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Cost of Living

Volume 720: debated on Wednesday 12 October 2022

10. What recent discussions he has had with (a) Cabinet colleagues and (b) the Scottish Government on the cost of living crisis in Scotland. (901589)

11. What recent discussions he has had with (a) Cabinet colleagues and (b) the Scottish Government on the cost of living crisis in Scotland. (901590)

13. What recent discussions he has had with (a) Cabinet colleagues and (b) the Scottish Government on the cost of living crisis in Scotland. (901592)

The Government fully recognise that families, households and businesses are worried about rising costs. That is why we have taken decisive action to get families and businesses through this winter and next, and we are focused on growing the economy to raise living standards for everyone.

According to Citizens Advice Scotland, the cost of living crisis is the “perfect storm” that risks sweeping tens of thousands of households across Scotland into poverty, problem debt, and destitution, and nothing could be closer to the truth. Scottish Labour has a plan and is calling for an emergency cost of living Act. Will the Minister raise with Scottish Ministers what both Governments could urgently do, using all the levers at their disposal, to help individuals and families in Scotland through this terrible crisis?

The UK, like Europe and other countries around the world, has been forced to respond decisively to the challenges posed by high energy prices resulting from, among other things, Russia’s weaponisation of energy markets. Because of action taken by this Government, the most vulnerable households will get at least £1,200—some much more—of cost of living support this year on top of the benefit of the energy price guarantee. Of course, the hon. Lady is absolutely right that this Government and the devolved Administrations must work together to make sure that the most vulnerable get the most support.

According to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, if the Government do not uprate benefits in line with inflation, then claimants, many of whom are working, will experience the biggest ever real-terms cut to benefits in a single year. Is it not the case that the Minister’s Government are prioritising growing the wealth of the richest while not doing enough for the vulnerable, including the elderly, in our communities in Scotland?

Again, it will come as no surprise that I do not totally agree with everything that an hon. Member said. The hon. Lady asked about raising benefits in line with inflation. The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions is looking at that—as she would do on an annual basis in any case—and will announce in due course the decision on benefits uprating.

According to Joseph Rowntree Foundation figures, 15,378 people in Glasgow Central receive means-tested benefits such as universal credit, and many of them will be working in low-paid jobs. The Scottish Government have done their bit by introducing the leading Scottish child payment, but what representations has the Minister made to his colleague, the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, to support the uprating of benefits? He has not been clear about what representations he has made for the people of Scotland.

The hon. Lady makes excellent points. On making representations to my ministerial colleagues, having been in this post for a very short time, I have not quite got there yet, but these discussions are happening. Under the agreed fiscal framework, the Scottish Government, through the levers that they have, will receive an estimated £340 million of additional funding as a result of just the basic rate tax cut. It is for the Scottish Government to use that additional funding as they want to, including on increased spending or tax cuts.

In the policy decisions chapter of the so-called “Growth Plan”, line 9 on page 26 shows that reversing the corporation tax increase will cost £68 billion over the next five years. Given the cost of living crisis, did the Minister and his Secretary of State argue for or against a £68 billion subsidy to the biggest, wealthiest companies in the UK?

The hon. Gentleman is probably aware that the Government have committed to reversing the planned corporation tax increase from 19%, so it is staying at 19%, which will attract businesses to Scotland and across the rest of the United Kingdom. It is often missed that the Government have delivered on top of the recently announced energy price guarantee. It means that typical households receiving means-tested benefits will receive £1,200 of support; those on disability benefits on top of that will receive £1,350; low-income pensioner households will receive £1,500 of support; and low-income pensioner households who are receiving disability benefits will receive £1,650 of support. As well as that, the energy price guarantee will mean that a typical household will pay no more than £2,500 on their energy bills.

The shadow Secretary of State for Scotland, my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh South (Ian Murray), has a long-standing family commitment, which is why the privilege of asking questions falls to me today.

The UK Government’s so-called mini-Budget has created a financial crisis—made in Downing Street but paid for by working people all over this country, including in Scotland. Has the Minister’s Department made an assessment of how much worse off Scottish households will be as a result of the Chancellor’s disastrous actions?

I welcome the hon. Gentleman to his place instead of the shadow Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Edinburgh South (Ian Murray). As I said, the energy support put in place means that a typical household will not pay more than £2,500. That is on top of the additional benefits that were announced earlier this year and more recently and which will make sure that many households, including those on the lowest incomes, will actually be better off than they would have been.

The only long-term solution to this crisis is a more sustainable energy policy, which the Government have failed to deliver for 12 years. In 2017, Nicola Sturgeon announced a national energy company for Scotland. Five years on, we are in an energy crisis and that plan has been ditched, so does the Minister agree that the right way forward is through Labour’s plan for Great British Energy, a home-grown, publicly owned company run for and by the people of this country and for the interests of people in this country?

The hon. Member is absolutely correct to point out the Scottish Government’s commitment, made back in 2017, to have created a nationalised energy company in Scotland by now. That has not happened, and quite frankly I do not think that it should. I do not think that Labour’s plans should be implemented either.

The first mini-Budget from this Government required two Bank of England interventions just to stabilise the economy. It tanked the pound and it massively worsened the already brutal cost of living crisis that our constituents are facing. Will the Minister and the Secretary of State, as Scotland’s representative in Cabinet, confirm that any future fiscal event from this Government will neither make further cuts to the Scottish budget nor introduce further cuts to our already crippled public services?

On top of the already record increased block grant of £41 billion that the Scottish Government have already received, measures announced in the Chancellor’s recent fiscal statement mean hundreds of millions in extra money going to the Scottish Government. As I said to the hon. Member for Glasgow Central (Alison Thewliss), it is for the Scottish Government to decide whether to spend that on tax cuts or to increase spending.

After 12 years of austerity, which has caused in excess of 300,000 deaths in the UK, this Tory Government have cost the public billions. They have given dodgy covid contracts to their pals. They are scrapping the bankers’ bonus cap. They have forced a hard Brexit on Scotland against its will. They are now helping the richest people in the country, on the backs of millions of people who are choosing between heating and eating. I ask the Minister: is it genuinely a surprise to him and his colleagues to discover why most people in Scotland detest the Tory party and its values?

I must say that I am disappointed that the hon. Member chooses to double down on the hate-filled language of her party leader. I repeat that the Scottish Government have received a record amount of block grant funding—£41 billion—since devolution began, and all the other measures from which people and businesses across Scotland will benefit. Those in the most vulnerable households and on the lowest incomes will particularly benefit from the measures that this Government have taken.