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Poverty: Social Security

Volume 662: debated on Tuesday 2 July 2019

1. What discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions on the adequacy of social security spending in tackling poverty throughout the UK. (911674)

Thanks to our welfare reforms, we have been able to get more people into work, we have the lowest unemployment rate since 1974 and more than 667,000 fewer children are living in workless households than in 2010.

Some £30 billion of support to working-age people has been cut from the social security budget, and there is more still to come. Eight out of nine disabled people will not benefit from the measures introduced in last autumn’s Budget and over 4 million are living in poverty. In the Chancellor’s last few weeks in post, what will he do to right this wrong?

I do not agree with the hon. Lady’s analysis. The fact is that income inequality is lower now than it was in 2010 and absolute poverty after housing costs is at a historic low for children.

Can the Chief Secretary confirm that the number of children living in workless households is now the lowest ever record achieved in our country?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. It is because of our welfare reforms and economic policy that more people are now in work and are benefiting from our cuts to basic rate tax, giving working families £1,200 a year extra in their pay packets.

The Chancellor has been brave recently, speaking out on how no deal will impact our economy. Poverty will only get worse if we face no deal, so will the Chief Secretary be as brave as the Chancellor and tell this House the truth about poverty and no deal?

I can tell the hon. Lady what would lead to greater poverty in this country: a Government who wanted to overthrow capitalism, declare business the enemy and ruin the private sector businesses that are employing people and giving them extra wages.

The Chancellor has been at the forefront of arguing that a decade of austerity was necessary. This has led to 24% of Scottish children and 30% of English children being in poverty. If the Chancellor believes that this pain was not ideological and unnecessary, will he vote against a Tory tax cuts for the rich Budget, as proposed by the Prime Minister’s most likely successor?

With respect to the hon. Lady, she clearly did not hear my earlier answer, when I said that absolute poverty after housing costs is at a historic low for children. That is true right across our country. Of course, the Scottish National party Government in Scotland could take steps to help children by improving educational standards; that is what they should be focusing on.

The Minister might not want to tackle inequality, but the Scottish Government do. The polls show that a majority of Scottish people support the tax changes that mean the Scottish Government can fund a £10 a week payment to families with the most vulnerable children, mitigating the ideological austerity obsession of this Conservative Government. If the right hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson) becomes Prime Minister, 53% of Scots will support independence. And who can blame them, given the Scottish Government’s plans to support and help young people, and this Government’s ideological austerity obsession?

The reality is that the Scottish Government are now forecast to bring in lower rates of income tax than expected, because they have not followed through on our raising of the threshold to £50,000, so people in Scotland on £50,000 are now paying £1,500 more tax. The fact is that raising tax reduces incentives for people to get up the earnings ladder, reduces economic growth and means that we do not have the opportunities and funding for public services.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Wirral South (Alison McGovern) said, the poorest, most vulnerable people in society, even those who are in work but struggling to make ends meet, will be hit particularly hard by a catastrophic no-deal Brexit. The Minister cannot get away with simply deflecting this into an attack, which I would share, on the economic policies of the Labour party. This is the clearest, most present danger facing our country, and surely she will not happily move towards a no-deal Brexit.

What the hon. Gentleman is missing is the fact that if we continue to delay Brexit, first, we would not be delivering on what British people voted for over three years ago; and secondly, there will be continued delay in our economy—a continued lack of investment—due to a lack of certainty.

Yesterday, the Chancellor slapped down both Tory leadership candidates for making irresponsible spending promises. Has the Minister noticed, as we have, that not one of those promises was aimed at lifting the 4 million children out of poverty? She is responsible for the management of Government finances—heaven help us! What does she think this says about the Tory party and the next Prime Minister?

I am incredibly proud of our record, as a Government, of reducing inequality. Income inequality is now lower than it was in 2010. We have also cut taxes for basic rate taxpayers by £1,200 a year and put an extra £630 into universal credit for working families.