Working Tax Credits

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 4:12 pm on 30th November 2011.

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Photo of Jonathan Reynolds Jonathan Reynolds Labour, Stalybridge and Hyde 4:12 pm, 30th November 2011

Absolutely, and I am very grateful to USDAW for its support in giving me research and case studies relevant to this debate, because these proposed changes will particularly impact on the retail and service sectors, where there is a prevalence of part-time work. They are rightly concerned about the impact it will have on their members. I have seen their tax credits survey, which suggests that 79% of their members who receive working tax credit would not be able to secure additional hours from their employers before next April. Indeed, they have already talked to members who have repeatedly tried to secure extra hours from their employers, but been told that the work is not available. Where additional hours are available they are often late at night or very early in the morning. The lack of public transport means that members cannot take them.

An added complication is that there is often a mismatch in the retail sector between the hours staff are contracted to work and the hours they actually work. In recent years there has been a trend for retailers to cut the hours staff are contracted to work, with an expectation that they will work longer, additional hours at busy periods. That means that under the proposed changes couples actually working more than the 24 hours that makes them eligible for working tax credit might not get it because not all of their hours are contracted.

I put it to the Minister that that would be completely unconscionable, and I respectfully request that she address this point when she responds to me later in the debate.

I do not yet believe that the full impact of these changes has been considered or identified by the Government. The Government claim they are still committed to ending child poverty, but this is a measure that has the potential to push many families well below the poverty line. It is a regressive step that will concern many Members.

I would hope that the withdrawal of working tax credit from those who could not secure additional work would not prompt a return to the old idea that work will not pay. But that is the risk, and that would be the tragedy, not only for the employees concerned but for the parts of industries that rely on a flexible work force willing to work just a few hours a week.

In these tough economic times I would rather that the Government reviewed their plans, but I do not think that they will do that. Instead, may I implore them to do two things? I ask them, first, to exempt couples where one partner is either disabled or a carer from these changes; and, secondly, to increase awareness of the change among employers and employees, to ensure that they have the best chance of working together so that they can fulfil the requirements for eligibility for working tax credit payments. In addition, if these changes are to go ahead, will the Minister consider what help the Government can give to the most badly affected couples in terms of transitional arrangements?

This change will impact on the lives of many thousands of struggling families, many of whom are my constituents, and I am extremely grateful to be able to highlight this matter before the House this afternoon.