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Reducing Economic Inequality

Volume 714: debated on Tuesday 17 May 2022

17. What recent steps he has taken to help reduce economic inequality in Newport West constituency. (900066)

I am very proud of the record of this Government and previous Conservative-led Governments over the past decade of significantly reducing the number of people living in poverty and reducing income inequality. In February we published the levelling up White Paper, which seeks to address the very striking regional disparities our country.

The New Economics Foundation says that recent measures such as the fuel duty cut and the national insurance threshold increase will benefit the richest 5% of families twice as much as the poorest half of households. At the same time, does the Chancellor not accept that his decision to raise taxes on working people while shielding those with incomes from other sources such as a large portfolio of properties is only going to increase income inequality further?

The hon. Gentleman is simply wrong. By raising the primary threshold to £12,500, we have ensured that the first £12,500 that anyone earns is completely free of national insurance and income tax. The independent Institute for Fiscal Studies has called it

“the best way to help low and middle earners through the tax system”.

That is what this Government are about.

The cost of living crisis is causing immense hardship for my constituents in Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough, many of whom have been struggling for the past 12 years of this Government’s austerity policies. Can the Chancellor look me in the eye and tell me that he is doing everything he can to prevent my constituents from falling into a never-ending cycle of poverty, particularly given that the Prime Minister admitted last week that he believes the Government have not done enough?

The hon. Lady talks about the record of previous Governments over the past decade but, as I have mentioned to her previously, the number of people living in absolute poverty has fallen by more than 1 million since the Conservative-led Government were elected in 2010. That is a record of which we are very proud. She talks of austerity and, to bring her up to date, public spending over the course of this Parliament is growing at a record rate, both on investment and on day-to-day spending, so we can support strong investment in all the public services on which her constituents rely.

Women across the UK are the “shock absorbers of poverty,” as the Women’s Budget Group puts it. Women are cutting essentials for themselves so that their kids do not go without, and this is happening in Newport West, too. My inbox is full of emails from anxious families who are unable to pay their bills. What does the Chancellor think this says about the past 12 years of Conservative Government?

Of course we want to be able to support those women, mothers and families who rely on us in these hard times, and that is exactly what this Government are doing. Over the past 10 years, as I said, we have reduced the number of people in poverty. We know that the best way to do that in the long term is to support people into work, which is why I am delighted to see this morning that unemployment is at its lowest level in almost half a century. The single best way to fight poverty is to have a plan for jobs, and our plan is working.

One of the best ways to reduce economic inequality is through our plan for jobs and our freeport programme. To that end, will the Chancellor join me in welcoming the latest investment announced in Teesside’s freeport, a £150 million renewable gas facility for Circular Fuels that will create 200 jobs in construction and further jobs in the supply chain?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. He has been a fantastic champion for his constituents and Teesside in getting the freeport. We are now seeing the proof of that policy, with yet another announcement of more investment and more job opportunities for his constituents, which he rightly says is the best way to support them through these challenging times.

Under this Conservative Government, people’s savings have declined by record levels. Data from the Office for Budget Responsibility shows that the amount of income households are able to save is set to fall by more than £1,000. This Tory cost of living crisis is pushing people into debt, yet one Government Minister said yesterday that, if people are struggling, they should simply work more hours and get another job. Will the Chancellor confirm that “Get on your bike” is official Conservative economic policy once again?

There is an enormous amount to correct in the hon. Lady’s question. In aggregate, across the economy, savings increased over the past two years by more than £250 billion. Of course, that will not be distributed equally, but there is resilience. Consumer credit, on which those on lower incomes particularly rely, has also fallen by about £30 billion over the past two years. Households approach this period of difficulty in a more resilient shape than at any point in the past decade.

The comments by the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Redditch (Rachel Maclean), are absolutely right. It is wrong to take them out of context. This party and this Government are proud to be on the side of hard-working people. We want to support them into work, and we want to make sure that work pays. She was absolutely right to say what she said.