Debate resumed (Order, 24 June).
Question again proposed,
That provision be made in relation to the rates at which capital gains tax is charged.
My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer has delivered our first coalition Budget, making what he legitimately described as unavoidable choices in the face of a potential eurozone economic crisis. They will involve, first, a reduction in spending to repair the record deficit left by the previous Government. I remind the House that we inherited the largest deficit in peacetime history: for every £4 we spend today, we are being forced to borrow at least £1. According to the Office for Budget Responsibility, this Budget will put us back on track to balance the structural deficit by 2015-16, with net debt falling as a share of gross domestic product by the end of the Parliament.
Secondly, the measures will include a restructuring of the tax and welfare system, underpinned by our commitment to fairness and protecting the vulnerable, even when faced with some tough choices—and there are tough choices.
I was not going to deal with that at this point, but while we are on it, I can tell my hon. Friend that I know there has been speculation in the media over the past few hours and days. I can confirm that, as we said previously, we will launch the work programme in 2011, and will migrate current incapacity benefit claimants to employment support allowance over the three years. We have absolutely no intention of changing the current plan to assess 10,000 claimants per week over the period. That is our expectation. As the right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper) will know, it will involve challenges, but we will stick to it and see if we can get there. Unlike the last Government, we will provide an extra bit of help for those on employment support allowance who undergo the work capability assessment and need that support. My hon. Friend the Minister of State will table a statement tomorrow giving more details.
I am sure that the right hon. Lady—my opposite number—will back up what I have said. She has already expressed the hope that we will proceed with the changes that she introduced and with which we agreed.
Will the Secretary of State confirm that his timetable is the one that we proposed for the roll-out of the work capability assessment, and that it is expected to save about £1.5 billion over the next five years? Does he plan to make additional savings, and if so, where? The briefing that was in the papers today will have caused concern to people. Will the Secretary of State also tell us whether he will implement the small amendments to the work capability assessment that we announced just before the election in response to points raised by the citizens advice bureaux?
We are continuing with the programme that the right hon. Lady left. We thought it a good programme, and I want to make it happen. She asked us to do that, and I agreed that it was right. We always said in opposition that we would do it.
As for whether we are looking for more savings, we are going to intensify the work support programme, which was not there before. I should be happy to give the right hon. Lady more detail about it, and my hon. Friend the Minister of State will make a more detailed statement. We estimate that we will be able to return more people to work, but we will keep that estimate under review. The right hon. Lady will recall that when she was Secretary of State there was a constant review of the programme to deal with the group who were flowing in. Recommendations were made, and we are paying attention to them.
Does the fact that the Secretary of State thinks he will be able to help more people to return to work—although he has cut the job guarantee and billions of pounds from the support that would help them to do so—mean that he thinks that other people will not get jobs instead, or is he suggesting that the Office for Budget Responsibility will raise its forecast of the number of people in employment? Where will the jobs come from for the extra people whom he is going to return to work?
The right hon. Lady is assuming that the economy is static, and that nothing changes in it. We believe that unemployment will fall—that is what the Office for Budget Responsibility says—and that we will therefore create more jobs.
The right hon. Lady’s programme, which we inherited, provided support for the “back to work” element in only two parts of the country. We are extending support to the whole country, and that is where we will get the extra effort. We will continue the programme. We think that we have embellished it and made it somewhat better, and I guarantee that we will keep it under permanent review.
The third thing that we are doing is setting down a strong foundation for long-term reform, which is part of the Budget proposals. Although we must correct the failings of the last Government, we are committed to delivering a better future for Britain, and we have had to make the stability of our economy a priority. I know that it is difficult for many Opposition Members to talk about this, but I also know that it is what they would be talking about if they were in government. There are always difficult choices to be made at a time when we have to draw our horns in.
We have had to prioritise the stability of our economy lest we forget the shambles with which we were left. Borrowing will be £149 billion this year, the second largest amount in Europe, and, as the Prime Minister pointed out before the Budget, it was on course to double in five years to £1.4 trillion—£22,000 for every man, woman and child. As a result of the Budget, however, the debt will fall to £116 billion next year, £89 billion the following year, and £60 billion in the year after that. It will fall to £37 billion in 2014-15, and is projected to fall to £20 billion in 2015-16, with the current structural deficit back in balance. That is the task that we have set ourselves. That was the first test of this Budget: to tackle borrowing and get the deficit down. Our approach has been reinforced by the judgments of the credit rating agencies and the business lobby when they agreed on Budget day that the plan is credible. Measures include reducing current expenditure by £30 billion a year by 2014-15, stronger medium-term growth with more business support to restore UK competitiveness, and reducing regulation and tax rates; and unemployment is forecast to fall throughout the OBR’s forecast period.
Will the Secretary of State tell the House how many credit rating agencies made that judgment? My knowledge, which I admit is limited, is that there is one individual in Florida and another rating agency company comprising three individuals in the United States of America, and also that they consistently failed to remove the triple A rating from those companies and banks that caused the economic downturn in the first place. Why are the Government listening to people who clearly do not know what they are talking about?
It is not just the Government who are listening to them; it seems that the rest of the world is as well. I must remind the hon. Lady that if we are not careful—[Interruption.] Whatever she says, if the credit rating agencies downgrade our rating, we would, like Spain and Greece, be paying far more to borrow the money that we are borrowing as a result of the previous Government’s position. Whether or not we agree that the credit rating agencies got it right on the banks is irrelevant, therefore. In this particular case, the question is whether or not we would end up paying more as a result of their bad rating, and that is something we were not prepared to risk. This is a Budget to get the economy back on track. It is a Budget to support the recovery and drive down the deficit, and, most importantly, to get Britain back to work.
Despite facing the tough and unavoidable choices forced on us by the fiscal position left by Labour, we are increasing the threshold for paying the basic rate of income tax, and increasing the child element of the child tax credit by £150 above indexation next year. We are making sure that the most vulnerable do not pay disproportionately.
On that point, will my right hon. Friend advise me whether the current level of 3.9 million children living below the poverty line—inherited after 13 years of failure by a Labour Government—will be increased or decreased by the end of this Parliament?
Directly in terms of this Budget, there will be no increase at all; that figure is approved by the OBR, and it is our determination to drive the figure down. Let me say to my hon. Friend that he is right: we have inherited from Labour one of the worst records of household unemployment in western Europe and, worse than that, we have the highest number of children living in workless households in the whole of western Europe. That is a shameful record of the previous Labour Government, and although Labour Members go on about it, it is we who have to deal with it, and I promise my hon. Friend that we will deal with it.
Will the Secretary of State confirm that the number of children living in workless households has fallen from about 2.3 million in 1997 to 1.8 million today, and that it was, in fact, his party when in government previously that trebled the number of children in poverty?
If the right hon. Lady wants to go on fighting past elections, she can; it will not change the results of them. The reality is that under her Government, child poverty rose—[Interruption.] It rose from 2004 onwards, and the Government threw a lot of money at it and absolutely failed. Under her Government, in the last seven or eight years child poverty has risen dramatically, and I have to point out to her that she has failed to recognise that as a result of their policies child poverty is now at serious risk of rising even further. We have to get it down.
I will give way in a minute; I want to make a bit of progress first.
Universal child benefit will be frozen, but benefits will be recycled so that they are targeted at the most vulnerable through child tax credits. Thereby, the poorest will be protected. That is exactly what we will do in this Budget.
We will freeze public sector pay, but we will also increase the pay of those on the lowest incomes. I am sure the right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford will welcome the fact that half the employees—the lowest paid—at her former Department will get at least £250 this year and next.
We will protect health spending, which was a priority, and honour our international aid obligations. We will reduce the deficit by raising taxes more and cutting spending less, but we will also reduce corporation tax from 28% to 24% to make the UK more competitive internationally and get people back to work. We will reverse the cynical pre-election clawback by the previous Government from this year’s uprating forecast, and we will do the decent thing and fill the gap they left. We were left with a £300 million shortfall, because the previous Government had uprated benefits when the retail prices index fell below zero but had made no provision to find that money in 2011, so benefits would have been uprated less than the uprating we shall put through next year.
Let us not forget that we chose to take hundreds of thousands of low-income individuals out of tax, improving work incentives. More than 880,000 people on the lowest incomes will be taken out of tax altogether and 23 million taxpayers will benefit. That is a Liberal choice—I say that to the hon. Friends sitting on my right—and one I wholeheartedly support.
The right hon. Gentleman talked about making sure that the most vulnerable did not pay disproportionately. Is he aware that in Islington, 2,154 families are in private accommodation on housing benefit and a third of them will be affected by the new caps on housing benefit? If and when they face eviction, what help will the Government give to stop hundreds, if not thousands, of Islington families being made homeless? If they are made homeless, what help will he give to get them somewhere to live?
The hon. Lady is looking at things in a rather doom-laden way. The reality is that the changes to housing benefit will assist people into the right level of home. At the moment, through local housing allowance, we are paying vast sums of money to people who would not be able to get the same money if they were in employment. For example, in south-east London, which is similar to the hon. Lady’s area, people on low incomes living in private rented accommodation would still—even with the caps in place—be nowhere near the level of money that somebody on local housing allowance receives. That is not fair on those who are striving and working, but having to struggle to live in a house. Before the hon. Lady carps too much, she should recognise that we have also increased the discretionary payment, trebling it to £60 million. If there are specific difficulties there will be money for local councils to help and assist.
May I take the Secretary of State back to child poverty? Page 34 of the Red Book makes it clear that there will be
“no measurable impact on child poverty in the next two years”
of Budget measures. Can he explain why the Government have published that assessment only for a two-year period and whether he will commit to publishing an assessment for the whole of the planning period?
Indeed, we will. We shall launch a strategy in March next year and I promise my hon. Friend that I shall inform him about how it goes. As I pointed out, child poverty has risen by more than 100,000 since 2004, so when the Opposition lecture us about child poverty they ignore the facts. They spent a lot of money but they failed to meet even their targets.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that although the welfare state is obviously necessary to protect the poor and vulnerable, it has often acted as a disincentive for people to go from being out of work to work? I know that from my constituency. Will he ensure that over the next few weeks, when we consult on the future of the welfare state, all the relevant charities, agencies and local councils, which are very knowledgeable about such things, are fully involved so that the outcome is informed by the facts and not by prejudice?
I give my hon. Friend absolute confirmation that we shall consult widely. As he knows, we are planning to reform the benefit system so that it no longer acts as a major disincentive for people to go back to work. We have had to take decisions in the Budget, but beyond that we want to bring forward changes that make work pay—significantly for those going to work for the first time, as they understand. My comments at the weekend were about the need to recognise that often people want to move 10 or 15 miles to take a job, but they worry about the cost of travel to work or losing their house. The coalition has to look at that sort of thing to see whether we can make it easier for people to make decisions and take risks without being punished every time, as with the last Government. It is worth remembering that, of all social housing tenants—it is a falling figure—only 5% change their houses during the year, whereas 35% of low-income private tenants change. That is the problem: they are static, and they are stuck in what they do.
When will the right hon. Gentleman publish more details of the proposals for the cuts in housing benefit? The local authorities affected, such as mine in Hammersmith, which is a Conservative authority, really do not know what is happening, other than that 750 families, at least, will have to move out of the borough because even the substandard accommodation that he clearly wants them to move into is not available in central London. How does he expect those families who move to areas where less work is available than in central London to find jobs, as he says that he wishes they would?
In fact, over a third of all the properties available for rent are available below the 30th percentile. The reality is that property is out there, and we know that we can do it. Of course, I did not say at any stage that these changes would be easy. They will not be easy—we recognise that—and they will not happen overnight. They will not start until next October, and most cases will be reviewed only on their anniversary, which could be anything up to a year and a half or two years away.
Excuse me; I am answering the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr Slaughter) if hon. Members do not mind. We will publish the full details, and he can discuss them with us at any time—the door is always open, as soon as I am ready.
I felt it unfair therefore to make such a change, and I agreed that we needed to ensure that we protected the worst-off.
I will give way in a second; I think that I have been reasonably generous.
I should like to return to the choice on the uprating of benefits—something on which, I guess, Opposition Members will want to intervene. Before the Budget, there was some media speculation, much of it fed by the Opposition. In fact, I think that the right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford said that she would not support a freeze of benefits and that she would definitely want to oppose that. The media speculation was that we would go to that—in fact, I believe that that would have saved some £17 billion over the lifetime of this Parliament—but I resolved not to do that. We decided that it would be unfair for the worst-off. Instead, the Chancellor and I agreed that we would continue to uprate benefits by the consumer prices index, which is forecast in the Budget to be 2.7% this year. Of course, the CPI does not include housing costs, and it seemed more reasonable. However, the right hon. Lady was reviewing that before she left office, and I am sure therefore that she will want to tell me that she agrees with the uprating, rather than remaining as we were. I would therefore like her to tell me exactly what reduction in spending she was planning as her Department’s share of the £45 billion. I will give way to her if can tell me which elements of saving she would have made in her budget. She does not want to use the CPI; what was she going to do that added up?
In fact, as the right hon. Gentleman will be aware, the additional support that we have put in to help the unemployed has kept unemployment at about half the level of previous recessions and nearly 750,000 lower than it was predicted. That in itself is likely to save more than £15 billion over the next five years. We believe that the right way to do welfare reform is help people into work, not just to slash the support for the most vulnerable people in society.
I am very sad that the right hon. Lady chose not to answer the question. When I give way to an intervention from now on, I will ask Opposition Members—this goes for all of them—the very simple question: what would they have reduced? They were in government not two months ago, and they have left us with a terrible problem.
Before I give way—I will give way in due course—I want to make a bit more progress, and I want Opposition Members to tell me what they would have advised the right hon. Lady to cut from the Department’s spending. It is utterly unreal that they can sit there now in opposition as though they have been there for six years and they had nothing to do with the mess. After all, the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Mr Byrne), who is sitting on the Front Bench right now, said that there was no more money left, so where was the right hon. Lady going to get the money from?
I will give way in a second; I think that I have been reasonable.
Our action to increase benefits in line with headline inflation measures is in marked contrast to the actions of the previous Government. I mentioned that there was no provision to find the extra £300 million that they would have reduced next year’s budget by. Let me look at some of the other measures. Today in the UK, nearly 2 million children grow up in homes where no one works. They are at risk of poorer outcomes than those of their peers in working households. That is unacceptable, so the Budget will deliver fairness for children and families while protecting the vulnerable. To help lone parents to raise themselves out of benefit dependency and into work, our measures include lowering the age at which lone parents will be expected to move into work to when their youngest child reaches five. However, it is important to remember that jobcentres have wide discretion on this, and as they assist parents, they will of course have the capacity to examine how things fit in with parents’ requirements around their children’s education. It is right and fair that lone parents should work as and when their children are in school, although more particularly in this case that will be part-time work.
When we are restricting eligibility for the Sure Start maternity grant for the first child, it is right that we provide additional support for families to buy essentials. However, it is also right that these essentials are not repeatedly bought for subsequent children but used again, which is what is done by many hard-working families on low incomes. For multiple births, the grant will come through a corresponding number of times, so people who have triplets or twins will receive different lots of that £500. Further help may be available from the social fund if there is an additional need.
I certainly disagree with the reduction in the maternity allowance, but can the right hon. Gentleman justify scrapping the health in pregnancy grant? The money would have been available for the grant, by the way, if the Government had been tougher on the banks with the banking levy.
The reality is that the grant came far too late and had no effect on improving women’s health, which was its original target. It was actually paid after the child was born, so the whole grant was a nonsense from start to finish. Getting rid of it has affected nothing out there and there are far better uses for the money.
Did my right hon. Friend read last week that the media commentator Stephen Pollard had spent his family’s health in pregnancy grant on a trip to the Fat Duck restaurant in Bray? That is an example of a lack of proper targeting of those who are most in need of such funding, and it shows why we were right to get rid of the grant.
I thank my hon. Friend for that example. We have put £2 billion into the child tax credit because we believe that that is a far better way of helping poorer parents. The grant is rather indicative of the way in which the previous Government scattered money around in the hope that they could buy some votes in the run-up to the election although, as was demonstrated, that failed.
Perhaps not in the hon. Gentleman’s view, but he has never been reasonable in my view, so good luck to him.
The Budget tackled the ballooning cost of housing benefit. In real terms, the cost of working-age housing benefit has increased from £10.6 billion to £15.4 billion in 2010-11. If the system was left unreformed, it is projected that the housing benefit bill would reach £21 billion in 2014-15. It is out of control and what is more, housing benefit is often unfair for working families. Today, a tenant in a five-bedroom house in an expensive area such as Westminster could feasibly get more than £100,000 a year. Although that example applies to a small number of people, some 750,000 get more than £10,000 a year. Those cases are still in the minority, but they happen far too often. It is unacceptable and unaffordable that people on benefits are living in homes that our hard-working families cannot afford, so we have capped local housing allowance levels at the rate for four-bedroom properties.
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the biggest reason behind the increase in housing benefit is the lack of affordable rented housing in this country? Most of my constituents would rather live in an affordable rented house than a private rented home.
Oh dear me; there is no stopping Labour Members sometimes. I must say to the hon. Lady: whose fault is that? The Labour Government slashed the building programme, so Labour Members have only themselves to blame. Everyone warned them about the problem for years. As far as we possibly can, we need to ensure that the houses that people occupy are of the size that they need. We should not have elderly people trapped in houses that are far too large for them and that they cannot look after. Only the most expensive areas will be affected by the cap.
I will give way in a minute.
We have also introduced size restrictions to the social rented sector to make better use of existing housing stock, changed the percentile of market rents for local housing allowance rates to 30% to keep rents under control, time-limited the housing benefit award for jobseekers to reinforce back-to-work incentives and changed the current system of mortgage interest support, in which 92% of customers get more help than they need.
Of course I am listening to the concerns about the potential impact of housing benefit reform, and we will keep it under review. That is why we are tripling the discretionary housing payment to £60 million and we will provide for an additional bedroom for non-resident carers, who may need to stay overnight—something, by the way, that the other Government could have done and never did.
I can tell the right hon. Gentleman that there are no fat ducks in Wakefield. What we do have is a large number of poor families who will be hit by his cut to the Sure Start grant. I can tell him that if someone has a child who is two, they cannot expect a baby to travel in the same pushchair. I can tell him that if someone has a child of six of seven, they have already given away the pushchair by the time the next baby comes along, because that is how families organise themselves. He argues that people should reuse and recycle goods for babies, but people cannot fit two babies in the same cot—is that what he is now suggesting families in this country should do?
I must say to the hon. Lady that that is a pretty poor intervention. The grant of over £500 for every child was far more than most poor, working families would ever achieve from any other source. As I told Labour Members earlier, we have to make tough choices. This is an area where people can share. Having had children myself, I know, as will many others in the House, that people share clothing and pushchairs. They do what they can to get by. There was a ludicrous idea that every child required the same amount of money, and I am afraid that in these difficult times we have had to take a difficult decision. I say to the hon. Lady that we are not going down the road she suggests.
Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that the Institute for Fiscal Studies, in its report on the Budget, said that the new measures were largely regressive, and that was before housing benefit cuts were taken into account? A survey at the weekend by Tim Horton and Howard Reed said that if the housing benefit cuts and spending cuts were taken into account, the poorest 10% were likely to face a six times greater reduction in their spending power than the richest 10%. Does that make it a fair Budget, in the right hon. Gentleman’s opinion?
The IFS talked about it being debatable whether the Budget was regressive or progressive. I say honestly to Labour Members that if they do not like these measures and if they really want to be taken seriously, they need to tell me what they would have done. Had they won the election—heaven help us—they would have been on this side of the House justifying reductions in spending, not playing games on the other side. If the hon. Gentleman wants to say that this is unfair, he should tell us what would have been a fair way of getting that £45 billion reduction.
I am committed to ensuring that disabled people and carers receive the support that they deserve. I have therefore asked the Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, my hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Maria Miller), who has responsibility for disabled people, to undertake a strategic review, taking a principled look at the support provided for disabled people across the piece, to ensure that the effect of all the measures is appropriate and that they work.
Over the last decade, spending on disability living allowance—this is the issue—has spiralled out of control, and the system has been vulnerable to error, abuse and, in some cases, outright fraud. In just eight years the numbers claiming DLA have risen by around 700,000. In 2010-11, spending is on track to reach just over £12.1 billion, twice the level of the 1995-96 spending in real terms. That is a significant sum, and we need to make sure, for the taxpayer, that the money is paid to those who desperately need it. That is why we need a proper medical assessment. It is not about cutting support for people who live with serious disability or health problems; it is simply about making sure that we target support at those who need it, and the system remains fair and affordable.
I welcome the right hon. Gentleman to his new post. He will recollect that towards the end of the last Parliament the entire House agreed to an increase in disability living allowance for blind people. Will he give the House a guarantee that he will not go back on that decision?
I am very grateful to the Secretary of State. My constituency has one of the highest levels of those on sickness benefits of various kinds. There are historical reasons for that. He asks what I would like to see. I would like to see fewer of my constituents on unemployment benefits and fewer people on sickness benefits because they were in jobs. The difficulty is how one achieves that without cruelty to those who desperately need support and want to be able to go to work. The vast majority of my constituents are not looking for handouts; they want to be able to get into work.
The right hon. Gentleman talks about people moving house. My concern is that that does not apply in constituencies such as Rhondda because we have a very high level of home ownership. For those people, unless he really is talking about just upping sticks and moving to another part of the country, what he is saying poses the very real danger of increased poverty. How will he make sure that those people have a chance in future?
That is a very reasonable question. As I said earlier, we did not want to be here in the first place. We have inherited a major deficit, and we have to eradicate it. Whoever was to be in government—the hon. Gentleman should know this, having been a Minister—was going to face tough choices. There is no easy choice. Of course I recognise that he has a problem. We have said that we will increase the discretionary allowance. We also want to make sure that more money is spent on areas such as his that can, in turn, develop more jobs. That is a priority, and we will be making announcements about that.
These decisions are not about taking money away from people who need it; they are about making sure that those who need money get the money that they need. Nobody, after these checks, will have money taken away from them who can genuinely demonstrate that they should be receiving DLA. The key point is to make sure that those who do not need it are seeking work.
I have already given way to the hon. Gentleman. If he will forgive me, I want to make some progress.
I started with a clear argument that the first coalition Government faced some unavoidable choices. I know that the Opposition, having been in government a couple of months ago—[Interruption.] The Opposition say that the choices are not unavoidable, but I would love to know what they would reduce if they were in government. What would be their choices? We have heard nothing about that except their talk about the £45 billion—not a single word about a penny piece being cut from any budget. We have to make spending cuts to repair a record deficit, reform the tax and welfare systems while protecting the vulnerable, and set the foundations for long-term, sustainable recovery.
The right hon. Gentleman has confirmed that he believes that there will be an exodus from central to outer London, and he has said that there is housing to accommodate those people. What is his assessment of that housing in Chingford? Can he confirm that he will be doing a race impact assessment?
I am happy to consider a race impact assessment—that is reasonable—and if the right hon. Gentleman wants to come and talk to me, my door is open.
We believe that there is enough housing in London. Of course, I did not say that this was going to be easy. The point is that far too many people in houses in central London are paid significant sums—over £100,000 in some cases. That is unsustainable. As much as I like the right hon. Gentleman—he is a fellow Tottenham supporter—I have to say to him that he knows as well as I do that these are tough choices, but they are ones that we believe that we can manage. We have tripled the discretionary fund to allow for difficult cases, and I suspect that a significant amount of that will be used in London because the nature of London means that there will be issues. We will get through this, and I guarantee that we will keep the situation under review. My offer to the right hon. Gentleman still stands.
The Chancellor ended his Budget speech by saying that it
“laid the foundations for a more prosperous future. The richest paying the most and the vulnerable protected: that is our approach.”—[Official Report, 22 June 2010; Vol. 512, c. 180.]
If the actuality falls out of line with the intention, will measures be brought forward to bring it back into line?
My hon. Friend has to recognise that one needs to see the Budget in the round, over the lifetime of this Parliament and in terms of reform. What I want to do is introduce reforms that focus benefit money—the money that we spend—hugely on the poorest in society. That must be our priority. Right now, the benefit system that we inherited is out of kilter, and has sucked in too many people on higher incomes, and has left too many people on low incomes desperately looking for work, but unable to find it. The answer to my hon. Friend’s question is that we are absolutely—and I am, too—determined to reform the system, so that the poorest benefit the most, and we make sure that they receive assistance to change their lives and become more profitable in all that they do.
I am going to continue.
We have to seize the long-term prospectus for reform, and I shall introduce radical, long overdue changes to the welfare system, reforming the working-age benefit and tax credit system with measures consistent with our core principles: protecting the most vulnerable; improving incentives to work and providing the best route out of poverty; and tackling the pathways into poverty, welfare dependency, family breakdown and debt. That is crucial if we are to tackle income inequality, which is at its highest since records began in this country.
I was going to come on to that, but I shall deal with it now.
As my hon. Friend knows, the Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions, my hon. Friend the Member for Thornbury and Yate (Steve Webb), fully supports all of this, and has made an announcement. [Interruption.] We are a coalition, and we are together. He has announced some radical proposals on pensions, and I am enormously proud to be the first Secretary of State for Work and Pensions to say that we have relinked pensions and earnings. Moreover, even in these difficult times, we will triple-lock that pension, so that it will rise in line with earnings or prices, whichever is highest, or by 2.5%. [Interruption.] I heard the hon. Member for Wallasey (Ms Eagle) chuntering about the consumer prices index, but earnings will rise in due course well above that, so she does not know what she is talking about. [Interruption.] Okay: she had 13 years to do that, but she did not do it. She should go and look pensioners in the eye, and tell them why the previous Government did not do so, when they had the opportunity.
The coalition is proud to make sure that we will reform the system that we have inherited. We will reduce the deficit, and we will improve the lot of the poorest in society. We will look back on this and say, “What a shameful 13 years the other side had.”
The Secretary of State told us in May in his first speech that he would work to improve the quality of life of the worst-off in Britain. He said that
“we are here to help the poorest and most vulnerable in our society.”
He has just spent 40 minutes defending a Budget that kicks the poorest and the most vulnerable in the teeth. How does that sit on his conscience? Was it his idea, or was it the Treasury’s, to tell a woman in her fifties, who has given up work to look after her elderly parents that, in fact, what they wanted to do was cut housing benefit and make her pay VAT—hundreds of pounds a year—and that even her carer’s allowance over the next five years would be cut in value by about £90 a year? Was it his idea, or was it the Treasury’s, to tell someone who is severely disabled—
Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman can answer this point as well if he is going to respond. Was it his idea, or was it the Treasury’s, to tell someone who is severely disabled and really cannot work, “We’re going to cut the value of support over the next five years by £300 a year”? If he could answer those points, that would be very welcome.
I should be grateful if the right hon. Lady answered the original question. She was in government not two months ago. [Interruption.] No—the Opposition have to recognise that they have only just left government, so we have a legitimate right to ask the question. They left the deficit behind, which will lead to real problems for Britain—we have had to resolve it. If she does not like what we have done, what would she have done instead? Will she answer that question?
The right hon. Gentleman has not answered the question. He has not explained why he claims to help the poorest and most vulnerable, yet is cutting the benefits of those who are poorest and most vulnerable in society. Government Members like to claim that this is inevitable. This is an ideological choice that they are making. They have chosen to cut an extra £40 billion from the economy. They have chosen to cut an extra £11 billion from the value of benefits and tax credits. They have chosen to cut an extra £17 billion a year from Government Departments, and they have chosen to increase VAT. They have chosen to cut the deficit at a pace that is not only unfair and destructive to our public services but damaging to our economy.
On page 33 of the Red Book, paragraph 1.102 makes it quite clear that the Government intend to reduce housing benefit to people of working age if they under-occupy council housing. In his response to an intervention, the Secretary of State referred to pensioners under-occupying social housing. Does that not give the lie to what is in the Red Book, and show the real intention of housing benefit changes, which are an attack on pensioners?
My hon. Friend makes an important point, and I am happy to accept an intervention from the Secretary of State if he wants to clarify the position, because he did indeed discuss pensioners who under-occupy homes across the country. It is right that we help and support people who want to move to smaller homes as they grow older, but he needs to give us an answer. If he is telling elderly people and pensioners that they are going to have to move out of the home where they have lived all their lives, and where they have brought up their children, that has severe consequences. He must clarify his position, because my hon. Friend is right.
The right hon. Lady’s attack appears to be that the measures introduced by the Government are ideologically driven—something that is difficult to justify with regard to my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary to the Treasury; the Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions, my hon. Friend the Member for Thornbury and Yate (Steve Webb); and others, who have a record of campaigning for the poor and disadvantaged. Might not the same fallacious argument explain why, for 13 years, the Labour Government never linked pensions to earnings? Was that an ideological option? I hope it was not but if it was, the right hon. Lady cannot make the argument, because it is fallacious.
The hon. Gentleman is right that there are many members of the Government who have indeed campaigned against poverty for many years, which is why their betrayal of the people whom they have stood up for is shocking. He will recall, too, that it was the Labour party that legislated and changed the law to restore the link with earnings. He should look rather carefully at the increase that, in practice, pensioners will receive over the next few years compared with the old standards. He will find that the new proposals are rather less generous than they appear at first sight.
Is there not also a real danger that the Government are presenting us with a straw man on housing benefit? In many of the constituencies that have the biggest problems in the land in trying to get people into work, it is not a question of people being paid more than £400 or of their living in houses that are too large, but of people living in houses that are not large enough and not looked after well enough by unscrupulous landlords. What we need to do if we want to help young people to grow up in households where there is work is to give them real opportunities to work.
My hon. Friend is right that the key is helping people into jobs, yet the Budget cuts the number of people in work, increases the number of people on the dole, cuts the help for people to get back to work, as well as cutting the income of carers and the severely disabled, cuts help for kids, and hits the elderly with a VAT hike. Nothing in the Budget will get a single extra person back to work. Instead, it cuts the number of people in work.
We have been through the greatest global recession for many generations. That has had an impact on economies across the world, pushed up unemployment across the world, and pushed up borrowing across the world. We think it was the right thing to do to increase borrowing in response to the recession. That is why unemployment in this recession has been about 5%, compared with 10% in the recession of the 1980s and 1990s. Helping more people back into jobs has saved us money and also helped to put borrowing in a stronger position.
Minister after Minister has tried to pretend that this is a fair and a progressive Budget. The Liberal Democrats are clinging to the fig leaf of their increase in personal allowances, despite the fact that it is more than blown away by the hike in VAT. The Prime Minister said last year about VAT that
“it’s very regressive, it hits the poorest the hardest. It does, I absolutely promise you. . . VAT is a more regressive tax than income tax or council tax.”
That, then, will be why the Government have cut council tax, cut income tax and increased VAT to pay for it. As the Institute for Fiscal Studies made clear, the Budget is regressive, no matter how many times Ministers try to pretend the opposite.
Does the right hon. Lady agree with the study by the Fabian Society and the Webb Memorial Trust that shows that 20% of the population is living in poverty? Talking about betrayal and 13 years of Labour Government, the inequality in Britain today, on some measures, is at its highest since the early 1960s.
As the hon. Gentleman knows, the level of child poverty is some 600,000 lower than it was in 1997 as a result of the action that the Labour Government took. He also knows that we deliberately made the measures of poverty by which we were judged relative measures. Of course, that makes matters harder as the economy grows, and of course there is always more to do. That is why we believed it was right to do more to help the poorest and those who were struggling—in contrast with this Budget, which does the opposite. Pensioners do not get the income tax cut, but they have to pay more in VAT. Those on the lowest incomes do not get the income tax cut, but they have to pay more in VAT.
The Ministers are like fraudsters in the fairy tale, telling gullible Liberal Democrat MPs about the beautiful progressive clothes that the emperor is wearing, if only they are clever enough and loyal enough to see them. Liberal Democrats are clinging desperately to shreds of invisible cloth, reaching deep into their Liberal and Conservative history to pretend that they can be progressive now. They are claiming that Keynes might have backed the Budget. They are calling on Beveridge for support, kidding themselves that they can call on their history and that they are following in the footsteps of great liberal Conservatives like Winston Churchill, who supported the minimum wage, but the truth is that the emperor has no clothes.
The truth is that if we look at the detail, the Budget is nastier than any brought in by Margaret Thatcher. Instead of Churchill, Keynes or the founders of the welfare state, the Liberal Democrats have signed up, with the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions and his Chancellor, to cut support for the poor. It is perhaps apt that in this week of World cup disappointments, it was a footballer who got it right. In 2002, after England were defeated in the World cup by Brazil, Gareth Southgate reflected ruefully on England’s performance and said:
“We were expecting Winston Churchill and instead got Iain Duncan Smith.”
That is the reality for the Liberal Democrats now. With all their high hopes, they have betrayed the poor and the vulnerable, whom they stood up to defend.
As the hon. Gentleman knows, the old uprating rules are that the pension should go up by either RPI or 2.5%. If he had stuck to those old rules, pensioners would be better off in 2012, 2013 and 2014. As he also knows, all parties supported restoring the link with earnings in the next Parliament, but his proposals cut the support for the additional pension for 6 million women and 4 million men by £100 a year, as a result of his upratings by CPI, rather than RPI.
As a new Minister, I have had to reply to many letters complaining about what the previous Government did. One of things that people complain about is the freezing of the additional pension by the right hon. Lady’s Government in April 2010. Can she confirm that under our CPI policy, the pension would have gone up in April 2010? Can she confirm that she froze that pension for millions of people?
The hon. Gentleman will struggle to defend his progressive history if he quotes selectively from the figures. He knows that the Budget sets out the additional cuts and savings that he will make from benefits, tax credits and public service pensions from the switch to CPI indexation from 2011-12, which includes, as he well knows, the additional pension and much additional support for pensioners—and which he hid from pensioners on Budget day. That will lead to cuts of £1.17 billion in 2011, £2.2 billion in 2012, and £3.9 billion in 2013.
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman should also consider this: he had his negotiations with the Conservatives about the personal allowance that they were so keen on, yet they failed to consider extending that personal allowance increase to pensioners. They left pensioners out. If he really cared about pensioners, he might have increased the personal allowance for pensioners. As a result, all the pensioners across the country do not benefit from the increase in personal allowance, but they will pay hundreds of pounds extra every year in VAT—an increase that members of his party opposed, campaigned against and shouted about in the run-up to the election. Where are their principles now? Now they are ditching all those commitments and all those principles because they are happy for pensioners to pay hundreds of pounds a year more in VAT.
I do not think that was right. That is why it was right to increase the support for pensioners, to increase the winter fuel allowance and to bring in a floor, so that never again would pensioners face such an increase.
Members on the Government Benches jeer and call, but what are they going to do to the winter fuel allowance and to free bus passes? They are already briefing the newspapers that they plan to cut the winter fuel allowance and free bus passes, and that that is needed to protect the police and public services. I invite the Secretary of State to intervene and to confirm that he will make no cuts in the winter fuel allowance every year for the next five years.
I hope that meant for this year, next year and future years. [Interruption.] The right hon. Gentleman says that he is paying the winter fuel payment in full. It is not clear, however, what he thinks the full level is. Perhaps he could make the same commitment about free bus travel. Will he stick with free bus travel and not cut it for the next five years?
I shall tell the right hon. Lady what I am going to do. I am going to answer questions when she answers this question: what would she have reduced with a £45 billion requirement on her head to cut the deficit? Until she owns up and answers that question, she has no right to ask us any more.
The right hon. Gentleman has gone £40 billion further. He has proposed an additional £40 billion of cuts that we do not think are the right thing to do. He asks what we would have done, but I am sure that he has read chapter 6 of the March Budget, which sets out £20 billion of saving cuts in some detail and a further £19 billion in tax increases. I shall tell him what else we would not do: we would not waste money on measures such as free schools and the married couple’s allowance.
Nothing in the Government’s plans will get a single extra person back to work. In fact, the opposite is true. The Budget cuts the number of jobs in the economy by 100,000 a year. It increases the number of people on the dole by up to 100,000 a year, and that is on the admission of the experts the Government appointed. At the same time, the Government are cutting 200,000 jobs and training places and the youth guarantee and job guarantee schemes. How on earth will they get more people into work if they keep cutting jobs?
Does my right hon. Friend share the concerns of the Royal College of Nursing, which, in relation to a Department that allegedly is protected, suggests that at least 5,500 and, possibly, as many as 30,000 front-line nurses’ jobs will go?
My hon. Friend is right that the Government’s proposals do not even include the consequences of the spending review and the proposed additional £17 billion of cuts in public services.
We think that it is better for people to be in work than on the dole, and that is why we funded the future jobs fund and additional support and jobs. They were often in the community and run by the voluntary sector, and they helped young people to obtain the skills that they needed and to stay off the dole. Yet, shockingly, the Government have cut 90,000 jobs through the future jobs fund, putting all those people—additionally—back on to the dole and pushing up unemployment bills. As a result, even on the OBR’s calculations, those measures will cost the Government £2 billion more over the next four years. They will have to pay additional benefits for the unemployed, and the financial, economic and social price of higher long-term unemployment will cost us more for years.
I want to make some progress before I do.
The Secretary of State also said that he wants to make work pay. Yesterday he told Sky that there are marginal tax rates of 90p in the pound for some young people, that that was regressive and that he wanted, first, to change the system so that they are able to keep more of their own money. But, page 69 of the Red Book shows that as a result of the Budget an extra 20,000 people will lose more than 90p in the pound.
We agree that housing benefit needs reform, and we brought forward some measures in the March Budget and introduced a consultation paper last December to set out our proposals. We agree also that we have to stop some of the most excessive rents being paid, and that we should exclude some of the highest rents in every area. However, we should also consider how we provide more security and payments for people moving into work, so that work incentives are improved. There is a strong case for linking housing benefit to tax credits in the longer term, but the Government’s proposals do not set out any reforms; they set out only cuts, and destructive ones at that. Their plans cut almost £1.7 billion a year from housing benefit, and there is no analysis of how many people that measure will push into poverty or homelessness.
There are clearly no poor people left in Southwark—certainly none on housing benefit, or the hon. Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark (Simon Hughes) would not have the temerity to support the Budget. However, there are poor people in Hammersmith, Islington, Westminster and Kensington, so does my right hon. Friend agree not only that it is wrong to force thousands of families out of London, but that such measures will do nothing to get people into jobs, nothing for family break-up figures and nothing for community cohesion in London?
My hon. Friend is right that those proposals will have an impact on families and on entire communities. Almost £1 billion will be taken from tenants in the private rented sector—almost 20% of their support. If tenants have on average 20% of their payments cut, how many of them does the right hon. Gentleman think will really be able to carry on paying their rent? People in Wakefield will lose £20 a week; people in Barking will lose £40 a week; and people in Broxtowe will lose £30 a week. That is before they face the cuts in tax credits and the hit from extra VAT.
The Secretary of State cited a four-bedroom house in the private sector. My constituency is served by two local authorities, and in Brent the medium price for a four-bedroom house is £450 a week. In Camden the medium price is £1,020 a week. Currently, 42% of people claiming housing benefit in Brent and 18% of people doing so in Camden are in the private rented sector. That represents a sizeable number of families who will clearly lose their homes under the current Government.
My hon. Friend is right to raise concerns, particularly as many people who receive housing benefit are in work. They work hard, are in low-paid jobs and cannot afford to pay their rent without the extra help that housing benefit brings. So, the Government’s measures will hit people who work hard to support their families and make ends meet. They will find the rug withdrawn from under them.
I am particularly concerned about the combined proposals for lone-parent families, and I ask the Secretary of State to look at them, because he says that lone parents with five and six-year-olds will move on to jobseeker’s allowance and have to look for work. However, his own documents, which were provided at the same time as the Budget, assume that only 10% of those lone parents will leave benefits because of the risk they might be less work ready or need more time to find a suitable job that fits with their caring responsibilities.
Many lone parents need additional support to find work that fits school hours, but as a consequence of these proposals about 90% of them will still be on jobseeker’s allowance one year later, at which point they will suddenly be hit by the right hon. Gentleman’s 10% cut in housing benefit. Lone parents with young children might work really hard to find a job that fits school hours, but suddenly an average of £500 a year will be taken from their incomes because they cannot find work and because, as a result, he wants to cut their housing benefit. That is deeply unfair on families who might work really hard to try to make ends meet. What does he expect people to do? Hundreds of thousands of people will struggle to pay their rent, and parents will have to move house, shift their kids out of school, move long distances and break up communities in order to try to find an affordable home.
Given that the Secretary of State seems to think that we are exaggerating the position, does my right hon. Friend agree that it might be a good idea if he spent a morning with me visiting some of the Islington families who will be profoundly affected by those changes to housing benefit?
That is a very generous invitation, which I shall pass on to the right hon. Gentleman.
Where are the figures for the analysis of the impact of those proposals on homelessness? Where are the figures for their impact on families who will not be able to pay their rent? Does the right hon. Gentleman have any idea how expensive it is to keep a family in temporary accommodation? That is the problem. That proposal is just like the proposal on unemployment. If the Government do not provide the support up front, it will cost them more later on in terms of dealing with homelessness.
As for supporting families, not even in the worst of the Thatcher years did the Government ever introduce a Budget that hit children so hard. Of the £8 billion that this Budget raises from direct tax and benefit changes, however, £3 billion directly hits children: cutting the child trust fund and the value of child benefit, and overall cuts in child tax credit. That is even before we add the cuts that families face in housing benefit, free school meals, free swimming, the future jobs fund and university places. This is a savage Budget for children. The Government claim that it will be all right because there is not a measured increase in child poverty as a result of this Budget. Of course there is not, because the Treasury model will not measure the impact of changes to VAT or housing benefit, and it will not look ahead any further than 2012-13, before many of the cuts bite.
Look at the people the Secretary of State is hitting hardest—the very youngest children of all. Gone is the baby tax credit, so some mums will now find they cannot afford to stay at home for as long as they want with their little babies. Gone is our plan for a toddler tax credit, gone is the pregnancy grant, and cut is the Sure Start maternity allowance. Has he no idea at all that supporting a family and getting the children out of poverty when the babies are born can save money from the public purse for years to come? Instead, he wants to cut support from the babes in their mothers’ arms. At least Margaret Thatcher had the grace to wait until the children were weaned before snatching their support.
Does my right hon. Friend recognise that the Child Poverty Action Group has said that this is a disappointing Budget in terms of child poverty and that it will make it very difficult to meet the targets for the eradication of child poverty already set by the previous Labour Government?
My right hon. Friend is right. When one takes account of what the Government are doing to housing benefit and VAT, the real consequence of this Budget is that it will push people, including children, into poverty. We remember how the Conservatives did this before in the ’80s: they cut jobs and cut the help for people to get into jobs, they cut the support for people who could not find jobs, they cut help for pensioners, and they cut support for families and ramped up the VAT bills for them to pay. We also remember how those cuts cost us more for generations to come. It cost more to deal with people on the dole, it cost more to help families who were made homeless, and it cost more to deal with the long-term effects on communities devastated by unemployment.
These unfair cuts are not driven by good budgeting. They will cost our economy and they will cost our public finances, too. This is an ideologically driven Budget by a party that simply wants to cut the size of the state, no matter who gets in the way. The truth is that the Conservatives have the youngest, the oldest, the poorest, the weakest and the most vulnerable in their sights. The nasty party is back—only this time they brought along their mates. Shame on them. Both parties have broken their promises; now they want to break Britain too, and we will fight them all the way.
I welcome this Budget because I believe that it is an honest Budget. I have now sat through nearly 30 Budgets, and it is often a profoundly depressing experience, because there is great excitement during the Budget statement only for us to receive a let-down the next day when we actually start to read the Red Book. There is a lot of difficulty and pain in this Budget, but what you see is what you get. What we heard on Budget day was the essence of this Budget, which is the need to try to resolve the desperate financial crisis in which we find ourselves, with a potential debt of £20,000 on every man, woman and child, and £1 out of every £4 spent being borrowed.
I accept that there are many things in the Budget that many of us do not like. Does anybody in this Chamber like a VAT rate of 20%? We are in the desperate position of having to impose that rate on everything that we buy, apart from essentials—I am not sure why newspapers are zero-rated, considering all the rubbish that they put out, but it applies to some useful things like food—because we are faced with this financial crisis. However, contrary to what the right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper) said, the pain is shared. I agree that a VAT rise is regressive, and we did not want to do it, but we have increased personal allowances, and in doing so ensured that is not the rich who benefit.
I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. Who has done more than him to try to raise people out of the poverty and unemployment trap? Who has done more than he in setting up the Centre for Social Justice? Who has done more than he to visit all these areas and try to create a benefit and tax system that encourages people into self-reliance, self-help and self-belief, and does not trap them in sink estates without a job and without hope for the future? He has been working on this problem for more than a decade. Now, at last, he has a chance to put some of his ideas into action, and we welcome him to the Front Bench.
I understand the long and proud record that the Secretary of State has in this House. Does the hon. Gentleman understand, however, that some Labour Members have not just been there for 10 years, but have lived this? We lived this same experiment in the 1980s and we saw the devastating impact on the people we represent—the people who had to pay for the failure of the Government at that time, when unemployment was not a price worth paying in the areas where I and many other Labour Members come from.
Nobody doubts the hon. Gentleman’s commitment to relieving poverty, but does he think that the system that we have at the moment is perfect? Of course it is not. We are trying to create a fairer system in which there are real opportunities to create a society where people are given incentives to climb out of unemployment, despair and poverty. That is what this Budget is trying to do.
It is right to speak for the poor, but it is also right to speak for the many people who earn and who are creating jobs. Rightly, this will affect everybody earning more than £50,000—by the way, everybody in this Chamber will be £1,500 a year worse off—so it is not simply the case that only the poor are paying for this. Everybody, all the way up the income tax scale, is having to pay for our difficulties and helping us to climb out of this mess. Everybody in this nation is having to pay, and that is absolutely right. I also like the fact that this Budget is starting to create the conditions in which we can have a fairer tax system in which there is less churning of money and less of a deep unemployment and poverty trap. By all means let us raise personal allowances, and let us then try to move towards a flatter and fairer rate of taxation.
I will finish shortly, as each of us has very little time. First, let me make a point about much of the work that I was trying to do in the last Parliament to try to get efficiency in Government. We still have not got there. Does anybody think that we would have got into this mess if we had had a better Budget system? We need a triple lock. The Budget process that we have in this House is still not transparent enough. In the last Parliament, I tried to persuade the Liaison Committee that we should have a powerful Budget committee—a committee of this House—to which a Government Department should go when proposing to increase legislation. We should look at that and debate it in an open forum, not just have one minute per amendment, which is what we get with the Finance Bill. Does anybody think that our Budget process is, for example, as good or as powerful as the congressional one, whereby the President proposes and Congress disposes, and there are hundreds of hours of meetings?
We already have a good audit process—one of the best in the world—in the shape of the Public Accounts Committee, but we do not have the equivalent of the PAC inside Government. Frankly, the Treasury has not been strong enough in resisting waste, inefficiency and incompetence in Government spending. The Treasury has been overwhelmed, and the process is largely paper-based. We need a kind of star chamber—a PAC—so that when my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State or any other Minister come up with a proposal, they have to go before it, in private, to justify that proposal and to be hounded by senior Members saying, “Is this spending efficient? Is it properly piloted? Above all, are we reducing complexity in Government?”
Some of us think that complexity is so inherent in Government, with the civil service having this relentless itch always to try to control and regulate, that there is no way out of this, but I do not believe that. I believe that we can create a social security system which, although simpler, is fairer and provides more incentives. I believe that we can strip away whole areas of complexity. It will be a mighty task, but I believe, given all my right hon. Friend’s experience and all the work he has done, that nobody is better placed to carry out that work over the next five years.
I want to make a specific contribution about the assumptions that underlie Government policy on raising the pension age. Those assumptions relate to our increasing life expectancy, and therefore the number of years that we will spend receiving the state pension and the affordability of that. There is also a related assumption about our ability to work longer in the future.
Life expectancy is undoubtedly increasing in general, but I wish to give a social-class perspective on the matter. I sometimes think that we get so carried away with an analysis that we are all going to live into our 80s and 90s that we fail to examine how life expectancy varies between socio-economic groups. First, it is a clear fact that fewer individuals from lower social classes survive even to reach state pension age. It is estimated that almost one fifth—some 19%—of men from lower social classes who are currently 25 are likely to die before they are 65 years old, so they will never get a state pension. That contrasts with 7% of men from the highest social class. For women, the comparable figures for those dying before the age of 60 are 10% and 4%.
Secondly, the great majority of poorer people who do reach retirement age enjoy shorter pension lives, if I may call them that, than the better-off. At 65, professional men have a life expectancy of 18 years as a pensioner, while unskilled men have one of only 14 years. For women, taking the starting point as age 65, the respective contrasting figures are 22 years and 17 years. There are significant social-class differences, and the Government need to think through their implications.
What about the employment assumptions? Raising pension ages assumes that in future years, men and women will be able to work for an extra period. How reasonable is that assumption? Let us look at current employment trends. Some people, of course, continue to work past state pension age—I believe the figure is about 13%—but a far higher proportion are effectively out of the labour market before the formal state retirement age. We rather pretend that the state retirement age is 60 and 65, but the statistics show the myth behind that. The labour force survey data show that for the period of February to April this year, 24% of men aged 50 to 64 and 26% of women aged 50 to 59, in the period leading up to retirement, were classed as economically inactive. In other words, they were not in work.
When we look more specifically at those coming up to the state pension age, we see that very large numbers of them have effectively been retired long before the age of 65 for men and 60 for women. Some 43% of men aged 62, for example, are not working; by age 64, it is 53%. To take another example, 35% of women aged 58 are not working.
I am not making a particularly partisan point, but what conclusions do we need to draw? In general, it is not unreasonable to increase the age at which people become eligible for the state pension. I say that as a general proposition, but we need to be sensitive to social class. To be blunt, as many of us know from the people we meet in our constituencies, many people working in heavy industry or who have had tough lives in physically demanding jobs, such as in the mines, in steelworks, as cleaners or as care workers, cannot go on working for ever. There comes a point when they need a rest and need to retire.
Significant changes will be needed to employment practice and attitudes to work if more jobs are to be available for those in their late 50s and 60s. The statistics that I have cited show that it is currently difficult for many people of that age to get work. I suggest that we need to build on policies that are already in place to promote flexibility in state pensions. At the moment there are choices to be made at state pension age. People can take their pension at that point, as most need to and do. However, they can defer it and receive a higher pension later, or they can take the deferred element of their pension as a lump sum. We need to ask whether we can do more to promote that type of choice for those able to work, so that we bring more flexibility. The number of people deferring is relatively low. I am bound to say, as a former Pensions Minister who had some responsibility for legislating in that area, that I am disappointed at how low it is. We need to consider whether we could do more to encourage choice. Could we consider, for example, making the lump sum tax-free?
Finally, what about the people whose case I have cited, those who are already out of work in their late 50s and early 60s? We know those people from our advice surgeries and constituency offices. They are in a difficult situation. Are we really saying that someone of 60 who is not in work will have to wait another year to get their state pension? Are they simply destined to be classed as unemployed or disabled, and somehow trapped in a no-man’s land between grand assumptions about future retirement patterns and the grim reality of their lives? We need to think the matter through. I do not have the answers, but we have time to consider some of the issues.
I wish to approve the headline description of the emergency Budget and what it is intended to achieve, which, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford East (Mr Ward) has said during the Budget debate, is that the richest pay the most and the vulnerable are protected. We must test that claim as we proceed. The coalition Government face many challenges in achieving that, in circumstances in which the public finances are in a very serious state, which I do not need to describe again this evening.
I wish to give the Budget a fair wind at this stage, and of course as a Liberal Democrat I gather a degree of satisfaction from a number of measures that I and my colleagues have campaigned for, namely the increase in the tax allowance with a target of an allowance of up to £10,000, taking many thousands of people on low income out of tax altogether; the restoration of a meaningful annual increase in the basic state pension, for which pensioners have been crying out for decades; increases in the child care element of the child tax credit for the poorest; the closing of the gaping tax avoidance loophole created by the previous Government through changes to capital gains tax; the introduction of a banking levy; and the protection of lower-paid public servants. There are a number of measures that I applaud and welcome very much.
This is a coalition Government and a new arrangement altogether, with two distinct parties. Seeking consensus between those parties inevitably creates significant debate.
The hon. Gentleman is showing by his demeanour that he is not very enthusiastic for his coalition. He says that he has campaigned for many things in the Budget. Can he tell the House when he and the Liberal Democrats campaigned for an increase in VAT?
As far as I recall, none of the three main parties ruled out the prospect of VAT increasing. It is only when one is in government that one can see the nature and state of the finances, and therefore fully understand the impact that it is likely to have.
Having said that, as all Members will know, there is an amendment about VAT on the Order Paper in my name and those of some of my hon. Friends. It asks, I think reasonably, that an impact assessment be undertaken, taking into account a number of factors including the impact that the VAT increase would have on businesses, charities and families and households across the income range and age groups. It is vital that, in order to advance a number of the challenging measures in the Budget, the Government should reasonably be expected to bring forward more information than they are able to at this emergency stage of the Budget, so that we can debate the impact of those changes.
I thank my hon. Friend for giving way and I agree with the sentiments he is expressing. Does he agree that charities that are unable to reclaim VAT could be about £250 million worse off as an unintended consequence of the VAT measure?
I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for that comment. There is not just a new coalition Government, but a new Parliament, and in it we should be able to debate issues both across the Chamber and within the parties of the coalition Government. That is not unreasonable. The Chamber should enable greater transparency and discourse across and between parties. The purpose of our amendment is to probe issues that need and deserve to be probed.
I shall not give way any more, I am afraid, because of the limit on time.
The motion refers to the Red Book, which, at page 67, in relation to chart A3, describes the VAT change as potentially “progressive”. I think that the notion is based on the expectation that those who spend the least will be less affected. Of course, those who spend the least are inevitably those on lower incomes, who will, as the Red Book explains, pay less VAT in absolute terms. But not everyone agrees with that: the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr Leigh) has described VAT as regressive, as have Labour Front Benchers.
The Institute for Fiscal Studies is rather equivocal on this issue. It says that when contrasted with income, VAT does look more regressive as it hits those with high expenditures the hardest. It also says that those with the lowest incomes tend to have the highest expenditures relative to their incomes, so there is an issue that needs to be investigated a great deal more. I believe that the Government should reasonably bring forward an impact assessment of the type that I have described and that we should have an opportunity to debate it not just in the Finance Bill Committee but in the Chamber.
I represent the poorest region in the country, so I am bound to be particularly sensitive to the impact of the Budget on the poor. However, I am not just concerned about low-income families; I am concerned about the impact of the VAT increase on rural travellers, who have a car out of necessity, not luxury, and on charities, as my hon. Friend described a moment ago. I am also concerned about the contrast between the effect on businesses that are engaged in the renovation of older buildings, for which VAT is applicable, and on those that build new buildings, for which VAT is not applicable.
The key themes underlying the emergency Budget turn on the challenges that any Government would have, such as ensuring that those who dropped us into the mess that we are in—due partly to the management of public finances by the Labour party and partly to those in the City who contributed a great deal—should be doing the most to help us out of it. As is made clear in the Budget, there is also an issue regarding wealthy people who have managed to pay less marginal tax than their cleaners. Those people should start paying their way. I hope that the Chief Secretary will consider very carefully our amendment and the reason behind it when he winds up. In this area of policy and policy making, we should have an impact assessment and an opportunity to debate this issue.
The hon. Member for Colchester (Bob Russell)—I am so sorry—and other very distinguished honourable dissidents opposite, who are clearly being silenced for some reason or other; I cannot comment on why. I thought the amendment very apropos and exactly to the point in all respects. I am sure that it has not been withdrawn, so quite why it has not been chosen for debate I cannot think. It is a pity, because we could have probed even further the support of the hon. Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark (Simon Hughes) for it and for the package as a whole, which he was trying to defend last Wednesday with as much discomfort as is evident amongst the Liberals who have not yet entirely been bought by, or who have not bought into, the so-called coalition policies.
It is very sad. There has been nothing sadder, in my opinion, than the right hon. Member for Twickenham (Vince Cable), who is now the Business Secretary, coming around to explain why he supports the Budget. One of the two reasons that he gave was essentially that he had been, belatedly—I think his leader got there first—to see the Governor of the Bank of the England, who had assured him that a crisis was imminent, that we were going to be downgraded and that we would be in the same position as Greece, all of which would happen in a matter of days or hours, if he and the Liberal party did not agree to every measure that the coalition subsequently put forward. All of that should have been entirely predictable at any point before or during the election, even as the bond market strengthened and the UK position strengthened during the election, and even as we learned afterwards that the funding requirement is going to be £20 billion to £30 billion less than expected. Apparently, the leadership of the Liberal party fell for the oldest trick in the book, the bankers’ scare, which has gone on for centuries—classically, of course, with Montagu Norman and all the rest in the 1930s taking that party and this country to the brink of collapse.
I note also that when the Governor was still an economist, before he converted to being a banker, he signed the famous letter of 364 economists, which he has now, in a piece of classic recantation, given up on.
All those considerations point to the fact that events could have been predicted and should have been accommodated. We should not have reached the situation in which we had the Business Secretary proudly telling the House—I still cannot believe this every time I read it:
“Those factors drove the economy in terms of demand”—
the factors being monetary policy and devaluation of the pound—
“and they will continue to do so.”
So, we are to have monetary easing and a continued devaluation of the pound. I do not think that either is remotely likely. He went on:
“There is a reason for believing that that is what will happen: the Governor of the Bank of England called for this Budget and has now got it, and he has every reason to understand the need for monetary policy to support recovery.”—[Official Report, 23 June 2010; Vol. 512, c. 316.]
Well, over to you, Mervyn, and good luck!
It really is absurd. It is one thing to hand over control of the money supply and monetary policy to the Governor. We did that back in 1997, and I think that was a good move. My right hon. Friend the Member for Croydon North (Malcolm Wicks) nods, and I know that he was in agreement with that move. However, it is quite another thing to say, “Look, we are giving up on fiscal policy too; you can have the whole of the economy.” When we did what we did, we joked amongst ourselves that we had got rid of one half of economic policy—notably the monetary side—to the Governor and that it would only be a matter of time before he laid claim to and was given the whole of it. Joke though that was, it has come to pass under this Government. That is sad and regrettable. The Work and Pensions Secretary is sincere in what he wants to do, but he has had to absorb many cuts, which will make his job much more difficult, as was brilliantly exposed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper), who spoke for the Opposition.
However, it is not just that. The only two sure things about the Budget is that it will increase unemployment and reduce growth. That we can predict, because the Office for Budget Responsibility has told us. Beyond that, the Government refuse to give any distributional analysis. Beyond the second year, we do not know what will happen, except that the OBR has pencilled in some figures for growth that it says are hazardous in the extreme.
The Budget is an enormous gamble at the great cost of the working people in this country. It is a gamble based on the assumption that the Governor will increase quantitative easing when he said he would not. Perhaps in some magical way he will take other powers to deal with the fiscal constraints imposed by the Budget, because he can do nothing else. He cannot reduce interest rates much more, unless he wants to reduce them from 0.5% to 0%, or unless he starts shelling money out, which is hardly credible. He said he would not do any of those things, so the truth is that we face a situation in which the future of the country is being gambled.
Apart from the good intentions of, and the megalomania that seems to be developing in, the Bank, that gamble rests on three factors: an increase in inventories, meaning an increase in output; an increase in investment; and an increase in private sector activity. Who really believes in their heart that any of those factors can be counted on, especially given that the Government have made the investment route highly unlikely by reducing capital allowances? They are served at the moment by a Financial Secretary who told the Committee that considered the previous Finance Bill that they would reduce such allowances—on nearly all counts, and they have been as good as if not better than their word. He could see no reason why investment should not be reduced to the cost of amortisation in manufacturing or industrial enterprises. If that is the negative, neutral view of the need for increased investment and output that infuses the Budget, and in particular the crucial elements highlighted by the OBR—it says that there is a need for greater investment and output, and to rebalance exports—we are in for a big let down on that gamble.
Let us take one other example—Sheffield Forgemasters. Anybody who has dealt with the Government knows that it is virtually impossible to get money out of a shareholder executive. It is like getting money out of a stone, but the firm reached a conditional agreement. That would have made an enormous contribution to the rebalancing of the economy, including in respect of import substitution, and now those products will come in from Japan, because the arrangement was cancelled. I am afraid that in their tone and their measures, the Government are making recovery immensely more difficult and, far from recovery, we face a further period of prolonged deflation.
Thank you very much, Mr Deputy Speaker, for the opportunity to make my maiden speech on this emergency Budget.
I strongly believe that over the past few years, the state has taken too much. It was interesting listening to the right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper). She declared that the nasty party is back, but I know from my personal life that to protect the vulnerable and to give people a genuine chance of making the most of their lives, we need to empower individuals, families and communities.
In talking to several of my constituents in East Surrey, the constituency I have the honour of representing in this House, it became vividly clear to me that budgetary discussions should focus not only on accountancy, numbers and economic jargon, but on people and their lives and futures: including the hard-working young family juggling child care and work, who are concerned about their jobs and the rising cost of living; the 22-year-old graduate with more than £20,000 of debt, wondering whether she will ever get a job or a foot on the housing ladder; and the couple about to retire who are worried about their pension after years of paying their taxes and saving for retirement, and who are left wondering whether they will achieve their aim—this must be the aim for every generation—of leaving a better future for their children and grandchildren.
For my constituents, this is what the Budget boils down to: real people, real lives and real issues. Yes, we have beautiful rolling countryside in East Surrey, most of which has been recognised as green belt, meandering between vibrant towns and beautiful villages. It is the epitome of what makes England unique. We know how fortunate we are, and we take seriously our duty as custodians and protectors of the local environment for future generations. We have great community spirit and pride in our area, which means that for the vast majority of people in my constituency, putting back into the community is a way of life.
It sounds idyllic. However, my constituents work very hard, and I know from my postbag that some of them face difficulties just as real as those faced by people in other parts of the country. A lot of them think—and I tend to agree—that the previous Government treated them as a cash cow, and squeezed and squeezed and squeezed. That is true of all those paying taxes, and of the various local councils who do sterling work on a shoestring budget from central Government.
On a national level, East Surrey has been served with distinction by two great public servants: Peter Ainsworth, for 18 years; and Geoffrey Howe, who now sits in another place, for 24 years. They championed the constituency in this place and always stood up for what they believed in. I know I have big shoes to fill, and at 5 foot 4½ inches, I need to stand on the shoulders of giants.
Peter’s radical stance on the environment was instrumental in shifting attitudes to green issues, and he introduced as a private Member’s Bill the Green Energy (Definition and Promotion) Act 2009. I also respect him for sticking to his guns on the Iraq war when it seemed unpopular to do so. From my dealings with him, I can say without equivocation that he is a good man.
I can say the same of Geoffrey Howe, whose mild manner disguised a steely sense of purpose. He was Mrs Thatcher’s longest-serving Cabinet Minister— 11 years is a long time in politics. In his now famous 1981 Budget, when our party faced the task of getting the country back on its feet, he followed the courage of his convictions by deflating the economy at a time of recession, in the face of resistance from all sides, including 364 leading economists who wrote a letter to The Times saying that the Budget had no basis in economic theory.
However, I believe we learned a greater lesson from that Budget—that we cannot pull certain economic levers in certain circumstances. The lessons from that Budget lie firmly with its weaknesses rather than its strengths. We have learned that we cannot be coldly dispassionate when setting economic policy, and that we cannot ignore the effect on jobs and people’s lives. That is why I support our programme to get people back to work. Getting people into work is the best route out of poverty.
As in 1981, our party once again faces the task of redefining our economy and reshaping our society. That is why I welcome the Chancellor’s proposals for small businesses, which are the backbone of our economy. A long-lasting recovery must have its foundations in the private sector, which is where jobs will come from. Jobs will come if we reward enterprise, endeavour and ambition, and if we have a step change in our approach to enterprise. We need to encourage a spirit of adventure. Without accepting that basic premise, we will not have people taking the risks that are essential to creating the next Vodafone, the next Dyson and the next lastminute.com.
Many Opposition Members say that having the state do less by focusing on getting people into work and building an economy based on rewarding endeavour will penalise the less well-off. They are wrong, and I should know. I grew up in very modest circumstances. My standing here in the Chamber is the result of the vision, care and support of a strong mother, who brought us up on her own and overcame numerous odds, and instilled in us character, discipline and the value of hard work. I do not believe that any state programme could achieve what she has. On the contrary, I would have been trapped in poverty, as millions are.
At university I struggled to pay my rent. But for the generosity of my college, Somerville, I would have been thrown out. That could have been the end of my university education, and perhaps I would not have made it here, so I understand that we cannot leave people to the mercy of markets. For me, the crux of the Budget is that we should empower individuals, families and communities to make the most of their lives.
Some have said that on the face of it, I am an unlikely candidate to represent East Surrey. I have pointed out to them that it is a privilege and a pleasure for me to represent this great constituency because every day I see there the values that shaped me and that I hold dear. Those values should be at the heart of our economic policy and should guide us as we seek to reshape our society for the better.
It is a privilege to follow the hon. Member for East Surrey (Mr Gyimah). He not only reflected on the beauty of his constituency but let us know that, just because people live in idyllic settings, that does not mean that their family or work circumstances are ideal. He has also given us a trailer for the many lively contributions he will make in this House, seasoned with strong personal reflections, which many Members will have taken on board.
Claims have been made that, with the coalition Government, we have a new politics. That new politics, we are told, is about honesty and rebuilding trust. However, we have at the heart of the Budget the departure of honesty, with parties justifying doing what they said they would not do. Parties campaigned to get votes on the basis that the last thing we wanted was a VAT increase, but it is the first thing imposed by this Budget. It is a Tory Budget with Liberal Democrat accessories. I concede that some of those Liberal Democrat accessories are attractive—and that is part of the political calculation behind the Budget—such as the triple guarantee on pensions, which is there so that the coalition can say to Labour opponents, “We have done something that you didn’t do, we have restored the earnings link and better.” I regret that Labour Ministers did not listen to all their Back Benchers during their 13 years in government and do something about the pensions earning link.
We need honesty all round. I welcome the intensity that is coming from some of my hon. Friends on the Labour Benches, but I hope it comes with a measure of honesty, point by point.
The hon. Gentleman’s views are much respected, but may I say that I was always clear on this point? We did not want a VAT increase, although we had it under the last Government when it went up and then came down again. We were hoping that it would not happen, but certainly I said—as did all my colleagues, as far as I know—that it could never be ruled out. For many of us, the current position is that it may be one of the least worst options.
I am not sure if that was the least worst defence of a significant U-turn on a significant campaign issue. People did not just imagine that the Liberal Democrats campaigned aggressively on the issue of VAT increases, so to mount new politics on the basis of honesty and trust against that background is dangerous indeed.
I acknowledge that the Budget has Liberal Democrat accessories that are attractive, as are other aspects, such as the increase in personal allowances. But Liberal Democrats perhaps need to consider that this may be as good as it gets in the coalition. I recall a famous observation in Irish politics by a member of the Irish Labour party. Some time next year, the self-image of Liberal Democrats will change. They will realise that they are no longer in the vanguard of social justice and civil liberty, but instead have become the mudguard of a hard cutting Conservative Government. That will be their role in this Government.
It is not the case that the whole Budget is wrong, and from a study of the Budget notes it is significant how many of the measures build on aspects of the Finance Act 2009 and other Acts passed in the last Parliament. There are tweaks here and there, of the good, bad and neutral variety, but we should not pretend that there is no continuity. When the Chancellor made his statement, he said we would not have to look anywhere else for the Budget, because we would get it from him. He said that there would be no details hidden in the Red Book. However, when we compare his speech with the Red Book, we see that it is littered with phrases such as “We will produce proposals on this”, or “Other proposals will be published after we have the spending review in the autumn.” The details are all to come elsewhere, so we did not actually get them straight from the Chancellor.
This Government gave us some show-cuts on 22 June. Those cuts were for purely presentational purposes to show that this is a new Government, and to try to mark difference. The Chancellor even told us last week that that was one of the messages he wanted to go out from the Budget, so that people would know there was a difference. That is why the shadow Secretary of State was right to say that the Budget had an underlying ideological push. The scale of the cuts that will come in the autumn is there to drive a political narrative that pain has to be imposed, change will happen and those who do not like it should blame Labour, rather than the Government who are imposing that change. That is the narrative that the Government want, and that is why significant cuts will come in the autumn.
Where will we be then? The poor, who are being asked to pay more in VAT, will then see the services on which they rely squeezed. That is when the full toll of this Budget will be felt, contrary to what the Chancellor told us about getting it straight from him on the day in his statement. We know that this will be pain and penury by instalments, over time, so that they can maintain the narrative of blaming it all on Labour.
I agree with the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr Leigh) about the need for a Budget committee in this House. When we consider the scale of the banking issues that this House has to deal with, they should not all be left to the Treasury Committee. The scale of the public expenditure issues we will have to cope with means that we need a discrete Budget committee that has a full and proper handle on them, as well as one for the banking issues. If we are serious about giving priority to cutting waste in government, we should also have a committee that tests Government expenditure in real time. The Public Accounts Committee looks at spending post hoc, and there is nobody who challenges spending plans in real time. We do not have a committee that permanently interrogates waste in government, proofing for good priority and busting waste, but that is what we need. There is no point setting up ever more independent offices of this and independent offices of that, when we do not give this House the tools it needs to provide joined-up scrutiny. We hear a lot about joined-up government, but we do not have joined-up scrutiny. We should take added measures, on top of those put through in the last Parliament.
I urge the Government to lead us in changing the Budget by reclassifying the Budget lines, so that we have one for front-line services, say, and one for spending that does not go fully to front-line services but broadly supports them. We should have three or four, but no more than five, classes of Budget line so that we know immediately if a measure affects front-line services or just administrative spend. We could then be more honest when we say that we are defending front-line services, because we would have a Budget information system that allowed us to do just that.
It is a pleasure, as always, to follow the hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan). I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for East Surrey (Mr Gyimah) for his fluent and assured maiden speech. There is a great future for him in this House.
The Budget that was presented to the House by the Chancellor of the Exchequer last week was brave and bold, and it was the right thing to do. History will record that it will set our country back on the road to economic recovery and prosperity. Just as it fell to Margaret Thatcher 30 years ago to deal with the poisonous legacy of Labour profligacy and financial ruin, the Prime Minister faces a similar challenge today. Labour Members, in their faux outrage at the Budget, barely comprehend the fiscal catastrophe that they inflicted on our country, displaying a mixture of cocky bravado and denial.
I will not at the moment.
A modicum of humility or contrition from Labour would surely be appropriate and in order. Given Labour’s utterly negative message at the general election, with no vision of what a fourth Labour Government would mean, it is no wonder that few commentators and fewer voters take its protestations seriously. It simply has no coherent alternative, other than to tax and spend, and to bribe the core vote with other people’s money. Labour’s plan to cut the deficit was completely empty of detail and its deficit reduction bill merely partisan window-dressing.
The Labour party would have had more credibility at the general election and in this debate if it had been honest with the voters about the 20% cuts in non-ring-fenced departmental budgets that the previous Chancellor had already planned. We know that Labour prepared position papers in the Treasury for a 20% VAT rise, which, most importantly, the party failed to rule out in its election manifesto. Labour bet the ranch over the past 13 years on financial services that were not properly regulated, on unsustainable increases in public spending and on a housing market built on a South Sea-style bubble. Labour lost, and we all lost: a £155 billion deficit—bigger in percentage terms than in Italy, Greece or Portugal—a structural deficit that is £12 billion more than we were led to believe, and a debt mountain of £1.4 trillion from the Government who gave us £3 billion overspends on welfare payments and wasted £780 million on the reorganisation of Departments and agencies.
It is scarcely possible to believe that during a dozen years of plenty so many of our fellow citizens were failed, and none more so than the so-called working poor—those who get up in the morning and go to work, pay their taxes, teach their children right from wrong, and have a sense of pride and self-respect. People are rational, and they will do rational things. If we pay for people not to go to work, they will take the path of least resistance and not work. That is Labour’s legacy: the people who need our help, trapped in a half-life of bureaucratic form-filling, and a hopeless and aimless existence on benefits. I believe that the Labour Government were not malevolent, but merely incompetent to an Olympian degree. After 13 years, the number of children in severe poverty is rising. We also have a higher number of children living in workless households than practically any other country in the European Union, 4.8 million people of working age in workless households, and one in five 18-year-old boys who are NEET—not in education, employment or training.
The worst statistic of all is that last year, of the 85,000 children in receipt of free school meals, whom we should be helping more, only 45 got into Oxbridge, which is fewer than those who came from just one school—that attended by the Leader of the Opposition. That is the true demerit of what we have been creating in the past 13 years.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to draw the House’s attention to that statistic. Likewise, the number of children who go from care into higher education is also a shameful figure. I therefore strongly endorse the ambition of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions to tackle the deep-rooted causes of poverty in this country, and to tackle the twin aims of lessening the scale of social breakdown and improving the quality of life of the poorest in our society. If our Government achieve nothing less, they will have served our country in achieving that.
In my constituency, where we have recently suffered job losses, and where we also have low skill levels, lower-than-average pay and high welfare dependency, the problems are real and they are about people, not statistics. Hundreds of children in Peterborough live in dysfunctional families, their parents on welfare benefits. Those children lack ambition, a focus and, often, a moral framework, going without anything other than peremptory familial love and experiencing, through no fault of their own, an inevitable poverty of imagination, as well as, too often, material poverty. Dedicated teachers, nursery staff, health professionals and members of the extended family, such as grandparents, are often forced to assume a role in loco parentis. I believe that we have a moral duty to those children to do something about the situation, even if not to their often indolent and feckless parents.
No, I will not give way; I do not have time.
More than 6,000 of my constituents languish on disability living allowance and, most shockingly, more than 1,000 of them languished on that particular benefit for more than 12 years under the previous Labour Government.
We simply cannot go on as we are. I welcome the measures in the Budget. I believe that they seek to protect the vulnerable while rebalancing our efforts to generate a private sector-led recovery that will benefit everyone in the medium term. In that spirit, I particularly welcome the 50,000 extra apprenticeships, an increase in the child element of the child tax credit, the re-linking of pensions and the allowance increase of £1,000 for low and middle-income earners. I restate our commitment to Sure Start, to refocusing on the neediest families and to helping ensure that the 6 million carers in our country receive appropriate respite care. I welcome too the cuts in corporation tax, the £200 million increase in the enterprise finance guarantee scheme, the green investment bank and the green new deal.
I hope that the new fiscal rules that the Chancellor has outlined will mean that by 2016, if we have extra money as a result of the cyclically adjusted current balance being in surplus, we will be able to cut tax again for the lowest-paid working people in this country. It took courage in this Budget to tackle the entitlement culture and some of the shibboleths and sacred cows, but putting this country back on track will require further tough decisions, which are the right thing to do. We should also disregard the opportunism of Her Majesty’s Opposition. There is nothing inevitable about a double-dip recession, and I believe that it will not happen. The Budget is borne of desperate necessity, but is there any evidence that seeking to encourage private sector growth and reducing the size of the state to 39% of GDP in four years is a bad thing and will not create jobs, wealth and new markets for our goods and services?
The Chancellor was candid and straightforward last week, in contrast to the Labour years of subterfuge, stealth taxes and fictitious growth projections. Tough but fair, a progressive and forward-looking Budget; a Conservative Budget for the nation and not for narrow, sectional, vested interests and the core vote—it is for this reason that I commend the Budget to the House and my constituents. I will be voting for it tonight.
May I say what a pleasure it is to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Deputy Speaker? It is such a pleasure to see you sitting in that Chair.
There was a kind of creepy pleasure in listening to the hon. Member for Peterborough (Mr Jackson) because, in a curious way, it was like hearing a really bad horror film, and there is always a great deal of pleasure to be found in a really bad horror film. As for this recalling of Thatcherism in all its glory, dressed up for the 21st century, I love the idea that we can simply get people to work. There are all these people living in Peterborough who apparently have no desire to work and are perfectly happy to stay at home, neglecting their children, but the hon. Gentleman has been their MP for all this time—how long?—so why has he not done something about it? The issue is that in Peterborough, as in the rest of the country, under this—in my view Thatcherite mark 2 —Budget, there will be no jobs. As was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry North West (Mr Robinson)—I regret that he is no longer in his place—the only guarantee in the Budget is a massive rise in unemployment.
In my constituency, the number of people in receipt of disability living allowance doubled under the previous Government; and not only did it double, it went up every year. Would the hon. Lady not see that as an example of the failure of the policies of the previous Government?
Perhaps that is one of those areas—this was briefly touched on in an earlier contribution—that, like our health service, has increased so much because we are all living longer, so that people who might have died many years before are still living, but justifiably claiming disability living allowance because they are disabled. The hon. Gentleman should forgive me for giving him a tiny history lesson, but I would just point out to him that when his party was last in total government—as opposed to being propped up by the “30 pieces of silver” party—it massaged the unemployment figures by putting people on incapacity benefit, and that ran for years.
The hon. Member for Peterborough is also suffering from selective amnesia. Those of us who lived through the first Thatcherite era remember well the levels of unemployment, the destruction of communities, and the throwing on to the scrap heap of the greatest national resource that this country will ever have: its people. Their talent, their ability, their creativity and their capacity for hard work were all thrown away for the same reason that they are being thrown away now. “You can’t buck the markets” was the litany then; it is exactly the same now, even though it has been dressed up and presented in a very different way.
We hear massive arguments from Conservative Members that the Labour party created this fiscal downturn, yet they are all intelligent enough to know that that is grossly untrue. It is easy, in the blame culture that we live in today, to make threats to bankers and to say that they are the most blameworthy people, yet they have not been punished in the Budget at all.
You really have to get another club to beat us with. I would have thought that there were a couple, although they are not necessarily to do with the Budget.
The hon. Member for St Ives (Andrew George), who is no longer in his place, and the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr Leigh) both attempted, in their different ways, to make a salient point—namely, that this is a fair Budget because the richest pay the most. They must know that that is completely and utterly untrue. It is a grossly unfair Budget, because the poorest are the most dependent on public services, which we know will be slashed under the comprehensive spending review, when it eventually happens in October.
Did my hon. Friend see the analysis in The Observer at the weekend that suggested that the Chancellor’s
“budget cuts will hit Britain’s poorest families six times harder than the richest”?
Does she believe that that is in any way a definition of “progressive”?
It is neither progressive nor fair. What is depressing about the path that the coalition Government have gone down is that they have learned absolutely nothing from the lessons of history. This is always the case: it is always the poorest who pay the most; their health suffers, they live in the worst possible housing, and their job opportunities are nil. I love the Secretary of State’s wonderful idea that they can move out of their social housing to another part of the country and find a job. This is coming from a Government who have already destroyed the regional development agencies. Sheffield Forgemasters has also been mentioned. There is absolutely nothing in the Budget that will help to create employment. One of the worst aspects of the Budget is that it will slash the confidence of those people who need it the most in order to get out there and compete in an ever-shrinking jobs market.
This is a kind of psychobabble. When we get to the age of 18 and become adults, we really cannot blame everything on our parents, and, at his age, the hon. Gentleman really should not be blaming all those grandparents and great-grandparents for anything. The Liberal Democrats made their choices: they campaigned and they spent money on posters that warned of the VAT bombshell, but they have now signed up for it.
I want to go back to my point that it is always the poorest who pay the most. It will not be the richest who will feel the pain of the VAT increase; it will be the poorest. We have only to go round the supermarkets to see the kind of changes that are being brought into play. The special purchases of particular products that are cheaper than the branded product—or even, in some instances, than the supermarket’s own product—will be the products that the poorest people will have to buy.
No. The idea that you have allowed children to languish in that state in Peterborough for all these years and done nothing about it—no, I am sorry, I cannot give you time. You voted against Sure Start. You voted against the new deal. You voted against every single policy that the Labour Government brought in over our 13 years to give every child a chance and to ensure that we as a nation invested in our greatest national treasure: our people.
May I just point out to the hon. Gentleman that, when his party was last in government, it was not children who were not in education, employment or training? In Birkenhead, the city in which I was born—admittedly, I have not lived there for a very long time—there were men who were entirely fit, healthy and capable of work, but the only way for them to earn a living was to pick over the rubbish dumps to see if they could find anything to sell.
You did not have to go through a rubbish dump to find things to sell. And I am a working-class girl.
There is a fantasy about a big black hole of debt that is resting on the shoulders of every man, woman and child in this country. I have lived all my life under the debt incurred by this country fighting and winning the second world war. We paid that debt off about five years ago, but I had not even been aware of its existence. During those decades, I and millions like me were given opportunities to move forward, to develop our talents and to create work that had not been dreamt of by the preceding generations. That could have happened again, but it will not happen under this Budget. This Budget is quite deliberately following the good old Conservative rule of divide and rule, and blame the poor—
Don’t shake your head. In every soundbite you give, you are running with the idea that the people who are claiming benefit are scroungers, and that they have no job because they do not want to work. That is classic Conservative party doctrine. This Budget is a disgrace, because it attacks the most vulnerable in our society, and they are the people, regardless of their party political colour, whom everyone in the House should be committed to defending and protecting. You are simply destroying their opportunities.
Thank you very much for giving me the opportunity to speak in this debate, Mr Deputy Speaker. Paying tribute to my predecessor is a task that I find very easy. Ann Widdecombe was a high-profile and eminent MP who worked very hard for the people of Maidstone and The Weald. She is a woman of great integrity, honesty and sincerity, and a lady I am very proud to call my friend. Ann has been one of our most colourful and controversial politicians, and I know that her pragmatic contributions will be sadly missed in this place. Happily, her clarion voice will continue to be heard in the media and beyond, and, on behalf of the House, I wish her well in her future endeavours.
The constituency of Maidstone and The Weald is the perfect mix of rural and urban life. The rural aspect of the seat stretches some 20 miles to the south of Maidstone, encompassing vibrant communities such as Cranbrook and Marden, and picture postcard villages such as Benenden. In the north of the constituency, we have Maidstone, the county town of Kent, which is also the home of the 36 Engineer Regiment. I should like to pay tribute to the bravery of our engineers and to remember their losses in Afghanistan. May God bless them, their families and their loved ones.
I must declare an interest in our armed services, as my eldest son, Ben, is a Royal Marine training in Devon. As a forces Mum, I am gaining an understanding of the tremendous pride that families feel, but also of the emotional rollercoaster that they ride each day. I hope that what I learn from my son’s service will translate into something useful for our many military families.
I want to say something about social mobility. One of the greatest attributes of the British people is their belief in fairness, and it is that sense of fairness that supports the notion that whatever your starting point in life’s marathon, it does not have to be your personal best for the rest of the race. If you try to move up the field, or even get into the leading pack, you should have the opportunity to do so. Aspiration, family and enterprise have been essential elements in my own personal journey. They are also fundamental in a society in which mobility can flourish and not flounder. I should like to say a few things about each of them.
I believe in opportunity and aspiration, and in the ability of individuals to achieve, progress and reach their full potential, whoever they are and wherever they are from, if they choose to do so. I came from a pretty humble start, but I was allowed to progress in life because I had the good fortune to engage with people who instilled in me the importance of working hard and aiming high, and values such as individualism, self-empowerment, choice, freedom, free enterprise, self-reliance and self-esteem. I hope that we, as politicians, can advocate and reinforce those values, because if we do we may be able to help many, many people to rise beyond the circumstances of their birth, and if we do that, society as a whole will prosper.
I also believe in the power of the family. I believe that the family is a fundamental and vital tool in holding society together. It can provide security, stability and commitment. In the family we learn how to give, how to share, how to be kind, how to care, and how to build relationships. Those are the foundations that people need in order to progress. Yet for many years the family has been badly neglected as an institution, although it is also key to dealing with issues such as gun crime, knife crime, teenage pregnancy, truancy and antisocial behaviour. I hope that we, as a Parliament, will do all that we can to support the family.
As for enterprise, it enables aspiration to become reality. It can also create wealth, independence and choice. I set up my first business when I was 11 years old, digging up old bottles from a Victorian dump in Carlisle and selling them at an old curiosity shop. I know that that sounds like something out of Dickens, but it is absolutely true. At one stage I was making about £2 a week, which was a lot of money in those days. I have always loved business, and I have always been enterprising.
In our country it has nearly always been possible to aim high, work hard, be resourceful, take a risk and make money, but that is changing. Over-regulation is strangling enterprise. Every accident is someone else’s fault, and people are quick to talk about rights—but what about responsibilities? Even our employment legislation has become so potentially onerous that people must be very careful about whom they take on. Any redefinition of a job description can be construed as constructive dismissal, and any criticism of performance may equal “harassment”. I often feel that I cannot give a bad but honest reference without fear of litigation.
The combined effect of all that is a massive disincentive to enterprise, which is bad for business and bad for Britain. I hope that, through this coalition Government, we can get rid of some of this nonsense, replacing it with a much more common-sense approach. In order to do that, however, we may need to promote and recruit Ministers and Government officials who have at least some direct experience of wealth creation, and who understand the importance of cash flow and the working environment in which we must all operate.
Our country is facing very difficult times. The House is debating an emergency Budget and the effects that it may have, but however we choose to rectify our financial position, we must strive to preserve the things that underpin our chances of success: aspiration, family and enterprise.
I thank the House for listening to my speech, and thank the fine people of Maidstone and The Weald for electing me and sending me here.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Mrs Grant) on her maiden speech. As she admitted, she has a difficult act to follow, but the confident and assured way in which she addressed the House shows that she is well up to meeting the challenge. We look forward to listening to her on many occasions in the future.
This Budget is hypocritical, regressive and vindictive. It is hypocritical because, as recently as April, both the Prime Minister and the leader of the Liberal Democrats rejected the idea of an increase in value added tax. The excuse that they have given since forming the coalition Government is that they found that matters were much worse than they had thought once they managed to see the books. I find that somewhat difficult to swallow, given that the problems relating to our finances have been well documented.
I tend to agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry North West (Mr Robinson) that the Government have been suckered into believing information from the Bank of England about the danger of our being sucked into eurozone problems, when in fact we are in no such danger. Before the banking crisis and the recession struck, our historic debt stood at about 40%, a level comparable to that in some other regions. It was not particularly excessive.
It is rather galling that the Liberal Democrats have fallen so easily into the coalition Government, agreeing not only to the £6 billion of cuts that affect my area but to the cuts that form part of this emergency Budget. They seem to sit comfortably in this cutting Government; they seem to be comfortable wearing the Tory mantle that they appear to have assumed. I think that many people in the country will rightly feel that they voted for Liberal Democrat Members of Parliament only to be presented with Tories.
The Budget is vindictive because it attacks the less well off: the lower paid and benefit claimants. The hon. Member for Peterborough (Mr Jackson) let the cat out of the bag when he called it a Conservative Budget—a traditional Conservative Budget, which attacks the public sector and cuts the welfare state. Are the Government trying to tell us that, in an emergency Budget, they will remedy all the ills of recent years in which our welfare budget has increased? Are they going to do all that in one Budget? Surely not. Surely they could have taken time to examine our debt problems in depth before making slashing, swingeing cuts such as these.
It seems that we are returning to the old Tory mantra: if it is provided by the public sector it is bad but if it is provided by the private sector it is good, and everything to do with the private sector is far superior to everything to do with the public sector. That simply will not wash. It is the old dogma that we have heard in the past.
VAT is obviously a regressive tax. It affects the less well off far more than those on higher incomes. It is a question of involuntary versus voluntary expenditure. Yes, people on higher incomes will pay more in VAT, because they will spend more of their disposable income on luxuries. Unavoidable expenditure on food, groceries and other necessities will affect the lower paid much more than the well off.
No, I will not.
As we have heard time and again this evening, housing benefit cuts will throw people out of their homes. It is apparently assumed that those people can move from one end of the country to another to find employment, but slashing public sector spending by 25% in every Department will surely result in further job losses. Here we are, throwing people on to unemployment benefit while at the same time cutting the welfare state that is designed to assist them. That will have an impact on areas such as mine, in which there are high levels of public sector employment. Why does my area have a high level of public sector employment? Because a certain previous Government removed its one major industry, the coal industry, many years ago. We have struggled to find incoming investment and employment to compensate for those job losses, and, as has been mentioned, when the coal industry was being closed down the Government of the time encouraged workers to go on to incapacity benefit rather than unemployment benefit because that reduced the unemployment figures. We therefore have a legacy of higher numbers of claimants of incapacity benefits such as disability living allowance. As for the idea that we will bring in a medical test for DLA, the conditions for DLA are based on care needs. They are based not on the medical condition of the person claiming, but on whether they require care throughout the day or night. The introduction of a medical would therefore remove a lot of people from that benefit, probably unjustly.
Why have the Government decided to cut at the ratio of 80:20? Why does the cut suddenly need to be so great? The hon. Member for Peterborough made the point that this is a Conservative Budget. The Conservatives have, with the co-operation of the Liberal Democrats, taken the opportunity to attack the public sector and the welfare state, just as they have done in the past. This is simple opportunism to cut the welfare state and the public sector work force.
In the limited time available to me, I want to concentrate on some specific areas of the Budget that affect either my constituency or subjects about which I feel passionately, but first let me say that there was one subject the hon. Member for Barnsley Central (Mr Illsley) did not speak about: bingo. It is a passion that we share, and it is important to mention it as I do not think it has been referred to so far in the Budget debate. Through campaigning, we recently managed to secure a reduction in the tax on bingo from 22% to 20%, and I am sure he would want to join me in campaigning to ensure that that reduction continues until we have got it back to the 15% level and that we get a commitment from the Government that they will look to reduce that tax as soon as the financial circumstances of the country allow.
The right hon. and learned Lady the Leader of the Opposition said in her response to the Chancellor’s statement that the Budget would “hit” constituents in Cheshire the least. I am unsure whether she said that out of concern for the poorest and most vulnerable people in my constituency or out of political mischief aimed in the direction of the Chancellor, my right hon. Friend the Member for Tatton (Mr Osborne)—although I think I know which is the more likely—but I am nevertheless glad that she raised the matter. Crewe and Nantwich is home to some of the most poverty-stricken areas in Cheshire, and it is the people in those areas who deserve to be—to quote the right hon. and learned Lady again—“hit” the least.
In 2008, the year in which I was first elected to the House, Labour hit the lowest paid with the 10p tax fiasco. While this is a difficult Budget, I am proud of the fact that the coalition is doing the opposite by lifting 880,000 of the lowest paid out of tax altogether. I am also proud that we are introducing the earnings link for pensions, something Labour did not do for 13 years, instead, unforgettably, increasing the pension by 75p.
It is not just these headline measures that affect my constituency, however. The Government have announced that they will reduce regulatory costs by introducing a one in, one out system for new regulations. That was touched on by my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Mrs Grant), who made an excellent maiden speech. She made the point that regulation is right at the heart of the issues that small businesses in particular face. At an election hustings event in Crewe and Nantwich organised by the Federation of Small Businesses, local business man after local business man told me about their No. 1 concern: stifling regulation. At present, a small business spends on average seven hours a week filling in forms. What a waste! Three in four firms say the Budget will make a positive impact on their business, and I have no doubt that to those job and wealth creators the reduction in regulations is one of the most important measures that back business in the Budget. It has inspired a welcome response.
Another measure in the Red Book that will benefit business in Crewe and Nantwich is the coalition’s commitment to investigate ways to help with fuel costs in remote rural areas. The coalition is considering the case for introducing a fuel duty discount in those important parts of the country, including a possible pilot scheme in Scotland, but I ask my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Treasury Bench to consider extending the scope of the pilot schemes to include thriving rural economies such as that in Crewe and Nantwich, which is at the very heart of our dairy industry.
I also want to speak about one of my particular passions: adoption and fostering, and looked-after children. As chairman of the all-party groups on both those subjects, and as someone who shared his childhood—and most of his adulthood—with foster children, I can say that foster carers will be very happy that their capital allowance rules will be amended in this Budget to ensure that they operate consistently and as intended for all carers. Foster carers are to be applauded for the sterling work they do in providing for some of the most vulnerable in our society, and none of them should be penalised by the taxation system purely because their business circumstances change.
We know we have to make choices in this Budget about where we make cuts. There are issues of essential spending and issues of discretionary spending, but money spent on looked-after children and the caring and support of vulnerable children by foster carers should never be seen as a luxury, so my plea on behalf of a part of our population that cannot speak for itself in these chastened and difficult times is do not forget about us. If the baby P and Edlington cases taught us anything, it is that when it comes to child protection we cannot afford to cut corners or pass the buck. With 40% of people in prison having been through the care system, we have to recognise that there is still much to do.
I believe that this is a decisive Budget. It deals with the record deficit the Government inherited from Labour and it contains important measures that will benefit some of the poorest and most vulnerable in my constituency, as well as the business and rural communities. It is hard to welcome some of the tougher measures contained in it, but, sadly, they are necessary, albeit painful, decisions. I applaud the overall structure of the Budget, therefore. We on the Government Benches did not build up the record deficit, but we will do all we can to knock it back down and get Britain back in the black.
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for allowing me this opportunity to make my maiden speech, and I would like to congratulate the hon. Members for East Surrey (Mr Gyimah) and for Maidstone and The Weald (Mrs Grant) on their excellent maiden speeches.
I am delighted to have been elected for my home constituency of Airdrie and Shotts. To represent the people from whom I have come is the greatest honour I can imagine. It is, however, sad that this, my maiden speech, comes on a day when we will be asked to vote on a Budget that is more regressive than anything Thatcher ever managed to produce. It is a Budget based on ideology, not reality; on aggressive cuts, not need. The hard-working people of my constituency will be among those hardest hit by the measures proposed: when tax credits are cut, when necessary benefits are lowered, when 100,000 jobs are lost that would have been saved under a Labour Government.
My constituents have not forgiven the Tories for the destruction they let loose upon Scotland in the 1980s. Unfortunately, if the Budget gets through, it looks as if history will repeat itself. How can a Budget that reduces the opportunities that are available, that takes away support from those in danger of losing their homes and that increases VAT be described as progressive? How can Liberal Democrat Members who publicly campaigned so hard against these measures support this Budget? I have quickly come to the conclusion that the Members on the Government Benches do not know the meaning of the word “progressive”.
One of the most famous sons of my constituency, the father of the Labour party, James Keir Hardie, was an intelligent man, ahead of his time. While, admittedly, he did show an affinity for the Liberals early in his career, he soon became disillusioned with the economic policies of Gladstone’s Government and came to the conclusion
“that the Liberals neither would nor could ever adequately represent the working classes.”
I wonder what he would make of their successors today.
Reading Keir Hardie’s story once again, as I prepared this speech, I was reminded why I became interested in politics. His family had little and lost the little they had because they were unprotected from unemployment and health problems, and there was a lack of education provision. He struggled against startling odds to educate himself, beginning at night school in Holytown in my constituency, and took great risks to enter politics and represent those unable to represent themselves. It is to lift people out of poverty and ensure that no one has to exist like that that I entered politics. We in the Labour party are grateful to Keir Hardie for blazing the trail that allows us to sit in the Chamber today.
Thirteen years after Keir Hardie first led Labour MPs into the House of Commons, my constituency was fortunate to be represented by the then baby of the House, Jennie Lee. She gave her maiden speech in response to Churchill’s Budget, using the opportunity to highlight the real suffering behind the figures. Since 1945 my constituency, in its various guises, has been represented by some of Labour’s brightest stars, including Margaret Herbison, who in her 25 years as an MP fought for miners’ rights and was instrumental in forging the foundations of our welfare system.
Peggy was succeeded by Labour’s former leader, the right hon. John Smith. My first political memory was hearing of his death when I was in a school assembly. His memory and influence remain at the heart of my community and its politics as much as they lie in the spirit of this Chamber. He will never be forgotten.
Following John Smith’s death a by-election was called and the right hon. Helen Liddell emerged victorious. Helen’s strong wit and character lit up the Chamber. She will be an excellent addition on the red Benches and I look forward to the contributions she will make there. When Helen headed for sunnier climes down under, the right hon. Dr John Reid took her place as Member of Parliament for Airdrie and Shotts. Dr, soon to be Lord, Reid has served the people of Lanarkshire for 23 years. His wit became apparent in the first minute of his maiden speech when he mentioned that the empty Tory Benches he was facing reminded him of a mass rally of the Scottish Conservative party. Following this year’s general election in Scotland, I could not agree more.
Soon after Labour came to power in 1997, Dr Reid began his ministerial career at the Department for Transport and went on to hold more Cabinet posts than any politician in recent history. As Secretary of State for Scotland, he oversaw the handover of power from Westminster to the Scottish Parliament. He went on to become Secretary of State for Northern Ireland when the peace process was in jeopardy. I know that the highlight of his political career was to witness Martin McGuinness and the Reverend Ian Paisley sit down together at Stormont as Deputy and First Minister, an outcome helped along by the work of Dr Reid.
Quickly gaining a reputation as a problem solver, Dr Reid was given two of the most difficult jobs in Cabinet in his final years in government—Defence and the Home Office. Three years ago today, he woke up for the first time in a decade without the pressures of ministerial office. He returned to the Back Benches with quiet grace and dignity, quickly managing to find an excellent assistant from his constituency. He now moves on to other challenges, including accompanying his predecessor next-door. To the country, he is the Labour fixer who sorted out Departments when they went wrong. To Parliament, he is a man of honour, loyalty and wit, but to me he is the man who gave me the opportunity to reach my potential and I thank him for that.
Before I finish, I pay tribute to the greatest feature of my constituency—its people. Their kindness and good-heartedness are best illustrated by the generosity shown towards St Andrew’s hospice in Airdrie, which requires donations of more than £40,000 a week to keep going, yet still manages to get the support it requires. In Shotts, a local boy, Kyle Grant, has won the hearts of our community by raising money with his family to obtain specialist treatment for cerebral palsy in America. Not so long ago, his target of £40,000 seemed like a far-off dream, but he has now managed to achieve double that amount. With the support of local businesses, local newspapers—the Airdrie & Coatbridge Advertiser, the Wishaw Press and the Motherwell Times—and local people, charitable causes will continue to flourish in our area for as long as they are required.
I am proud to come from a place where people put others before themselves. That is at the heart of the politics of the area. It is the birthplace of the Labour movement; people do not just want a better life for themselves and their families, but for everyone else too. That is why when we do well, we do not pull up the ladder of opportunity behind us. That is why we support moves to end poverty at home and overseas. That is why I am proud to serve the people of Airdrie and Shotts.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Airdrie and Shotts (Pamela Nash) who has just given her maiden speech. I am sure the rest of the House will forgive her for making us feel a little bit old when she reminded us of her first political memory. It was a fantastic start and we all look forward to hearing much more from her in the near future.
I am pleased to have this opportunity to deliver my maiden speech in an extremely important debate. Tackling the long-term culture of welfare dependency is probably the single most important ingredient in really sorting out and fixing our broken economy.
I have the great honour to represent the constituency of Thurrock, which, for Members who do not know, is in Essex, on the borders of London. I am the sixth Member for Thurrock since the constituency was created in 1945. I am extremely honoured to follow in the footsteps of Andrew Mackinlay, who served the people of Thurrock in this place for 18 years. I say that with real sincerity. He was much loved and respected on both sides of the House. He was a committed parliamentarian and a stout and outspoken defender of civil liberties. He will be missed here and in Thurrock where he is held in considerable warmth.
My constituency is a collection of towns and communities. At its heart is the town of Grays and it extends to the west to Aveley, Purfleet and South Ockendon and to the east to Tilbury and Chadwell St Mary. One of our jewels is the port at Tilbury, which even today supports 10,000 jobs. It is one of the traditional industries that have been much neglected in recent years, and although it goes from strength to strength it needs further support.
Thurrock’s communications are one of its biggest strengths. Its proximity to the M25 and to London, and its location on the River Thames all make it an attractive location for business and a key logistics hub. We also have the Dartford crossing, which I am sure is the scourge of many a motorist—including Members—as they queue to pay the toll. I remind the House that when the crossing was constructed it was envisaged that the tolls would be lifted once the construction costs had been met. That time has been and gone, and instead of scrapping the tolls the last Government increased them. Since the tolls were increased the queues have become more problematic and no doubt cause significant costs to business users of the crossing when they find themselves stuck in congestion. We need to think again about the continued existence of the tolls, about future capacity needs on the M25 and crossings on the River Thames and the prospects for additional crossings to the west and the east. The review announced in the Budget must consider all the options thoroughly so that we have a transport system along the M25 fit for the future.
In recent years, Thurrock has become a major retail centre, with the development of the Lakeside shopping centre and retail park. There are signs that the retail offering is likely to expand still further, which is why this is a particularly exciting time to represent Thurrock. I have mentioned its strategic location and although there is much to celebrate, the area can do so much better.
The Thurrock Thames Gateway Development Corporation has been charged with delivering inward investment and has made some progress. I very much hope it will be given the opportunity to deliver its plans, notwithstanding plans to fold it up into the Homes and Communities Agency.
In Thurrock, we are all excited about the potential for the development of creative industries following the major investment made by the Royal Opera House. We need to establish the national skills academy to support Thurrock as a creative industries cluster. I firmly believe that we have a once in a generation opportunity to secure the future development of Thurrock and it should not be squandered. I look forward to playing my part in building a better future for the constituency.
Having indulged the House by describing everything that is great about Thurrock, I turn to the business under discussion. The need for welfare reform was the main issue that brought me into politics as a teenager. In those days, I was living on a council estate in Sheffield. It seemed to me a real injustice that hard-working families—people working every hour to put food on the table—had no better standard of living than many households where no one was in work. The frequent lament at the working men’s club was, “Why do we bother?”
Over time, that injustice seems to have become more and more entrenched. The way that tax and benefits interact today means that work simply does not pay for far too many households. The result is that we have a society where too many individuals do not have the self-respect or discipline that comes from work and individual responsibility, the rest of society is burdened by an ever-higher tax bill and we as a country are dependent on migrant labour to fill those jobs that simply do not pay for our workers to do. We cannot go on like this.
I hope that the Budget really marks the beginning of our quest truly to reform the dependency culture that exists in Britain today and to give everyone the opportunity and incentive to work. In so doing, we will not only reduce welfare bills, but increase tax receipts to the Exchequer, so that the entire nation will become better off and future Budgets will be a lot less painful than this one.
It has been a pleasure to participate in a debate that has included so many excellent maiden speeches—from the hon. Members for East Surrey (Mr Gyimah), for Thurrock (Jackie Doyle-Price) and for Maidstone and The Weald (Mrs Grant)—and an astonishingly powerful maiden speech from my hon. Friend the Member for Airdrie and Shotts (Pamela Nash). I often used to think that parliamentary democracy needed a regular infusion of youth, talent and drive to keep it going, but given how much great talent there now is on both sides of the House, I am not sure that that is the case; I do not think that we should see so much great talent, because it certainly does not do my career chances any good whatsoever.
The best way to secure a sustained recovery is to put in place the conditions for growth, but the Budget fails to do so. Indeed, from reading the Red Book, it is very unclear where growth will come from at all. Paragraph 1.48, backed up by comments from the Office for Budget Responsibility, states that the economic forecast is for a gradual recovery, with
“net exports and business investment making a greater contribution to growth than in the recent past, and government spending making a negative contribution to growth as fiscal consolidation is implemented.”
The notion of an export-led recovery is very welcome—it would help some of the firms in my constituency—but how on earth is this going to happen? The eurozone economy is in grave danger, and the notion that we can rely on growing opportunities for exports into Europe in the next few years seems very ill-judged. The policy stance adopted by some of the G20 at the weekend seems to indicate that, where there was once global co-operation for stimulus, there now seems to be broad agreement for austerity. If that is the case and the world’s major economies are collectively going to reduce demand, where does that leave the prospect for an export-led growth plan?
In similar vein, the Red Book states that business investment will also be a catalyst for recovery, but how will that happen when the Chancellor is cutting the capital allowances rate that would incentivise businesses to invest in new plant? How will that happen if the OBR’s own forecasts envisage companies having to absorb some of the rise in VAT through lower profit margins? How will that happen if, as the OBR states in paragraph C.29, business investment has a relatively high import content? How will businesses be encouraged to invest more when they face in the next few years higher import costs and lower profit margins. Admittedly, they will have lower corporation tax rates, but disproportionately higher cuts in capital allowance.
My region of the north-east and my constituency suffer more than their fair share during economic downturns. We in Hartlepool are still suffering from the social and economic consequences of deindustrialisation and the Thatcher Government’s response. I would be the first to applaud the Government if they genuinely helped communities such as mine to stimulate their sense of enterprise and entrepreneurialism. I, too, want an economy led by the private sector and for the north-east to achieve its potential, but nothing in the Budget will allow that to happen.
Nothing in the Budget gives us any clue about the future industries that would help our country to prosper in the 21st century. We lead the world in creative industries and are second only to the US in digital industries, but how could the Chancellor state that he wanted to see Britain open for business when he scraps video games tax relief? There was frighteningly little on how this country could lead the world in green jobs and green industries, and how the Government could encourage and facilitate such a move to a leading low-carbon economy. The north-east could be leading the world in energy infrastructure, incorporating nuclear, oil and gas and renewable technology that could help this country to prosper, but there was nothing at all in the Budget to encourage that.
The regional growth fund that was announced in the Budget is very welcome, as is the proposed White Paper on regional economic performance, but the proposals in the Budget were so bland and ambiguous as to be almost meaningless and gave the impression of being put in the Red Book at the last minute, as an afterthought. I am particularly concerned that the regional growth fund will be set up only in 2011-12 and 2012-13, so the job losses that take place now, as a result of the Government’s cuts set to take place in this financial year, will not be helped.
Scrapping the future jobs fund, which has been successful in Hartlepool, combined with the deep cuts to working neighbourhoods funding, will stop hundreds of young people from embarking upon a career. Potential growth of the economy in my constituency is therefore being hit now, in this financial year, with no clear assistance from the Government at all.
Within a few days of the new Government taking over, the largest private sector company in my constituency went into administration, which led to the loss of 650 jobs in Hartlepool. I am not blaming the Government for the company’s fall, but the coalition’s response was incredibly telling and deeply depressing. The response that I received from a Minister at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills following my request for assistance was offensively complacent—basically washing his hands of the matter and stating that the local authority and regional development agency should be expected to bear the load. Indeed, the local authority’s economic development team—the best in the country—and One NorthEast are working closely together for the workers who lost their jobs, but how can they work to the best of their abilities when the local authority has been asked to find £1.7 million of cuts this year? How can One NorthEast be expected to operate as effectively as it could when it has heard conflicting, contradictory and confusing reports about its future? How can help for a private sector-led recovery be given—for example, retraining opportunities for the workers who have lost their jobs—when the Department in Whitehall charged with helping business is facing some of the biggest cuts?
Many hon. Members in the Budget debate have mentioned the 1980s, when the Thatcher Government doubled VAT, and it was clear then, as it is clear now, that the priorities were to shift the burden from income taxation to taxation on consumption. That is not only regressive and impacts upon the poorest in society, but deflationary, taking demand and consumption out of the economy, so it will take us longer to climb on to sustained recovery. That deflationary stance always increases unemployment, and I fear that we will once again see unemployment rise to levels that are socially unacceptable and economically wasteful.
The coalition Government’s tired policies are devastating in any era. The policies did not work in the 1980s, and they will not work now. I ask the Government to think again and not rush headlong into an ideological zest for cuts that will increase unemployment.
I congratulate the hon. Members for Thurrock (Jackie Doyle-Price), for Airdrie and Shotts (Pamela Nash), for Maidstone and The Weald (Mrs Grant) and for East Surrey (Mr Gyimah). I agree with the hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr Wright) that they bring inspiration and enthusiasm to the House. We are all here to try to make things better, and I am sure that all of them will play their part.
The coalition Budget has been described as tough but fair, and hon. Members on both sides of the House will certainly agree that it is tough. Why does it have to be so tough? It is tough because we are borrowing £1 in every £4 that we spend, because we owe £22,400 for every man, woman and child in this country and because, thanks to Labour, we have one of the largest budget deficits in the whole of Europe, so we must take the action that Labour dodged. Now that the OBR has been formed, we know the true scale of the problem that we face, and we have worked it out so that no one can fix the figures anymore.
I am glad that the hon. Gentleman raises the issue of VAT. If he has a little patience, I shall address that fully in just a moment.
I applaud the fairness factors in the Budget, many of which were suggested by Liberal Democrats. The £1,000 increase in the threshold at which people start to pay tax will bring 880,000 people out of tax altogether and benefit 23 million people on low and middle incomes. That increase is the first step towards a Liberal Democrat manifesto pledge. The tax on banks will not affect small banks, but it will allow tax cuts for other types of business to be introduced. The changes to capital gains tax will mean that top earners pay 10% more, although there will be thresholds so that others pay at a lower rate. The rate of 28% is not as high as Liberal Democrats might have gone, but the Government have been advised that 28% is the highest rate that can practically be set before revenue starts to be lost, so that is fair enough.
Pensioners have already been discussed today. They will benefit from the earnings link and the triple lock, which will mean that they receive an increase reflecting earnings inflation or 2.5%. No Labour Member has managed to explain why the Labour Government did not restore the earnings link over 13 years, and never again will we have the disgraceful situation of pensioners receiving a 75p increase, as Labour proposed. Child poverty is addressed through an extra £2 billion for child tax credits, and the pupil premium will help the most disadvantaged children.
This is a Budget for business. Business is the engine that will drive us out of the recession, so we have put our emphasis on ensuring that we have cuts rather than taxes, with a 77:23 split.
The hon. Member for Hartlepool said that this was not a green Budget, but there are good incentives for low-carbon investment through the reform of the climate change levy, the proposals on which will come in the autumn. We also have the green investment bank and the green deal for households, which will enable households to make improvements that will pay for themselves over time.
The reduction in corporation tax also shows that this is a Budget for business. In addition, we are pumping money into Royal Mail, which did not happen under the previous Government. The Budget contains nice little touches such as entrepreneurs relief. It does not involve any indexation or a taper, and the amount that retiring entrepreneurs can enjoy has increased from £2 million to £5 million.
The national insurance threshold increase in 2011 will take 650,000 people out of national insurance altogether. What a contrast that is to Labour’s proposals for a tax on jobs. The enterprise finance guarantee scheme is being extended to 2,000 businesses. Under the regional growth fund, I look forward to our pumping money into the regions, meaning that we are no longer a London-centric Government. We will ensure that the regions get the kind of support they need, especially for new businesses.
Of course, there have been hard choices. The hon. Member for South Antrim (Dr McCrea) talked about VAT, and it is regressive. The hon. Member for Airdrie and Shotts said that we did not know the meaning of that word, but we really do. However, our VAT rate is still below the average for Europe.
My hon. Friend is right and I am grateful for his helpful intervention. We must put all these things into perspective. The existing exemptions will apply to items such as food and children’s clothing. My hon. Friend the Member for St Ives (Andrew George) has tabled an amendment about VAT. He is rightly worried about the effect of the VAT rise on particular groups, but I point out that the Red Book states of the chart on page 67 to which he referred:
“Chart A3 shows that the top expenditure decile will lose almost 15 times more, in absolute terms, than the bottom expenditure decile from changes in indirect taxes.”
The increase is not nice, but we feel that it is appropriate.
I am sorry but I cannot take any more interventions.
We have talked about welfare throughout today’s debate, but I should point out that the welfare bill was set to rise to nearly £200 billion and we just cannot afford that. The autumn spending review will treat those most in need as a priority, and although we will make cuts, we will cut carefully. This year’s Labour Budget included plans for £44 billion of cuts and tax rises, but the previous Government did not say how they would raise that money and what taxes they would have increased. Until Labour Members are prepared to tell us what they would have done, they have no right to criticise this coalition Government.
In March, before the election, the Chancellor told the News of the World:
“We are all in this together. I am not going to balance the budget on the backs of the poor”,
which was very reassuring for voters to hear before an election. Since the election, both the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister have tried to argue that the Government and even their Budget are progressive. However, having had a closer look at the Budget and the Government, we can conclude that neither is progressive in political or economic terms. I am afraid that it looks very much like the Chancellor is indeed planning on balancing the budget on the backs of the poor.
I want to spend a little of the time that I have examining the effects of several Budget measures on poorer and disabled people. Disabled people are some of the most marginalised and vulnerable of our fellow citizens, but they are also one of the greatest sources of under-utilised talent and potential in our country. They are generally at the poorer end of the income distribution and they are more reliant on public services than many of our citizens, so the Budget’s impact on them will indeed test the Chancellor’s claim that he is not aiming his Budget at the poor.
I characterise the Chancellor’s overall Budget strategy as further and faster deficit reduction than was planned by the last Labour Government, and an 80:20 split between spending cuts and tax rises in advance of severe spending cuts in the autumn. That is his general approach. We should remember that even the most Thatcherite hawks who did not believe in the existence of society in the 1980s only ever aimed at a 50:50 split between spending cuts and tax rises, so the Chancellor is making the Thatcherites of that time look soft and even-handed. That is not, by the way, how the people of Liverpool remember them for what they did in that decade.
We can say that for most disabled people on lower incomes, who are more dependent than most on public services, the increase in VAT is a disaster. Some Government Members have had the grace to accept that it is a regressive tax. Indeed, both the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister, before the election, said on TV that it was a regressive tax. The deputy leader of the Liberal Democrats, who is in his place, has said so more recently. The increase in VAT, which both the PM and the Deputy PM promised us before the election we would not have, but which they are now both going to invite their hon. Friends to vote for, is not only a joint broken promise that will hit the poorest hardest, but something on which both parties will be judged.
The degree of reliance on spending cuts will also impact much more heavily on poor and disabled people than a more balanced ratio would have done. More than half the £11 billion of welfare cuts will come from indexing benefit rates to the consumer prices index rather than the retail prices index. That sounds technical, but the effect is to set benefits on a permanently lower trajectory, thus year by year compounding the disparity at every uprating, though saving more money for the Chancellor. That, in my book, is the very definition of balancing the Budget on the backs of the poor.
The changes in disability living allowance will be judged not only on that score, which will in itself cut almost £300 a year from the payment. The Red Book also promises us reform
“to ensure support is targeted on those with the highest medical need”
“The Government will introduce the use of objective medical assessments for all DLA claimants”.
Indeed, one Government Member referred to DLA as a benefit that one languishes upon. However, DLA is an extra costs benefit: it is paid not on the basis of a medical diagnosis, but to compensate disabled people for the extra costs incurred by the effect their condition has on their ability to get around or look after themselves. People who work receive DLA. It is not a benefit that one languishes upon; it is a recognition from society that disabled people need a little extra support to enable them to participate in life.
Does my hon. Friend agree with the Essex Coalition of Disabled People, which has indicated that the increase in people claiming DLA has resulted in more disabled people living independently in the community, rather than in the residential care that was in existence in 1993, 1994 and 1995?
My right hon. Friend is correct. She, like me, is a former Minister with responsibility for disabled people and has had to grapple with these issues.
This proposal is retrograde because it reverts to a medical model of disability, which disabled people themselves resent. It also has enormous deadweight costs. People who have never been able to walk do not need a doctor’s assessment to say that their mobility is restricted. What possible sense is there in subjecting them to one? It just looks like harassment. How does that sit with not introducing a medical for those components of attendance allowance which are the same as the components of disability living allowance? What about pensioners who got their DLA before they turned 65 and still retain it? Are they to be subjected to a medical test? Looking at the Red Book, it seems to me that we have a savings figure attached to this measure of £1.1 billion, and the objective medical test is simply designed to reduce the numbers on the benefit by 20%. The policy has not been thought through. This seems to be a proposal aimed at saving money.
Similarly on housing benefit, the Red Book says:
“Housing Benefit is often criticised as making excessively generous payments that damage work incentives. To address this, the Government will remove payments that trap benefit claimants in poverty instead of providing incentives to work”.
But only one in eight housing benefit claimants are unemployed. The majority are pensioners, disabled people, carers or people in work who are on low incomes. What is the point of making this benefit one that incentivises work when most of the people on it fall into those categories? It is nonsense. If instead we start with a suspicion that the reforms are actually about saving money, and we see that they cut £1.8 billion, we are more likely to get to the nub of the issue.
The Institute for Fiscal Studies says that the welfare reforms are
“A mixed bag, with no consistent objective beyond the desire to save money”.
The private rented sector reforms just decouple the local housing allowance payable from the level of the rent even in local housing markets, which can only result in people falling into arrears and debt, and being subjected to eviction. In the public and registered social landlord sector the reforms are equally worrying. Many disabled people only have their home. It is the foundation of their lives and their security. It is all they have that is their own. These proposals will force people to move house and face increasing levels of debt. If their area gentrifies—nothing to do with them—they have to move on. If their children grow up and leave home, as they tend to do, they have to move on.
What about disabled people who have adaptations in their home? Are they to have to move? Often, those adaptations make life liveable. They are not a luxury; they are a necessity. Having debt and having to move from one’s home is difficult enough for anyone to cope with, but many disabled people are too vulnerable to cope well with such upheaval. How are learning-disabled people, those with severe mental ill health and those with severe physical impairments supposed to go out and look for a new home, as they may have to simply because of these reforms to save money? Disabled people are the least equipped to do that, even before the spending review cuts the support they can get in their local communities to help them with such things.
The Budget is a triple whammy for disabled people: VAT and the cost of living up; incomes and benefits slashed; help and support to navigate those challenges ended. If the Tories do this, they should not have the support of the Liberal Democrats and, quite frankly, the Liberal Democrats should be ashamed to walk through the Lobby tonight to support this appalling Budget.
I am grateful, Mr Deputy Speaker, for the opportunity to make my maiden speech.
I congratulate my hon. Friends the Members for Thurrock (Jackie Doyle-Price), for East Surrey (Mr Gyimah), and for Maidstone and The Weald (Mrs Grant), as well as the hon. Member for Airdrie and Shotts (Pamela Nash) on making excellent maiden speeches and for raising the bar so high. I fear that all that is about to change. Through you, Mr Deputy Speaker, may I thank all Members of Parliament and staff for the courtesy and help that they have given new Members? This is a baffling and overwhelming place to get used to, particularly when lost down a corridor somewhere.
I pay tribute to my predecessor, Paul Truswell, who was the Labour MP for the constituency from 1997 until the recent election. He was, and is, an honourable man, and although we did not always see eye to eye, I would like to think that we had mutual respect for each other. He was regarded as a very good constituency Member of Parliament, and only announced his retirement after a serious car crash. I hope that he is recovering well, and that he will enjoy his time with his family. I shall also say a few words about his predecessor, the late Sir Giles Shaw. I never had the fortune of meeting him—sadly, he died not long after his retirement—but he was a contender for the post of Speaker. I understand that he was a witty man, who was well respected for his ability in consensus seeking. Indeed, he had such an effect on the constituency of Pudsey, that someone asked if I was taking over from him.
It is an honour and a privilege to represent the Pudsey constituency, and I am grateful to the voters there for returning me. It is a long constituency that straddles the borders of Leeds and Bradford. In 10 minutes, we can be in the vibrant city of Leeds; in 10 minutes going in the other direction, we can be in the beautiful Yorkshire dales. The common reaction when I say that I represent Pudsey is, “Ah, named after the bear.” I point out that the town came first, featuring in the Domesday book. Pudsey is an old mill town, but many of the mills in the constituency have sadly gone. Indeed, at the height of their success, the pollution was so bad that it was said that the birds in Pudsey park flew backwards to keep the soot out of their eyes.
Pudsey is a big town that is suffering somewhat from out-of-town developments, but there is a vibrant market, and I hope that I can do my bit to help the town’s economy. There is a lot more to Pudsey than just Pudsey. The neighbouring town of Farsley is home to Hainsworth mills, which provide speciality textiles for the Royal Guards’ uniforms, and claim to make the fastest cloth for snooker tables. The cloth in the Woolsack in another place even comes from that mill. One of the town’s famous sons is Ray Illingworth, the former England cricket captain.
In Calverley, an attractive and typical Yorkshire village steeped in history, there is a wonderful old hall. In 1604, the local owner and landowner, Walter Calverley, apparently went insane and murdered his two sons. He refused to plead, and was ordered to be pressed to death at the York assizes—a method that was used to try to force a confession, and something I fear that the Whips would like to use on some of us in future. However, he died without confessing his crime, and his ghost apparently haunts the village on dark, lonely nights.
The next village is Horsforth, considered to have the largest population of any village. It is home to Leeds Trinity university college, which has just received that status and is famed for teaching and media training. Finally, there is Aireborough, an area that was regarded in the 2001 census as the most average place in Britain, which I would dispute. It is the home of the original Harry Ramsden’s fish and chip shop, Silver Cross prams and another furry friend, Sooty. I know that I am biased, but I love our constituency.
Let me move on to the debate. Yes, this is a difficult Budget, but these are difficult times and I am glad we have a responsible Budget, one which is sensible and is now clearly endorsed by members of the G20. The scale of our debt is truly terrifying and threatens to restrict what we will be able to do in future years. If we do not deal with the debt now, we will be wasting more than £70 billion a year on interest alone, which will threaten our household interest rates and business growth.
I welcome the initiatives of the Chancellor for encouraging regional growth. Tax breaks for new businesses outside London and the south-east are particularly welcomed by someone who is a Yorkshire MP. I want to see our private sector grow so that we are not so dependent on the public sector. Capital investment, too, has been mentioned. I was pleased to hear about the Leeds and Liverpool railway line. I know that there are other things that we want for our city in Leeds, for which I will be pressing the Chancellor. All these will encourage enterprise.
I shall say a little about my background. I grew up on a council estate in a family that had very little money. I was the eldest, and even I had hand-me-downs. What helped my family and others was the ability to start a new business. I remember my father starting a small roofing company. It was not much, but it was something. It got him off the dole and it employed another person. That is the sort of wealth creation that we need in this country so that we can help the small businesses to create the wealth to improve the prospects for our future, and also to help the millions of people who have been abandoned by the Opposition on benefits. I think particularly of the young people who are out of work. Through the creation of wealth and jobs we can turn the country round and improve the prospect of helping those people.
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. I warmly welcome you to your position.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Pudsey (Stuart Andrew) on an eloquent maiden speech, as well as the hon. Members for Maidstone and The Weald (Mrs Grant), for East Surrey (Mr Gyimah) and for Thurrock (Jackie Doyle-Price), who also made excellent maiden speeches today. My hon. Friend the Member for Airdrie and Shotts (Pamela Nash) clearly knows her Labour history. A number of strong Labour women have represented her constituency in the past, and she showed today that she will be a powerful advocate for the community that she represents. She mentioned in her speech that her constituents have not forgiven the Conservatives for what they did in the 1980s. In my constituency, North Ayrshire and Arran, that is what I was told repeatedly during the general election.
As I listened to the debate today and as I have listened to the rhetoric from the Conservative party over the past few weeks, it reminded me of the 1980s. Fortunately I was a little older than my hon. Friend at the time. When I left school I knew nobody between the ages of 16 and 25 who had a job. Education or the youth training scheme, as it was then, were the only opportunities available. It was astonishing to hear again after 20 years the talk about getting “on yer bike”. For most people in areas such as the one that I represent, moving is not an option. For all the reasons that have been set out today, if we see the kind of attacks on our benefit system that are being outlined, that will become even less of an option.
My hon. Friend the Member for Garston and Halewood (Maria Eagle) described in detail how the changes in the benefit system would have a disproportionate effect on some of the poorest in society. The Budget is deeply regressive and will be devastating for some of the poorest communities and some of the poorest people in the country. However, it will also devastate the economy, because it is a depressive Budget. The rise in VAT, the cuts in benefits to some of the poorest in society and, perhaps even more significantly, the huge cuts in public spending will drain huge amounts of money from the economy. In other parts of Europe, more and more Governments are taking an increasingly similar approach, and that is very worrying for not just the British economy but beyond, because it does not seem obvious where we will be able to sell our goods. So this is a very dangerous Budget.
I have already said that the current debate is reminiscent of debates that took place in the 1980s. In 1979, a Government were elected saying that they had no plans to increase VAT, but not long after there was an increase from 8% to 15%; and now, of course, one of the first steps that we see is a significant increase in VAT. Until the past few weeks I had never heard it argued that increasing VAT was anything other than a regressive policy that would disproportionately affect some of the lowest earners in society.
I remember a similar situation. Does my hon. Friend remember also that in the 1980s people continually said, “There is no alternative”? Now, the code for that is, “This is unavoidable”, and it is sad that the Liberal Democrats have been taken in by the Conservative party. The Lib Dems are the real dupes in this House.
I agree. I listened with care to the hon. Member for Solihull (Lorely Burt), who basically said that we could not afford the benefit system and, therefore, it was necessary to take these steps, but the House must remind itself again and again that we are a hugely wealthy country. We have the fifth wealthiest economy in the world, but the wealth and power in society are unevenly distributed, and that has to be the backdrop whenever we have these discussions.
Given the proposals that we have heard, this Budget simply seems to be a Tory Budget. I appreciate the Liberal Democrats’ points about the policies that they have tried to inject, but overall the Budget will disproportionately affect those on the lowest incomes. A few days ago the TUC commissioned a paper, which states that overall the annual loss in income and services for the poorest 10th of households is estimated to be £1,514, which is equivalent to 21.7% of their household income. The average annual loss for the richest 10th of households is estimated to be £2,685, which is equivalent to 3.6% of their overall income. No doubt a lot of work will be done on those figures, but we must consider them when we discuss not only the Budget, but the Finance Bill, which we will debate over the coming weeks.
I agreed with the hon. Member for St Ives (Andrew George), and I fully appreciate the difficulties and stress that Liberal Democrat MPs in his position must feel if they have always argued that a VAT increase would have a disproportionate impact on the poorest in society. I hope that we see some detailed work on the impact of not just the VAT increase, but all those policies on the poorest in society.
In reality, we are seeing unprecedented cuts in spending on public services, but I find it difficult to believe that any Government of any political colour will be able to make the proposed reductions, because we are talking about departmental cuts of about 20% to 25% over five years. It is difficult to imagine that the Government will be able to deliver on that, because these are such savage cuts in the services that all our constituents rely on.
This is a bad policy not only because it disproportionately affects some of the lowest-paid and lowest-earning in society, but because it risks choking off the recovery that is so vital to us all. My hon. Friend the Member for Coventry North West (Mr Robinson) was absolutely right—we needed a Budget for jobs and growth, but we have something completely to the contrary.
I think that I will be the last person this evening to make their maiden speech—[Interruption.] No, I am sorry—I stand corrected. I am the penultimate person to do so.
Having grown up in Falmouth and having been confirmed in Truro cathedral, it is a real privilege to stand here today as the first MP for the new constituency of Truro and Falmouth. I am particularly pleased to join today’s debate, in which we are discussing the important contribution that many of the measures in the Budget will make in enabling enterprise to prosper in my constituency.
My immediate predecessors will be well known to Members of this House. Matthew Taylor served for more than 20 years as the Member for Truro and St Austell, and he played an important role in highlighting the issues of living and working in the countryside of Cornwall in his well-respected Taylor report. As chairman of the National Housing Federation and a director of South West Water, as well as serving in the House of Lords as a Lib Dem peer, he will be able to continue his work on the issues identified in his report. I look forward to helping him to take the words from its pages and put them into action, especially in delivering truly affordable homes for local people to buy or rent.
Julia Goldsworthy served as the Member for Falmouth and Camborne in the last Parliament, and she has recently returned to the Westminster to work as special adviser to the Chief Secretary to the Treasury. Her work in creating the Sustainable Communities Act 2007 is noteworthy, as is her dedicated campaigning work for NHS services in Cornwall. I look forward to working with her in her new role.
I have often heard colleagues in this House refer to Cornwall as part of the Celtic fringe; no doubt that is intended in a humorous way. While I am very proud of the Celtic culture, sports and traditions of Cornwall, there is absolutely nothing “fringe” about Cornwall or its people. Cornwall throughout the ages has been, and will continue to be, at the cutting edge of important national developments, as well as being at the centre of key moments of our history. The industrial revolution started in Cornwall, and Cornwall is leading the new industrial revolution—that of delivering the renewable and sustainable energy that our future economic security and growth will depend upon. Cornwall’s pioneering and inventive people and enterprises are ready to rise to the challenge of delivering a low-carbon economy and secure energy supplies. They need a Government who understand how to create the right market conditions for enterprise to succeed. I believe that this coalition Government have the determination to do this, and so to unlock potential in Cornwall.
My constituency is a slice of central Cornwall running from the north to the south coasts. It includes Cornwall’s administrative, retail and media centre and its only city—Truro. The Royal Cornwall hospital, the only acute hospital in the whole county, is in Truro, along with the Peninsula medical and dental school. I am grateful for the dedication of the staff in our NHS in Cornwall and the people who work hard in all our public services.
Cornwall has benefited from EU objective 1 funding, and now convergence funding, which has helped to develop the knowledge-based economy. Combined Universities in Cornwall has enabled people of all ages to access the opportunity to undertake higher education and obtain new skills. University College Falmouth is a world-leading arts organisation.
Throughout the constituency are very many beautiful villages, from the rugged splendour of the north coast villages of St Agnes and Perranporth to the no less beautiful but gentler coastline of the Roseland peninsula. As hon. Members will be aware, tourism is an important industry in Cornwall. Thanks to local farmers and fishermen, there is a thriving and growing local food scene, which comes together into some mouth-watering food festivals enjoyed by locals and tourists alike. I am delighted that the new coalition Government recognise the importance of farming and fishing to our national food security.
In the hinterlands of the constituency are the ruins of many of the mines for which Cornwall is famous. As a descendant of Cornish miners, I am particularly pleased to see renewable energy enterprises developing in the ruins of the old tin and copper mines. Cornwall has the hottest rocks in the UK and is a natural location for geothermal energy production. That, combined with our rich tradition of engineering and inventiveness, provides an ideal environment and ideal skills to develop that sustainable form of energy. Geothermal Engineering Ltd has submitted a popularly backed planning application to Cornwall council and if it is successful, we will see the first commercial geothermal energy plant in the UK, which will produce 10 MW of renewable energy to be fed into the national grid.
Nearby, at the former mine of Mount Wellington, is Kensa Engineering, an award-winning manufacturer of ground heat pumps that works with social housing providers across the country to deliver low-carbon energy and at the same time lift people out of fuel poverty. I am delighted that the coalition Government have stated their support for renewable energy incentives. I believe that the Government’s priority, as set out in the Budget, to enable more business finance and financial support for the low-carbon economy, will help support excellent low-carbon companies and energy providers such as those in my constituency. The Government’s emphasis on the need for economic growth to come from the private sector will also, I believe, create a better environment for the many businesses that already contribute so much to the local economy, particularly at Falmouth port.
Falmouth is not only important to the economy of Cornwall as the third-largest natural harbour in the world, it is of strategic importance to the UK. Falmouth has a long and proud maritime history and, as the most westerly port in the Atlantic gateway, has been at the centre of trade since ancient times. As ships for all purposes, including those needed to service marine renewables and the Navy, are getting larger, the deep waters of that safe haven are ever more important to the nation, not just to Cornwall.
I understand that many of the measures in the Budget will be tough for people living and working in my constituency. I do, however, believe that by taking the brave decisions in this Budget—
I am grateful to you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for giving me the opportunity to make my maiden speech in this debate as the new Member for Glasgow Central. It is a pleasure to follow the excellent contributions of the hon. Members for East Surrey (Mr Gyimah), for Maidstone and The Weald (Mrs Grant), for Thurrock (Jackie Doyle-Price), for Pudsey (Stuart Andrew) and for Truro and Falmouth (Sarah Newton), and of course of the baby of the House, my hon. Friend the Member for Airdrie and Shotts (Pamela Nash).
I would like to begin, as is customary, by paying tribute to my predecessor. It is perhaps somewhat easier for me to take part in that tradition than for other hon. Members making their maiden speeches, as I have had the privilege of knowing Mohammad Sarwar for all 27 years of my life. He has been a tremendous inspiration to me and it is an honour to follow him into Parliament as the Member for Glasgow Central.
Mohammad Sarwar began his political career in 1992, when he was elected to serve on Glasgow city council. He went on to make history in 1997 when he became the UK’s first Muslim Member of Parliament. He was re-elected to serve Glasgow Govan in 2001 and, following boundary changes, won Glasgow Central in 2005. On election night in May of this year, when I learned that I had held the seat for Labour with an increased majority, I turned to my election agent and we congratulated each other on a well-fought five-week campaign. Overhearing our exuberance, my predecessor was quick to remind us that his hard work as an MP for the preceding five years may also have had something to do with it.
My predecessor enjoyed a distinguished parliamentary career, including serving as a member of the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs before being elected its Chair in 2005. A devoted internationalist who was respected on both sides of the House as a champion of the Asian and Muslim communities, Mohammad Sarwar did a tremendous amount of work to strengthen Britain’s relationships abroad, but first and foremost, my predecessor was a very passionate and forthright constituency MP who always spoke up to ensure that the interests of his constituents were well represented in this House. In recognition of his 20 years of service to Glasgow, he was last month awarded the Loving cup by the city’s lord provost. It is one of the highest honours that can be given by the great city. One example of his devotion to his constituents is his successful campaign to secure the future of thousands of jobs in Glasgow’s Govan shipyards, which he cites as his greatest achievement as a Member of Parliament. I hope that under this Government, the tremendous history of shipbuilding on the Clydeside will be protected and promoted, and not harmed.
As you can probably tell from my accent, Mr Deputy Speaker, I was born and brought up in the city of Glasgow, and I have lived there all my life. I love the city of Glasgow and I am a proud Glaswegian, so I feel immensely honoured and hugely privileged to have been given the opportunity to represent the people of Glasgow Central in Parliament. I thank them for putting their faith and trust in me and I promise to work tirelessly to repay that trust.
Glasgow has been through some very difficult periods in its history, and there will clearly be further testing times ahead, but I know the resilience, spirit and innovation of the city’s people, and that is why I am confident for its future. In the past 13 years, Glasgow has been transformed from its inward-looking, post-industrial slump to become a confident, outward-looking, economically regenerated city. It is now a leading location not just for shipbuilding but for high-tech industries and developing fields such as biotechnology. It is Europe’s fastest-growing conference centre and we now have more than 4 million tourists visiting annually. World-renowned universities such as the university of Strathclyde and Glasgow Caledonian university are also within my constituency, and I am proud to have graduated from the university of Glasgow with a BDS in dentistry. We all know the pain that can be inflicted by a dentist, but that pales in comparison to the pain inflicted by the Chancellor with this Budget—I know that was a cheap joke, but I could not resist it.
Glasgow Central’s school leavers and graduates can look forward to employment in the largest economic part of Scotland. Its business district, international financial centre, manufacturing sector and Clydeside media hub provide thousands of jobs. Glasgow Central also boasts a thriving retail industry and the best shopping in the UK outside London, including the style mile, which takes in Sauchiehall street, Buchanan street and Argyle street together with three shopping centres. Culture seekers are also catered for in my constituency, which boasts the Scottish exhibition and conference centre, the Glasgow science centre, the Kelvingrove art gallery, the gallery of modern art, the People’s Palace and several theatres among its many attractions.
Glasgow is a city that is brimming with confidence and is on the up. This will be demonstrated on the world stage when we proudly host the 2014 Commonwealth games. The spirit of optimism so evident in the city centre permeates into the neighbouring communities that surround it: to the north and west lie Dundasvale, Cowcaddens, Garnethill, Anderston and Finnieston; south of the River Clyde are the hard-working communities of Govanhill, Toryglen, Pollokshields, Kinning Park and the Gorbals; and in the east are Bridgeton, Calton and Dalmarnock, which I hope will reap the economic benefits of the Commonwealth games.
There is much to celebrate across Glasgow Central, but we still face many challenges. Although the previous Government made huge strides, we must recognise that there is still a way to go, and I am determined that the progress made in recent years will be built upon, not diminished. Some areas are still counting the cost of the devastating economic policies of the 1980s, which saw communities blighted and a generation of young people left on the unemployment scrap heap. Sadly, it seems that the same mistakes are being made again.
The Institute for Fiscal Studies has shown that the bulk of the pain in this Budget will be felt by the poorest in the country. At times of economic difficulty, the Government should be supporting and protecting the most vulnerable in our society, not harming them and hitting them hardest. Severe cuts to child tax credits, housing benefit, and disability living allowance, as well as the VAT increase, will affect thousands of low and middle-income families and pensioners in Glasgow Central and across the UK. That is on top of the decisions to scrap child trust funds and the future jobs fund. I urge the Government, particularly hon. Members on the Liberal Benches, to rethink many of those previously tested and failed policies before it is too late.
Let me conclude with a message to my constituents. My first priority is to be a visible, accessible and hard-working member of parliament. I will fight for vital investment to ensure that we continue to create opportunity and jobs in Glasgow so that it can remain a great place to live, work and raise a family. I will work in the House with hon. Members on both sides to help to build a society that has equality and fairness as its guiding principles, providing educational opportunity, tackling child poverty and ensuring that everyone, no matter what their background, can match their aspirations with achievement.
May I first pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Truro and Falmouth (Sarah Newton)? She is no longer in the Chamber, but she held her own with charm and interest among the many excellent maiden speeches this evening. I congratulate all who made such speeches, especially the hon. Member for Glasgow Central (Anas Sarwar), who delivered an informative, interesting and hard-hitting speech. He clearly has a great future in the House. I know I speak for all hon. Members when I ask that he pass on our good wishes to his distinguished predecessor—his dad.
It will come as no surprise to Labour Members that I welcome the Chancellor’s Budget, but I have been amazed when listening to some of their speeches during the Budget debates. It seems to me that they have a collective delete button that has erased the last 13 years of their memory. I regret the situation left by the previous Government, which has motivated the many tough measures that the Chancellor has been forced to take. I also regret that they left such a massive budget deficit and such a large public sector debt, and that they let spending rip to sustain the previous Prime Minister’s vain boast that he had done away with boom and bust. How empty those words seem now.
I welcome the Government’s pledge to ensure that child poverty does not increase in the next two years in these difficult times, but I was dismayed by the previous Government’s record, which left so many young people out of employment, education and training. That was terribly sad.
I regret that the previous Government thought that they had only to create a project and throw money at it to solve a problem. I come from industry, and I can tell Labour Members that in truth, how projects are managed determines their success or otherwise. Perhaps they can take that lesson on board.
I congratulate the Chancellor on his courage in the face of what he had to deal with. I think he produced a fair and balanced Budget, as do many of my electorate in Northampton. To fire a warning shot across the bows of Labour Members, I can tell them that a number of those who told me that this weekend were in fact Labour voters. Labour Members might need to temper their comments in the light of that information.
The success of the Budget is not assured. It depends on achieving the projected growth figures, which means being competitive. How sad that on the World Economic Forum’s global competitiveness index, the UK fell from seventh to 13th in the rankings between 1997 and 2010. Sadly, that is another Labour failure.
As I said, the Chancellor did a great job in trying to be fair and balanced, not only for this generation, but for our children and grandchildren. Had we not taken that action and set out on that course, they would be left with the burden.
I will not give way because time is very limited.
One thing that makes me most angry is the idea that we should spend the money and expect our children and grandchildren to bail us out. That is totally unacceptable.
I said that the success of the Budget is not assured, but I welcome the many initiatives that the Chancellor outlined in his speech, including the reduction in corporation tax, particularly for small businesses. The Federation of Small Businesses announced that they will help more than 850,000 small and medium-sized concerns. Along with the FSB and the Forum of Private Business, I welcome the extension of the enterprise guarantee scheme, which will likewise help those small businesses. The FSB reckoned that a 1% increase in national insurance contributions would have brought about the loss of 57,000 jobs. So the previous Government’s record continues. The issue is not only what they did, but what they said they would do. We need to take that into account.
I am delighted that the Chancellor listened to our concerns about raising capital gains tax and that he has increased the threshold to £5 million from £2 million to further encourage entrepreneurs. All of that, welcome though it is, might not be enough to ensure that business has the available financial resources to produce the growth that we need. I am especially worried about that because some 94% of the people who work in the private sector in Northamptonshire work in small or medium-sized enterprises. I fear that they will not have access to the credit from the banks that they require to continue their businesses. Some 70% of the nation’s creativity comes from that sector, and SMEs added 2 million jobs to the employment list at a time when UK plc was shedding 1.5 million jobs. Without that sector, we would not have had the jobs growth that we had in the five or six years before the beginning of the recession.
We face some serious issues in ensuring that the SME sector receives the credit it needs to provide the growth that my right hon. Friends the Chancellor and the Chief Secretary require. The G20 agreement to force the Government to make sure that the banks hold on to even larger amounts of capital flies in the face of our work in that respect, so I ask the Chief Secretary to look at ways of ensuring that the sector receives the money it requires. I want him to look at the levy on the banks to see whether he can allow some of that money to be spent on providing credit for the small business sector and I also want him to promise that he will look at ways of alleviating the £130 billion figure placed on us—seemingly by agreement—by the G20. I welcome the Budget, but I need my Government to recognise the need for SMEs to get the money they need to continue to grow to provide the jobs that we require.
This is one of those occasions that Members dread, when they write a very calm speech but then have to follow the hon. Member for Northampton South (Mr Binley), nice fellow though he is. He has, in one contribution, echoed so much of the same political nonsense that has come from the Government Benches to justify this unnecessary Budget. Day after day, we have heard about the state that Labour left the country in and the deficit that Labour caused.
The hon. Gentleman forgets that from 1997 until 2007 and into 2008 we had unbroken growth every month—[Interruption.] I do not know about the hon. Gentleman’s constituency, but I have a very deprived constituency and, however critical I was of the Labour Government, a lot of people were able to leave behind the memories of the Thatcher 1980s. They got jobs, bought houses and started to take pride in themselves and their families. They started to think that they had a future. That was our Labour Government, but what those on the Government Benches seem to forget is that they are letting some greedy, irresponsible people get away with what they have done to this country and its people. [Hon. Members: “It’s your lot!”] This is exactly it: how could anybody on the Government Benches blame a Labour Government for a financial crisis that swept through the western world, bringing misery and poverty?
The fact is that those on the Government Benches are letting the bankers get away with it—it is obvious even in the Budget that they are doing that. Government Members are going to vote tonight for £5.9 billion of cuts in welfare benefits in the Budget, yet they are taking only £2 billion from the bankers. In fact, they are not even taking £2 billion from them; what they are doing is not hitting the bankers—the greedy, irresponsible ones; the ones who are pocketing the money and taking their bonuses—but hitting the banks and the customers.
No, we have no time, as the hon. Member for Northampton South said.
Those on the Liberal Benches—the real Liberal Benches —seem to be listening to the Government propaganda. I wonder whether they read David Smith in The Sunday Times the week before the Budget. David Smith—not a well-known Labour supporter—drew our attention to the independent Office for Budget Responsibility, which was set up by the Chancellor. The OBR produced a report, which I see one member of the Front-Bench team has read and understands, containing its forecasting from June, based on the Labour Budget of March. We are talking about the choice for the Liberal Members who entered the Government, having taken their Business Secretary’s word that Mervyn at the Bank told him that things were so bad that we had only one option—to push through the cuts, which are reminiscent of the ’80s—but we do not.
This is David Smith’s introduction to the Office for Budget Responsibility’s report:
“The ‘before’ version, the OBR’s baseline projection, was contrary to some reporting last week, a rather attractive vision for the economy over the next few years.”
That is our legacy: “a rather attractive vision for the economy”. What was in that projection? The answer is that
“growth averages 2.7% from next year until the end of the parliament,”
in 2014-15, and
“inflation sticks to the Bank of England’s 2% target,”
throughout the life of the Parliament. As for unemployment —this is the choice that those on the Government Benches are making—it will go up with the Budget. Under the Labour Budget, as analysed by the independent Office for Budget Responsibility,
“unemployment falls despite…Labour’s planned spending cuts.”
“Unemployment falls”—can those on the Government Benches say the same? The article continues:
“The economy rebalances away from consumer spending and government towards exports and investment. The saving ratio steadies,”
“borrowing falling from 11.1% of GDP in 2009-10 to 3.9% by 2014-15 and the current account deficit, 1.7% of GDP this year, falling to 0.8% in 2014,”
and both the structural budget deficit and the cyclically adjusted deficit falling. That was all in the independent report that the Chancellor called through.
So when those on the Government Benches are walking through the Lobby to force cuts on people—kids who want to go to university; disabled people; people on incapacity benefit—[Interruption.] Oh yes, of course, it is all emotional, but these ar