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Living Standards

Volume 693: debated on Tuesday 27 April 2021

The Government are committed to supporting household living standards during this difficult time for our country. That is why we announced an unprecedented package of support to protect people’s jobs and incomes and to help those most in need.

It is approaching two years since this Government said that they would review the way in which dying people were treated through social security. Meanwhile, Marie Curie and many other campaigners for change estimate that as many as 6,000 people have died while waiting for a decision on their claims. This Government have repeatedly promised to end the six-month rule, which is currently forcing terminally ill people to prove how long they have left to live before they can access fast-track support, so can the Chancellor confirm that this long overdue reform will be in the Queen’s Speech?

It would be wrong for me to pre-empt the Queen’s Speech—I know that colleagues will understand that—but I can assure the hon. Gentleman that my right hon. Friend the Work and Pensions Secretary keeps all these matters under review, and of course we want to ensure that our welfare system is compassionate and effectively supports those who need our help.

My goodness, what a disastrous week for the UK Government. While they have been mired in scandal and slithering through sleaze, the SNP has committed to doubling the Scottish child payment and carers allowance and to introducing a new winter heating payment. Does the Chancellor accept that these are more noble social objectives than enriching well-placed cronies?

What I believe to be a more noble objective is to focus on the day-to-day concerns of the Scottish people at this difficult time, which involves making sure that the economy recovers, that the vaccines are rolled out and, of course, that our children receive the education they deserve. These are the issues that I know the Scottish people will care most about in the coming weeks.

Due to the increasing concentration of wealth in older generations, the value of the average inheritance received by younger generations is becoming significantly greater through time. Does my right hon. Friend recognise this trend and the fact that it means that living standards will increasingly be determined not by skill, entrepreneurship and hard work but by chance, which will have a detrimental impact on social mobility? While it is absolutely right that families can pass on wealth to their loved ones, does my right hon. Friend none the less recognise the strong trend here, and if so, what steps might he consider taking to address this?

I would say two things to my right hon. Friend. First, he will know that in the Budget we recently froze the inheritance tax thresholds for four years, which will provide some alleviation on the concern that he mentioned. Secondly, I believe that the best way to drive social mobility in our society is to provide everyone with the skills and education they need to make a better life for themselves, which is what this Government are committed to delivering.

The Tories’ two-child limit, and the rape clause, which stands part of it, are having a devastating impact on living standards, with the Child Poverty Action Group and the Church of England estimating that 350,000 families and 1.25 million children have been affected so far. Scrapping the two-child limit would be the easiest and most cost-effective way of reducing child poverty in the UK, so will the Chancellor scrap it or will he push more families into poverty?

Since 2010, over 1 million fewer people are now living in poverty, thanks to the actions of this Government and the coalition, and 300,000 fewer children are living in poverty. That is something to be celebrated, but of course there is work to do and we remain committed to making those improvements.

It is interesting that the Chancellor ignores the findings of the Church of England and the CPAG, which tell a very different story from that which he is willing to tell. In Scotland, the Scottish National party is committed to doubling the Scottish child payment, a new benefit described as a “game changer”, to £20 a week; providing free school meals to all primary children; and extending wraparound childcare. All of those are a huge help to the families that this Tory Government choose to ignore. Does this not demonstrate the choice of two futures: more austerity and more child poverty under the Tories, or a Scotland working hard to be the best place for a child to grow up?

I am glad that the Scottish Government are able to use the over £3.5 billion of Barnett consequentials that have been provided by the UK Government over the next year. Child poverty is of course an important issue and one that we remain committed to, which is why initiatives such as the troubled families programme are making an enormous difference to those families. Crucially, we also know that children growing up in a workless household are five times more likely to be in poverty, which is why this Government are committed to helping people find work and find well-paid work. That is something we have an excellent record of doing.

David Cameron said that Greensill had

“the mandate for the UK Government”.

Greensill said that it was the

“sole provider of…supply chain finance”

across Government and that it had a model that brings several benefits to the UK public sector. Does the Chancellor still believe that he was right to bring in real-terms pay cuts for public sector workers, while allowing David Cameron and Lex Greensill to target their pay packets and giving them the run of Whitehall?

With regard to public sector pay, I do believe it is right, at a time of extraordinary strain on our public finances—when those in the private sector have seen more than 1 million jobs lost, hours cut, wages cut and many millions furloughed, with the impact that that has on them—to take a fair and proportionate approach to public sector pay. That is why this Government have said that those on the lowest pay will see a pay rise this year, as will those in the NHS. Combined with all the other pay progression, this means that a majority of people in the public sector will see their pay increase this year, despite the difficult circumstances. Of course, the national living wage is also being increased ahead of inflation, making sure that those on the lowest incomes see an uplift in their take-home pay.