My hon. Friend makes a powerful point. Prescriptions, medicines and HRT are so important to people—[Interruption.] Absolutely, they are free in Wales.
The average band D council tax bill in England is £167 more than in Wales. Even with the UK Government’s recently announced council tax rebate, households in Wales still pay £17 less than in England, which shows that people are better off with Labour.
People being better off with Labour is further exemplified by the Welsh Government’s £244 million council tax reduction scheme, which helps more than 270,000 households with their council tax bills. Although the crisis is real, the Welsh Labour Government are stepping in and stepping up. That helps people in Marshfield, Rogerstone, Pill, Caerleon and right across Wales.
The crisis of food poverty is continuing to grow across the United Kingdom, which is why the Welsh Labour Government committed to provide free school meals to all primary school pupils. An extra 196,000 primary school children benefit from that offer, which shows how the impact of the Tory cost of living crisis can be mitigated by Labour in power. The Welsh Labour Government announced in December 2020 that free school meals would be provided through the holidays to children in Wales through to Autumn 2022, and the First Minister committed to further widen access to free school meals overall. This Tory Government have had to be forced, shamefully and repeatedly, into U-turns by Marcus Rashford’s campaigning and the votes of Her Majesty’s Opposition in Parliament.
As I have said in the House before, the people of Newport West are looking for help. The caretaker Government have no plan to help people with heating their homes, filling their cars with petrol or feeding their families. Last year, I spoke in this House about the 9,000 families in Newport West who had their universal credit cut, and since then I have seen for myself the devastating impact that decision had on families in Newport West and across Wales.
It is not just universal credit: older people and pensioners are at the sharp end of the Tory cost of living crisis, and they urgently need the Government to act. Pensioners spend twice as much on their energy bills as those under 30, and face spiralling inflation, with the prices of petrol, food and energy all soaring. Let us not forget that almost one in five pensioners now lives in poverty.
Our young people are facing the fierce winds of this crisis, with low wages, rising rent and the cost of living going through the roof. My constituent Bobbie said this:
“Hi, Ruth Jones. I would just like to ask a question, see if you can help. I work 2 jobs most weeks between 50 and 60 hours per week just to live. I get paid minimum wages for both jobs. My current outgoings are £1,200, and there is not much left when I pay the petrol, the electricity and done my food shopping. Where is the help for people like me?”
Bobbie is right. Where is the help for people like her?
I pay tribute to some of Britain’s largest charities, including Oxfam, Save the Children and Fuel Poverty Action, which have formed a new campaign coalition—Warm This Winter. The coalition is calling on the Government and all those who seek to lead the Government to support plans to prevent a catastrophic winter energy crisis. Although we currently face record high temperatures, in just a few months families will be struggling again to heat their homes. Let us not forget that all this shows how much the impacts of the climate emergency can affect all parts of our lives.
Rather than help those in need, what are the Conservatives doing? They have whacked up national insurance payments at the worst possible time, hitting working people hard. And let us not forget how Welsh Conservative MPs have used their place and their votes in this House: they voted to cut the £20 universal credit uplift; they voted against free school meals for children during school holidays; they voted for the increase in national insurance contributions; and they voted against a windfall tax. I suspect that the people across Wales, from Delyn to Clwyd South and from the Vale of Glamorgan to Bridgend, will be very clear about their views, needs and wants come the general election that our country desperately needs.
We live in difficult times, but for all the global forces facing us and the world around us, ultimately we need our Government to act, and to act now, because the cost of living crisis is costing livelihoods, costing lives, and costing businesses in Wales and across the UK. Enough is enough—we cannot waste any more time. My message to the people of Wales is simple: help is on the way with a Labour Government, and the sooner the better for all of us.