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Cost of Living

Volume 737: debated on Wednesday 6 September 2023

2. What assessment he has made of the potential impact of the increased cost of living on people in Northern Ireland. (906179)

7. What assessment he has made of the potential impact of the increased cost of living on people in Northern Ireland. (906185)

The UK Government are acutely aware of the cost of living pressures experienced in all parts of the UK since the onset of war in Ukraine. We provided an estimated £2 billion of financial support to Northern Ireland, including more than £1 billion in the form of the energy price guarantee and the additional £600 payment to help households with the rising cost of energy. Tackling inflation continues to be a top priority for this Government.

Every country in the world is having to deal with the impact of the war in Ukraine and the impact of the pandemic, but only one country is having to deal with the impact of Brexit, which is what is driving up prices and the cost of living for people in Northern Ireland and across the UK, isn’t it?

I am inclined just to say no. The reality is that this conversation will keep going to and fro. We have left the European Union and we are staying out of the European Union. Our task is to make sure that we flourish as a nation outside the EU, and I wish the hon. Gentleman would just get behind it and move on.

In June this year, according to research by the Trussell Trust, one in six people across Northern Ireland faced hunger, with nearly half of those referred to Trussell Trust food banks being children under the age of 16. In Scotland, primary school children get a £120 uniform grant and secondary school pupils get a £150 uniform grant, but the amount in Wales in Northern Ireland is almost a quarter of that. Given that parents are choosing between spending money on back-to-school supplies or on food, what steps is the Minister taking to ease the cost of living pressures on families in Northern Ireland?

As I said, we provided a large sum of money to ease cost of living pressures in Northern Ireland. The hon. Gentleman mentions food banks, which are very much on my mind, given the scale of the food bank in Wycombe. I am very well aware of the cost of living pressures in Northern Ireland. We continue to put large sums of money into Northern Ireland, but it would be much better to deal with all these issues in the presence of a restored Executive.

May I join in the congratulations to my right hon. Friend on his first anniversary? I also thank the new shadow Secretary of State for the huge contribution he has made as vice-chairman of the UK-EU Parliamentary Partnership Assembly. In welcoming the money that has been provided to Northern Ireland to help with the cost of living pressures, does the Minister agree that it would be even better, and more efficiently spent, if the Executive were back up and running?

Yes, I absolutely do; my right hon. and learned Friend is right on that. Time and again we are asked to intervene, and every time we are asked to intervene that is a call for direct rule. We do not intend to get into direct rule. It would be far better if local decisions were taken by a locally accountable Executive.

The Government have shown their commitment to supporting the people of Northern Ireland through the recent increase in the cost of living. In the absence of an Executive—we all accept that one is absolutely necessary—will my hon. Friend assure me that the Government will continue to intervene where necessary for the people of Northern Ireland?

We will continue to work for the people of Northern Ireland, respecting the devolution settlement. For example, in recognition of the cost of living pressures faced by workers across the UK, the Government increased the national minimum wage rate by 9.7%, to £10.42 per hour for workers aged 23 and over, at the spring Budget. We will continue to be seized of the need to help those least well off.

The cost of living crisis is clearly continuing to bite hard in Northern Ireland, with footfall at stores across Northern Ireland falling by 5% throughout August. What steps is the Department taking to enable people to take full advantage of the highly privileged economic status and market access that Northern Ireland now has, which this Government have deprived to the rest of the UK?

I disagree with the hon. Gentleman’s use of the term “deprived”, but I am happy to tell him that next week we have the Northern Ireland investment summit. We are determined to attract private sector investment into Northern Ireland and to promote inclusion in that growth. Northern Ireland has a fantastically vibrant economy, and I very much hope that the least well-off will have opportunities through our investment in skills to develop themselves and to secure more better paying jobs in Northern Ireland, so that they can move on.