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It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Streeter. I congratulate my hon. Friend Luciana Berger on securing the debate and on her excellent and graphic description of the reality of poverty in Liverpool for far too many people.
There is no doubt that the city of Liverpool has been transformed since the days when Margaret Thatcher’s Government planned what they called its managed decline, thanks to sustained investment by the European Union over nearly 30 years, at a time when Liverpool was abandoned by central Government. It has also been helped by support from the UK Government since 1997.
Liverpool, Riverside includes a thriving city centre, the iconic waterfront and world-class universities. It is a top tourist spot and the cruise liners have returned, yet too many people in local neighbourhoods struggle with poverty, which means struggling for their day-to-day existence. As my hon. Friend said, Liverpool is the fourth most deprived local authority in the United Kingdom. Three wards in Liverpool, Riverside—Kirkdale, Princes Park and Riverside—contain some of the poorest areas in the whole country.
There are two shameful statistics that epitomise some of the problems of poverty and deprivation experienced by people in Riverside. Only 67% of 16 to 24-year-olds are economically active—regarded fit and able for work—compared with 78% nationally. Such depths of deprivation are sometimes caused by ill health or long-term problems that people experience where the economic base is in fact very low. The second figure is that 40% of children in Liverpool, Riverside—6,500 young people—suffer poverty. That is a shameful figure. Many of those children are in working families. Those are just some indicators of the depths of poverty in some communities in Liverpool, Riverside, despite the great successes of the city of Liverpool and its positive developments over the last 20 years or so. What should be done to address this?
First, we must stop the cuts and fund public services. We must recognise the importance of the public sector, specifically local government and the national health service. Liverpool City Council provides a lifeline to people in need, as well as providing support to local communities and showing civic leadership for the whole city. There should be no more cuts to Liverpool City Council. It is vital that education and social care are funded properly, both to deal with immediate need and to equip young people with the abilities and the confidence to look forward to a more positive future.
Only yesterday in this House, I met young people leaving care who were very concerned about the lack of support given on leaving the care system and moving into adulthood. They were very positive young people who very firmly wanted to be successful citizens, but they were very concerned. That lack of support is not being addressed as local authorities face cut after cut. Liverpool City Council has already lost at least 50% of its central Government grant. As local government looks ahead to the planned removal of all central Government funding, it is staring into the financial abyss.
Secondly, the Government must stop the planned roll-out of universal credit in Liverpool. Without major alterations, it will simply cause more poverty. According to the Resolution Foundation, 3.2 million working families nationally will lose £48 per week on universal credit. We have already heard about the problems of people being forced to go to food banks to eat and the stress, as well as loss of income, that people on universal credit are forced to experience. I say very clearly to the Government that they should stop the planned roll-out of universal credit in Liverpool, Riverside. There are reports that it might be about to happen, and we deserve to know exactly what the position is.
We are often told that the route out of poverty is through people getting a job. Where that is possible, I certainly agree, but there are many people who are genuinely too ill to work and that has to be recognised. For many people, getting a job is the way out of poverty and I support that, which also means that I support investment in the local economy. Regional strategies are vital. There are opportunities for jobs in Liverpool’s key sectors, such as biotech, vehicle manufacturing, the creative arts—including the excellent Baltic Creative—the maritime sector and others, but there have to be specific initiatives that look at what is happening within local communities as well and help people to move from unemployment into work. Above all, there has to be the right level, type and quality of education and skills training for people to enable them to take up those new jobs. That means no more cuts to the City of Liverpool College, which is a vital provider of skills training and further education. As responsibility for skills training is transferred from central Government to Metro Mayor Steve Rotherham under the devolution agreement, it is very important that funding is not lost. Specifically, it is important that the millions of pounds of European Union funding that now go into skills training in Liverpool do not disappear. I ask the Minister for a specific assurance that that is being considered, because it is very important for the future.
I cannot end without mentioning the threats that withdrawal from the European Union will pose to employment and wellbeing in Liverpool. There is a threat to the economy as a whole, which means a threat to jobs and to public funds and finances, estimated by the Chancellor of the Exchequer to be as high as £80 billion in the event of no deal. With reduced public funds, there will be less money to pay for education, social services, policing and the whole range of other vital services provided by the public sector.
I conclude by restating that Liverpool has outstanding strengths—its people are perhaps its greatest strength—and has made great strides in recent years. It has recovered from being a place that was described as a “wasteland”, when people were leaving the city—all that is well in the past. It is now a positive, creative force, and more people are coming to Liverpool. It is a place for the future, but the lives of too many people are blighted by poverty. It is indeed time to stop the cuts in public services and to support local communities.