I thank the Minister for that precise answer. As today’s alarming ONS figures confirm, this Government are presiding over a recovery in which wages, far from recovering, have continued to deteriorate. As a result, the public finances are getting worse and social security spending targets are being missed by over £15 billion. The deficit continues to rise. Will the Minister tell us why this is the case, and say whether he agrees that in the light of this, the Prime Minister’s promise in October of further unfunded tax cuts lies somewhere between heroic and reckless?
My Lords, I remind the noble Lord, and the House, that growth in the UK is the highest among the G7 countries; that unemployment has fallen by 324,000 in the past year; and that the other piece of news today, which he omitted to mention, is that the gender pay gap has fallen to an all-time low.
Does my noble friend not agree that the most important point is that 3 million people at the bottom of the earnings pile, including 1.8 million women, have been taken out of income tax completely? At the same time, the Revenue’s take has increased by some £5.1 billion over the past year. Is that not a classic example of a stronger economy and a fairer society?
My Lords, will my noble friend tell us what the effect of cutting the top rate of tax from 50p to 45p was? Did revenues go up or did they go down? What was the effect of putting up the capital gains tax rate? Did revenues go up or did they go down?
My Lords, paying the living wage is something that the Government support but, as we have discussed before in your Lordships’ House, there is a balance between rising wages and unemployment. That is the basis on which the minimum wage is set. I gave an example from the Dispatch Box the last time we discussed this: having spoken to people working in the textile industry in Leicester, they demonstrated to me that a big increase in the wage that they were paid would mean that fewer of them would be earning it, because they would be out of the job.
My Lords, is it not the case that income tax should be a good deal higher, particularly if those in the higher ranges of income paid their full amount of tax? What are we doing to tighten the receipt of income tax from all who should pay it?
My Lords, the amount of income tax paid by the top 1% is now 28% of the total income tax revenues, which is the highest proportion it has ever been. That is because this Government have put substantially more money into fighting tax avoidance and evasion—far, far more—than the previous Administration.
My Lords, we have heard various Ministers refer to government employees in terms of paying the living wage. It appears to be a sort of “This ministry does, this ministry doesn’t” situation. Why does not the whole of government do that, particularly given that some of the people who work in those government departments live in London, where the cost of living is very high?
My Lords, as noble Lords will be aware, at the G20 last year the Prime Minister had this issue at the top of the agenda, since when the OECD has produced a whole raft of measures aimed at ensuring that companies pay their fair share of tax. Noble Lords will have seen the end of what was called the “double Irish” tax avoidance scheme in Ireland, and there are currently European Commission probes against tax avoidance in the Netherlands and Luxembourg. There has been a real tightening-up in this area, which was reinforced at the recent G20 summit.
My Lords, will the Minister reflect on what he has just said? If I heard him right, he said that most government departments were paying the minimum wage and that some are considering introducing it. Was that a slip of the tongue? Surely, no government department is paying less than the minimum wage. Did he mix up the minimum wage and the living wage?