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Motion to Take Note (Continued)

Part of Comprehensive Spending Review – in the House of Lords at 9:22 pm on 1st November 2010.

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Photo of Baroness Healy of Primrose Hill Baroness Healy of Primrose Hill Labour 9:22 pm, 1st November 2010

My Lords, it is with great pleasure and equal trepidation that I rise to speak for the first time in this House. I thank the Government for giving time for this debate on such an important issue. The CSR will have a great impact on the future of this country and the kind of society we will become.

First, however, I wish to thank the Labour Party for a long and interesting career in politics, dating back to the 1970s. In opposition I worked for great Labour parliamentarians, some sadly no longer with us, notably John Smith, Robin Cook and Donald Dewar. I have also been fortunate to work in government as an adviser to many extraordinary politicians. I wish to acknowledge two women in particular. First, there is the late Mo Mowlam, Northern Ireland Secretary during the Good Friday agreement; and secondly, Harriet Harman, Leader of the House of Commons in the previous Government and a formidable campaigner on behalf of women.

I will always be indebted to my sponsors: my noble friend Lady Ramsay of Cartvale, whose wisdom and knowledge of international affairs are hard to match; and my noble friend Lord Macdonald of Tradeston, to whom I acted as adviser when he was Minister of Transport and again when he was in the Cabinet Office. He is a man of immense talent and wide-ranging experience. To both I am profoundly grateful for their support and guidance on the mysteries and magnificence of this House. I am also delighted to be reunited with many other friends who I have worked for in the past, most notably my noble friend Lord Cunningham of Felling. I am thankful to have been warmly welcomed by the staff and officers of this House. Their reputation for kindness, patience and general helpfulness goes before them. It is well deserved. My family still talk of the day of my introduction. Not about me, I hasten to add, but about the amusing stories our Doorkeepers regaled them with.

My family came from the west of Ireland-from the villages of Barnatra in Mayo and Mountbellew in Galway. They arrived here in London in the 1950s. They settled in Primrose Hill in the borough of Camden, where I was born. The welfare state was already making an impact on people's lives and Britain was the beacon of hope for many migrants, just as the USA had been for earlier generations. My grandparents had left Galway to make a new life in America, arriving at Ellis Island, New York, in 1910. They returned to Ireland before the great depression.

I grew up in London. I benefited from the welfare state, free education and the National Health Service. I believe in the importance of maintaining these for future generations. Today we debate what kind of future Britain can look forward to following the global economic crisis. I believe that the previous Labour Government had to incur the deficit to help keep as many people in their jobs and homes as possible. All parties acknowledge the need to tackle that deficit and it is in the debate on how best to do that where opinion varies. Noble Lords have so ably demonstrated that today. There are different views as to how far, how fast and how deep these cuts must go. We on these Benches suggest a different balance between cuts and tax rises to bring down the deficit, boost growth and protect the recovery.

Today, however, I wish to raise some concerns about the possible unintended consequences of the CSR. When I worked for the MP John Cruddas-and here I should declare an interest: he is my husband-I was continuously struck by the absolute determination of many struggling families to do what was best for their children. But the harsh realities of life, like ill-health or loss of work, could trigger a series of events that could lead to family break-up and loss of a home. This is what concerns me with the CSR. For example, housing benefit changes might mean that families have to leave their homes, removing children from schools and away from support networks of extended families, friends and churches. The CSR also announced that the percentage of child care costs covered by tax credits will be reduced from 80 per cent to 70 per cent. This could cost a low-paid worker with two children up to £30 a week, and, after one year, some people will lose their entitlement to employment and support allowance. A family where one adult is in paid work and the other receives ESA could lose up to £91.40 a week. Even if they then claim jobseeker's allowance, they will still lose more than £30 a week.

I am also concerned about the effects of the CSR on carers. A report just published by the charity Grandparents Plus states that welfare reform and spending cuts could penalise the forgotten army of grandparent carers. According to this report, there are 200,000 family and friend carers-mostly grandparents-raising some 300,000 children. They save the Government some £12 billion a year. Over half these carers had to give up work or reduce their paid hours because of their caring duties. A third are dependent on benefits for their income and one in three is on discretionary local authority allowances. Many families could really struggle over the next few years.

I want the welfare state to remain the beacon of social progress and the foundation of a good society-the society that was so admired from the west coast of Ireland. One generation on, I am proud to stand in this place on behalf of the party I love. In this House, I will seek to speak up on behalf of those who have most to lose if society's safety net is weakened.