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Cost of Living

Volume 594: debated on Wednesday 11 March 2015

Cutting income tax, freezing fuel duty, welfare reform, dealing with the spectacular deficit we inherited and keeping interest rates low are practical examples of how this Government are helping hard-pressed families in Northern Ireland.

Labour has set out clear plans to raise the national minimum wage to at least £8 by 2020. What is the Minister doing to tackle low pay, when one in six people in Northern Ireland are in low pay?

I thought the hon. Gentleman would have started by welcoming the Government’s efforts to reduce unemployment in Northern Ireland—17,000 extra jobs in the private sector over the past year alone. If he was listening, he would have heard the answer to his question from my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State earlier

The Northern Ireland Council for Voluntary Action estimates that introducing the living wage would see 173,000 low-paid employees receive an average gross pay rise of £1,300 a year. Will the Government look at strengthening the living wage to help Northern Ireland, which has the lowest private sector pay in the UK?

The hon. Gentleman will, I hope, have seen the Institute for Fiscal Studies incomes report published earlier this month. It marked a major milestone, for it is now clear that average incomes in Northern Ireland are back from the pit they were in prior to Labour’s deficit crisis. The IFS further forecasts that incomes will rise above inflation in the year ahead, and I hope the hon. Gentleman will welcome that.

Does the Minister recognise that the Democratic Unionist party’s long-term economic plan to see household taxes at their lowest and a freeze on the regional rate on household taxes for five years is working? However, this Government could have a direct impact by reducing energy costs for employers and consumers alike, and they should address that immediately.

The hon. Gentleman makes his points in his characteristically formidable fashion, and I am sure he will welcome the freeze on fuel duty, which will mean that by the end of this Parliament a tank of petrol will cost £10 less. He will also welcome inward investment to Northern Ireland, which I know he feels very strongly about given what has happened in his constituency, with, for example, Kainos, Randox, WhiteHat, Revel and PricewaterhouseCoopers. They will be creating 800 jobs in Northern Ireland—high-quality jobs—in the year ahead.