Skip to main content

Incomes Gap

Volume 268: debated on Tuesday 12 December 1995

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.


To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what estimate he has made of the gap between the richest 5 per cent. and the poorest 5 per cent. of the population in the United Kingdom. [3576]

The vast majority of people are better off as a result of the Government's policies. Average income, which is up for all family types, rose by mor than a third between 1979 and 1992.

I am not sure where the Minister obtains his figures. Would he care to comment on the fact that, statistically, it is accepted that the gap between the richest and the poorest is now wider than it has been at any time since records began, and that the gap has grown faster in Britain than in any other industrial country? Would he care to comment specifically on the fact that the number of people officially living in poverty has trebled since the Tories came to power in 1979, and now include one child in every four? How would the Minister respond to the Rowntree commission's damning conclusion that the combined effect of the Government's tax and benefit policies has simply served to make the rich richer by turning the poor into paupers?

The hon. Gentleman should know that the easiest way of helping people out of poverty is to get them back into work. Why, therefore, does he not hail the Government's success in knocking 750,000 off the unemployment total? Why does he not tell the House that unemployment in his constituency has fallen by 12 per cent. in the past year? If he believes in increasing benefits, why did he not join the honest 10 the other night and vote for an increase in taxation—as he said he would on the radio—rather than remaining a member of the Mandelson muzzled majority?

Is it not inevitable that, after years of socialism and penal taxation policies, the gap between the rich and the poor should increase? Will my hon. Friend confirm that the Institute for Fiscal Studies has said that every income group is better off now than in 1979? Will he also confirm that the Rowntree inquiry, cited by the hon. Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Simpson), excluded benefits in kind, thus invalidating its study?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. He emphasises a point that I made earlier about the importance of getting people back into work. He might well also have mentioned the significant improvements in family credit, which have made a great deal of difference to 600,000 low-paid families on work benefits.

Does the Minister not recognise that from 8 January the very poorest people in the country will be the 13,000 seeking asylum—in many cases, legitimately and genuinely—who will be deprived of any benefit? Does he accept that, when his officials appeared before the Select Committee on Social Security last week and were asked, "How are these people to live? How are they to feed their children?", they gave no substantive answer? Will the Minister now give an answer? Are those people to starve? How are they to live?

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the Social Security Advisory Committee is considering the plans put to it by the Government. He will have read the Home Secretary's outstanding speech in the House yesterday, which dealt with those points, and will know that only 4 per cent. of the people seeking asylum are ultimately found to be genuine. The Government have a duty to deal with that point. The Bill that received its Second Reading yesterday ensures that Britain remains a safe haven, as it has always been, and not a soft touch.