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Islington council runs what is laughably called a choice-based lettings system, which means no choice and precious few lettings. One needs a certain number of points to have a chance of getting rehoused. Getting
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the points depends on how desperate one is compared with everyone else, who is also desperate. Ms A has 202 points and she needs about 350 to stand a chance of getting the sort of accommodation that she needs.

Mr. Hands: Will the hon. Lady give way?

Emily Thornberry: No, I will not.

What chance do Ms A and her children have? What chance does her sister have? This case is not an isolated one. I hear stories like it every day, which break my heart. They are just one of 13,000 families languishing on the council waiting list in Islington. Many Labour Members, particularly those who represent inner-London constituencies, will recognise this story. There are many Ms As who need bold and radical action from our Labour Government.

There is a chronic housing problem in many areas and there are many thousands of people on waiting lists. Unfortunately, the problem in my constituency is exacerbated by the actions of the Liberal Democrat council. My council has for the last six years presided over planning controls that allow six out of every seven new homes to be luxury flats.

Martin Horwood rose—

Emily Thornberry: It seems that the Liberal Democrat council cares more about investment bankers who want to live in luxury flats near the City than the needs of our own overcrowded families, who are in desperate need of rehousing in a decent manner. In the face of this terrible crisis, we were heartened to hear my hon. Friend the Economic Secretary, in a debate on the London economy in Westminster Hall on 20 March 2007, say:

The mobile phones of London Members started humming, expectations were raised and many of us sit and hold our breath—and we wait.

Mr. Hands rose—

Martin Horwood rose—

Emily Thornberry: I want to move on to deal with child poverty, of which the lack of affordable housing, particularly in inner London, is a major cause. Indeed, 35 per cent. of children in inner London live in poverty, even before housing costs are taken into account, but once those costs are included, it jumps up to 52 per cent. There is no other part of the country where housing costs have such a huge effect on child poverty. As a result, my constituency, on some counts, has the 16th highest level of child poverty in the UK.

This morning, I visited Winton primary school to discuss the marine Bill. I have been to 25 primary schools in my constituency to promote the importance of that Bill and they are all writing to the Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. At Winton school, 69 per cent. of the children get free
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school meals, 74 per cent. speak English as a second language and 93 per cent. do not come from a white British background.

The Government’s efforts to tackle child poverty have been unparalleled. Under the Tories, child poverty doubled, but now, because of sound economic management, more people are in work with their pay topped up by tax credits— [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Beverley and Holderness (Mr. Stuart) should listen, as there is very little understanding among Conservative Members of what tax credits are or how they work. Those of us who work in the inner cities, where there are high levels of child poverty, understand the importance of tax credits very well. As a result, 700,000 children have been lifted out of relative poverty, giving them a chance and giving them hope.

Tax credits may not be as flash as putting a windmill on your house, but they have worked. A recent report by the independent Institute for Fiscal Studies found that the fall in child poverty has been the result of more parents being in work and fewer people in work being in poverty. The report said:

In Islington, South and Finsbury that means that, whereas unemployment was up at 5,319 when Labour came to power in 1997, it has now more than halved to 2,386.

Here is an example of where our policies have helped one of my constituents. Ms B is a single parent who works about 20 hours a week as a nursery nurse. Her net wages—the Liberal Democrats should listen to this; I urge them to change their ideas on tax credits—are only £127 a week, which is about the same amount that she would get if she stayed at home on benefits. However, working tax credit, child tax credit and child benefit together contribute another £123 a week, bringing her total to £250 a week. Now that really is making work pay.

David Howarth: Does the hon. Lady recognise that the Chancellor’s abolition of the 10p tax band will mean that her constituent’s tax bill will rise?

Emily Thornberry: No, because the whole point is that tax credits will take people up to a certain limit and will guarantee a certain income. This woman, working the hours and getting the tax credits that she does, will receive a guaranteed income. That is the difference. That is why we are bringing in progressive taxation and benefits and helping women exactly like this. These are the sort of people who are our people, whom we are looking after— [Interruption.]—and I am proud to sit on the Government Back Benches when my Government do things like that. We had a progressive Budget that is doing the right thing for poor working families, for single parents like Ms B. They are now able to work because of the Budget and other Labour initiatives, which were done in spite of
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the Opposition. We need more single parents like Ms B to feel they can afford to do vital jobs like working in child care.

The fall in unemployment over the last decade in Islington, South and Finsbury has made a real difference to— [Interruption.]

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. There are far too many conversations going on in the Chamber.

Emily Thornberry: The fall in unemployment over the last decade in Islington, South and Finsbury has made a real difference to people’s lives. If we are to cut child poverty further, we need to help more parents into work and ensure that it pays to be in work. Two fifths of children in the constituency get free school meals, which means that neither of their parents are in full-time work. Another measure of child poverty—based on children in families on benefits—makes my constituency the sixth poorest in the UK.

The new measures in the Budget are therefore welcome, as they will directly help those families. They include significant increases in the threshold for full working tax credit and in the child element of the child tax credit, which will help incentives to work. Perhaps most welcome though is the— [Interruption.]

Mr. Graham Stuart: Will the hon. Lady give way?

Emily Thornberry: No. I am coming on to a very important point for poor families in London—and it is a change in Government policy for which we are very grateful. We are perhaps as grateful as we feel it was overdue. The change in policy is extra specific help for London’s single parents returning to work. There will be an extra credit of £60 a week for the first year compared with £40 for parents in other parts of the UK. Some parents in London who do not go to work currently feel that they cannot afford it because of the high costs of housing and child care. We are really pleased that the Government have recognised that and increased the tax credits.

Another of my constituents wrote to me today to say:

Women like that should be and are being helped by us. I am glad that the Budget recognises the higher costs that single parents face in London. On top of that, child benefit for the first child will rise to £20 a week by 2010, and we will continue our investment in education across the board from early years through primary to secondary schools. Taken together, it is estimated that those measures will take a further 200,000 children out of poverty—another important step towards our goal of ending child poverty by 2020.

Along with children living in poverty, children with disabilities are one of the most vulnerable groups in society, so we must make sure that we support them. I am glad that the Government have already initiated a review covering the needs of disabled children. It is especially welcome that the Chancellor mentioned the review in his Budget speech as well as his commitment to consult widely on its findings in the run-up to the comprehensive spending review.

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I am glad to note that the review has already identified speech and language therapy as an area in which services may not be sufficiently responsive to need. The Michael Palin centre for stammering children, which is based in my constituency, is an NHS centre of excellence for treatment of children who stammer. It is helping thousands of children from across the country. The centre deals with a complicated and distressing disability. The effect of a stammer on children is more than just a health issue. It affects their educational opportunities, social confidence and many other areas of life. A child who stammers may find involvement in class more difficult or suffer bullying at school.

Labour Members and the Government are very serious about tackling social exclusion, so we must make sure that children’s lives are not blighted by being unable to communicate properly when it is possible, with the right intervention, to really help them. The Michael Palin centre is facing problems getting its services commissioned by some primary care trusts, but I am glad to say that Islington PCT’s commissioning ensures that Islington’s children get a first-class service from the Michael Palin centre. However, we need to make sure that all children across London and the rest of the UK can get the help they need from the centre as well. The patchiness of response from PCTs and strategic health authorities has been recognised in the review and I hope that the upcoming comprehensive spending review ensures that there is dedicated funding for children with communication difficulties and disabilities in general. We also need to make sure that the needs of that group are reflected in the next round of public service agreements.

Let us contrast that with the Liberal Democrat and Tory priorities. Every time that tax credits are mentioned in Parliament, they attack them. We know the Tory approach: record pensioner poverty, record child poverty and record levels of unemployment. They will not spell out their policy positions because they know that they are unpopular. The Lib Dems, on the other hand, have never had to take responsibility for anything, so they have no track record. In their 36-page paper on tax policy, child poverty is not mentioned once. They should be ashamed. The Lib Dem tax plans hardly mention tax credits, which is not much of an assurance for those hard-working families who rely on them. They voted with the Tories against tax credits in 1999, and they have made no commitment to keeping them.

Under the Budget, by October 2007, a couple or lone parent in full-time work with one child will have a guaranteed minimum income of £276 a week. The Tories and Lib Dems have shown no commitment to supporting Labour’s guarantee to parents in work. I am proud that Labour is ready to guarantee a decent income to families. It is a pity that the Liberal Democrats and Tories will not join me.

I have spoken about some of the top priorities of people in Islington. Compared with 10 years ago, people’s priorities have changed, because the country has changed. The Labour Government have made the country better and more stable by putting progressive politics into action. The solutions, however, are based on a set of values that have not changed. The values that we have in 2007 are the same as those that we had
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in 1997, and the solutions are progressive, radical and collective. As we face the new problems and priorities of the future, it is as clear as ever that we can only tackle the problems that we share by working together for the common good.

6.42 pm

Peter Luff (Mid-Worcestershire) (Con): Members have heard a tale of two cities so far tonight; there certainly is a big difference between Oldham and Islington.

Next month, I will have been a Member of the House for 15 years, as will my hon. Friend the Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown), who is sitting on the Front Bench. During that time, I have listened attentively to every Budget speech. Over the weekend, I have been wondering why I found last week’s Budget speech so offensive. All the other Budget speeches, including the previous ones from the current Chancellor, have been political: after all, we are politicians, and one expects politics from politicians. Until this year, however, all those Budgets, even this Chancellor’s, have concentrated on the needs of the real world. But this Budget was about two things only: trying to secure the Chancellor’s position as the next Prime Minister; and trying to embarrass and discredit the opposition—although I am not sure whether he had in mind the Opposition on this side of the Chamber, or the opposition from within his own party to his prospective leadership.

The right hon. Member for Oldham, West and Royton (Mr. Meacher) was right to speak about the Budget’s lack of attention to social justice. I am afraid that the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Emily Thornberry) has not understood what the Budget was all about. The failings of the Budget, however, have met their just reward: sometimes, there is justice. Because of the sheer nakedness of its purpose, the Budget has failed in both its intentions, and, regrettably, has further diminished the respect in which we are all held by the electorate.

In short, it was a nasty, dishonest little Budget. The Chancellor finished with a great flourish, managing not to grimace as he went against the grain and promised us all a tax cut. But it did not take long to work out why he was not grimacing—he was not cutting taxes. In fact, he was putting them up. If my reading of the figures, all the expert comment and the Red Book are wrong, and the Chancellor really was offering tax cuts, I would welcome such a remarkable U-turn. The Chancellor has dismissed our policies for over a year, so were his offering genuine it would have been his masterstroke—his cherry-on-the-top moment—to embrace them.

It has been said before—but not yet by me, so I will say it again—that the Budget was a tax con, not a tax cut. The British people, however, are cleverer than the Chancellor realises.

Martin Horwood: But does the hon. Gentleman agree that the Budget at least fooled the right hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron), whose initial response was to accuse the Chancellor of a tax-cutting election gimmick?

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Peter Luff: Until one gets round to reading the Red Book, it is easy to be taken in by the Chancellor. Only a close reading of the Red Book, as I will show in my speech, will reveal the true nature of the Budget. It is important to repeat the point that I implied earlier: the most breathtaking aspect of the Budget was the way in which the Chancellor appeared—I say “appeared” for reasons that I shall explain—to embrace Conservative party policy.

As I was saying, the Chancellor’s great mistake was to think that the British people would be taken in—but they will not be. After all the stealth taxes of the past 10 years, they are paying more, and getting less for it, and they know it. An attempt was made to present it as less pounds or bang, whatever the phrase is, for your buck— [Interruption.] I am glad to see that my colleague on the Trade and Industry Committee, the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Rob Marris), is in the Chamber and making sedentary interventions, but he knows what I meant. The Chancellor tried to present the Budget as fiscally neutral, and then offered us tax cuts. We know that the two things are contradictory, and the Chancellor is nothing if not a man of ruthless logic.

Instead, however, the Chancellor invited us into the looking-glass world of Alice. You will remember the moment, Madam Deputy Speaker:

The happily named Red Queen did not persuade Alice, and the red Chancellor certainly has not persuaded the country. Well before breakfast on the day after the Budget, the British people knew exactly what was going on. Sadly, some right-wing commentators did not. One, writing in The Daily Telegraph the following day, said that the Conservative economic policy now lay in smoking ruins after the Chancellor’s tax cuts. Admittedly, he described the cuts as symbolic, recognising that they were not really tax cuts at all. He seemed to believe, however, that British people would be taken in. I have more faith in my fellow countrymen and women. The commentator wrote:

Just how wrong can a clever man be? The so-called tax cuts were all offset, to use the appropriate phrase, by tax increases elsewhere in the Budget—as they had to be to achieve neutrality, not of carbon but of tax rates.

Let us consider, for example, the massive growth in the revenue from stamp duty shown in table C8 of the Red Book—a growth of £4 billion in two years. In London and the south-east, and now in many other parts of the country, that is a tax on hard-working families, not on the rich. There is no real danger of the Labour party being seen as tax cutters: the British people know a con trick when they see one. Incidentally, promising the illusory tax cut in a year’s time did not help the Chancellor’s cause much either.

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