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Socioeconomic Equality

Volume 742: debated on Wednesday 13 December 2023

The Government are committed to boosting economic growth across the UK and ensuring opportunity is spread as widely as possible. Education is the most significant lever to create opportunity and reduce inequality, and I am pleased that Conservative reforms have seen children in schools in England excel in the 2022 PISA—programme for international student assessment—scores. England significantly outperformed the average, rising from 27th for mathematics in 2009 to 11th this year, and from 25th for reading in 2009 to 13th this year.

When it comes to economic equality, physical mobility is critical. As the Minister may know, I am joint chair of the all-party parliamentary group for “left behind” neighbourhoods, and our recent report talked about how limited public transport connectivity frustrates access to education and employment. I have constituents in places such as Trimdon and Fishburn who cannot get to the 10,000 jobs in Aycliffe, which is only 10 miles away. Does the Minister agree it is imperative that when funding for local transport is determined, the opportunity to enhance social mobility is seen as critical?

I agree with my hon. Friend, who raises an important point about how connectivity creates access and generates social mobility. The Department for Transport is working to put the needs of current and potential users at the heart of the operation of the transport system, and Network North, our new £36 billion plan, will improve our country’s transport. Perhaps my hon. Friend will write to me about the specific issues, because some of those duties will fall to his local council and I want to know what it is doing with the money we are giving it to improve access.

This Conservative Government have done more for the people of Blyth Valley than any other Government—[Laughter.] And they have brought much needed investment in employment opportunities for my constituents—[Interruption.]

Order. Please, I cannot hear the question. Obviously there must have been something funny, but I didn’t hear it.

Thank you, Mr Speaker. This Conservative Government have done more for the people of Blyth Valley than any other Government and have brought much needed investment in employment opportunities for my constituents, following decades of Labour neglect. Will my right hon. Friend please assure me that continuing to close the gap between the north and the south remains the Government’s highest priority?

I am delighted to assure my hon. Friend of that. He is an effective advocate for his constituency, and he knows that this Government have been investing in Blyth Valley. We have given an £18 million boost to regenerate housing, £1.5 million for new high-tech training equipment, £200,000 for extended CCTV provision, and a further £20 million for our long-term plan for towns. Our investment in Blyth shows that only the Conservatives can deliver there, and levelling up and closing the gap is a priority for this Government.

Some 42% of children in Newcastle upon Tyne Central are growing up in poverty, 17% of households are in fuel poverty, and a fifth of adults are estimated to be in problematic debt. Does the Minister agree that a Government who cannot deliver economic prosperity for working people in the north-east are a Government who cannot deliver on socioeconomic equality?

This Government are delivering. Of course we recognise that there are people who are in need, and that is why we are doing everything, across all Departments, to deliver for them. For example, our supporting families programme has funded local areas to help almost 600,000 families with multiple and complex needs to make significant positive changes to their lives. The programme is working, and evaluation found that the proportion of children on the programme going into care reduced by a third and the number of adults receiving custodial sentences decreased by a quarter. There is so much we can say—I know we are running out of time, Mr Speaker, so perhaps the hon. Lady would like me to write to her.

One thing that can militate against socioeconomic equality, particularly for the elderly and most vulnerable, is access to care staff. The rate of remuneration is 61p per mile, going down to 25p per mile after the first 3,500 miles, and those figures have not been revised upwards since 2011. It means that wonderful people in my constituency are very often losing money travelling about, and that does not do much for recruitment either. Will the Minister agree to talk to the Treasury and the Scottish Government about doing something about that?

I am sure that colleagues in the appropriate Department will have heard the hon. Gentleman’s question and will be able to provide a more detailed response.