grid supplies should be regulated as well? For too long they have been ignored, and people are paying substantially more to heat their homes than people on the gas grid do.
I agree, and my hon. Friend made powerful points earlier about costs, as did Paul Girvan. Poverty is a real issue across the UK—it is not just an urban, but a rural issue—and it affects all the communities across these islands.
As much as I welcome the fact that benefits were uprated in line with inflation, it has always been regarded as a political fact that that should happen anyway, so we should not give the Government any kudos just for following what should take place. However, as Imran Hussain rightly argued, food inflation has gone up by 16%, and we are seeing a rise in the use of food banks and affordable food projects, which are the next level above food banks. Pantries and larders are opening up in many of our communities to help people move away from food banks, and I am involved in many such projects in Glasgow South West.
I will in a second, but I want to talk about poverty and the Department for Work and Pensions—I am on the Work and Pensions Committee.
The DWP is closing offices and laying off its workers. Incredibly, the Department that is responsible for employment and social security is saying to its workforce, “You are no longer required,” because it is closing offices. That position is absolutely risible, and it is made even more risible by its refusal of home working for people who are under threat of redundancy. One thing that did work during the pandemic was home working; it helped people to get into the workplace. As we heard in my exchange with Stephen Crabb, when we encourage home working, we encourage people into paid employment.
It seems daft that Government Departments are telling their workforce, “Come into the office, come into these workplaces, but you can’t work from home.” The Government have to show a bit more creativity if they are serious about dealing with long-term unemployment, turning around people’s lives and getting them into work. It seems completely contradictory for them to say to their workforce, “You cannae work from home.” The position they find themselves in is completely and utterly risible.
I hope that the Minister will answer this question: of the 6,000 additional employees that the state is going to employ, what will the ratio be between the DWP and HMRC? I will make an educated guess: the overwhelming majority will end up in the DWP chasing social security fraud and error, not in HMRC tackling tax avoidance and evasion.
Finally, there was nothing in the statement about public sector pay policy. So many workers have taken the view that they have no alternative other than to withdraw their labour because of the low pay offers that they get from employers, including many in the public sector. The overwhelming majority of civil servants are not covered by pay review bodies, yet we do not know the Government’s policy on public sector pay. Public sector workers spend that money in the economy and there could be an economic boost if we give public sector workers the pay rise that they deserve. I hope that we will get an answer to that, because public sector workers deserve better than to be treated as the Government are treating them.
Stability, growth and public services: those were the three objectives that the Chancellor set himself in preparing his statement. Overall, in the face of enormous global challenges, he can be proud of how the statement has been received by the markets and by the Office for Budget Responsibility, which estimated, after considering it, that inflation would fall by 30% next year.
I understand the attraction for the Opposition of attributing the current economic situation to the Conservative Government. I repeat what I said on the Floor of the House last week: mistakes were made in the mini-Budget. However, Opposition Front Benchers must get to grips with the fact that those mistakes were quickly corrected. Almost none of the measures that were controversial were ever implemented.
The Opposition will have to say soon why this Government are the cause of the current crisis, when every expert—from the Bank of England to the Office for Budget Responsibility to the market—says otherwise. I gently draw the Opposition’s attention to the fact that since the autumn statement was published, sterling has continued on its upward trajectory back to its March rate, gilt yields have fallen 15% from their peak after the mini-Budget, and the Chancellor’s decisive action has stabilised the mortgage market.
The Opposition do not have to take my word for it. I invite them to consider the language used by the Governor of the Bank of England when he appeared before the Treasury Committee last week. The Chair of the Committee, my hon. Friend Harriett Baldwin, asked:
“on this important question of mortgages, because it matters so much to our constituents...how much of the increase that you see in the mortgage market today has come from that independent decision by the Bank of England to tighten monetary policy and how much has been due to the disruption to the gilt market that we saw in September and early October?”
The Governor answered:
“I think the September-October thing was obviously a short-lived thing...It is pretty much on the way to being gone. That was a thing that ran from...September through to the middle of October.”
With respect, if the Opposition are going to keep parroting the line that this was a crisis made in Downing Street, it is incumbent on them to say why the Governor of the Bank of England is incorrect. It is also incumbent on them to explain why, despite everything, the Conservative party is still ahead on British trust in our ability to manage the economy.
I want to touch on three important points that came out of the autumn statement. The first relates to the cost of living. I said last week that I was pleased to see the triple lock protected and benefits uprated, costly though that has been, because inflation has a disproportionate impact on those on the lowest incomes. I have to align myself with the comments of my right hon. Friend Chris Grayling: it is right that the uprating is balanced by a review of the workforce, because since the pandemic began there has been a 25% increase in the number of people out of work by reason of long-term sickness. It is fair that that receives some serious scrutiny from the Department for Work and Pensions. I also welcome the increase in the national living wage to more than £10 an hour: the case for a minimum wage above £10 an hour has been quite strong for some time, but it is now overwhelming.
I hope that when the Chancellor returns to the House in the spring, he will say something about childcare. I have been working on the issue across the parties, particularly with Conservative colleagues, and with think-tanks and campaign groups; only last week I met the Women’s Budget Group and Pregnant Then Screwed. One of the most important takeaways is that, whatever cuts households make to their discretionary spending on leisure, holidays or other luxuries, one area that they are not cutting is childcare. I diverge slightly from the Opposition on this point, because I think some of the solutions are not monetary and we are not exploring all the opportunities with childminders, who offer an affordable and flexible form of childcare. I hope that the Government are thinking about the issue seriously. I think they are. I would rather they came back with a comprehensive package than with something piecemeal; I hope that that will come soon.
I also want to touch on the commitment to research and development that was made for the most dynamic sectors of our economy. Science, technology, life sciences and green industries all got a mention in the autumn statement, and all of them thrive in west Berkshire, including Stryker medical technology, Edwards Lifesciences, Vodafone, Roc Technologies, Fuel Cell Systems and Anesco. They are the great innovators of west Berkshire and they employ more than 5,000 people in my constituency alone.
The decision to protect the £20 billion R&D budget is about more than just meeting a manifesto commitment; it speaks to our ambition for those sectors, our direction of travel as a nation and our faith in the private sector to really drive growth. It also dovetails with the £800 million commitment that the Government have already made to supporting new frontiers through the Advanced Research and Invention Agency, which remains one of the most exciting innovations since I arrived in Parliament. It remains the case, though, that investment budgets are still stubbornly underused, and I hope that the Government will go further in this area and continue to expand the qualifying criteria of R&D for tax credit purposes, because there are real opportunities for our economy if we can do that.
I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in this final debate on the Chancellor’s autumn statement and I would like to pay tribute to my right hon. Friend Rachel Reeves for her fantastic response to the statement last Thursday. Let us not forget that this Tory economic crisis was made in Downing Street and that after 12 long years of their failure, dithering, delay and fighting for the privileged few, we are being held back by a party that does not care about people in the real world.
This statement has done nothing to help the really hard-pressed communities in Newport West that sent me here. Yet again, the Tories have loaded the cost of their incompetence on to working people in Newport West and across the country. My constituent Jenny Cloete shared her story with me, and she said this:
“My family is struggling to put food on the table, and I work full time. I struggle with everyday living costs and I’m not the lowest paid. I’m scared to wake up, scared to think past tomorrow. Scared for what’s to come. Please stand up for those of us with no voice.”
Jenny is not alone. There are millions across the country who share those worries and fears.
There were two tests for the Government in the autumn statement: would they make fairer choices, and would they grow the economy? They have failed them both, but they have chosen to fail. Fairer choices could have been made, but they will now have to be made by the next Labour Government instead. Not only did the Conservatives in government fail to make the right choices but they are seemingly unable to put forward a serious plan for growth. Only Labour has a plan to escape the Tory doom loop and get our economy firing on all cylinders. I want to pay tribute to my constituents Shaun and Julie from Bassaleg post office in Newport West, who made it clear in a recent email to me that things are beyond tough. They said:
“We are working long hours, 6 days a week with no breaks and are working for less than the minimum wage.”
So much for the Tory plan to get everyone into work. Shaun and Julie are both full-time workers, but they still cannot make ends meet.
In this statement, the Tories introduced new stealth tax rises, turning the screws on working people with 24 Tory tax rises during this Parliament and a rise in the tax burden to its highest in 70 years. Worse, the Office for Budget Responsibility has said that living standards are going to be worse at the end of this Parliament than at the start, with the biggest fall on record. That is a shocking indictment of Conservative party rule in Westminster, yet we now see Tory MPs doubling down on the new Prime Minister’s high-tax, low-growth model. We have been there before, and it does not work. This is why our growth is forecast to be the lowest in the G7 and the OECD over the next two years. This is what we get with Tories in government.
I am proud that Labour has a plan. Our country needs a serious plan for growth to escape the doom loop of Conservative economic mismanagement. That is why we will scrap business rates and replace them with a fairer system that is fit for the digital economy and ensures that our businesses are not at a disadvantage. That is why we have a modern industrial strategy to support the sectors of the future, and an active working partnership with business. We will support our entrepreneurs, and our start-up review will help to make Britain the best place to start and grow a new business, creating jobs and strengthening communities. Our green prosperity plan will create good jobs across the country. From the plumbers and builders needed to insulate homes to the engineers and operators for wind and other renewables, we will make Britain a world leader in the industries of the future and ensure that people in Newport West and across the UK have the skills to benefit from these opportunities.
The Chancellor and the Prime Minister took the tough decisions necessary in the autumn statement to restore economic stability and tackle inflation. The UK Government understand that inflation makes everyone poorer, which is why it is right that their No. 1 priority is to grip inflation. Like many countries around the world, as has been mentioned many times in this debate, the UK is facing profound economic challenges from the illegal invasion of Ukraine and the covid pandemic.
We spent more than £400 billion supporting 14.5 million jobs during the pandemic. It is right that we start to pay it back now, rather than leaving it for future generations to pay the price. I am very pleased, like many Conservative Members and, I suspect, many Opposition Members, that the Government are standing by the most vulnerable, by uprating benefits in line with inflation and keeping the pensions triple lock. Those decisions are of great importance to my constituents in Clwyd South, as they have said to me in person and in many items of correspondence.
Much as I respect many Opposition Members, particularly Ruth Jones, whom it is a pleasure to follow, they have given us precious little evidence of their alternative policies. My suspicion is that, if they are honest, they probably agree with most of the autumn statement.
A key point in this debate is that Labour’s plans, as they stand, would lead to an annual fiscal black hole of £148 billion, which equates to £5,474 per household. Labour has racked up £160 billion of annual spending commitments and only £11.2 billion of annual revenue increases across a five-year Parliament. I accept that the Opposition are reluctant to set out detailed spending and taxation policies at this stage in the electoral cycle, but it is incumbent on SNP, Labour or Liberal Democrat Members to say what they would do, in clear and evidenced terms, as an alternative to the Government’s policies.
Importantly, this Government’s tough decisions allow us to increase spending on schools and the NHS. We are providing £4 billion of additional funding to schools and £7.7 billion of additional funding to the NHS and social care sector over the next two years.
Tulip Siddiq claims that Labour would run everything a lot better, particularly the NHS, and I urge her to look at what is happening in Labour-run Wales. In the Welsh NHS, one in four people is on a waiting list of one type or another, whereas the figure in England is one in eight. I am a Member of Parliament for a north Wales constituency, and it is exceptionally difficult for my constituents to have a health service with one of the lowest levels of performance in the whole UK. If that is the shape of what Labour promises across the UK, it needs to go back to the Welsh Government to say that the Welsh health service should be run a lot better for my constituents and for the people of Wales.
I am also very pleased that defence spending will continue to exceed 2% of GDP, which is critical when we are supplying huge support to the Ukrainian people. I pay tribute to the leaders of my party who, over a number of years, have put the defence of this country, and the support of allies such as Ukraine, front and centre of their policies.
I am also pleased by the Government’s fair approach to taxation, which shields small businesses from tax rises and maintains the lowest headline rate of corporation tax in the G7, after it has risen to 25%. Further reforms to employer national insurance contributions have been announced, but small businesses will be protected from these increases through the small profits rate and employment allowance. Again, that is crucial to my constituency, which has a strong sector of small and medium-sized businesses. I am delighted that the Government are protecting their prospects and all that they provide for their communities in employment and gainful work, as that is also crucial.
Windfall taxes on energy companies have been much discussed, but those have also been extended and increased. That is a crucial part of the autumn statement. It is only fair that companies that have made genuine windfall profits as a result of the war in Ukraine make an additional contribution to pay for the support we have outlined. I think everyone accepts that the energy price guarantee is crucial, and the Government have announced more than £12 billion of additional targeted support to help the most vulnerable households. That is at the heart of this statement and the compassion contained in it. It is right that the Government are continuing to provide this year’s cost of living payments. Next year, we will provide extra one-off payments of £900 for the 8 million households on means-tested benefits, £300 for pensioners, £150 for disability benefit recipients, and through the energy price guarantee the average household will save a further £500, to help with their energy bills.
The difficult but necessary decisions that have been taken elsewhere mean that it is welcome that we are able to protect the pensions triple lock in full and to uprate benefits in line with inflation. Those were two crucial things that many Members from across the whole House were keen to see included in the autumn statement and they have been fully honoured, and that is of critical importance to my constituents and to people across the country. As has been mentioned, it is welcome, including for my constituents, that the Government are increasing the national living wage to provide £1,600 extra per annum to 2 million low-paid workers. From
Time is marching on, so let me say finally that of particular importance in my constituency is the continuation of the levelling-up fund, as that is a crucial help to places such as Clwyd South. We were fortunate enough to be granted a £13.3 million levelling-up fund bid, which is going to transform many parts of the Dee valley in my constituency, but I want other constituencies to benefit across the whole UK, whether they are represented by Conservatives or by Opposition Members. This must be protected and I am delighted that the £1.7 billion levelling-up fund has been protected. Round 2 of the bids will continue as planned, and at already announced funding levels. That means that at least £1.7 billion-worth of projects will be announced shortly.
In conclusion, the autumn statement delivers on stability, growth and the protection of public services, in a skilful and compassionate way. Therefore, it commands my full support.
Although the autumn statement was rooted in economic reality after the last Budget tanked the economy, the £30 billion of spending cuts and £25 billion of tax rises means my constituents are now paying for the mistakes of 12 years of Tory economic mismanagement. The Chancellor was at pains to blame our terrible financial situation on global factors, but he refused to acknowledge the permanent damage that the Government’s mismanagement of the economy has caused through a decade of anaemic growth, September’s disastrous Budget and their disastrous Brexit. Why else is the UK the only country in the G7 whose economy has not recovered to pre-pandemic levels and is not forecast to do so until around 2025?
Very difficult times now lie ahead, particularly for mortgage payers. The OBR said that rising interest rates will mean that mortgage rates are going to jump, and house prices will fall by 9% by October 2024. We were told that we would have a high wage, lower tax economy, but what we have is the highest tax burden since we finished paying for world war two and a tax package that will cost around £4,000 a year extra per family.
I have tried to ask this question of a few other Opposition MPs, so I will try again with the hon. Gentleman, who I know is a very good man. Obviously, he is saying that the tax burden is the highest that it has been in a long time, and I am certainly uncomfortable with that. Can he assure me and promise this House and people across our country that, if Labour were in government, there would be no further increase in the tax burden for those, not in the wealthiest bracket, but in the 20p bracket?
I thank the hon. Member for his contribution. As my hon. Friend Imran Hussain said to him, he should go back to his constituents in Stoke-on-Trent and they will answer his question. I shall carry on.
As I was saying, we could not be any further away from the promised sunlit uplands. I am pleased that the Government have finally listened to Labour on the windfall tax and that the new Prime Minister and Chancellor also agreed with Labour on protecting the triple lock on pensions. But where is the wage increase for public sector workers? Those workers are the key to fixing the crisis in the NHS and in our public services and to growing the economy with a healthy workforce, which is desperately needed to get the country back on its feet. The Government are asking for wage restraint while the lifting of the cap on bankers’ bonuses and the non-dom status remain.
Where is the plan for social care? Three years ago, the then Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, pledged to
“fix the crisis in social care once and for all.”
I asked the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities yesterday whether he agreed with the former Prime Minister when he said that he had fixed the social care crisis. I did not see him agreeing with the former Prime Minister.
The Chancellor has kicked the can down the road for at least another two years, and, while the extra £3.3 billion funding for the NHS is an important recognition that the health service is struggling to meet demand and keep patients safe, the Health Foundation charity has found that funding will increase only by 1.2% in real terms over the next two years.
I have been asking for clarity on the future of East-West Rail for well over a year now. The Government’s shambolic handling of the project is causing a lot of distress to my constituents in Bedford whose lives have been in limbo since their homes came under threat of demolition in 2020. We urgently need to see the massively delayed consultation response and route announcement. I urge the Government to publish the business case before they proceed with full consideration of the environmental impacts. No new rail infrastructure should be built if it is not compatible with our net zero targets.
In the end, this was a Budget to calm the financial markets after the Government blew a credibility hole in the economy. While the most vulnerable may have been given some support to get through the next few years, the vast majority of us have very little protection. Few have savings to get them through the crisis. Many low-to-middle income earners cannot afford to pay for the Government’s mess. Austerity is a political choice. It was the wrong choice before, and it is the wrong choice now.
There were things in the autumn statement that Conservative Members would rather not have to do, not least in regard to taxes, but we were always going to have to do some difficult things as a result of having spent more than £400 billion protecting jobs and livelihoods during the pandemic and as a result of Putin’s invasion of Ukraine and the consequent impact on energy, food, support and so on. As my right hon. Friend the Chancellor set out, it is right that we are tackling inflation, which, as some Conservative Members have said, hurts the poorest more. It is right that we do not leave this for our children and grandchildren to pay. It is also absolutely right that we ensure, in general, that those with the broadest shoulders pay the most. When we talk about our record on the economy on the Conservative side it is worth remembering, which has not been said very much today, that we have had near record low unemployment—the lowest in nearly 50 years—and for the first time on record we have had more jobs available than people to fill them.
As much as there were difficult things in this statement, there was also a series of measures that I welcome. My constituency is home to Harwell Science and Innovation Campus and Milton Park, where some of the best, most advanced science and technology in this country goes on. They are centres of investment for great companies all over the world. What the Government have set out in relation to research and development—the biggest increase in spending in cash terms over a spending review period—is very welcome. My constituency is also home to the Satellite Applications Catapult, so the increased funding for those nine Catapults all over the country is likewise welcome.
Of course I welcome the additional money for health and education, particularly for education and schools. The IFS has said that that additional money will cover the expected increase in costs between now and 2024. I welcome that support for education, partly because my background was working with schools and running charities for disadvantaged young people, but also because it is key to our future. We have talked about skills and the need to increase productivity and our knowledge base, and that is how we will do it.
As a broader point—not for this debate, but something we need to consider—I do not personally think the balance between the increase in health spending in recent decades and the increase in education spending is right. The increase in health has far outstripped the amount that Governments on both sides have given to education. There are understandable reasons for that, and the two areas are not the same, but we need to think about that balance. Health and education are inextricably linked and we should have more money going into education over time than we have seen in recent decades.
The other basket of measures that I support is about protecting the most vulnerable and the lowest paid. The increase in the national living wage, which takes us to £10.42 an hour, just shy of the manifesto commitment to increase it to £10.50 by 2024, is a much-needed pay boost for people at a time of difficult economic circumstances. I welcome the commitment on the triple lock, which means the increase in the basic state pension will be the biggest it has ever had. Already in 2021 it was at the highest rate in relation to earnings for 34 years; now it will be even higher.
I also welcome the uprating of benefits. There are people outside this House who suggest that people on benefits are all too lazy to work, but if we look at the people who are on benefits, we see that many of them are in work and cannot get enough hours or cannot earn enough in wages from the job they have; some have children who are under two whom they have to look after; and some may be severely disabled and simply unable to work.
Of course, if there are people who could work and are refusing to do so, we have to do something to ensure that they do work. It is right that the Government are conducting a review into the people who have left the labour market since the pandemic, because we have to understand, given that they were working, why they are not doing so now. We know that part of the reason is about mental health, so let us get to the bottom of that and support those people into work. However, until we do that, the overwhelming majority of people who are on benefits are not able to increase their incomes, so it is right that we support them through the uprating of benefits.
Then we turn to the Labour party. This Government have made a series of difficult decisions, but what of the Labour party? We talk about this Government’s 12 years in power, but it is 17 years since the Labour party won a general election, and the last Labour leader to win one, Tony Blair, was fond of quoting:
“To govern is to choose.”
So what difficult choices is the Labour party proposing as part of its plan? The Government have made quite a number of difficult choices; which ones does the Labour party want to make? It seems to be in favour of every spending commitment that the Government make, against every spending reduction, and against every tax increase—unless it has the word “windfall” in front of it. If we went outside now, stopped members of the public and asked, “What do you think about Labour’s plan for the economy?”, they would say, “What plan?”
That is important because, while this Government makes difficult decisions—some of which members of public will not like—the Labour party is not making any. I listened to the shadow Minister, Tulip Siddiq, who said that she wanted to put VAT on private school fees, raising £1.7 billion; end non-dom status, which she said would raise another £3 billion; and raise another £10 billion through a windfall tax, so we are looking at about £15 billion. The package that we are talking about is £55 billion. Where is the rest of the money coming from? Today’s Labour party, unlike Labour parties of before, wants to govern without having to choose. The British public will decide what they think of that.
For all the talk of bringing back “compassionate conservatism”—an oxymoron—the British people have been left with more of the same: a Government whose priorities are so skewed that, after 12years, they continue to reaffirm their unwavering commitment to looking after those at the top to the detriment of everybody else. Last week, there were fairer choices to be made; there were better choices to be made; and, frankly, there were choices that would have protected all our people against an economic onslaught that the Government have played no small part in making.
Call me naive, but I had assumed that the first rule of politics was to make life easier for people, helping them get on in life so that they can provide for their loved ones and families. The OBR is predicting that, on the Government’s watch, my Liverpool, Wavertree constituents will endure a 7% hit to their household income over the next two years—that is unprecedented in modern times. I know that the Government like to deflect the blame entirely on to the situation in eastern Europe, which is undoubtedly playing its part, but the last time I checked, the Conservative party has been in power since 2010, and it should be a mark of deep shame for Conservative Members that real wages are lower than when they entered power.
Twelve years of wage stagnation, low growth and a failed austerity programme have left our towns and cities crying out for investment and support. Communities are now on the brink and poverty is rife, while those on moderate incomes also face money anxieties that they may never have experienced before. People who do all the hours God sends—the nurse, the self-employed worker at a start-up, the pub owner, the call centre worker—now all face a bleak future because of the choices this Government have made during their time in office.
The Conservative party should have its own feature on the BBC show “Rogue Traders”. Twelve years and six Chancellors ago by my count, the former Chancellor promised to fix the roof when the sun was shining. Well, they did not fix the roof when the sun was shining, nor when it was raining. Now, the hailstones are raining down and millions of people have awoken to the con. The British people have been ripped off and left with a bill for unfinished work—a botched job—and still the company is unwilling to take any responsibility. It does not matter whether it was David the joiner, Theresa the labourer, Boris the apprentice or Liz the plasterer; the whole company is responsible, and the sooner they are replaced with an organisation that can do the job, the better. In all seriousness, the Conservative party cannot pride itself on economic competency when it represents, in every facet, the precise opposite.
The human cost is grave. The people I represent cannot endure more of the same. Last week’s autumn statement reaffirmed more of the same at a time when our people deserve better.
This has been a tough autumn statement—tougher than many of us would have liked—but it has protected the most vulnerable through the uprating of benefits; continued the welcome reforms needed, such as on business rates to support our high streets; shored up financial stability and sustainability; renewed the focus on growth, including through business capital investment; honoured the triple lock for pensioners; and protected those public services that matter most, such as our NHS and schools, all while dealing with the global economic challenges caused by the pandemic and Putin’s illegal invasion of Ukraine.
The triple lock is incredibly welcome. Pensioners need that support now, but it will be important to look at how it can be sustained and what it could mean for the future retirement age. We will also have to do more for working and younger generations. It is particularly welcome that we are increasing the national living wage by the largest amount ever. Younger people are crying out for the chance to own their own home, to earn a good wage and to get into a high-skilled job, particularly people in Stoke-on-Trent, and these issues should be the main focus of our levelling-up agenda.
We have been incredibly grateful in Stoke-on-Trent for the support from the Government, particularly the £56 million from the levelling-up fund, which is more than any other part of the country and is going into developing brownfield sites across Stoke-on-Trent that have been derelict for many decades in many cases, such as the Tams factory in Longton in my constituency, which will be developed and getting under way shortly. That money is also going into extra care facilities for elderly people, which are very much needed in the local area and will make a huge difference to that former pottery factory.
In particular, we need to unlock the ability to build more homes. There are plenty of brownfield sites in Stoke-on-Trent where they can be built alongside those cutting-edge technologies and advanced manufacturing jobs that we want to grow further, but we need Government support to push on with the planning reforms and investment in mitigating the costs of decontaminating those brownfield sites, including through an investment zone for Stoke-on-Trent. That could focus on ceramics or the advanced manufacturing industries, which we obviously excel at in Stoke-on-Trent. It could also focus on digital and games design, which has a growing cluster in north Staffordshire, and particularly in Stoke-on-Trent.
We have excellent universities in Keele University and Staffordshire University, which has the largest number of gaming students in the country. There is an excellent opportunity to develop that further, and we are installing gigabit broadband across Stoke-on-Trent. There is huge potential and huge opportunity to grow these fast-growing sectors. It is worth mentioning that the growth in gaming was more than all other media put together in the last year, which is phenomenal. We need to take more advantage of those sectors and that sort of economic growth across the UK.
We are incredibly proud in Stoke-on-Trent of making things, and our creative expertise in manufacturing ceramics is world-renowned. Indeed, the Potteries is one of the world’s first and leading industrial clusters and is ideal for refocused investment zones. Sadly, under the previous Labour Government, huge world-famous brands in the Potteries were swept aside by the credit bust and boom. Since 2010, the industry has revived significantly, and sector gross value added has doubled in real terms. The permanent investment allowance of £1 million is certainly incredibly welcome.
Ceramics, however, is a heavily energy-intensive industry, and necessarily so to fire products at extreme heat. That has made the industry one of the most vulnerable to the huge swings in world energy prices. It is worth remembering that our domestic ceramics industry has one of the lowest carbon footprints of anywhere in the world. If we lose it, production and our environmental responsibilities will be offshored, shutting down a key national industry. Therefore, for both economic and environmental reasons, I urge the Treasury to engage with the ceramics industry, which is 97% made up of SMEs and therefore, too often, falls through the gaps of support for wider industries.
Not a single British Ceramic Confederation member benefited from the energy security strategy, which focused only on the largest energy-intensive users. The industry is very willing to embrace and move towards net zero, but far more needs to be done to incentivise and support these sectors to invest in new energy-efficient technologies, particularly through R&D. There is a huge opportunity to focus the growth we are seeing in R&D on those energy-intensive sectors where it will be most difficult to achieve the transition towards net zero. We should be focusing R&D on those sectors and helping them to decarbonise. The review of the energy bill relief scheme needs to support and give energy-intensive sectors certainty through the short-term supply-side problems that have been caused by the covid legacy and Putin’s terrible, illegal war on Ukraine.
The further extension of Government support to help households with the cost of living and energy cost increases is particularly welcome. We need to work for greater energy independence and alternative sources of energy to address our energy security. As well as Sizewell, that must include an ongoing commitment to small modular reactors, and the consortium led by Rolls-Royce is an exciting development that could create 40,000 jobs and secure many more in the supply chain, including in Stoke-on-Trent at Goodwin International. There is much we can do over the medium term to cut energy bills without the necessary and welcome direct payments currently being made by the Government.
In conclusion, because of the global challenges we have faced, with covid lockdowns and Putin’s illegal war on Ukraine, we are far from where we would want to be, economically. The Government have taken steps to ensure that we are on a financially sustainable path towards growth, and I welcome the stability that financial consolidation has brought to markets, but we now must double down on unleashing the growth we need with planning reforms, deregulation, and investment and licensing in energy supply. The autumn statement takes a good number of steps forward, and I hope we will see many more in the weeks and months ahead.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, and apologies; you are stuck with me. This is our third Government and our fourth Chancellor this year, and we do not get our Advent calendars until next week. Dr Fox, who is no longer in his place, said that Opposition Members failed to recognise the issues and potentially gave Putin a foot in the door by criticising what the Government announced last week. I am an Opposition MP. It is my job to oppose the Government where I do not agree with them—that is a fundamental part of my job. I do not think anybody can say that Members across the House have not been unanimous in our support for Ukraine. These global events have been developing over the last three years, so why is there such a difference between this autumn statement and the plan for growth eight weeks ago?
Chris Grayling and the hon. Members for Bolsover (Mark Fletcher) and for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Aaron Bell) talked about mistakes being made, and that is the fundamental point. This is about trust, and the Government have damaged not only the trust of the public—Laura Farris said that the Conservatives were trusted more than any other party; she is clearly looking at different polling from me—but the trust of the markets, because we saw a direct impact on people’s mortgages and the repayments of Government debt as a result of the plan for growth eight weeks ago.
I would like to touch on a few parts of the statement that my constituents are particularly interested in. The first is the support for off-grid households, which several Members have mentioned. A number of my constituents in North East Fife are off-grid. They had the miserly support of £100. That has now been increased to £200, but it barely touches the sides. We know that off-grid households are facing an average increase of over £1,000 in heating costs, as the cost of oil has almost doubled in the past two months, and some of my small communities who work collectively as a group with brokers to buy oil in bulk are really seeing the impact.
Practically, it is still not clear how the Government are planning to make that payment to households. The relevant gov.uk webpage, which has not been updated since last week’s statement, tells off-grid households that they will receive the payment either through their electricity bill, which many of those households will not have, or via a fund that is yet to be designed.
When we think about the poverty premium for those living in rural communities, from the increased cost of transport to having to go to shops where people pay a premium, as opposed to being able to access some of the bigger discounting shops, we realise that is a real hardship for families who are struggling to make ends meet. I hope that the Minister will be able to set out what form the fund will take, how it will reach my constituents who need it, and when it will become operational. I also hope for more detail on how we can ensure that residents in park homes and with other energy provision, such as district heating schemes, will receive support and how we can ensure that that support is being passed on by anybody involved in those schemes.
I am sure that the Minister will be aware that during last week’s statement I raised the support that businesses receive for energy, and I wrote to the Chancellor yesterday. Businesses in my constituency are very concerned about the current economic outlook. The purpose of my letter was to say that they are keen to engage directly with the ongoing review of the energy relief scheme. They want to demonstrate the vitalness of their operations and what they are already doing to reduce their energy costs, because they are struggling to see how they can reduce their costs. Given that it was said last week that we expect the review to set a high bar for support, some of them are beginning to look at their future operating plans.
From the Chancellor’s response to me last week, I believe that the review will be done before Christmas, but it is vital for businesses to have that certainty. At this point, we simply do not know which businesses in our communities will have support from April, how much it will be and what form it will take. That will be make or break for some.
Meanwhile, the Government have imposed stealth taxes that will take money out of the pockets of businesses. The decision to freeze the registration threshold for VAT means that businesses will have to charge their customers more or potentially reduce their already small profit margins. I am proud of the number of small businesses that operate across North East Fife, from Leven to Newport and from St Andrews to Cupar. Despite the current outlook, the diversity is increasing, which is great and those entrepreneurs are to be celebrated, but I am concerned that hurting the high street hurts commerce, growth, customers and communities.
I hope that the Minister will therefore clarify what consultation or engagement there will be with businesses on energy, particularly those in critical industries such as food production and social care, and that the Minister will reassure them that a base level of support will remain in place to prevent businesses failing. I urge the Minister to rethink imposing VAT on smaller businesses that need help, not harm, over the coming difficult years; businesses that do not exist cannot grow.
My constituents really care about our place in the world. We have a world-leading university in the University of St Andrews, which was previously involved in international development funding and project delivery. There is no doubt, however, that the 0.7% official development assistance target cut has had an impact on that. Indeed, it was confirmed to me yesterday that those projects are no longer running.
The Chancellor spoke about this being an autumn statement with compassion, but I am concerned that 34.5 million HIV/AIDS, TB and malaria transmissions may become more likely as a result of those cuts. Where is the compassion in taking support away from women and girls around the world who are disproportionately affected by those diseases? We rightly focus on the conflict in Ukraine, but I hope to join students at St Andrews this Sunday as part of the rallies marking the march for freedom for Afghan women and girls. An ask of that campaign is to maintain the development budget for Afghanistan, particularly for women and girls. That is the least we can do.
The Foreign Secretary’s written statement today confirms that the 0.7% test that the Government set is not being met and will not be reinstated, but I welcome the pause on ODA spending being lifted, which is a positive step. If part of the reason we are here is difficult global issues, it is even more important that our place in the world is clear.
I am pleased that the Government made up their mind and did the right thing by uprating benefits and the state pension, which is a huge relief to many. It was clear in the recent Opposition day debate that there was support for the triple lock on both sides of the House. I reiterate what I said then: for all generations, the security of a sustainable state pension is very important. Despite that, pensioners have not yet caught up, given that the triple lock was dropped last year.
On benefits, we know how far behind people on benefits are, because we know that the removal of the £20 uplift for universal credit and the failure ever to uprate legacy benefits have had a devastating impact.
Finally, I hope that Members across the House are aware that I have a private Member’s Bill on carer’s leave. I am working closely with Carers UK on that, and I just want to bring to the Minister’s attention a letter sent last week by Carers UK, along with organisations supporting carers and people with disabilities from around the country. They ask for a top-up payment to be made to unpaid carers who are entitled to carer’s allowance without receiving universal credit. They ask that the Government raise the earnings limit for carer’s allowance to £199.50 per week, to allow people to work more—we have all talked about people who are economically inactive, and surely we want to put in place measures that will help people to work more. They also ask for a review to be carried out of all relevant benefits, to ensure that unpaid carers do not fall into poverty as a result of their role. Indeed, we will all know of many cases where that is already the case.
I have made this plea before. Almost all of us will either give or receive unpaid care at some point in our lives. That experience is unique to each person, but it is also universal. The simple step of allowing carers to work more would not even be adding to the Government’s budget, so I really do hope that the Treasury will consider those reforms.
May I reassure Wendy Chamberlain that it is an absolute pleasure not just to have heard her, but to follow her in this Chamber and be able to talk about the autumn statement?
I have been informed that Labour’s friends in the socialist cesspit that is Twitter got very excited when the shadow Minister, Tulip Siddiq, in response to my question about whether the Opposition can promise the British people that taxes will not increase beyond where they are now on the working people of Stoke-on-Trent North, Kidsgrove and Talke, simply said that I should sit and listen. Well, I did sit and I did listen, and all I heard was taxes going up here, taxes going up there, tax more of this and tax more of that.
This was reaffirmed when I intervened on a number of great Labour Back Benchers, who I like to call friends. When asked a very simple question—whether they could make a promise in this House to the people of Bradford East and Stoke-on-Trent North, Kidsgrove and Talke, for example, that taxes will not increase—all I was told was to go home and answer some questions about the Conservatives’ record in the great city of Stoke-on-Trent, as well as the great town of Kidsgrove and neighbouring Talke.
In my hon. Friend’s assessment, because we cannot get that assurance —I hope Mr McFadden is listening—what does he estimate Labour’s tax bombshell to be for our constituents in the west midlands, because it sounds as if there is definitely one incoming?
My hon. Friend, who is a fine and doughty champion for the people of Tipton and the surrounding area, makes a great point. I know that the shadow Minister, Mr McFadden, is a good man who likes to answer questions, and always with a straight bat. So I look forward to hearing him guarantee that, under a Labour Government, no taxes will go up on anyone in, for example, the 20p income tax bracket. If he can give such an assurance, I will probably have to pack my bags as a Member of Parliament and accept reality, but I am not so sure I will get that straight answer on this particular question.
I was told very clearly that I should go and get answers to questions. Well, I have come and marked my own homework, but I think it is important to give answers to those hon. Members, because they did ask for them. It is under this Conservative Government, under a Conservative-led Stoke-on-Trent City Council, and under a Conservative-led Newcastle-under-Lyme Borough Council—Conservative-led for the first time—that we have seen £56 million from the levelling-up fund, which is the largest levelling-up fund grant given to any single area. That means the great town of Tunstall is about to get £3.5 million to refurbish and bring new life to Tunstall library and baths. There is also the fantastic scheme by Stoke-on-Trent railway station—a gateway to our community—for the Goods Yard site, which is going to provide offices, homes, and restaurant and retail experiences to bring in new revenue to our area.
There is the £17.6 million Kidsgrove town deal, the first of its kind in an area such as Kidsgrove, which has seen Kidsgrove sports centre not just refurbished, but reopened. It has reopened after, sadly, the Labour party, which ran Newcastle-under-Lyme Borough Council at the time, chose to close it, because when the council was offered the opportunity for a single £1 coin to save it, it rejected that offer. I will make a donation of that pound coin to the Labour party, so that if it ever finds itself in that situation again, it can cough up—I am happy to register that among my donations in kind.
The £31.7 million “bus back better” investment has meant that not only are we improving bus services and introducing a new flat fare of £3.50 a day; we are also improving our road infrastructure. There are 500 brand new Home Office jobs. The site of Chatterley Valley West will unlock up to 1,700 jobs, as part of the new advanced ceramics campus—the list goes on.
Tomorrow, the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill will mean that rogue and absent landlords who plague our high streets and our heritage will get a fine that has increased from £1,000 to an unlimited amount for the first offence, and from £100 a day to £500 a day for the second offence. While the Labour party and my Labour opponents were standing outside buildings two days before polling day with placards to protest, I was busy looking at the law, coming up with a solution, presenting it to the House, and getting the Government on board. Tomorrow we will vote the Bill through before it goes to the other place to complete its journey. That is what Conservatism is all about in Stoke-on-Trent North, Kidsgrove and Talke.
Let me tell the House what people know about the Labour party locally. They know that when Labour is in charge, ceramics manufacturers are closed and move overseas. They see wages stagnate or go down, unlike under the Conservatives, when people saw an 11.7% wage increase between 2015 and 2018. They saw jobs disappear, until a Conservative-led city council managed to bring 9,000 jobs to our city since 2015, 2,000 of which are linked to the Ceramic Valley enterprise zone. When the Labour party was in charge it had £60 million in Stoke-on-Trent City Council coffers. It could have spent that on the mother town, Burslem, and invested in the Queen’s Theatre, the Wedgwood Institute and Burslem indoor market, revitalising that vital, historic town. What did it do? The money got festered away on new council offices. Rather than worrying about the people of the town, Labour councillors were worried about whether their office had enough square footage to fit their egos. Sadly, they chose to go with that option instead.
It is a crying shame that for 70 years the Labour party abandoned the great people of Stoke-on-Trent, Kidsgrove and Talke. It is a great shame that it took the Conservative party to come in for Labour Members even to realise where Stoke-on-Trent was, and to no longer rely on Google maps or a pre-paid taxi to find their way there. While they visit our city and promise this and that, the people of Stoke-on-Trent, Kidsgrove and Talke know—they have seen the evidence in the past, and the counter-evidence of Conservatism since then.
We are talking about the autumn statement, Madam Deputy Speaker, so it is important that I refer to that in this important debate. It is exceptionally important to understand that we have had a global pandemic—a once-in-100-year event that I hope that my children and grandchildren never have to experience in their lifetime. That was followed by the impact of locking down the entire global economy, meaning that when demand increases supply chains cannot keep up with that demand. That is understandable, because people were being asked to stay at home, protect lives and save the NHS from being overrun.
Those were the facts of the day, and just as we were learning to come to terms with them, Vladimir Putin chose to have an illegal and immoral war against the great people of Ukraine—Slava Ukraini, Madam Deputy Speaker. Unfortunately, he then used against anyone who stood up to him gas, and other forms of energy, as a weapon to try to cripple our resilience. Well, guess what? We will get through this, because we as a country are brilliant. We did it in world war one, we did it in world war two, we did it with the Falklands, we did it with Iraq and Afghanistan, and we will certainly do it again by backing the people of Ukraine. We will make sure that we have those people’s backs, because we believe in freedom, not oppression. It is a shame that when we have these discussions the Labour party tries to pretend that those things never happened. The fact is that they have happened, and they have all come at once. I hope that no one will ever have to live through such times again.
What have the Government done? They have invested £12 billion extra in support for the most vulnerable households in our community. That is on top of the £37 billion already announced, and the energy price cap guarantee. That has made a humungous difference to one ceramics manufacturer in Stoke-on-Trent North, which has told me that the price cap will save it £4 million over the winter months. Without that £4 million it could have meant jobs going or the factory having to shut permanently, because it simply would not have been affordable. This Government have given it that support.
The support we have given to individuals, including the price cap and the money given, means that the average Stokie will get around £2,000 of support over the next two years. In fact, those on means-tested benefits will get around £4,000 of direct support over the next two years for them and their household, because this is a compassionate Conservative Government, and I am proud to be a part of it.
There are other important measures. The increase in the national living wage is fantastic. Where Stoke-on-Trent has a lot of people earning the national living wage, that increase will see those in full-time work £1,600 a year better off. That is a huge amount of money. We have also got the £12,500 personal tax-free allowance and the increase in the national insurance threshold to match that, which means that some Stokies are not paying any tax whatsoever. This is a good day for the people of Stoke-on-Trent. The triple lock being protected is also fantastic.
It has not been mentioned much, but in Stoke-on-Trent North, Kidsgrove and Talke we were very happy to see the freeze in foreign aid take place. We certainly believe that charity begins at home and, when we are going through hard times, people in this country should have their taxes spent on them and be protected first. I hope that one day the Government will scrap the ridiculous arbitrary target of 0.7%, which was a virtue-signalling idea brought in under a previous Conservative Government. I certainly was not a fan of it from the outside and I am proud to stand here and say that we need to move away from it. We should have flexibility to choose what we invest in, when we invest in it and how much we choose to invest each year, depending on our circumstances here at home. I do hope that Labour Members get very angry that I said that, because, if they go around and put that all over social media, that will only help me to get more votes in Stoke-on-Trent North, Kidsgrove and Talke. They might want to think carefully before trying to campaign against me on that one.
Let us also talk about the absolutely fantastic £4.4 billion on schools. That is great news, seeing what pressures were on schools. But two things in that are important for the Government. First, I am worried that, as Schools Week reported, there may be clawback on the national tutoring programme underspend, which is estimated to be between £100 million and £150 million. I hope that the Treasury keeps its fingers off that and instead lets the Department for Education reinvest it into the third year of the national tutoring programme so that it can increase the grant available to schools and we can hit that figure of 6 million opportunities for young people.
Secondly, the £2.5 billion of pupil premium money must be spent in the right way. Sadly, we are not tracking how it is being invested in our schools. I am proud to support Magic Breakfast schemes such as at Q3 Academy Langley in Sandwell and those in Stoke-on-Trent North, because those schemes are making sure that kids get a breakfast, which we know via the Education Endowment Foundation has a positive impact on behaviour, attendance and academic attainment, which is so vital. I do not believe in universality for these schemes—they should be targeted—and the Government must be committed to redoing the deal with Magic Breakfast and expanding it to another 10,000 schools. I look forward to working with MPs across the House on that.
I am concerned that, when we talk about taxing private schools, we are talking about taxing aspiration. Many individuals in my constituency who work in factories or even as cleaners want to send their kids to the best school because they want them to have the best start. If we followed Labour’s plan, that would mean more children entering the state school system and putting more financial pressure on the Department for Education and its budgets. Actually, that would not even bring in the revenue year on year that Labour predicts, because it assumes that numbers will remain the same. It is simply not correct to claim that £1.7 billion a year will exist, as numbers will leave the private school sector and come into the state school sector. Suddenly, we may need to find hundreds of thousands of school places that simply do not exist, burdening classrooms that are already on the brink.
We also have the health and social care increase of £7.7 billion. That is super-important and very good, but, as I have said, the “No Time To Wait” campaign, led by myself and James Starkie—it is a cross-party campaign, which I am proud that Members of the Labour party and the Liberal Democrats support—has a pilot ready to go with the Royal College of Nursing looking at how we can get mental health nurses into GP surgeries. I hope that the Government will back it. I look forward to raising that at Prime Minister’s questions tomorrow.
Finally—I promise that this is finally, Madam Deputy Speaker—I turn to fuel duty. I thank the Chancellor for coming out quickly and making it clear that, despite what was in the OBR forecasts, the 5p cut and the freeze to fuel duty will remain in place, as was agreed, until March 2023. I am proud to be The Sun and FairFuelUK’s “keep it down” champion here in Parliament. I will make one thing clear to the Government: I will ensure that, as a bare minimum, that 5p cut stays in place. If we want to ensure that motorists, van drivers and lorry drivers—the 37 million people on the roads day in, day out—are on our side, we had better make sure that we have their backs. We know that cutting fuel duty cuts inflation because it means that distribution costs are cheaper, and 98% of our goods are driven on the roads to the shops. I hope that the Government will reaffirm their commitment.
Anyone who looks at the autumn statement and sees it for what it is understands that poverty will increase as a direct result. The decision to increase benefits by 10.1% next year does not match the rate of inflation, which is 11.1% in the most recent monthly data. Millions of the poorest in our country will still face a fall in spending power as inflation soars. This follows years of cuts to the real value of benefits that affect the lives of 9 million households; and, particularly for some Government Members and members of the press who like to demonise people on benefits, I point out that 7 million of those households include someone who is in work. The situation is even worse than the headline inflation data suggest. The Office for National Statistics estimates that consumer price inflation is actually higher for lower income groups—11.9% for those in the second income decile, and a truly shocking 12.5% for those in the very lowest. So as a result of the decisions on benefits, the very poorest will get even poorer.
The picture is similar for the minimum wage, which Conservatives continue to falsely claim is the national living wage. This was not, as the Chancellor claimed, a generous offer. A rise of 9.7% is also below inflation and way below the inflation rate for the poorest. The Real Living Wage Foundation says that a living wage worthy of the name would be £10.90 across the country, and in London it would need to be £11.95 per hour to take account of the higher costs of living in the capital. So the announcement in the autumn statement was in fact a real-terms cut that leaves the lowest paid workers worse off and still struggling for a wage they can actually live on.
Much of the excess—not all—relates to the cost of housing, either rent or mortgage. We all know very well the damage this Government have already caused in terms of mortgage costs, but we have yet to hear Ministers apologise for their actions during this debacle, which is their responsibility and theirs alone. The Government seem to treat people like my constituents in Streatham as though they are all junior investment bankers or recently hired City lawyers, who are taking their first steps on the housing ladder that leads to a lovely town house worth millions somewhere in central London—but they are not. They are young people living together in cramped accommodation because they cannot afford to pay rents, or families who have just seen their mortgage interest payments shoot up because of the actions of this Government; or they are simply forced to live at home, unable to pay for a place of their own.
In fact, this Government’s whole propaganda campaign on levelling up never included the poorest in London. How can there be levelling up when the poorest are made even poorer by this statement and when the cost of living is being made unbearable by the direct actions of this Government? We should not be surprised by this con, because we know what the Prime Minister thinks about the reality of levelling up. He was caught on camera boasting that he had redirected funding from deprived urban areas to well-to-do areas.
Most notably, the statement did not once mention the disastrous impact of Brexit. The SNP spokesman, Drew Hendry, said that no one wanted to talk about Brexit, but I do. I remain proud of my decision to vote against the implementation agreement—not a deal. Contrary to what was said repeatedly in this House, no deal was put before us in December 2020. We, the representatives of the people of this country, were not given a say in the details of the deal, and we were given no meaningful vote on it. Instead, we were presented with a shoddy implementation agreement at the eleventh hour, strong-armed again into being for or against, and threatened with crashing out of the EU without a deal.
What do we have to show for Brexit? Spiralling inflation, travel chaos, labour shortages, crops rotting in the fields, a significant reduction to British exports, a loss of work and opportunities due to visa restrictions, food prices hiked up in our supermarkets, and the sharpest fall in living standards on record—and that is not even all of it. Whether people voted to leave or whether, like most of the people in my constituency, they voted to remain, nobody voted for this. We can no longer hide behind the economic effects of the pandemic when all the other G7 countries have bounced back and ours is the only country with a smaller economy now and is set to have the lowest growth in the G20 bar Russia. Yet the Chancellor was arrogant enough to come to the House and pretend that Brexit had nothing to do with the situation we find ourselves in.
If the people of this country are the most important thing in this country, then there is no patriotism and certainly no freedom in the inept economic policies the Government have inflicted on all of us. Brexit has been a complete and utter disaster, and if the Government do not address it there will be a reckoning. In the meantime, the average person in this country is left to pay the price.
The hon. Lady is giving a very passionate defence of why she believes Brexit to be a disaster. Obviously, I think differently. If Labour was in Government, would she be giving the same speech to her Front Bench?
I believe the hon. Member does not know me very well. I would be giving exactly the same speech.
I could say much more about the reinforcement of entrenched discrimination that the Government have carried out and which the statement exacerbates, but in conclusion, the vulnerable have not been protected by the Government and the statement has made them even worse off.
It is a pleasure to follow Bell Ribeiro-Addy, even though on this occasion I do not agree with anything she said. But it was a very passionate speech.
This is exactly the budget we needed to deal with the global economic turmoil we are facing. It was mature, balanced, considered and, above all, deeply compassionate. As the Chancellor said himself, to be British is to be compassionate and this is a compassionate Conservative Government. I have sat here amazed to hear all the comments from those on the Opposition Benches telling us we have failed to make the right choices, telling us we have been uncompassionate and telling us that this budget is full of an unwavering commitment to look after people at the top. I do not know where you have been. Can I just remind you, this is the budget—[Interruption.]
I apologise, Madam Deputy Speaker.
I remind Opposition Members that this budget is bringing in the largest ever increase to the national living wage—as we have heard, £1,600 on average for millions and millions of workers. These are not people at the top of the tree.
My hon. Friend is making a very passionate speech. On the living wage, the Labour party will not commit to not raising taxes on low-end workers. How much would Labour’s tax bombshell take from those on the living wage? Clearly, we have got one incoming; we can see it over there. What is her estimate, if Labour does raise taxes on people at the lower end of the tax spectrum?
I very much hope we are not going to see tax rises. On the Government Benches, we are absolutely committed to protecting hard-working people, but at the moment we have heard no clarity—my hon. Friend is absolutely right—from the Opposition. There has to be a doubt that under their policy, taxes will go up on hard-working people.
The second point is that we have heard a lot about benefits not going up in line with inflation—another extraordinary comment. I remind Opposition Members that the OBR forecast that UK inflation will be 9.1% this year, going down to 7.4% next year. So, on the contrary, rather than our uprating of benefits not being enough, our uprating of benefits to inflation at over 10% is generous. Again, that is helping the most vulnerable.
Thirdly, we are keeping energy bills down for every single household across the country. Fourthly, on top of that, we are offering direct support for 8 million low-income households to the tune of £900 per household. Then, of course, we come to the triple lock. When the Conservatives came into coalition Government in 2010, pensioner poverty was a real issue. It was one of the legacies we were left to sort out. Since then, over the last 12 years, which we are harangued about regularly, we have protected pensioners. We brought in the triple lock and we have now restored it—the biggest ever cash rise for every single recipient of state pension ever next April. But more than that, for the poorest pensioners, pension credit will go up and be linked to inflation. Again, there will be £1,470 for a pensioner couple and another £960 for a single pensioner. That is before we get to more funding for the NHS and schools. People would think that we were not funding our NHS at all when, in fact, we are increasing the spending on the NHS to £166 billion, the highest amount ever.
My hon. Friend is making a fantastic speech about the extra £4.4 billion going into schools over the next two years, but she should add that the Department for Education secured a successful spending review 2021, which included an additional £7 billion over the spending review period. We have more than £10 billion extra going into education, and we have been congratulated on that by many in the sector and by the Institute for Fiscal Studies, for example.
My hon. Friend makes a very good point. I am extremely grateful to the Chancellor for listening to all those in the sector, and my hon. Friend is a fantastic advocate for schools in his constituency.
My question is this: if we have failed to make the right choices, which of all those compassionate choices do Opposition Members not like? What would their response have been if we had not made them? I think we all know: there would have been absolute outrage and we would have been roundly accused of being uncompassionate. I will take no lectures from Opposition Members about this not being a compassionate statement.
At the heart of the autumn statement is a commitment to economic stability, tackling inflation and growth. There are many paths to prosperity, but they all begin with economic stability. Without economic stability, Southend’s brilliant life sciences sector, with our globally leading companies such as Olympus KeyMed and ESSLAB, cannot innovate and expand. Without economic stability, Southend’s fantastic exporters such as Ipeco and Borough plating cannot conquer new markets. Without economic stability, Southend’s wonderful entrepreneurs, such as Tapp’d Cocktails and Adventure Island, cannot flourish. And without economic stability, Southend’s world-famous, 1,000-year-old cockle industry, based in Old Leigh, cannot invest in new plant and equipment. Economic stability is a down-payment on creating lasting economic growth, which we need if we are going to get the tax take to tackle inequality, improve our public services and provide opportunities for everyone in our society.
If we are going to drive up future economic growth and productivity, we must ensure that the UK economy is the most innovative in the world. The Chancellor was right to point out that in Britain we have a national genius for innovation, but we must invest in and encourage it. That is why I particularly welcome the Chancellor’s commitment to investing in research and development. The increase of more than a third is the largest in R&D spending ever. We know that every pound invested in R&D returns 25% every year forever, and that for every pound spent by Government on research and development, private sector R&D output rises by 20p a year in perpetuity. In other words, the more we invest in R&D, the more we create the high-paid, high-skilled jobs of the future.
If anyone is in any doubt about the importance of research and development in this country, they can consider covid. It is because 25% of the world’s top 100 prescription medicines were discovered and developed in the UK that those companies were able to use their expertise to create our world-beating coronavirus vaccine, assisted—I am proud to say—by using products developed in Southend West by Olympus KeyMed. The increase in research and development spending will allow our companies to develop new, transformative ideas, to innovate and to flourish. I would welcome a meeting with the Chancellor to explore how Southend West’s businesses can benefit from the new spending.
As well as being a fantastic example of a British city that has world-class innovation and is home to 3,700 businesses, Southend has an inspirational University of Essex campus. As the Chancellor has said, we must leverage the opportunities that Brexit has offered and build on our strengths; Southend is the perfect location for one of the new cluster-style investment zones based around universities. We are situated at the gateway to the Thames, an area with huge potential for economic development. It has the potential to double its economy and create 1,300 new jobs over the next 25 years. The new city of Southend is ideally placed to be a world-leading life sciences hub, with businesses and the University of Essex working together.
I welcome the Chancellor’s ongoing commitment to levelling up the country. I particularly welcome his commitment that funds will be forthcoming for the levelling-up projects that have been bid for, because in Southend we are set to benefit from £20 million of levelling-up money, a large portion of which is going towards upgrading the port of Old Leigh in my constituency. That will help our cockle industry, which is one of the oldest and already one of the greenest in the world, but we want to go further.
We are coming to the end of a 30-year licensing cycle, so it is now time to plan for the next 1,000 years of Leigh’s cockle industry. We need a new state-of-the-art processing centre so that our cockles do not need to be taken all over the place. Cockles landed in Old Leigh need to be processed in Old Leigh. I welcome the Chancellor’s commitment on LUF2 money. May I put in an early bid for levelling-up funds to come to Old Leigh and finish the job by creating a clean, green industry fit for the next 1,000 years of shellfish fishing?
Levelling up is not just about businesses, but about our public services. I welcome the Chancellor’s commitment to increase the core schools budget by £2.3 billion in each of the next two years, which will benefit all 29 of Southend West’s wonderful schools. I also welcome the £3.3 billion of extra funding for our NHS in both of the next two years, which raises our NHS spending to the highest amount ever. It cannot be said that the NHS is not being looked after or that it is not safe on our watch; it plainly is, although of course there are stresses. Our doctors and nurses in Southend are doing an absolutely wonderful job and are innovating because of the pressure on A&E.
We now have the new ambulance handover unit that I and other south Essex MPs have campaigned so hard for, but I would like to press the Chancellor on one area. He has mentioned his commitment to the capital spending programme for hospitals. Ever since I was elected, as many hon. Members know, I have been pushing for the capital promised to us in 2017 to be forthcoming. Some £51 million was promised for essential renovations at Southend University Hospital. We need £7 million of enabling funding to move on to the next stage. I have been calling for that funding in every place I have managed to get into, and I do so again. I would like to meet the Chancellor at the earliest possible moment and make a plan for the delivery of that long-awaited essential funding.
I would like to finish by congratulating the Chancellor on his outstanding autumn statement, which will deliver economic stability. As the Prime Minister said in his Mais lecture earlier this year, we need an economy
“where businesses are investing more;
where people of all ages are supported to learn;
and, most importantly, where ideas and innovation constantly transform our lives.”
I believe that this autumn statement sets the UK on a course to delivering just that.
I will be relatively brief, not least because I have noticed that Ludmila Morris is in the Gallery. She recently retired after years of service as the head of the McMillan children’s nursery in my constituency, and I have invited her for tea.
It is important in this debate to reflect on what is actually happening outside this House. In the discussions so far—in the statement, in the debate yesterday and in some of the debate today—there has been little mention of wages. It is important that we understand why we are faced with the prospect of up to 1 million workers taking industrial action over the coming months. After the chaos of the last two months, the obvious aim of the Chancellor was to reassure the markets that, as he described it, the grown-ups were back in charge and that he had a plan to rebalance the budget. He especially wanted the markets to know that the Bank of England and the Government were marching in lockstep, as he put it. It is true: they are marching in lockstep, but the problem is that they now have a common agenda that combines austerity and increases in interest rates. This is pushing us ineluctably into a deepening recession.
We all hope that this will be a shallow and short-lived recession, but there are nevertheless large numbers of people out there who after 12 years of austerity just do not have the financial resilience left to avoid the hardship that this will inflict upon them. Part of that is about wages. I have listened to the various debates and heard the statistics being bandied about, but just for the record—because sometimes statistics cannot lie—wages today are lower than they were in 2007, and what is worrying me is that they are not forecast to reach 2007 levels again until 2028. That is 21 years of pay cuts.
The number of workers earning below the real living wage is expected to rise to 5.1 million next year. With inflation at 11.1%—I hope it is declining but we cannot be sure—we are experiencing the largest drop in living wages on record. Average wage rises in the private sector are 6.6%, but just 2.2% in the public sector. When the Chancellor spoke about nurses, he urged them to avoid taking industrial action, but we need to understand why they are even thinking about it. According to the TUC, nurses’ pay in real terms is £2,500 lower today than it was in 2010, so the Royal College of Nursing has asked for RPI plus 5%, which would meet inflation this year and restore some of the drop in wages that they have experienced.
I have been looking at the stats again, and what is interesting is that we think we are one of the richest nations on earth—the fifth or sixth biggest economy on the planet—but that wealth is not shared. By GDP per capita, we barely make the top 20 and we are below the average of the 19 countries in the euro and below the OECD average. As a result of that, people are suffering out there. I raised the issue of housing with the Chancellor last week. I always look at housing as the canary in the mine to judge how people are faring. When people budget, they usually prioritise keeping a roof over their head. The figures show that, last year, mortgage possession orders increased by just under 500% and landlord possession orders increased by more than 160%, which shows that people are on the edge. Unless wages increase, more will fall over that cliff edge.
The Chancellor made a great deal—we have heard it again today—about increases to NHS and school budgets, but it must surely dawn on Members that, if the wage settlements for nurses and teachers go anywhere near what they need and what they are asking for, those increases will be completely wiped out. Other departmental budgets fare even worse: they are expected to swallow inflation and wage cost increases in total.
I want the House to understand the situation people face. The energy cap is being lifted to £3,000, tax thresholds are being frozen, which will draw more people into tax, and mortgages and rents are rocketing. Many more people are asking how they will get by in this coming period. There is a growing atmosphere of frustration and, for those in in-work poverty, a growing atmosphere of absolute desperation, which is why increasing numbers of people feel they have little option but to demand a pay increase that at least matches the rate of inflation. If that means a pay offer is rejected, many of them feel they have no other option but to support industrial action. As we know, people do not take industrial action lightly.
If NHS managers, headteachers and other public service leaders try to accommodate inflation-proofed wage settlements in their existing budgets, the inevitable result will be cuts in services. Any of us who visits an A&E department anywhere in the country will see how stretched the NHS is at the moment, and how dangerous any further cuts would be. Ask any headteacher about their school’s budget, and they will say that, after 12 years of austerity—no matter what has been said today about increases—job cuts are the only remaining method to balance their budget if they are to meet pay demands.
It has been calculated that £100 billion of central Government support has been taken away from local government over the last 12 years due to central Government decisions. We now have a situation where local authorities, Tory and Labour alike, are basically saying that they are on the edge of bankruptcy and that there is no way they can accommodate increased wages to match inflation.
My simple message is that what is missing from this Budget, and has almost not been debated, is the Government’s inability or lack of willingness to inflation-proof wages in this coming period. That will almost inevitably result in escalating industrial action, which I will support because I do not know what else people can do to try to secure a pay deal that lifts some out of poverty and protects others from dropping into poverty.
The Budget also demonstrates that there seems to be a deep failure in Government to comprehend the consequences of the last 12 years. As we have heard in today’s debate, one consequence is that more and more people are on the edge and, unless there is some support, particularly on wages and benefits, they will be pushed over that edge. For the first time since the 1930s, a UN rapporteur on the state of this country is talking about destitution. So we need an alternative programme for government, which is being developed by those on the Labour Benches at least. We need a longer-term plan, rather than short-term decision making, one based on redistributive taxation that will fund our public services and address the poverty and inequality that scar our society. We need a programme for securing stable, long-term investment in our infrastructure, but also in our people, so we can mobilise our whole economy to tackle the challenges we face of poverty and inequality, and the rising challenge of climate change. I was hoping to hear that from this Budget. That has not happened. I have to agree that the only way that debate will seriously happen in the coming months is if we have a general election.
It is a pleasure to follow John McDonnell, who outlined the serious situation we all face in the economy and given the pressure on household incomes. He delivered his speech in a sombre tone that was not too dissimilar to that taken by the Chancellor last week. That is unsurprising, given that the statement was delivered against the backdrop of such high inflation and low growth, and forecasts that household disposable incomes are set to fall significantly. Given such dire economic circumstances, I was pleased that common sense prevailed and measures such as the retention of the triple lock on the state pension and the uprating of many of the benefits in line with inflation were progressed at last week’s statement. I am happy to say that they will be of great benefit and support to a high number of my constituents.
Nevertheless, I wish to outline a few of my thoughts as to why the balance between addressing the immediate inflationary pressures that everyone is facing and the longer-term productivity problems that have afflicted the economy for several years was not quite right last week. For households across Wales, last week’s statement risks offering little more than a continuation of the managed decline we have sadly come to expect. That reality was underlined by the Wales Governance Centre’s calculation that, on the present trajectory, Welsh incomes will be £10,300 lower by 2027 than they would have been had pre-financial crisis levels of growth been sustained.
If we are to have any hope of reversing that trend, the Welsh economy needs concerted investment in our underlying infrastructure: our power grid; our transport links; and digital connectivity. Many Members have spoken before about the importance of digital infrastructure and transport links, so I will not detain the House on those points, but it is worth reiterating the importance of investing in the power grid.
The Welsh Affairs Committee has been undertaking an inquiry on the potential for offshore wind generation off the coast of Pembrokeshire, in south-west Wales. We received a lot of evidence from stakeholders to show that, if that fantastic potential is to be realised and we are to progress with a cutting-edge, new industry—the manufacture, production and installation of offshore wind turbines—that is centred in south-west Wales, bringing incredibly high-wage and important careers, we need to invest in the grid to ensure that a lot of that power can be connected and fed into the UK’s grid. We need to press on and be honest with ourselves that, with the current state of play, a lot of that potential cannot be realised, it needs to be looked at again by the National Grid and, potentially, it needs further Government investment.
Likewise, the Government need to be honest on the question of our trading relationship with our nearest trading bloc. The OBR report concluded again that the UK’s trade intensity will be some 15% lower in the long term because of our new trading relationship with the EU. The UK Government can take practical steps now to help to ameliorate that economic pain by removing unnecessary trade friction, which has devastated the operations of many businesses in Ceredigion, which are finding it nigh on impossible to export goods to the EU.
I know that that is a debate for another time, but there are mutual recognition agreements that we could be exploring. If that is a step too far, I would like us to see what support there is in terms of resource and advice for small businesses in particular, many of which in my constituency are finding it very difficult to navigate the new rules. They are finding it incredibly difficult, for example, to know how to get confirmation that they are using the right goods classification code before an export or, indeed, before an import arrives at port. These are practical ways that could greatly help small businesses in places such as Ceredigion to improve a bit on their trade with the European Union. A failure to address that issue now will simply pass on the burden to future generations.
The same is true on the question of energy security. We now know that, from April 2023, energy bills will surpass the £3,000 limit. To give a sense of the impact that this increase will have, it is worth recalling that, in April this year, the Welsh Government estimated that average bills of more than £1,900 a year could push up to 45% of all households in Wales into fuel poverty, with 8% thrown into severe fuel poverty.
Given the scale of the crisis, efforts should focus on permanently reducing the impact of energy bills on households across these islands. The inefficiency of our housing stock means that households are wasting hundreds of pounds a year on energy that escapes through draughty walls, leaky windows and ceilings. That issue is particularly acute in Wales given that we have some of the oldest and least efficient housing in western Europe. The Chancellor acknowledged that issue during his statement last week, yet his answer to today’s problem is to bring forward new funding in 2025.
We are already paying the price for a lack of action in this area. The New Economics Foundation recently estimated that, if all homes in England and Wales were rated EPC C, UK Government spending on the energy price guarantee would have been around £3.5 billion less over six months and households—just as important perhaps—would save around £530 over the next year. Additional funding in home energy efficiency measures should be accelerated and would be worth every single penny.
Direct help to facilitate energy efficiency improvements now can also protect businesses from similar energy shocks in future. I encourage the UK Government to look at proposals that have been put forward by the Federation of Small Businesses, which has called on the UK Government to issue vouchers worth £5,000 for small and medium businesses to spend on qualifying energy-saving products and services.
Many of my colleagues have already touched on this topic, but I make no apologies for reiterating some of the concerns with regard to off-grid households and businesses. I plead with those on the Treasury Bench to provide greater clarity on the support for off-grid homes. The Chancellor told us last week that the support was being doubled from £100 to £200 and that the first payment was introduced to coincide with the first six months of the energy price guarantee. Given that the scheme for households who are connected to the grid will be extended, albeit at a reduced rate, from April, can off-grid homes expect a second round of the alternative fuel payment?
If I can be so bold, I would like to ask a few questions. When are we expecting these payments to be brought forward? I know that households are finding it very difficult now. We have just had a bit of a cold spell, so this is very much at the front of people’s minds. It is the same for off-grid businesses. It is unfortunate that many are starting to make very difficult decisions. Any clarity that can be given by the Government as to what sort of support they will be entitled to and when it will be brought forward could go a long way in helping them with some of their plans for the next six months.
I welcome the UK Government’s commitment to uprate many benefits in line with inflation, but I am concerned that they have been inconsistent in their approach by failing to uprate some others in line with inflation. In particular, they have failed to uprate the level of support available for rental costs via the local housing allowance, which is having a devastating impact. Wales is experiencing the second fastest growth in rental costs across Great Britain, which means that the gap between housing benefit and the cheapest rents is rising at a rapid pace. Less than 1% of private rented homes in Wales are affordable to low-income renters. I regret to have to report to the House that, in Ceredigion, it means that those in receipt of the benefit will need to earn a staggering £3,382 more per year to afford the cheapest rent.
In conclusion, will the Government bring forward much-needed support for renters in my constituency by looking again at the freeze on the local housing allowance and uprating it annually to match at least the 30th percentile of market rents? I fear that failing to move on this matter will condemn a great many people to homelessness this winter.
Any Members who have taken part in the debate should really make their way to the Chamber now for the wind-ups, which will follow Beth Winter.
It is a pleasure to follow Ben Lake, who outlined the acute problems facing Wales and who, like me, is a vociferous campaigner for better needs-based funding for Wales.
Both the Prime Minister and the Chancellor have been at pains to state their intention to deliver stability following the Tory mini-Budget that crashed the economy, but it is worth asking what kind of stability they are talking about. Stability for whom? Some 14 million people in the United Kingdom currently live in poverty, and the Chancellor has delivered an autumn statement that will force millions more into poverty, all in the name of stability.
Inaction on pay and public service funding and stealth taxation on low and middle incomes in this statement have made people’s lives more unstable, precarious and difficult. That is certainly the case for people and communities in my Cynon Valley constituency. The Welsh Finance Minister, Rebecca Evans, was clear that inflation has eroded the Welsh Government’s budget.
I listened earlier to Simon Baynes commenting on health issues in Wales, and others have also spoken about health problems. The fact of the matter is that the settlement over the spending review period is worth less in real terms in Wales than it was at the time of spending review last year and includes a £1.1 billion shortfall compared with when we were a member of the European Union.
We need to see the Welsh budget increased in line with inflation, but that has not happened. The Welsh Local Government Association is clear that cuts will have devastating consequences for communities. The leader of the WLGA, Andrew Morgan, who is also the council leader for my constituency, stated that
“instead of avoiding disaster, this Autumn Statement is headed straight for the danger.”
My constituency faces a deficit of around £47 million next year. There is nowhere else to cut. People are frightened—they are at their wits’ end.
Moving to incomes, the historic fall in real incomes is due to concrete decisions taken by the Chancellor and his predecessors. The Tories are driving down pay and, to justify it, many are making false claims of a wage-price spiral. But pay is not driving inflation; it is lagging behind. The reality is that a Tory low pay agenda has existed since 2010: pay freeze after pay freeze, devaluing and demeaning our key workers. With no dedicated announcement on public sector pay, key workers now face further real-terms reductions in pay.
My right hon. Friend John McDonnell outlined the difficult situation facing our key workers. To add to that, the Resolution Foundation has said that real wages should be around £15,000 higher based on past trends, and the TUC says that real earnings will not return to 2008 levels until 2027. I am repeating what my right hon. Friend said earlier, but it needs emphasising, because people are experiencing pay cuts—two decades of lost pay. It is those pay decisions that are driving industrial action, which is a last resort for workers. That is delivering instability and economic destruction.
The statement announced a range of new tax increases, but the impact again falls disproportionately on those least able to bear it. The TUC said that the hit from the 20% income tax threshold will earn the Treasury £6 billion a year compared with less than £1 billion from lowering the threshold for paying the top rate. As with austerity, that punishes those on low and middle incomes to fill a self-imposed and questionable “fiscal black hole.”
However, there is an alternative. Member after Member on the Government Benches have said that the Labour Members are not offering other solutions, but there are plenty of other solutions. We need the wealthiest individuals and biggest corporations to pay their fair share. The Budget introduced only meagre measures to levy funds from sources of wealth, and vast untaxed wealth is still being accumulated. There are numerous measures we could pursue, including abolishing non-dom status, equalising capital gains tax with income tax rates, and introducing a financial transactions tax, a one-off tax or even a new wealth tax. Hundreds of billions of pounds could and should be raised by taxing wealth and the rich in this country, and we should end the tax giveaway for the oil and gas giants’ fossil-fuel exploration.
Those measures would redistribute some of the wealth of the few to secure a better future for the many, while boosting growth. Putting more money in people’s pockets will increase spending in the local economy and boost growth, and that is why I will continue to back our trade unions. Investing in public services will ensure that people’s needs are met, and that is why I back our local authorities and the demands for better settlements for public services.
The autumn statement does not deal with the household cost of living crisis, the public service funding crisis or the climate crisis. It sets the wrong priorities, and all in the name of stability. Until a Budget robustly redistributes the money from the few to the many and gets the economy moving, the same problems and the instability we face will continue and worsen.
To conclude, I and many on the Labour Benches will continue to support the trade union-led campaigns to lift incomes, and I will stand shoulder to shoulder with them, with local councils and with communities for higher pay for everyone in our society and fairer taxation of the rich and powerful. Diolch yn fawr.
I am grateful for the opportunity to wind up on behalf of the Opposition. I welcome the new Minister to her place and wish her well. I also thank all right hon. and hon. Members who have contributed to the debate. We have heard many passionate speeches, appeals for different sectors—from cockles to hospitality, and from the gaming sector to many of the industrial sectors that make Britain great—and appeals for different areas. People spoke passionately about how the cost of living crisis is affecting their constituencies. We heard discussion of individual measures in the autumn statement and, of course, we have had lively debate on how we got here in the first place.
This debate, like the autumn statement itself, has covered a lot of ground. But for all the individual parts of last week’s autumn statement, in the end the Chancellor’s speech was an hour-long reckoning with the Conservatives’ 12 years in office. It was not meant to be like this. The promise was of a better tomorrow; the good times were supposed to be coming. Instead, there was a more bitter conclusion: the Government have failed. They have failed over 12 years, and the autumn statement sent the bill for that failure to the British people. With every measure, every leak and every warning of the decisions in the weeks beforehand, all the Chancellor and the Prime Minister were doing was confirming the weakness of their record and the destruction of the Conservative party’s reputation, such as it was, for sound economic management. Try as it might, when a party have been in office for 12 years, there is no one left to blame.
Let me address directly the subject that has been at the heart of today’s debate: the balance of global and national factors in all of this. Of course, the Chancellor tried desperately last week to claim it was all about global factors—a plea for the defence that was repeated yesterday by the Chief Secretary to the Treasury in his opening speech. There is no doubt that the experience of covid and the consequences of Putin’s invasion of Ukraine have been very costly for many countries. All major countries have had to borrow money to help their businesses and to support their citizens—no one is denying that—but only in Britain, which is among the largest economies of the world, and under the stewardship of this Government, have we failed to recover our pre-covid economic position.
The Governor of the Bank of England last week described the difference between our recovery from covid and that of our peers as “dramatic”. The Office for Budget Responsibility’s report—it was allowed to issue one this time—suggests that it will be another two years before we even recover our pre-covid position. It is here in Britain, under this Government, that we had a mini-Budget resulting in carnage, causing a run on the pound, the IMF to hit the panic button, emergency interventions from the Bank of England and rocketing mortgage rates for our constituents. This country was used as a giant experiment by a Prime Minister and Chancellor desperate to enact the pamphlet fantasies of their dreams.
This month’s crop of Ministers—in today’s Tory party, everyone gets to be famous for 15 minutes—would like to tell us that it was all a bad dream and it fell from the sky, and they want to bury it under 10 feet of concrete, but it was a Conservative mini-Budget delivered by Conservative Ministers, voted in by Conservative party members and cheered on by Conservative MPs.
I have some of the quotes. Anthony Browne said:
“I strongly welcome this radical and generous package of measures”.—[Official Report,
Richard Drax said:
“How refreshing it is to hear some Conservative policies at last.”—[Official Report,
Greg Smith said:
“I warmly welcome…the return to the low-tax free market principles that we on the Conservative Benches know will lead to growth and prosperity for everybody in our country.”—[Official Report,
Ben Bradley declared how “refreshing” it all was and said to us, “I am excited.” All of this was days before the whole thing drove the UK economy off a cliff.
The right hon. Gentleman is having great fun, and the whole House is in raptures—please try to find my quotes in that pile; I do not think there are any. Not so long ago the Labour party was slagging us off for too many tax rises. We tried tax cuts and they did not work, and now he seems to be in the strange position of arguing with one hand and then with the other. What is the Labour party’s position when it comes to taxation?
I will tell the hon. Member one thing about taxation: the burden is much higher under this Government than it was under the Government in which I served as a Minister. That mini-Budget was a mistake for which the country and the public will be paying for a long time. In every one of the constituencies of Government Members, the two-year and five-year rates on mortgage renewals are still higher today than they were before that mini-Budget. Their constituents are still paying the price for their economic irresponsibility. Apart from the economic effects, it also caused damage to the international standing of our country. We became a poster child for economic mismanagement—a point that the Prime Minister himself admitted at last week’s G20 summit in Bali.
But the failure is not just over 12 weeks; it is year on year. The UK economy’s growth has been consistently weaker than the OECD average, and that difference is now worth £10,000 per year for every household. We do have global pressures—no one denies them—but think how much stronger people would feel in facing today’s pressures if incomes had been that much higher. That is the ghost of growth past, and the forecast for the ghost of growth future is for the UK to be at the bottom of the OECD growth league, with the possible exception of Russia, for the next two years.
All of this is felt in people’s pockets. Income is set to decline by 7% in real terms over the next two years. That is a £1,700 per household reduction in spending power. Things people cannot buy, bills they cannot pay, places they cannot go, coping with worries they never previously had to think about—all of this is the price of lower incomes, and those lower incomes are the result of 12 years of anaemic economic growth. This is the Conservative party’s mess, and the British people are being asked to pay the bill.
The Chief Secretary to the Treasury quoted Ronald Reagan in his opening speech yesterday, but there is another Reagan quote that should haunt the Government right now. He asked, “Are you better off than you were before?” and the answer is no. The Chancellor announced a series of tax rises, asking the British people to pay more, and he did so at a time when inflation is already making it harder to pay the bills.
What will the Government do to recover as much as possible of the estimated £6.7 billion lost to fraud and waste in the covid loan schemes? Why is the unit set up to chase that money, announced with great fanfare by the current Prime Minister and established in HMRC, being closed down? The Government’s own former fraud Minister described the controls as being like a “Dad’s Army operation” and said it was a “happy” time to be a crook, and still the Government are asking people to pay more. Should as much of that money as possible not be recovered before asking our constituents to pay more? What of the figure in the OBR report showing that the administration of the energy company Bulb will now cost the taxpayer £6.5 billion? Why is that cost to the public so huge? Is the Prime Minister really the hedge fund manager who forgot to hedge? Once again, the British people are being asked to pay the price.
The point of all this, according to the Prime Minister and the Chancellor, is to restore financial stability, but the UK only needs to restore its financial stability because the Conservative party destroyed that financial stability. If that is all the Conservatives have to offer, then all they have to offer is managing decline. The weakness of the Prime Minister in trying to build a platform for growth was also laid bare in the autumn statement. They persist in a ban on onshore wind when the country urgently needs a transition to cleaner power in the interests of both our energy security and lower bills for consumers. They fight plans to build more houses —indeed, they might have to pull their own legislation on this—because Government Members always want them elsewhere. The previous Prime Minister talked about an anti-growth coalition—it is sitting there on the Government Benches.
On trade, the Prime Minister wants to tell the European Union that the grown-ups are back in charge and, at the same time, convince his Back Benchers that he is really a true believer—well, good luck with that. The Chancellor, who loves all things Swiss, is going to buy them all cuckoo clocks for Christmas.
The point of financial stability is that it has to be a platform for better growth in the future. Financial stability has to be a platform for hope. It has to be the basis for wealth creation, for better long-term growth and for a way to escape the doom loop in which the Conservative party has left us. That is what we must secure to make the country more prosperous and our citizens better off.
This country can do so much better through the skills and talents of our workers; through modern supply-side economics that supports help to get the hundreds of thousands of people who have left the labour market since covid back into work, as my right hon. Friend Jonathan Ashworth said in his opening speech yesterday; through making the transition to cleaner energy a UK industrial and economic success story; not through rerunning the Brexit argument, but by having an adult and responsible relationship with our neighbours and allies; through making this country the best place to start and grow a business—the home of enterprise and wealth creation; through the reform of business rates; and through making sure that when we get economic growth, every part of the country can be part of it.
The fundamental difference between Labour and the Conservatives is that they believe that growth comes only from unleashing the animal spirits at the top, while we believe that growth comes from the efforts of each and every person who goes to work every day, from the entrepreneurs who start a business to the teachers who equip children with new skills. That is the point of financial stability; it is not an end in itself but a platform for a better tomorrow. Maybe that is the lasting verdict on this autumn statement: it was an admission that not only have the Conservatives failed in the past but they now have nothing to offer for the future.
It is a pleasure to be at the Dispatch Box to respond to the many powerful and passionate contributions made by my right hon. and hon. Friends and the sometimes incorrect contributions made by other hon. Members, and it is a genuine privilege to wind up on behalf of the Government in support of the autumn statement. We have discussed and debated many aspects of the autumn statement. We have heard some passionate and clear analyses of the situation in our constituencies as well as nationally and internationally, and of the state of the economy at home and around the world.
The autumn statement sets out our ambitions for stability, growth and public services. We say that it is a balanced plan: on the one hand, it will strengthen our public finances, bring down inflation and protect jobs, and on the other hand, it will protect standards in schools, cut NHS waiting times, fund social care, cap energy bills and support those on benefits. We have been frank, however, that that has been difficult. We as a Government are prepared to take those decisions in the country’s best interests. There is no question but that these are challenging times, but neither the origins nor the impacts are unique to this country.
To correct some Opposition Members, the independent Office for Budget Responsibility has said that the fall in living standards is almost entirely driven by rising world prices. We can see the evidence in the international figures. Inflation is high here, but it is higher in Germany, the Netherlands and Italy. My hon. Friend Bim Afolami explained the terrible impacts that inflation can have and my hon. Friend David Johnston made the critical point that inflation hurts the poorest the most. That is precisely why the Government’s No. 1 priority is to tackle inflation.
Interest rates have risen here, but they have risen more quickly in the United States, Canada and New Zealand. My hon. Friend Laura Farris reminded the House that the Governor of the Bank of the England gave evidence to the Treasury Committee this week and said that the disruption in the mortgage market caused by the mini-Budget had subsided—indeed, that it subsided in mid to late October. I am grateful to her for that reminder.
Growth forecasts have fallen here, but they have also fallen elsewhere in the world, including falling further in Germany. The OBR says that higher energy prices explain the majority of the downward revision in cumulative growth since March. Governments do not have the luxury of choosing the context in which they must operate. Indeed, the IMF expects one third of the world’s economy to be in recession this year and next. The job is to understand what we face, address those issues deliberately and responsibly on behalf of the communities we serve and then deliver that action, and that is exactly what we are doing.
Does the Minister agree with me that the measures set out in the statement and under discussion over these last few days will mean that, when the international economy and our own start to improve, we will be in a far better place to reap the benefits of that global economic improvement than if we were just to sit here, twiddle our thumbs and pretend that everything was okay?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Indeed, the OBR—the independent OBR—again confirms that because of our plans the recession is shallower, and inflation is reduced because of these very difficult decisions we have taken. Unemployment is also lower, with about 70,000 jobs protected as a result of our decisions.
As the Governor of the Bank of England has explained, disruption in the markets has subsided, and the impact of that has flushed through the system. I would emphasise to the hon. Member the evidence we are seeing in other countries. I do not shy away from that; I offer it as an example of the pressures we are all facing internationally. It is precisely that international picture that the Government are addressing.
Imran Hussain laid down in, if I may say so, a rather loud speech that there was no help for his constituents with the cost of living. It was passionate, I am told. It is fair to say that my hon. Friend Anna Firth expressed astonishment at his passion, and my hon. Friend Mark Fletcher said that some Opposition Members were living in a different galaxy.
On a serious note, I do want to help colleagues across the House understand the help that is available, because I know that hon. Members will be responding to their constituents’ worries. Any constituent who is on benefits or paid pensions will have them increased by 10.1%. Any constituent on means-tested benefits will have a one-off payment of £900. Any constituent on pension credit will have a one-off payment of £300 on top of their winter payment, and those who are living with disabilities will have a one-off payment of £150. Any constituent on the national living wage will see an increase to their salary, with the hourly rate going up to £10.42. Every single one of our constituents will see help through the energy price guarantee, which is worth on average £900 this year and will be worth £500 next year, and it helps to lower inflation by 2%.
I will give way, but there is even more to come.
What is more—and his is an important point in relation to the very moving cases we have heard in the House today—the most vulnerable households will be able to secure help through the household support scheme, to which we have added a further £1 billion precisely to help those who are in trouble. I know that hon. Members from Northern Ireland are most concerned about people living off-grid. We have doubled the one-off payment that will be given to people living off the grid, and that payment will be given in the winter. Finally, if anyone is in any doubt as to the help they can give their constituents, they should please look at the “Help for Households” website, which sets this all out very clearly.
I am now going to race through some of the changes that we have had to make to taxes. We have tried to be fair and compassionate in these difficult times, meaning that those with the broadest shoulders bear the heaviest weights, and we have wanted to avoid tax rises that most damage growth. On personal taxes, we have reduced the threshold at which the 45p rate becomes payable from £150,000 to £125,140, which means that those earning £150,000 will pay just over £1,200 more in tax each year. We are maintaining the income tax personal allowance and thresholds, which is a difficult but necessary decision, but even after these freezes, we will still have the most generous set of tax-free allowances of any G7 country.
On business taxes, we are raising corporation tax to 25p precisely because, as has been said, we want the largest companies to bear their responsibility. Even at the increased rate of 25%, it will still be the lowest rate of corporation tax in the G7. We have frozen the employer national insurance contribution threshold until April 2028, but 40% of businesses will still pay no NICs at all. The VAT registration threshold will stay which, incidentally, is almost twice as high as EU and OECD averages.
Let me move on to business rates, and then I will come to my hon. Friend and the hon. Lady. We know how important business rates are for our high streets, pubs, shops, and local hospitality businesses. That is why with the revaluation that is needed, we have none the less got a package of nearly £14 billion-worth of help, so that nearly two thirds of properties will not pay a penny next year, and thousands of pubs, restaurants and small high-street shops will benefit.
The Minister is talking about taxation. I am seriously concerned that the Government have enabled council tax to go up by 5%. In Stoke-on-Trent a 1% rise brings in merely £900,000, which is the second lowest of any local authority in England, and it simply will not cover the black hole that inflation has brought. Will the Government look at areas such as Stoke-on-Trent and give additional help? If they do not, we will end up in the situation that Croydon Council has just announced: the third time it has gone bankrupt.
I thank my hon. Friend. For anyone who missed it, I think he just said that Croydon Council has gone bankrupt for a third time, which is worrying, given that it is, I think, a Labour council. He mentioned the council tax referendums, and we chose that course precisely because we want to address the very real issue of social care. We have ensured that we are balancing those pressures with grants from central Government, and I will come to that in a little more detail in a moment.
Labour’s answer to these difficult sets of international and domestic problems seems, as has been pointed out, to be non-doms. Labour says that scrapping non-doms will apparently earn £3 billion in savings. Well, here are some facts. Non-domiciled taxpayers were liable to pay £7.9 billion in UK income tax, capital gains tax, and national insurance contributions in the tax year ending 2021. Non-doms have invested more than £6 billion in the UK since 2012, using the business investment relief scheme. In other words, non-doms are paying rates of tax that far outstrip the savings that Labour would make, and it is a very one-dimensional answer to a difficult problem.
Persistence has worked. I am sure the Minister will welcome the increase from £100 to £200 for the heating oil payment in Northern Ireland, and that it will go to all households. However, for weeks now £400 has been dangled in front of the people of Northern Ireland for the energy support payment. Can she assure my hard-pressed constituents that they will get their £400, and can she say when they will get it?
I have been nudged by the Whips, so would the hon. Lady allow me to write to her? I know how complicated it is in Northern Ireland.
I could talk about growth. Interestingly, Conservative Members were talking about growth and about how we can ensure the future of our economy for our children and grandchildren. I am extremely grateful to my right hon. Friends the Members for Aldridge-Brownhills (Wendy Morton), for North West Hampshire (Kit Malthouse), for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling), and for North Somerset (Dr Fox), and to my hon. Friends the Members for Bolsover (Mark Fletcher), for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Aaron Bell), for Stoke-on-Trent North (Jonathan Gullis), and for Stoke-on-Trent South (Jack Brereton). They all emphasised how vital growth is if we are to get through these difficult issues and build a good and rich economy for us all.
We announced in the autumn statement some interesting and important measures, including safeguarding capital investment over the next five years, so that we have the largest investment in public works for more than four decades. Of course, innovation and education will be critical, which is why, next year and the year after, we will invest an extra £2.3 billion a year in schools.
On health, because we know how important it is to each and every one of our constituents, despite the very difficult times that we are in, we are providing £6.6 billion to the NHS over the next two years. We will be providing an estimated 200,000 more social care packages for the elderly and most vulnerable in our society, because we are increasing funding in these very difficult times.
We have had to take tough decisions now to lay the foundations for our economy for the next generation. We will not pass on our debts to our children and grandchildren, but we will provide education, skills and prosperity in the industries of the future. We are facing tough times, but we will rise again with a thriving economy, high employment and a bright, responsible economic future for us all. I commend the statement, but it also commends itself to the House.
The amazing influence of the Whips—sometimes.
Question put and agreed to.
(a) provision may be made increasing the rate at which energy (oil and gas) profits levy is charged to 35%,
(b) provision may be made reducing the percentage in section 2(3) of the Energy (Oil and Gas) Profits Levy Act 2022 (amount of additional investment expenditure) to 29%, and
(c) (notwithstanding anything to the contrary in the practice of the House relating to the matters that may be included in Finance Bills) provision may be made for and in connection with extending the period for which the levy has effect until 31 March 2028.
The Deputy Speaker put forthwith the Questions necessary to dispose of the motions made in the name of the Chancellor of the Exchequer (