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Cost of Living

Volume 747: debated on Wednesday 13 March 2024

4. What recent discussions he has had with the Chancellor of the Exchequer on supporting rural areas in Wales with the cost of living. (901886)

5. What recent assessment he has made of the impact of increases in the cost of living on people in Wales. (901887)

The UK Government fully recognise the challenges posed by cost of living pressures as a result of the covid-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine, which is why we have provided £96 billion since 2022 to support households and individuals across the United Kingdom —an average of about £3,400 per household.

Diolch, Mr Speaker. Just as the cost of living crisis here demands urgent action for my constituents in Slough, the cost of living crisis in Wales demands it for the good people of Wales, especially as households face being £870 worse off under this Government’s tax plan. Shockingly, a Which? survey has found that one in five working-age parents in Wales is skipping meals owing to high food prices. What recent conversations has the Secretary of State had with supermarkets about keeping the cost of food down?

I hope the hon. Gentleman will recognise and welcome the fact that, as a result of the policies being pursued by this Government, inflation has fallen from more than 11% to about 4%. I hope he will also agree that workers throughout Wales will be very pleased with the cut in national insurance contributions, which means that on average they will be £642 better off. If he is really concerned about the plight of working parents in Wales, I hope he will ask his colleagues in the Welsh Labour Government to roll out the childcare initiatives that are being rolled out in England, but not by them in Wales.

A number of my constituents have been adversely affected by their transfer from working tax credit to universal credit, because they work in sectors such as agriculture and tourism and their incomes are therefore seasonal. The switch from an annual to a monthly assessment of their entitlement means that many are losing out, but the Government have said that there will be no impact assessment to determine the financial effect of the move. Will the Secretary of State intervene in support of such an assessment, so that workers with seasonal incomes can be treated fairly?

The hon. Gentleman is a champion of constituents in rural areas such as his, and I am happy to look at any information that he wants to give, but I hope that he will recognise that the increase in the living wage will have helped his constituents, even those who work seasonally. That is alongside the extra payments that the Government have made to households in which people are living on benefits or have disabilities.

Is the Secretary of State aware of a report published this morning by the Trussell Trust? It states that 55% of the people receiving universal credit in Wales ran out of food last month and could not afford more, nearly 40,000 have needed to use a food bank in the last month, and four in 10 have fallen into debt because they could not keep up with their bills. Whatever the UK Government are doing about this, it is clearly nowhere near enough. What is the Secretary of State going to do about it?

The focus of this UK Government is on ensuring that people can work and do not have to live on benefits, but we recognise that there are those in need. That is why pensions, benefits and the living wage have all risen in line with inflation, and why we have ensured that additional payments are made to pensioners, those living on benefits and households where there has been disability. The fact is that people on low wages will not be helped by the plans of the hon. Gentleman’s Government in Scotland—and, indeed, the Labour Opposition—to shut down the oil and gas industry, which would throw 100,000 people out of work.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Welsh Government’s sustainable farming scheme, if implemented, would have the most serious possible impact not only on Welsh farming businesses, but on the cost of living in the rural areas that depend on them? Does he further agree that for those communities, the scheme is the very opposite of sustainable?

My right hon. Friend is entirely correct. The Welsh Labour Government’s sustainable farming scheme involves taking 20% of prime Welsh agricultural land out of commission in order to pursue a whole load of nebulous schemes. It will increase food miles, and will reduce our ability to feed ourselves.

One of the best ways we can support people with the cost of living across Wales is by supporting businesses. Does the Minister agree that the Welsh Labour Government, propped up by Plaid Cymru, should do more to support hard-working farmers on Anglesey, such as Richard Jones and his family dairy, Maelog Jerseys, in Llanfaelog?

I completely agree with my hon. Friend. The Welsh Government should abandon their so-called sustainable farming scheme, which will remove 20% of prime Welsh agricultural land and prevent farmers from growing food or grazing crops on it. They need to do something about tuberculosis, which is running rampant in Wales, unlike in England, and they need to look at the nitrate vulnerable zones across the whole of Wales, which will also impact farmers, such as her constituents.

The impact of the Conservatives’ cost of living crisis on people in north Wales has been exacerbated by their dither and delay on new nuclear at Wylfa. The previous project, which Ministers abandoned in 2019, could have been 50% completed by now, and would have created up to 8,500 jobs. Some 900 permanent jobs would also be well on the way, adding a total of almost £400 million a year to the local economy in wages. What does the Secretary of State say to people across north Wales who are still looking for good jobs because of his Government’s failures?

The last Labour Government certainly did not build any nuclear power stations. The UK Conservative Government are getting on with Hinkley, and we are sorting out small modular reactors. There is a process going on, in which six companies with an SMR model will be reduced to two, and one will be selected by the end of the year. We have provided £160 million to buy the Wylfa site. That will ensure that there is a nuclear industry in Wales—a result of the policies of this Conservative Government.

It is a stark admission of the Government’s failure that the Secretary of State boasts, after 14 years in government and doing absolutely nothing for five years, of acquiring a site at Wylfa. His Government’s inaction has cost people money, and still does. In nine years, all but one of our current reactors will be offline, which will weaken our energy mix, risk higher prices, and again leave us vulnerable to energy tyrants such as Putin. Will the Secretary of State make an explicit commitment today to backing new nuclear in places such as Wylfa, as Labour has done, in order to unlock jobs, investment and cheaper bills—issues that his party has ignored for so long? Or is this another never-ending Tory fiasco, like High Speed 2?

The last Labour Government were not in the least bit supportive of nuclear. What this Conservative Government have done for energy is increase to 50% the amount of electricity that comes from renewables. We are the first advanced economy to halve our carbon dioxide emissions, and we are pushing forward with floating offshore wind and SMRs. All we get for business from the Welsh Labour Government is a block on new roads being built, 20 mph speed limits, and legislation to charge people for driving to work.