Mr. Tom Harris accordingly presented a Bill to amend the Computer Misuse Act 1990; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 2 December, and to be printed [Bill 42].
This is my first opportunity in the House to express my sadness and sorrow to the victims of last week's murderous bombs, and to the injured who continue to suffer. I have just seen pictures on the television news of those who died. That brings home in a very graphic way how many lives have been so cruelly snatched away from us. I think that is an appropriate opening to an Opposition day debate, as democratic debate must continue undaunted.
Today's debate is about people like Mr. Crow and his family, from Dover. They have two kids, a mortgage and no spare cash. Mr. Crow recently took a job as a carer and became entitled to tax credits. When his pay rose, he did what he was supposed to do and informed the Inland Revenue. He was told that the increase in his pay was to be disregarded. A year later, he has been told that he has been overpaid and that he now must pay back the difference. His working tax credit has been reduced from £35 a week to £2.44 for the entire month. That family has been forced to go into debt or lose their home.
This debate is also about people like my constituent Helen Thompson, a single mother. She contacted the helpline and was told that she could keep an overpayment of £3,000, even though she had offered to pay it back immediately. Out of the blue, the Revenue demanded that money back, with the result that she could not meet her child care costs. She faced losing her job, and only the intervention of my constituency office caused the Revenue to change its position.
This debate is also about people like the lone parent in the report by Citizens Advice, who received no tax credit payments whatsoever for the last few weeks of the financial year. She had to resort to Salvation Army food parcels to feed her children.
Every Member of the House knows that, sadly, those are not isolated examples. Citizens Advice handled 150,000 cases in the last year alone. The parliamentary ombudsman now spends a quarter of her time on tax credit cases, and the Revenue has recently admitted to me in writing that it is dealing with 51,000 complaints, 9,000 of which were referred to it by Members.
"is failing the very families most in need of extra money, causing hardship that the system is designed to prevent, and making it more difficult for people to save or to hold down a job, rather than supporting saving and employment."
Ed Balls: Tax credits have helped to reduce child poverty by a million since 1997, and the Government are committed to the goal of halving child poverty by the end of the decade. Does the Conservative party share that goal?
Mr. Osborne: I am absolutely delighted that the hon. Gentleman intervened; I suspected that he might be in the Chamber today. In his constituency, 4,100 of his constituents received the wrong award, which was 41 per cent. of the people who applied. In his constituency alone, £2.9 million was overpaid to people he represents. If he is happy with that record, so be it; I do not think he should be. On child poverty, I know that he likes to do his homework so perhaps he should read the report from the Institute for Fiscal Studies, "Poverty and Inequality in Britain: 2005", produced earlier this year, which states that owing to the administrative problems with the new tax credits there was an increase in child poverty by 90,000 after housing costs and 80,000 before housing costs. I am not sure whether the hon. Gentleman has read that document, but I suggest that he does so before he intervenes again.
Ed Balls: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way again. I shall rephrase my question. Child poverty rose by 4 million between 1979 and 1997. As a result of the working families tax credit and the introduction of child tax credit, child poverty has now fallen by a million since 1997 and, because of tax credits, is forecast to fall further. The Government are committed to halving child poverty by the end of the decade and to abolishing it in a generation. Is the Conservative party committed, like the Government, to the abolition of child poverty and to halving child poverty by the end of the decade? It is a simple question: yes or no?
We are committed to policies that reduce child poverty. We are not committed to policies
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that have increased child poverty. As the IFS said, the introduction of the new tax credits has led to an increase in child poverty by about 90,000 after housing costs and 80,000 before housing costs. The hon. Gentleman says that the system has helped all those families, but he has obviously not read the reports that we are debating todayfor example, the CAB report, which states that the tax credit system has plunged many below the breadline and into mounting debt; or the parliamentary ombudsman's report, which talks of families having to borrow money from family and friends to support their children, using up their life savings or running up credit card debts to pay for child care costs, buy food and get to work.
Edward Miliband: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. We are asking for simple intellectual honesty from him. Under the tax credit system, child poverty has fallen by about a million. Does he acknowledge that, and does he acknowledge the responsibility of tax credits in cutting child poverty? It is a simple questionyes or no?
Mr. Osborne: No, I do not acknowledge that the present tax credit system has helped in the reduction of child poverty, because I have in front of me the IFS report, which states that the administrative problems with the new tax credits led to an increase in child poverty by 90,000. That is in the document.
"Tax Credits have delivered substantial improvements in the levels of income delivered to lone parents, and evidence suggests that they will have helped achieve the impressive expected reduction of child poverty by a quarter by 2004/05."