I am grateful for having been able to secure this debate on poverty in Scotland on
We Scots are often portrayed as a bit sentimental about Scotland, especially on occasions like Burns night or St. Andrew’s day. I want to talk about the reality of poverty in Scotland today. I do not think that the Minister will want to use any notes from my speech at whatever St. Andrew’s night bash he graces this evening. The national heroes and heroines to whom I would like to pay tribute are the anti-poverty organisations such as the Child Poverty Action Group in Scotland, the Poverty Alliance, the churches and other umbrella groups, bringing together those committed to seeing a fairer, more equal Scotland. The heroes and heroines to whom I would like to pay tribute are those in the unions and the Scottish Trades Union Congress who stand up for people’s rights at work and who fight the scourge of unemployment and the attack on working conditions. That is the Scotland to which we should pay tribute today.
I would like to acknowledge the excellent work done by John Dickie, head of CPAG Scotland, particularly for producing the book “Poverty in Scotland”, which contains some relevant facts and figures to which I shall refer. How do we measure poverty? People are considered as living in poverty if they live in households with less than 60% of median household income. That is the key measure used by the UK and Scottish Governments and by the European Union. Using that measure, and after housing costs are taken into account, the latest official data show that a single person is in poverty if he or she is living on less than £124 a week. A lone-parent family with two children aged five and 14 are in poverty if they are living on less than £256 a week, as is a couple with two children aged five and 14 on less than £346 a week—which is just over £12 a day, and not a lot to cover food, fuel bills, household goods and transport, never mind school trips, family visits and leisure activities. About 970,000 people in Scotland live in poverty—19% of the population. About 250,000 children live in poverty—25% of all children. Poverty in Scotland and across the UK is significantly higher than in many other European countries. In Denmark and Norway fewer than 10% of children live in poverty, while Germany has a poverty rate of 15%.
One would have thought that poverty levels in this day and age should be falling, but not any more. Yes, real progress had been made specifically among children—-the numbers went down by 100,000 between 1996-97 and 2004-05. The number of pensioners in poverty has decreased by nearly two thirds since 1996-97. However, since 2007 there has been no overall reduction in child poverty or in poverty among adults of working age.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way and I congratulate her on securing this debate. Given her comments, does she share my disappointment and anger at the fact that yesterday’s decisions will mean that 10,000 children in Scotland are likely to be forced into poverty as a result of the tax and benefit decisions made by the Government yesterday?
Absolutely. I will come to that point later.
These trends follow dramatic increases in poverty between 1979 and the mid-1990s. Perhaps, like me, the Minister remembers those years and can offer a view on what caused that to happen and on whether we are heading back in that direction, thanks to his Government’s policy. That is exactly the direction in which the Government are taking Scotland. Cuts and reforms currently in trail will have a significant negative impact on individuals and communities across Scotland and on devolved issues such as housing, child care, health, social care, equality and anti-poverty policy as a whole.
In June 2010 the Chancellor promised a Budget that would be tough, but fair. He announced an increase in VAT to 20%, a two-year pay freeze for public sector workers, a three-year freeze in child benefit and a tightening of housing benefit entitlements and eligibility for child tax credits, among other austerity measures. Coupled with the comprehensive spending review last October, those measures represent some of the most regressive in living memory. Yet, in the same breath, the Government claim that we are all in this together.
I thank the hon. Lady for giving way. Does she not recognise that if the Government had not had to make these difficult decisions, the position for children growing up in Scotland—and, indeed, their children for generations to come—could have been far worse?
My point is that the cuts have not been made in a fair and even manner, as the Government promised. I will develop that point later.
It is all too evident that the impact will fall disproportionately on vulnerable groups and on those who deliver the services on which those groups depend. Those are not just my views; there has been widespread condemnation from campaigning groups and third-sector organisations in Scotland that the budget and austerity measures will further increase poverty and inequality.
As my hon. Friend Mark Lazarowicz said, in yesterday’s autumn statement we heard of further measures. The Chancellor announced the expansion of free nursery places for two-year-olds, helping 260,000 children. But, alongside that, he announced that he would be taking more than £1.3 billion a year from families by failing to go ahead with the planned additional £110 rise in child tax credits and by freezing working tax credits.
I congratulate the hon. Lady on securing today’s debate. This is a very important subject to discuss on St. Andrew’s day. Does the hon. Lady share my concern that the poorest families will suffer a disproportionate impact from these cuts, and that the 20% of the poorest families in Scotland will bear the brunt?
That is the whole point of raising this debate today.
All this has happened despite the fact that when the Chancellor announced the rise in tax credits he said that it would support 4 million lower-income families, helping to ensure that there would be no adverse impact on child poverty. As the Minister knows, there is now a law relating to child poverty. The Chancellor has now taken that extra support away from the 4 million families. In its distributional analysis of yesterday’s measures, the Treasury has admitted that, as a result of the decisions taken by the Government, the number of children living in households with incomes below 60% of the median will increase by 100,000 in 2012-13—which will mean more children living in poverty.
I thank my hon. Friend for giving way and for securing this debate. When we talk about big numbers, medians and so on, it can sometimes be difficult for people to understand how changes impact on their lives. Is my hon. Friend aware of research done by the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers which shows that, already, some £989 has been taken from a low to middle-income family as a result of changes to tax credits? That is even before this latest broken promise, with £110 being taken from child credits.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We are concerned about the impact on ordinary people. The quicker they realise exactly what this Government are up to, the better.
Who are these people? Alongside children, certain groups are at particular risk of poverty. They include lone parents, women, people who are not working, people affected by disability and people from ethnic minorities.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this debate. As one of my neighbouring colleagues, she knows full well the problems of unemployment, particularly among young people. Is that not one of the main areas that should be tackled at an early stage—earlier than this Government intend?
Absolutely. I will refer to that later. To say that it is too little, too late would put it very mildly.
Poverty is most prevalent in urban areas, yet there are almost 100,000 income-deprived people in rural areas in Scotland. I would be interested to hear the Minister’s views on what he thinks causes poverty. The Tories are quick to identify individual behaviour as a cause of most social ills, but individual behaviour is of limited value in explaining the extent of poverty in Scotland. The key drivers are inequality, low pay, inadequate benefits, poor-quality work opportunities and lack of support for those with caring responsibilities, ill health or those affected by disability. A lack of money leads to the threat of falling into debt, choosing between necessities, going without basics, frequently being caught up in a cycle of dead-end jobs and being unable to save. For children, it means, for example, having less access to safe play spaces and being less likely to participate in arts and drama, sport or other outdoor activities.
While financial inclusion policies have led to significant improvements since 2007 and access to basic financial products, one third of households with incomes of less than £20,000 still have no savings. Those households are also less likely to have the means to participate fully in society more generally. Over half, for example, still have no internet access or car available to them. What is more, they are far more likely to be living in fuel poverty, spending a disproportionate level of already inadequate income on basic—
I was about to talk about people who are living in fuel poverty who are spending a disproportionate level of already inadequate income on basic energy bills. Almost 1 million households, more than one in three Scots, now struggle to heat their homes. However, the SNP has cut the budget to help tackle fuel poverty by almost a third, down from £70.9 million in 2010-11 to £48 million in 2011-12. Dr Brenda Boardman from Oxford University, previously lauded by First Minister Alex Salmond, has said that Scotland has some of the worst fuel poverty in the UK. She describes the SNP’s cut in the fuel poverty fund as a real slap in the face for the fuel poor.
I know that fuel poverty is something that is also taken extremely seriously in my constituency, partly because people do not have access to social tariffs on low incomes. They also often have trouble accessing broadband. But will the hon. Lady accept that the SNP Government have done more than previous Labour Governments ever did to address fuel poverty in Scotland, and are making record levels of investment in their energy assistance package and with other measures?
I think that they flatter to deceive. Measures have been cut, including what I have just described. As I say, it is not just from me, it is from a very eminent professional who is an expert in the field. At the end of the day the Scottish Government will decide how to implement the budget in Scotland.
Not surprisingly, poverty means lower levels of mental wellbeing, shorter lifespans and more ill health. Those in the lowest 20% of household incomes, particularly women, are far more likely to suffer from depression, anxiety and attempted suicide, while men living in the most deprived areas have a life expectancy of more than 11 years shorter than those in the 20% least deprived areas of Scotland. The situation in Scotland is very serious. Here I would like to pay tribute to Campbell Christie, the former STUC leader and another truly great Scot, who recently passed away but who chaired the Scottish Commission on Public Services. Its report said,
“Members of the commission have been struck by just how much public spending is skewed by that bottom 20% in terms of poverty, unemployment, health and all the factors that go with it—and how little progress has been made on that bottom 20%.
If you are going to do anything, you should relentlessly target resources at the bottom 20%. That would bring Scotland up overall: it's not just a moral case for social justice; there's a strong economic argument too.”
A recent national survey revealed that six of the 10 worst areas of Britain are on the west coast of Scotland, including areas of Glasgow.
In any debate on poverty, certain key assertions must be made. First, income and material conditions remain the most fundamental determining dimensions of poverty. Political and policy emphasis on non-income dimensions of poverty must not be used to draw attention away from the fundamental causes of poverty—lack of money.
The policy can work. The Labour Government's commitments and policy action that boosted pensions, benefits, tax credits and wages and removed some of the barriers to work have had an impact, with child and pensioner poverty significantly lower than in 1997. Other policy interventions that should be welcomed include a focus on more equal health outcomes and commitment to the idea of a living wage, although when that was put forward in South Ayrshire by Labour, the SNP Tory administration voted it down. We need more investment and income maximisation, statutory commitments to tackle child poverty and improved access to debt solutions.
Labour made huge strides in government, both in Westminster and at Holyrood, to tackle youth unemployment in Scotland. Again, the clock has been turned back. Youth unemployment is rising fast. Behind these figures is a generation of young Scots, rich in talent, full of potential, with a hunger to work. Yesterday’s announcement in the autumn statement was too little, too late. It will be next April before it even kicks in, which has meant two years of inaction, and equates to £121 million a year, a fraction of the £600 million this year alone which Labour would spend on a youth jobs fund through repeating the bank bonus levy.
Will the hon. Lady join me in welcoming the initiatives of the Scottish Government to ensure that every 16 to 19-year-old in Scotland who is not in full-time education will have a training place or an apprenticeship or a job?
I would very much welcome any measures that are taken in Scotland on youth unemployment, but it does not help when the SNP Government choke off opportunity by cutting funding for the country’s colleges. I attended the graduation ceremony at Ayr college the other week and I was very impressed by the students’ achievements, but the level of cuts that the college was facing—10% this year and 20% over the next two years—was very depressing. There have already been job losses and the college has been told to concentrate on 16 to 19-year-olds. That is fine, except that it takes places away from adult learners.
I received all my education, such as it is, as an adult, and I want young people as they grow older to have cradle-to-grave education, not just between the ages of 16 and 19. That is also needed for the economy.
I refer now to research from the Centre for Regional Economic and Social Research at Sheffield university. It calculates that the headline total of 2.6 million men and women on incapacity benefits is set to be cut by nearly 1 million by 2014. Most of these will be existing claimants who will lose their entitlement. The report shows that, because of the reforms, 600,000 are set to be pushed out of the benefits system altogether, forcing a big increase in reliance on other household members for financial support.
The researchers also show that by far the largest impact will fall on the older industrial areas of the North, Scotland and Wales, where local economies have been struggling for years to cope with job loss and where the prospects of former claimants finding work are weakest. Glasgow looks set to be hit 10 times harder than, for example, Kingston upon Thames. In common with many of my colleagues here, these are just the types of areas that we represent where it has been very difficult to recover from industrial decline in the past. This is not going to help.
Does my hon. Friend accept that it is not just the loss of individual or family income, it is the loss of a significant amount of spending power within already deprived communities which will have an impact on the wider community and not just on the individual family?
These issues affect the whole community, which is why in many ways high unemployment is a false economy. It would be far better invested in the communities. Professor Steve Fothergill, who co-authored the report, said:
“The large numbers that will be pushed off incapacity benefits over the next two to three years are entirely the result of changes in benefit rules. The reduction does not mean that there is currently widespread fraud, or that the health problems and disabilities are anything less than real.”
He then goes on to say that
“the estimates show that the Coalition Government is presiding over a national welfare reform that will impact principally on individuals and communities outside its own political heartlands.”
The minister will be painfully aware that Scotland certainly meets that description.
I do not have time this afternoon to go into the detail of the Government’s Welfare Reform Bill, but behind the stated intention of rolling up most means-tested benefits into a universal credit and making work pay, there are significant increases in the conditions attached to entitlement, and draconian sanctions for those who fail to meet these conditions. Welfare benefits cuts of £18 billion cuts over the next three years, in conjunction with the proposals in the Welfare Reform Bill, will have a hugely negative effect on Scotland’s poorest communities, families and individuals. These measures will be across the whole of the UK, but will also cut across a whole raft of devolved responsibilities. They deserve the united resistance of Scottish MPs and MSPs.
Attention must be refocused on to the privileges and lifestyles of the affluent and rich as much as the more disadvantaged. The Government must tackle the banks and fuel companies rather than focus on hitting public sector pensions.
Recently my constituency Labour party launched a plan locally at a public meeting in Ayr: Labour’s five-point plan for jobs. We heard a compelling argument for why this is needed from STUC deputy Stephen Boyd. One of the things he said was that in Scotland we have a huge full-time employment deficit; that is the deficit that the Tories do not want to talk about. There are over 150,000 people who want to work in full-time jobs but are currently unemployed. There are also the underemployed, and the economically inactive but wanting to work. There is a total of almost half a million Scots who want to be in full-time employment but are not. Jobseeker’s allowance claimants in East Ayrshire are up 86% on last year, and they are up 65% in South Ayrshire. These are frightening figures. The number of claimants in the last six months in these areas is up 300% and 400%.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for giving way. I sat through her speech, which contained a lot of criticism of the Government, expecting her to come forward with solutions, but they have been lacking. For all of these spending projects that she has talked about, will she tell us by how much she wants to increase Government spending? What taxes will she put up to find the money? The only source of revenue she indicated was a bankers’ levy bonus tax; will she tell us how much that would raise and the rate at which it would be set?
I do not have the figures to hand, but I actually referred to a number of policy initiatives that could be taken and were taken by the last Labour Government. I could go back into my speech and read out Labour’s five point plan for jobs, but I am aware that other Members would like to speak and I was genuinely trying to curtail my remarks. I will let the hon. Member know about it later.
I firmly believe that there is more than one Scotland, just as there is more than one Britain. In the end, how you see Scotland depends on your perspective, your politics and your priorities. To paraphrase Nye Bevan, socialism is a language of priorities, just a very different set of priorities. The trouble with the SNP is that, for all of their rhetorical nationalism, there remains a single priority: independence. Today should be a day for getting away from the tired, endless wrangling over constitutional issues and the protracted debate over the long-time-coming independence referendum. It should be a day for getting away from the SNP’s dangerous lottery, playing with people’s jobs, incomes and life chances, ignoring all of the warnings, crossing their fingers and hoping for the best. Today is a day for concentrating on the real Scotland—a country of huge achievement and potential, and a country rich in diverse cultures, but a country that also knows the reality of poverty and the risk of increased poverty to come unless it gets the political leadership and policies it needs for a better way forward.
It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship this afternoon, Mr Robertson, and may I congratulate my hon. Friend Sandra Osborne on securing this important debate and providing an opportunity for all of us to reflect that the scale of the problem of poverty in our own country deserves much more time and attention than it receives. In a month when it was reported that the number of pauper funerals in Scotland exceeded 5,500 in the past year, and when a report from the university of Sheffield Hallam stated that Glasgow was the worst area in the United Kingdom for incidences of hunger, it is truly remarkable that we have not one but two Government administrations who barely feel able to mention the subject in any of their pronouncements—one largely because of their indifference, and the other in sole pursuit of their one goal, so that if anyone dares make a critical reflection they are talking Scotland down. I do not believe that either serves our country well. Only when we start to talk openly again about poverty will we be able to rise to the challenge.
I would like to focus my remarks today on a couple of points that I believe must be urgently reconsidered by the Government if we do not wish the poverty figures to rise even further. I will start on housing, and in particular the impending changes in housing benefit. The majority on this form of benefit are not on unemployment benefit, but they do represent fairly accurately those who are on the lowest level of income. Shelter Scotland reports that this year only one in eight of all housing benefit claimants is unemployed. The rest includes pensioners, carers and disabled people unable to work. In Scotland, about 19% of people in receipt of local housing allowance are in employment.
The vast majority of those in receipt of the benefit in Scotland are living in rented social housing, and a good percentage of those who are renting privately are occupying former social housing. Prior to introducing the new regulations, which will commence in stages from this year until 2013, the UK Government conducted absolutely no evaluation of the rented housing sector in Scotland, be it the availability in each local authority area of multi-occupancy property or the availability of one bedroom houses. If I asked anyone living in Scotland, however, to take even a wild guess about what may or may not be available I would imagine just about everyone could anticipate that, outside the major cities, there would be very little multi-occupancy households and that most social housing in Scotland consisted of houses with two bedrooms or more.
Lord Freud in the other place apparently believes in some imaginary world where suitable property will spring from the bowels of the earth in a wonderful free market to allow housing benefit recipients to comply with the new regime rather than live in what he believes is “luxury”. Unfortunately, I remain unconvinced, and so do the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities; the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations; Shelter; the Scottish Government; and many other informed groups who I have met over the last year to discuss this issue.
If I take just the change in the age threshold for claiming the single room rate, which will be increased from 25 to 35 in April next year, according to figures I requested from the House of Commons Library in January, there are only, for example, 20 multi-occupancy registered homes in the entire Angus council area, but, according to an official answer from the Scottish Government, as of last year there were 100 single people aged 25 to 34 years in receipt of local housing allowance in that area. In North Ayrshire the figures are even worse. There are seven houses of multiple occupancy and 280 people aged 25 to 34 years in receipt of LHA. Where are these people—about 7,500 throughout Scotland—expected to stay?
Does the hon. Lady also accept that the pressure on multiple-occupancy housing is even greater in a city such as Stirling that has a university population? Those who look to conform to the new housing regulations will find themselves in even worse straits than she has indicated in other areas.
My right hon. Friend is absolutely correct—that is a point I am about to make. I, too, represent an area that has a university community, and we continually have difficulties about multi-occupancy. Again, the UK Government have completely failed to consider new regulations put in place as a result of legislation that has gone through the Scottish Parliament.
Many local authorities and social landlords have progressively moved away from multi-occupancy lets due to problems with management and its unpopularity with other tenants and communities. In Angus, the difference between the rental level for a one-bedroom home and a shared home rate is £20.77 a week. For people who are unlucky enough to live in rural Aberdeenshire, it is £49.61 a week, because they are sitting in the midst of an oil economy, with rentals to match. Inevitably, people will be pushed into our cities, regardless of where their job is, in a desperate effort to find accommodation.
As I have mentioned, the UK Government have given no thought as to how local communities may feel about the expansion of multi-occupancy housing in their areas. I know from experience in my constituency that there have been examples of the dumping of people in bed-and-breakfast accommodation from other local authority areas, because those areas had no or very few such places available. I can only imagine where all those hundreds of people in north Ayrshire, for example, will have to go—I think that most of them will end up in Glasgow.
The hon. Lady is making some important points about the housing situation. Will she reflect on the situation for pensioners who might also be affected by the under-occupancy rules that are coming in and the fact that suitable one-bedroom properties are simply not available, particularly those on a flat level for people with mobility issues.
The hon. Lady makes a good point. I know that that matter is not currently covered in the regulations proposed by the Government. However, should there be any further expansion, we would be looking at something close to a total collapse of social housing, because of the sheer numbers of people, particularly pensioners, who are living alone in properties with two or more bedrooms.
One change due in 2013 is that housing benefit will be restricted for working age claimants in the social rented sector to those who are occupying a larger property than their household size. Do the Government know how many will be impacted by that change? Why do I bother to ask them, because they have no desire to find out?
It has been estimated from the family resources survey that Scotland-wide there are approximately 100,000 households in the social rented sector in receipt of housing benefit where the accommodation is currently under-occupied. We do not, however, know how many of those are rented to retired tenants compared with those of working age. Glasgow Housing Association, which is Scotland’s largest social landlord, has estimated that roughly 13% of their entire housing stock will be affected by just that one change alone. That represents thousands of tenants in just one city in our country.
Such a change may occur simply because an adult child leaves home, even if the family still have children of school age. A family may be forced to move out of a property that they have lived in for many years and in some instances to move many miles from the community in which they are settled—or they might fall into rent arrears, or they could just eat less, or they could not heat their home. That is the reality of the real choices that thousands of low-income families will now face.
I share some of the concerns that the hon. Lady is voicing. However, it is important to point out that the regulations have not yet been drawn up, so she cannot predict that such things will happen until we see the regulations. I certainly hope that they will be framed sensibly to take into account the issues that she is raising.
The proposals are currently in the Welfare Reform Bill. I hope that he and the Minister will think again and will persuade their colleagues in the Department for Work and Pensions and Lord Freud in the other place, who seems to be utterly resistant to making any changes to the clauses relating to those draconian measures. Hon. Members will remember the chaos caused by the implementation of the poll tax, and the consequences we faced for many years due to the scale of the arrears that built up and the misery that was heaped on our poorest communities. Perhaps the Minister will explain why his party has never learned the lesson of what occurs when a Government implement unplanned, arbitrary hits on those with the least resources to cope.
Coming back to my comments about this month’s report on hunger in the city that I am proud to represent, Paul Mosley, professor of economics at Sheffield university, said that the number of people using the Scotcash community bank service who struggled to buy food in the previous week was far higher in Scotland than in any other area of the UK. He said:
“In other cities outside of Glasgow the figure was 1% to 2%... In other words, there were some people whose poverty was so bad they were also in food poverty and sometimes didn’t have enough food to give to the children to eat. But in Glasgow the proportion was something like 10%.”
Mosley said that the findings supported suggestions that areas of Glasgow suffered a depth of poverty that
“you don’t encounter in other parts of the UK”.
That depth of poverty is no surprise to me, and I am sure it will be no surprise to you either, Mr Robertson. No other part of western Europe witnessed such an intense and rapid deindustrialisation in the 1970s and 1980s, in a city that already had a long history of poverty. I am in no doubt that it will take many years to reverse, but I have always believed that it is possible, if we are prepared to put in the necessary commitment and resources. In recent years, figures on absolute and relative poverty in Scotland have flatlined, but we now face a really tough challenge. Are we prepared to witness the reversal of the advances made during the first years of this century or are we willing to organise our priorities so that we can protect the poorest and do more to improve their lives? That is the real challenge that we face in our country—not the endless debates on constitutional niceties, but what kind of country do we actually want to be.
Just yesterday, as my hon. Friend the Member for Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock correctly mentioned, it was calculated that the Government’s freeze on tax credits and related benefits will put a further 100,000 children throughout the UK below the poverty line. I look forward to hearing the Minister explain in detail how his Government will now meet their legally binding targets on child poverty reduction. I am also interested to know when he last discussed poverty or any related issues with his counterparts in the Scottish Government. If that was not recently, perhaps he could undertake to make a real St Andrew’s day pledge to make the eradication of poverty his priority.
It will be difficult to follow my two colleagues, who have explained the scourge of poverty in terms of the proportion of people living in poverty in Scotland and the shame that that brings on us as a nation. I congratulate my hon. Friend Sandra Osborne on securing this debate.
I shall confine my comments to a group of people who, by definition, find a much higher proportion of themselves living in poverty—namely, those who are disabled or have a disability. All the problems that, as we have already heard, face families living in poverty tend to be amplified if one of the members of those families happens to have a disability. We know that 21% of families who have one person with a disability living with them are living in poverty compared with 16% of the general population. That figure increases for children: 25% of children living in families with a disabled person live in poverty compared with 18% of children living in families with no one who is disabled.
The concern that I want to get over to the Minister, and to which I hope he will respond, is that those figures are bad enough, but the actions of this Government are about to make matters far worse. Despite the impression given in the tabloids by stories of benefit scroungers and people who have languished on incapacity benefit or disabled benefits for years, employment among disabled people had actually improved over the last 10 years of the Labour Government. The employment gap between those disabled and those non-disabled in 2002 was 36%. By 2010, by the time the Labour party lost power, that gap was down to 29% and all the indicators were that it was improving, so many disabled people were in work. However, it is still the case that anyone with a disability is far less likely to be in work than those who do not have a disability, and therefore dependent on benefits.
What happens to the benefits system? What changes will be made to save the £18 billion that the Government are trying to strip out of the welfare system? Those changes will impact even more directly on those who are the most vulnerable—those who have a disability. What is of concern is not just that individuals and their families will face reduced incomes but, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Stirling said, the reduction in the money that is available to be spent in those communities and the fact that the communities themselves will become even poorer than they are at the moment.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock mentioned the report from Sheffield Hallam university, written by Christina Beatty and Steve Forthergill, called “Incapacity Benefit Reform: the local, regional and national impact”. That report makes incredibly interesting reading. Not only does it show that there is a concentration of people with disabilities who are living on disability benefits, whether that is incapacity benefit, employment and support allowance or disability allowance, correlates exactly to the areas of high unemployment and the areas of industrial decline. So it comes as no great surprise that, of the top 20 districts where the share of adults claiming incapacity benefit is the highest, three of them are in Scotland. Glasgow comes in at 12.3% but is followed closely by Inverclyde and West Dunbartonshire. In the bottom 10 districts, of the areas with the least number of people on incapacity benefit not a single one is in Scotland and that in itself acts as a stark reminder that there are areas in Scotland, particularly west-central Scotland, that have suffered not just the depression and lack of jobs caused by deindustrialisation but, resulting from that, an increase in the number of people who not only suffer ill health and disability but, as a consequence, are claiming benefit. Any cuts to those benefits will fall particularly heavily on those areas.
The figures in the work that Christina Beatty and Steve Forthergill have done are UK-wide, so we must assume that 10% of those people live in Scotland. Those figures show that, as a result of Government changes already announced, in Scotland alone, 97,000 fewer people will be claiming incapacity benefit. Even more worryingly, 58,000 will be removed from benefits all together. How will that happen? The last Labour Government had already introduced changes to reform incapacity benefit and to move people on to the employment and support allowance. The new Government have speeded up that move and have also cut down on the amount of money to be spent. That is where a great deal of the savings will come from.
The hon. Lady’s constituency, like my own, was part of the pilot scheme that trialled the new work capability assessment. My view is that it has not been working and instead has been causing great anxiety and distress to disabled people. More importantly, the successful appeal rate is out of all proportion to any system that is working. Something like 70% of appeals are proving successful, where people have support from advocacy agencies. That system should go back to the drawing board, but I am also concerned that the burden will start falling even more so on unpaid carers and other family members for people who have been taken out of the system. Does the hon. Lady share my concerns on that?
Those concerns are shared by all of us. It has been very difficult to get robust figures about the numbers who are being migrated from incapacity benefit on to employment and support allowance, and how many of them will fall out of the benefit system all together or find themselves on jobseeker’s allowance as an alternative. The early indication from the pilot that took place in both Aberdeen and Burnley would suggest that about 30% of those on incapacity benefit will move to JSA. That one single move is immediately a loss of £20, or slightly more, a week for that family. We do not know whether those figures are robust but we do know that, for new claimants, it is far less than that. Part of the reason why the tabloid press has managed to create the impression that there are lots of people languishing on incapacity benefit or disability benefit who do not deserve it is that they conflate the proportions who are new claimants getting the benefit with those already on the benefit but who have been migrated across. Potentially, 30% will be losing £20 or more a week.
We also know that the Welfare Reform Bill proposes to limit contributory employment and support allowance to one year. In areas such as mine and the one represented by Dr Whiteford, where it is more likely that people will live in a household with some income, because unemployment is relatively low, so a partner, husband or wife might be working, those people will lose benefits altogether because they will not qualify for the income-related benefit that would replace it. That is why 58,000 are likely to fall out of the benefits system completely. These are people who have paid into the system all their lives. They thought that, when things turned difficult for them, when something happened and they were not able to work anymore, the welfare state would be there for them and national insurance would work as the name suggests—as an insurance that they would get that contributory benefit. This Government have decided that that is not good enough and that this group will qualify only for employment and support allowance for a year. In a year, someone might have managed only to get a diagnosis. They might have only just started their cancer treatment, they might still be getting worse but not be bad enough to be in the support group, with a degenerative neurological condition that has just been diagnosed. After a year, their money will stop if they are in the work-related activity group of ESA.
Until they retire, which is what the position is at the moment. If they are in the support group, they will keep it for ever.
The way that the national insurance system works is that if someone has not made a NI contribution for the previous two years, then they do not get the contributory benefit. I tabled a written question to ask what happened if someone had been in the work-related activity group for two years and then got worse, particularly if they had a degenerative illness, and found themselves in the support group. They would not have the national insurance contribution to go back on to the contributory element. Would they be able to get the ESA? The reply from the Minister was unequivocal—yes, they would be able to go back on to contributory ESA if they had moved from the WRAG to the support group after two years.
However, in correspondence with an official, some doubt has been cast on whether that is indeed the case. It is not clear from the Welfare Reform Bill, and it is certainly not clear from the debates around the Bill, whether someone who has been on WRAG for two years will get their contributory ESA back again should they get worse. This is very important for people with conditions such as MS and Parkinson’s. If someone has a really bad episode and goes straight into the support group, they will be able to keep their contributory ESA for the rest of their working life, whereas, if they have a slowly progressing disease and go into WRAG for a couple of years, but then end up just as ill and disabled as the other person, they do not get it back. It seems unfair and arbitrary. The Government must get this right and be clear about it, or large numbers of people, potentially those with some of the most profound disabilities and ill health, will be disadvantaged simply because they fall the wrong side of the line when they go for their work capability assessment.
Is that not why it is faintly ridiculous, at this point in the legislative cycle, when the Welfare Reform Bill has completed its passage through the House of Commons and has completed most of its stages in the House of Lords, that we do not yet know what the regulations will say on something could have a massive impact on the lives, not just of disabled people but of the poorest people in communities in Scotland?
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. One of my concerns as Chair of the Select Committee is, when there is parliamentary scrutiny of those regulations, to make sure that there are not any unintended consequences. I hope that this is an unintended consequence on the Government’s part—I do not think that they would be so hard-hearted to be that unfair, and I hope that the Minister will acknowledge that they realise that, in some areas, they have simply got it wrong, because they are trying to take money away from people who have paid into the system all their life.
I am conscious of the time, so I will not say a great deal more. We will move from disability living allowance to the new personal independence payment, and the Government say that they are going to cut 20% from that budget. I could go on at length about that but, in summary, all those things taken together will mean that the income of the poorest people in our communities—those who have the hardest time because of ill health or disability—will be drastically cut. They will bear the brunt of many cuts in Government spending. They are the ones least able to cope, and it will be their communities—if the money had come into their hands, at least they would spend it in local shops—who suffer. Those shops and facilities will close, and those areas, which already suffer the highest incidence of poverty, will be hit particularly badly. The Opposition think that that is unfair. It is unjust, and I urge the Government to look again.
My hon. Friend challenged us to speak up for the poorest and most vulnerable, and we already have enough evidence to show that poverty in Scotland is rising. It is therefore appropriate to address that very serious matter. We have seen increasing youth unemployment and, right up to yesterday, reckless cuts to incapacity benefits, disability living allowances, winter fuel payments and the rest. Earlier this month, The Guardian reported that 500,000 people will be forced off incapacity benefit. Scotland will be one of the worst-hit areas. Child poverty, youth unemployment and fuel poverty have all increased, and are set to rise further. As I said, yesterday was no help.
A Government who promised
“not to balance the books on the backs of the poorest” has barely responded to that pledge. They admitted yesterday that it will take another two years, with all the pain but without any gain. Youth unemployment, which is a scar over Scotland, stands at a quite remarkable figure of 1.02 million—the highest ever recorded. There will be a lost generation of young people, just as in the ’80s and Mrs Thatcher’s time, which will lead to broken homes, broken relationships, dashed hopes and broken dreams.
I would not for one second, particularly as I am asking all my colleagues to reflect on what youth unemployment means, condone the riots that took place in England. Indeed, I am pleased that they did not extend to Scotland. However, it would be naive in the extreme to continue with those figures and statistics—the reality in Scotland—and not expect young people to articulate their views. We were first warned about that as long ago as the war, when Sir William Beveridge wrote:
“If full employment is not won and kept, no liberties are secure, for to many they will not seem worth while.”
We can barely say that we were not warned.
Since 2010, JSA claimants rose in most deprived areas of my constituency—I underline that—from 26.3% to 28.1%, against a UK average of 3.9%. We are asking what the response is. What is the coalition prepared to do? The whole picture is quite unacceptable, and certainly in my constituency. I will meet local officials from the
Department for Work and Pensions on Friday to examine in detail what is happening to people in my constituency who are unemployed.
Unemployment, I think Opposition Members agree, is not just a statistic. Save the Children said that
“children living in low income households are nearly three times more likely to suffer mental health problems than the affluent”
The link between life expectancy and income is well documented. These are real people with real lives that are about to be wrecked unless we rescue them in time. In my constituency, there are high numbers for unemployment and for people suffering from anxiety and depression, and—this is consistent with what my hon. Friend Dame Anne Begg so eloquently said—those people often find that those things go together. That increases the number of DLA claimants. I therefore challenge the heart of the Government’s economic policy. Taking people out of poverty is a sensible thing to do. It is a moral responsibility, but it is also economically correct. How long are we prepared to go on paying people to be unemployed—3 million of them—and, as we did in Mrs Thatcher’s time, ask those who pay taxes to make that contribution? Taking people out of poverty is one of the biggest challenges that we face, particularly in Scotland.
Recently, my colleagues have raised the issue of fuel poverty again and again. Three thousand people in the UK die from fuel poverty every year, which is more than the number of Britons killed on the roads. In Scotland, there are nearly 1 million homes in fuel poverty. What have the Government done, and what should we urge them to do? Their policies have led to increases in fuel prices, and they have cut winter fuel payments and even cut the tariff for solar energy—hardly an approach to make Scotland a greener country.
I wish I had more time to develop an argument that I think the hon. Gentleman heard when I was fortunate enough to secure a debate on energy in the House a year or two ago. Indeed, on the subject of energy, that leads me very nicely to the next point that I wish to make. How long are we in Scotland and in Britain prepared to wait for six companies—for all the world, they look like a cartel to me, and I do not see the regulation that we expect from the regulators—to act? How long are we prepared to put up with this? Even last week, people were told by Ministers, “Well, what you do is change to another company.” We all know what happens then: if we change to another company, they put up their prices, too, and they do so again and again, which is wholly unacceptable.
My purpose is to make conversions, Mr. Roberston, and I have been able to do so.
In common with my hon. Friend for Aberdeen South, I would like to discuss disability because many of the people we are thinking about, many of those who have made representations to us and, indeed, many of those who are unable to make representations are those who might be considered either disabled or the family or friends of disabled people. Contact a Family told us that 52% of families with a disabled child are at risk of experiencing poverty. That is no surprise when we know that it costs three times as much to bring up a disabled child than a child without disability. The income of families with a disabled child averages £15,000, which is 25.5% below the UK mean. Barnado’s told us recently that only 16% of mothers of disabled children are able to work compared with 60% of mothers generally.
I am glad that my right hon. Friend for Stirling (Mrs McGuire) is present, because she brought the issue of the mobility component to the attention of the House. Yesterday, I was happy to see that after battle, including debates in this place, the Government announced that they were retreating on their intention to take the mobility component of DLA from people who live in residential homes. The original proposal was an outrage that should never have been considered and it caused a great deal of unhappiness among a large number of people and their families. That was unacceptable. As my right hon. Friend has said, however, the announcement was not made in this House, where it should have been, but in The Times.
For all the reasons that my right hon. and hon. Friends have given, I strongly support the attempt by my hon. Friend the Member for Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock to focus on the issue of poverty. It is St. Andrew’s day and we are concerned about Scotland. It can be, and will be, a great Scotland. Of late, I have been fortunate to invite new companies into my constituency, and I welcome that and those entrepreneurs’ enthusiasm. However, they are entitled to more encouragement than they are getting, but so far the Government have not shown any lead on that. Today, I believe we are speaking for Scotland, and I believe that Scotland is listening.
I conscious of that, and I would not like to fall out with you, Mr Robertson. This is the first time that I have been in this interesting power position with you, and I will make sure that I obey your orders.
The emphasis today has been on welfare issues, to which I will return if I have the time, but I want us to recognise what poverty means for many people, particularly children. A group launch by anti-poverty campaigners in Glasgow clearly identified the fact that young children and young people who are growing up in poverty suffer from a range of disadvantages that other children do not experience. They were far less likely to be involved in leisure activities than other children because their families could not pay for them. They were three times less likely to play a musical instrument— something that is about enhancing people’s lifestyle, but children in poverty do not have the same access to that advantage. It is interesting to note that, given the emphasis on football in Glasgow, the group also highlighted the fact that young people from better-off households were four times more likely to be involved in a football club than those children from poorer households. That sort of hidden poverty, which we do not always emphasise in debates such as this one, is the real price that many families are now paying.
Mr. Reid did ask the question of us, “What is it that you would do?” I would actually like to flip that coin back to him and say that it is not just what we would do, but what they have done that is making the significant difference to people in Scotland, for example the decision to reduce the Sure Start maternity grant to the first child only. That grant was of great benefit to many poorer families. The Government have also frozen child benefit and other benefits, even those in-work benefits, have been uprated according to the consumer prices index rather than according to the retail prices index. They have also removed discretionary tax credits, such as the baby element, which means the loss of £545 a year per family. According to the House of Commons figures, a baby born into a low-income family from April 2011 will be about £1,500 worse off compared with a sibling born into the same family before April 2010. That is the sum lost from a family where every penny counts.
Frankly, those supporting the coalition Government have to accept that it is not a question of what we would do, but what they have done. They need to answer whether they have made life better or worse for the poorest members of our society. As I look around my constituency and I look at others areas of Scotland, I think we must make the judgment that the coalition Government have made life worse for many of the poorest people in our communities. If there is anything that we need to give testimony to that, surely it must be the fact that there are now more people in cities in Scotland relying on handouts and food parcels than ever before. I never thought that I would see families having to rely on emergency food rations from organisations that were set up specifically for that purpose. What sort of civilised society are we that allows a family to be so poor that it cannot feed its own children? That is my condemnation of the way in which the Government operate.
I want to put a question particularly to those Lib-Dem members of the coalition who I know are good people. They need look back at their own history and see exactly where they came from. Go back and look at some of the great developments of the 19th( )century—some of the great developments made by the Frys, the Rowntrees and the Cadburys. They took those actions because they recognised the link between poverty and lack of aspiration, between unemployment and people being unable to live a decent life. Over the Christmas recess, I hope that some of those Lib-Dems will have time to reflect on what it is they are doing to collude in a situation that is making life much worse for many people in Scotland.
I am grateful to the right hon. Lady for giving way. The economic situation is grim, and none of us wants to see people living in poverty. I came along to this debate because I wanted to hear what suggestions
Labour Members had for doing things differently. So far, I have not heard any, and I would be grateful if the right hon. Lady could actually tell us what Labour would do differently if it were in power.
Let me explain what we did differently. We did things differently over 13 years when child poverty decreased from 27% to 20%. We made it a legal obligation on Government that they should reduce child poverty. I will tell the hon. Gentleman what we would not have done. We would not have sacrificed the poor as the Government are now sacrificing them. I know that the hon. Gentleman is a good person, and he must ask himself that question during the Christmas recess. We have seen a deterioration in the standards in which the poorest in Scotland have to live their lives – 850,00 people, and rising, are living in fuel poverty, according to Consumer Focus. Finally, may I say in this debate that poverty is not just about money, although money is important? Poverty creates an environment where, if children cannot eat a breakfast in the morning, they cannot go to school and learn; where they are excluded from the company of their peers, because they cannot afford to enjoy that company; and where they cannot go to a school dance or participate in sport. Worst of all, it creates an environment where many of them suffer not only from financial, educational and health poverty, but from a poverty of ambition. Frankly, that is dangerously close to the legacy that this Government are going to give hundreds or thousands of children in Scotland, unless they start to reflect on what they are doing and deal with it quickly.
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend Sandra Osborne for securing this debate and for speaking with such passion and commitment about the effects that material inequality, lack of money, lack of resources and lack of opportunity have on the quality of life of her constituents and many thousands of people across Scotland. She referred in her speech to a historical figure—Nye Bevan, of course. Today, it might be fitting to recall the words of another historical figure, former US President Franklin Roosevelt, who once said:
“The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have little.”
That is what the Government are failing to do in its policies today.
I also pay tribute to the contribution from my hon. Friend Ann McKechin, who spoke movingly about the impact that housing benefit changes and lack of money are having in driving up levels of food poverty in Glasgow, and also to my hon. Friend Dame Anne Begg and my right hon. Friends the Members for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill (Mr Clarke) and for Stirling (Mrs McGuire), who spoke with great passion and eloquence about the effects of deindustrialisation in Scotland and the damaging effects of the Government’s reforms of disability, housing and sickness benefits. My right hon. Friend the Member for Stirling impressed the House this afternoon with her historical sweep and with the notion that she very ably tied between equality and liberty—the fact that they go together and that one simply does not exist without the other.
I recently had the privilege of attending a briefing arranged by the Resolution Foundation, which is hosting the Commission on Living Standards. The presentation gave some staggering statistics from the foundation’s ongoing work. There is an increasing dislocation between growth and living standards. In the past three decades, for every £1 of growth generated in our economy, just 12p is going into wages in the lower half of the income scale, which is a fall of a quarter. Those trends have been exacerbated by the squeeze on jobs and the squeeze through increased taxes and lower tax credits that have been in the Chancellor’s Budgets so far and, sadly, in the autumn statement yesterday.
From that event, there also emerged three themes that are necessary to drive an increase in living standards and reductions in poverty in coming years: full employment, the importance of income transfers—including the tax credits system—and rising wages. The foundation has estimated that the squeeze on living standards that is being imposed by this Government—the steepest since the 1920s—means that to make good the gap, the level of the minimum wage would have to rise to £6.29 per hour by 2015. That is the extent of the squeeze that is impacting on people in this country today. The words of the US economist Lane Kenworthy are very important, reflecting that income transfers—the tax credits system—have been critical in this country and across the western world to seeing an improvement of the living standards of those in the lower half of the income distribution scale.
I also want to endorse some of the findings of UNICEF Scotland’s recent report, which points out the damaging effects of failing to tackle asset-based inequality. The Government have scrapped the child trust fund and introduced an inadequate replacement in the form of junior ISAs, and we will see damaging effects for young people in their failing to build up that nest egg of savings that would help them go to college or university, to start a job and to pay for the necessary expenses for a good start in life.
The key to tackling poverty and to seeing a fairer distribution of wealth in our society is to increase levels of good jobs in our economy and to aim for full employment. Yesterday, the Office for Budget Responsibility downgraded its forecasts for levels of employment throughout this Parliament. It revealed that 710,000 public sector workers will be thrown on to the dole queues in this Parliament. Overall, unemployment will surge by a further 500,000, destroying the lives of people who are claiming benefits when they could be providing services and paying taxes instead.
Scotland will suffer hugely through the absurd economic theories that underpin such devastating choices. As a result of the Chancellor’s failure to change course on public spending and to introduce a proper plan for jobs and growth, Scotland is likely to suffer from rising unemployment, lower growth and the biggest attack on the living standards of ordinary people since the 1940s. The Chancellor said yesterday that he would like to tackle the causes of poverty, but he has slashed support for hard-pressed Scots families who are burdened by big rises in child care costs.
This week, the Social Market Foundation stated, in its report entitled “The Parent Trap”, that average families face an increase in child care costs of more than £600, a rise of up to 62%, which is more than the cost of a family Christmas for average families in Scotland. Yesterday, the Government failed to cut VAT to boost consumer confidence and failed to increase demand amid slumping growth.
My hon. Friend is answering some of the questions of Mr Reid, who seemed to think that the Labour party had no alternative proposals to put forward. I am pleased to hear my hon. Friend telling the House about what we would do if we had the opportunity.
My hon. Friend is entirely right. Yesterday, the OBR’s figures revealed that if we had followed the public spending plans of my right hon. Friend Mr Darling, borrowing would be £37 billion less. There is an alternative—based around growth and job creation—that would not have visited the damaging effects of increased poverty and inequality which this Government is waging on the people of Scotland.
None of us wants to see poverty or inequality, but the only solutions that the hon. Gentleman has brought forward are to cut taxes and to increase public spending. Please will he tell us where the money would come from to do all that, without getting the country even deeper into debt and the mess that his Government left behind?
Thankfully, there are more enlightened Governments in Europe. For example, the newly elected Socialist-led Government of Denmark, who have introduced a stimulus package, have seen bond rates lower that those of the United Kingdom and have entirely defeated the arguments of the right-wing parties in Denmark, which predicted that bond rates would rise if a Socialist-led Government introduced such stimulus package. The reality does not bear out the hon. Gentleman’s point.
It is very clear that this Government are borrowing to cut, not borrowing to grow. The entire theory that the Chancellor has drawn on from some of the extremes of right-wing economics in America in the 1980s and 1990s—essentially, that Governments should shrink and shrivel the public sector and that the private sector will take up all the slack—has simply been destroyed by what the OBR published yesterday. That theory does not work, and it is causing increased poverty and inequality in our country. Mr Reid should disown it today.
With both Governments—the one here and the one in Edinburgh—simply not having done enough about youth unemployment, we have a rate of youth unemployment across the UK of 20%, but it is even higher in Scotland, at 21.3%. Nothing speaks more to this Government’s failure of ambition to cut child poverty than yesterday’s cruel grab by the Chancellor on the promised uplift on child tax credits and working tax credits. For the coalition parties to slash the tax credits of low and middle-income mums and children in Scotland at a time when the real value of wages are declining–by 3.5% this year, as revealed by the Office for National Statistics last week—is an act of brutal contempt for the plight that the poorest are facing, with spending cuts that are too far, too fast for ordinary families to bear.
In 2009-10, 153,000 families in work in Scotland received working tax and child tax credit, and this helped 250,000 children in Scotland. People in Scotland cannot see how it will be fair to snatch £1.2 billion in tax credits from low and middle earners while the Government have raised the bank balance sheet levy by a paltry £300 million in the same Autumn Statement. They will wonder how the Prime Minister can ever again have the brass neck to claim that we are all in this together. Scottish families will lose the extra £110 per child that they were promised in the Budget this year and expected to receive next year. Freezing the working tax credit will cut working families’ income by an additional £100.
As the Resolution Foundation established yesterday, more than three quarters of the burden in new cuts in tax credits is faced by people in the lower half of the income scale, with those in the top 10% simply meeting 3% of that burden. Total tax credit cuts next year will amount to £2.9 billion, a tenth of the entire tax credit expenditure. This afternoon the Institute for Fiscal Studies has given its verdict on the Chancellor’s squeeze on the living standards of ordinary people: average incomes will fall by 7.4% between 2009 and 2030. Based on the OBR’s own figures, it has calculated that families face a slump in the value of their household disposable income of 3% this year compared with a predicted 1.1% at the time of the March Budget, a fall of 1.1% next year compared with a predicted rise of 0.7% in March. Most damning of all is the finding by the IFS that the distributional effects of the changes announced by the Chancellor yesterday will punish those in the lowest two income deciles. Unbelievably, those in the wealthiest 10% are among the few gainers. Unsurprisingly, it is families with children who take the biggest hit. As Paul Johnson of the IFS said on BBC radio 4’s “World at One”, this afternoon
“failure to index some elements of tax credits…will leave some poorer families worse off, and will lead to an increase in measured child poverty…The Government have no chance at all of reducing child poverty.”
What a damning finding on what the Chancellor did yesterday.
In terms of public services, on which the poorest rely most heavily, the IFS has today discovered that the Government are planning a huge assault on public service spending, a 16.2% real terms cut over the next seven years, far beyond the previous record of 7% real-term cuts in the 1970s. The Chancellor’s promise not to balance the books on the backs of the poorest lies in tatters this afternoon. His own Treasury figures show that the poorest fifth of the population are amongst the biggest losers from the tax and benefits measures in his Budgets and Autumn Statements, and inequality is on the rise. He could not even bring himself to admit in his statement yesterday that his own figures show that child poverty will rise across the UK by a further 100,000 in the next tax year as a result of his cruel cuts in tax credits and housing benefits.
This Government have made their choice: slumping growth, rising poverty and higher unemployment are the prices worth paying for a failed economic theory that is letting Britain down and offering nothing but despair for the jobless millions. Now, Scotland can see them as they truly are, the downgraded Chancellor of a deflationary and uncaring Government.
Thank you, Mr. Robertson. I welcome the opportunity to appear under your chairmanship, and it is particularly appropriate that you are in the Chair for this debate on St. Andrew’s day. I pay tribute to Sandra Osborne for instigating this debate. She and other hon. Members who have contributed to the debate are correct to say that there should be more discussion and debate of these issues in relation to Scotland, and that there should be more discussion and debate in this Parliament in respect of the reserved issues for which this Government are responsible in Scotland. Scotland has two Governments, both of which play a significant role and both of which should be held to account.
I also agree that the two Governments should work more closely together on many of the issues that have been touched on today. Sadly, for reasons also touched on by many hon. Members, principally the obsession of the SNP Government in Edinburgh with independence and constitutional issues, it has not always been possible to have the dialogue that would serve the people of Scotland best—on substantive matters in relation to policy objectives and outcomes, rather than the debate constantly being about who did what.
We have had a number of detailed contributions to the debate, particularly by Ann McKechin, and Dame Anne Begg, who chairs the Select Committee. I give them a firm commitment that I will take away the points that they have made, and raise them with Department of Work and Pensions colleagues and I will write back to them on their specific points. While we might not be in agreement on the policy prescription, or whether the policies of the Government of which they were a part delivered much of what the hon. Member for Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock set out, I am in agreement with them that the issues that they raised are important and significant.
As ever, I commend Mrs McGuire for the passion in her contribution.
Again, the issues that she raised are worthy of much more significant debate, especially in relation to the concerns about the impact of hidden poverty, which is not just a financial issue. There would be agreement across the House on that. I listened to the points made by Mr Clarke. I do not necessarily agree with what he had to say, but I sense his passion on the issue, and he has a long track record of fighting the cause of the poor, and that is to be commended. My hon. Friend Mr Reid did not make a speech, although it felt as if he did. It will not surprise you to learn, Mr. Robinson, that I agree with most of the points that he made in his interventions. I am sure that, over the Christmas period, when he reflects on such matters, as he was asked to do by the right hon. Member for Stirling, he will reflect on the many achievements of the coalition Government in taking forward their agenda. When he intervened on Mr Bain—I welcome him to the first real exchange that we have had since he took his position—my hon. Friend the Member for Argyll and Bute make the most significant point, which is how the various aspirations that were expressed during the debate would be paid for. We did not hear anything about that. We heard again about Labour’s five-point plan. As far as I am aware, that is a £20 billion black hole for which no funding has been identified.
The hon. Lady knows that the Government have moved forward with a bank levy, which has raised more than the tax on bonuses that her Government set out. It is populist to say, “tax the bankers,” but that does not set out where the money would come from that would create the funding she suggests.
I hope the hon. Lady will join me in welcoming yesterday’s announcement on the youth contract—a significant step forward in tackling what everyone accepts is the serious problem of youth unemployment. Of course, it was not acknowledged in today’s debate that youth unemployment rose under the previous Labour Government. Youth unemployment is a serious issue, on which we should be trying to work on a cross-party basis. That is why I was pleased to be part of a seminar in Ayrshire with Mr. Donohoe, bringing together the UK Government and the Scottish Government to look at the underlying problems of youth unemployment. That is why I am pleased that my right hon. Friends the Secretary of State for Scotland and the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions will host a national meeting in Scotland with John Swinney to focus on youth unemployment in Scotland.