Cost of Living Crisis: Wales — Caroline Nokes in the Chair

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:35 pm on 19th July 2022.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Gerald Jones Gerald Jones Shadow Minister (Wales), Opposition Whip (Commons) 3:35 pm, 19th July 2022

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Ms Nokes. I add my congratulations to my hon. Friend Ruth Jones on securing today’s debate and the passionate way in which she started the case.

It is clear that the Government have a case to answer for their cost of living crisis, which is so damaging for people in Wales and across the UK. The Government’s response to the deepening crisis has been hugely disappointing. At the moment, they are too wrapped up in internal wrangling to care about dealing with the issues that matter to people. It is clear that the Government are out of touch, out of ideas and out of excuses. After 12 years of Conservative Government, we have a high-tax, low-growth economy, with the country suffering the biggest drop in living standards since records began, and the highest tax burden since world war two.

The Government initially refused to implement Labour’s policy of a windfall tax, until the pressure was too much and they finally caved in and had to take action. The Labour party’s plan to deal with the cost of living crisis would cancel the rise in national insurance contributions, which has come in during hugely challenging times. Labour would also cut VAT on home energy bills, and the red tape that has been created by the Prime Minister’s chaotic Brexit. Our policies would make it easier to buy, make and sell more in Britain.

We have had a passionate debate this afternoon. It is disappointing, though not surprising, that we have yet to hear a Tory voice. There are no Tory MPs here to defend their record. We heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Newport West, who talked about the worry and fear faced by many of her constituents. She put the blame for people not being able to provide for their families squarely on the crisis in Downing Street. She highlighted that prescription charges in Wales ease the burden somewhat, compared with the £9.35 cost in England, and that council tax band D properties on average pay £167 less than in England. There is also the £244 million council tax reduction scheme that helps 270,000 households in Wales. All those are policies of the Welsh Labour Government.

My hon. Friend Dame Nia Griffith talked about the massive growth in inequality, the need for a redistributive tax policy, and the fact that the UK has the firepower and capacity to take action, but not the will. She gave examples of the work of the previous Labour Government, and some ideas that could be taken forward, such as cutting VAT on fuel. She, along with other Members, talked about the need to tackle issues around universal credit, particularly the five-week wait that causes so much hardship for our constituents.

Ben Lake talked about the impact of the cost of living crisis in Wales, along with the energy price cap. He spoke of his concern, which I we share, about the possible outcome in the autumn, with further increases in the price cap. He talked about the challenges facing rural communities with off-grid energy costs, and the need to tackle the rise in fuel costs. Like other hon. Members, he talked of the need to address universal credit and restore the £20 uplift.

My hon. Friend Alex Davies-Jones talked about how this Government never take their responsibility to Wales seriously, and about the economic firepower of the UK Government—if only they had the will. She talked of her pride, which many of us share, in the Welsh Government, who work so hard and shoulder-to-shoulder with our constituents, to support them through these troubling times. She highlighted the fact that the windfall tax was too little, too late.

My hon. Friend Beth Winter talked of how we are in a cost of living emergency, and that the freeze on pay over the longer term has caused so many issues. She again highlighted that the Welsh Government are doing as much as they can, doubling the investment over and above the devolution settlement. She raised her concerns about poverty becoming normalised in the fifth richest country in the world, gave examples of parents not being able to buy stationery for children to go to school, and spoke about the need for proper pay for our public servants.

My hon. Friend Geraint Davies talked about the impact of the massive cuts on poverty and the family lives of many of our constituents, and pressed the Government to act now. He also spoke about local housing allowance and the recent report by the Bevan Foundation that said that many people are unable to find properties within the local housing allowance rate. Finally, Jamie Stone talked about digital poverty and the need for a cap on the price of heating oil in Wales—and, of course, in Scotland.

In about two weeks’ time, I will host a cost of living crisis event in my constituency, and I know many others are doing the same. We are bringing providers and support agencies together to offer our constituents support and advice during this awful time.

In recent weeks, I have talked to constituents who have raised concerns. I talked to a young family a few weeks ago. Both parents work full time, and by the middle of the month they rely on the support of the food pantry to get them through the rest of the month—to feed themselves and their young child.