The actions the Government are taking to help with the cost of living include freezing fuel duty, cutting income tax bills, delivering the biggest ever single cash increase in the state pension and helping to keep interest rates low by dealing with the deficit.
The Secretary of State may be aware that last year the Northern Ireland Council for Voluntary Action confirmed that Belfast, with an expected loss of £840 per adult of working age, will be hit harder than any other major city in Britain. Will she advise the House on what specific steps she is taking to address the cost of living, given the depth and scale of the problem in Northern Ireland?
As I have said, the Government take this issue very seriously. That is why fuel duty today is 20 pence per litre lower than it would have been if we had stuck with the previous Government’s plans; that is why we have cut income tax for about 618,000 people in Northern Ireland and taken 75,000 out of income tax altogether; and that is why people on the minimum wage will see their income tax bills halved by April.
I wonder whether the Secretary of State can tell us what her assessment is of the Advice NI social policy report, which confirms that over 11 food banks have opened in Northern Ireland since 2012. Is she happy with that? If not, what does she plan to do about it?
Of course it is a matter of regret that anyone feels the need to go to a food bank, but the Government are doing everything they can to support people on low incomes with the cost of living. I hope the Opposition will welcome the fact that inflation fell to 2% yesterday. We will continue to give people support, in particular with our triple lock on pensions that delivered the biggest ever single cash increase in the state pension, and we will continue to deal with the deficit. The real threat to the cost of living would be a Labour Government, who would put up taxes and see interest rates increased.
12. Does the Secretary of State agree that the real way to deal with cost of living issues is to pursue economic growth with a long-term strategy to rebalance the economy, and that that applies to Northern Ireland, particularly in engineering and manufacturing? (901930)
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The only way to achieve a sustainable increase in living standards is to run the economy efficiently and effectively, and to have a credible plan to deal with the deficit. That is the way we can keep interest rates low and deal with inflation, and that is the way we can make this country a wealthier place.
There is very effective cross-border working. There is also very effective working between the Northern Ireland Executive and Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs. We take this matter very seriously. My hon. Friend the Exchequer Secretary has been looking with care at the different proposals for new marker technology. I expect progress on that to be announced very soon.
One in three people, in response to Shelter Northern Ireland questionnaires, stated that this year they will struggle to pay their rent or mortgage payments and that child care costs take up a large part of their budget. What discussions has the Secretary of State had with the Department for Work and Pensions to raise the child care element for full-time working families?
The introduction of universal credit in Northern Ireland will make about 102,000 people better off, according to Social Development Minister Nelson McCausland, who also commented that that would lift 10,000 children out of poverty. Our welfare reforms are designed to incentivise work. Getting people into work is the best way to deal with poverty and we will continue to push forward with welfare reform.