Previous Section Index Home Page

Social Mobility

5. Miss Anne Begg (Aberdeen, South) (Lab): What steps he is taking to ensure an increase in social mobility, particularly for disadvantaged people. [246515]

The Minister for the Cabinet Office (Mr. Liam Byrne): Over the next two years, spending on education, skills and communities will rise by well over £10 billion. Yesterday’s new opportunities White Paper showed how we will deliver that investment across people’s lives to help families turn the aspirations of today into future success.

Miss Begg: I welcome the publication of the White Paper yesterday. Eleven years into a Labour Government, some families are still caught in a cycle of deprivation and face intergenerational poverty and worklessness. Apart from some of the big initiatives that the Government have introduced, such as extending nursery education and introducing Sure Start, what else can my right hon. Friend and the Government do to break these cycles of deprivation?

Mr. Byrne: Yesterday’s White Paper set out a very simple argument—that if we make the right investments today we can capture for this country a big share of the 1 billion skilled jobs that will be created around the world over the next 20 years. If we are to open those jobs to anybody who is prepared to work hard and has got a bit of drive and determination, we have to invest right across people’s lives, in families and in communities. That is why we are determined to open up free nursery
14 Jan 2009 : Column 204
education to two-year-olds, why we are determined to see better teachers in schools, starting with our most challenged schools, and why we are determined to expand the number of apprenticeships to 250,000, to give more young people the chance to go to university, and to bring workplace investment in training up to £1 billion a year by 2011. That is how we can expand social mobility in this country, and it is why we will continue the pace of reform after three decades under the Conservative party when social mobility in this country did not move a bit.

John Bercow (Buckingham) (Con): Given that it would be unconstructive, flippant and just plain wrong to dismiss a commitment to greater social mobility as being somehow a commitment to a class war, I say to the right hon. Gentleman that I warmly welcome the publication of the White Paper on social mobility, together with the appointment of the right hon. Member for Darlington (Mr. Milburn) to chair the commission on new opportunities. Should the right hon. Gentleman not be encouraged to explore every practical means by which we can ensure that more people from poor socio-economic backgrounds who are able can scale the professional peaks in far greater numbers than they do at present?

Mr. Byrne: I very much welcome that support. As ever, it was a thoughtful contribution from the hon. Gentleman. He is right to say that we all need to do more to open access to professions, including opening access in this place to the profession of professional politician. Surely there is more that we can do as Members of this House to show our constituents, particularly those from lower socio-economic groups, how they can get on in a career in public service and politics, thereby making a contribution to the future success of this country.

Hilary Armstrong (North-West Durham) (Lab): In congratulating my right hon. Friend on the delivery of yesterday’s White Paper, may I urge him to ensure that during the deliberations that take place in the next few months, people work throughout government to ensure that early intervention works effectively for those children who need it most and who are most vulnerable, so that we can say in the next decade that those who start with the poorest opportunities are able to make their way in our society in Britain?

Mr. Byrne: I should put on record my thanks and congratulations to my right hon. Friend for the work that she did when she had my job in pioneering family nurse partnerships and bringing help, education, advice and support to some of the most vulnerable parents in this country and their children. This Government are proud of the fact that we have invested £25 billion in early years education. It is clear from the evidence that the more we invest wisely in our children’s early years, the greater their later success. [ Interruption. ] That is why the Government are committed not, as the Opposition propose, to cutting £200 million from Sure Start, but to expanding the reach of those services in the years to come. [ Interruption. ]

Mr. Speaker: Order. There is far too much noise in the Chamber. It is unfair to hon. Members who are here for this part of the business.

14 Jan 2009 : Column 205

Jenny Willott (Cardiff, Central) (LD): The independent Social Mobility Commission, whose report was also published this week, showed that poor quality and overcrowded housing is a key cause of entrenching social disadvantage. After 11 years of this Government, social housing has been so depleted and waiting lists are so long that one family in my constituency have been told that they are going to have to wait more than 10 years before they can move to a larger property. Their two children will grow up into their teens in a one-bedroom flat, sharing with their parents. What hope can the Minister give children in that situation, whose life chances are being destroyed by a failure of housing policy?

Mr. Byrne: I, too, welcome the analysis that the Liberal Democrats published this week. The hon. Lady is right to say that not only do we have to increase investment throughout individuals’ lives—in early years, in schools, in apprenticeships, in giving more kids the chance to go to university and in workplace learning—but we have to invest in families and in communities. Better social housing is at the core of that prognosis, which is why we remain determined to renew 3 million homes in the years to come. That, together with new investment in schools, the £35 billion we propose to spend on Building Schools for the Future and record investment in the national health service, gives us the chance in this country not only to renew our civic fabric, but to strengthen opportunities and life chances for generations to come.

Youth Projects

6. Tim Loughton (East Worthing and Shoreham) (Con): What proposals he has to make it easier for volunteers to enrol in youth projects. [246516]

The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office (Kevin Brennan): In December 2008, the Cabinet Office announced a new £3 million intergenerational volunteering fund to create 20,000 new opportunities for younger and older people to volunteer together.

In addition, the Office of the Third Sector issued guidance in May to make it easier for volunteers to work with young people, and invested £117 million in creating new youth volunteering opportunities.

Tim Loughton: We are all well aware of the excellent work voluntary groups do to promote social cohesion and to engage young people in their communities, and of the excellent qualities that volunteering brings. It promotes self-esteem, and a Community Service Volunteers survey showed that 17 per cent. of 18 to 24-year-olds said that volunteering had actually improved their sex lives.

Is the Minister concerned about the shortage of volunteers helping with youth groups, and about the waiting lists for them? Many groups, such as the scouts, cite problems with the bureaucracy of multiple Criminal Records Bureau checks and excessive health and safety requirements. Are we in danger of stifling vital volunteering by being excessively protective?

Kevin Brennan: I shall not comment on the colourful part of the hon. Gentleman’s question, other than to say that I volunteered earlier this week with the WRVS in Cardiff.

14 Jan 2009 : Column 206

It would not help volunteering to cut 1 per cent. from the budget of the Cabinet Office. It is important to ensure that volunteers, like paid employees, are properly checked when they work with vulnerable people.

Prime Minister

The Prime Minister was asked—


Q1. [246425] Liz Blackman (Erewash) (Lab): If he will list his official engagements for Wednesday 14 January.

The Prime Minister (Mr. Gordon Brown): Before I list my engagements, I am sure that the whole House will wish to join me in sending our profound condolences to the families and friends of the servicemen killed in Afghanistan since we last met: Serjeant Christopher Reed of 6th Battalion The Rifles, and Corporals Robert Deering and Liam Elms, Lance Corporal Ben Whatley and Marine Travis Mackin, all from the Royal Marines. Afghanistan is the front line against the Taliban. These were brave and committed men, dedicated to their country and to their colleagues, and I know that the whole House will agree with me that we owe them, and all who have lost their lives, all our gratitude for all their services. Their lives will be remembered with pride.

This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in the House, I shall have further meetings later today. I shall be meeting President Sarkozy this evening and visiting Chancellor Merkel on Thursday, and looking at what we can do to work for a ceasefire in Gaza as well as what the G20 will be able to do to deal with the global financial crisis.

Liz Blackman: I thank my right hon. Friend for his answer. May I, too, offer my condolences to the families affected?

Today’s announcement on support for small businesses will help some firms in Erewash, and will crucially help my constituents stay in work. However, can my right hon. Friend assure me that the help that is on offer will be properly targeted and focused on the businesses that need it most?

The Prime Minister: I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who has been a great supporter of business in her constituency. This is real help for business now. It is targeted and focused, it is funded and it is additional to what has been done before. It is real help to small businesses that are looking for help with their overdrafts or looking to invest in the future. It is real help for businesses that are looking for working capital over the next year, and will increase the supply of that by £10 billion. It is real help for high-technology firms that want their debt replaced by equity. We will buy shares in those companies, and there will be real help with credit insurance. This is real help now, to deal with specific problems—real help that is funded by Government.

Mr. David Cameron (Witney) (Con): Planted question, copied policy—what a pity the Government did not agree to a parliamentary statement to announce a good Conservative policy.

14 Jan 2009 : Column 207

I join the Prime Minister in paying tribute to Marine Travis Mackin, Serjeant Chris Reed, Corporal Liam Elms, Lance Corporal Benjamin Whatley and Corporal Robert Deering. That so many lives have been lost in the past four weeks is a poignant reminder of the sacrifices that our troops are making in Afghanistan on our country’s behalf, and we pay tribute to them all.

At the start of this year, I would like to give the Prime Minister a chance to be straight about the recession that he said we would never have. Will he now finally admit that he was completely wrong to say that he had abolished boom and bust? That was wrong, wasn’t it?

The Prime Minister: This is a global financial crisis; it is happening in America, in Europe—in every part of the world. Let me tell the right hon. Gentleman one thing: nobody is copying Conservative party economic policy. He likes to think that people are. France is not copying Conservative economic policy; Germany is not copying Conservative economic policy; the current Administration in America are not copying Conservative economic policy and the future American Administration are not copying Conservative economic policy. No one except the right hon. Gentleman proposes to cut public spending at this time. The whole Conservative party policy is to cut public spending when we need it. One cannot fund support for business without the public expenditure to make it possible. The whole Conservative strategy is to cut when we need to invest.

Mr. Cameron: The Prime Minister says that no one is copying our policies in a week when he has announced a pale imitation of our jobs package and of our loans package. It is not a butler they need in Downing street; it is a photocopier.

On boom and bust, does the Prime Minister not understand that, because he cannot be frank about the past, no one will believe him about the future? Is that not one of the reasons why it is so difficult to get confidence back in the economy? Evidence of the depth of this recession is mounting: nearly 10,000 more jobs lost in the past week, 10 more firms going bust compared with a year ago, and the worst survey since records began. The forecast of just seven weeks ago was that the economy would start to grow again at the end of June. Is the Prime Minister willing to repeat that forecast today?

The Prime Minister: I have said everywhere that that depends on the level of international co-operation that we can get. The right hon. Gentleman says that we are copying his policy on unemployment, but he wants to abolish the new deal, which is the basis of helping the unemployed. He wants to cut the budget of the Department for Work and Pensions, when it needs to do more to help the unemployed. One can pluck any figure out of the air about help one wants to give business, but if there is no money behind it and no possibility of funding, and one wants to cut the budget of the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform, which is doing the funding, it adds up to nothing. It is a do nothing policy. That is the Conservative party.

Mr. Cameron: The point is that the Prime Minister is achieving nothing. The whole House will have heard that he will not repeat the Chancellor’s forecast of just seven weeks ago. The explicit reason that the Chancellor gave in his pre-Budget report for his forecast being more
14 Jan 2009 : Column 208
optimistic than almost anybody else’s was his measure to cut value added tax. That VAT cut has been condemned by retailers, attacked as “fatuous” by a former Trade Minister and ridiculed by shoppers. Worse, it is adding £12.5 billion to Government debt. Is it not now clear that the centrepiece of the Government’s strategy to fight the recession is an expensive failure?

The Prime Minister: We raised the pension by £60—the Conservatives opposed it. We raised child benefit from 1 January—they opposed it. We are raising tax allowances in April—they opposed it. We are investing more in the economy and they are opposing that.

As for VAT— [Interruption.] Incidentally, it was promoted not just by us but by the former Chancellor, the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke), and Lord Lamont, who said:

So the Conservative party is not exactly united on that. The right hon. Gentleman may think that VAT is unimportant, but at the end of every week, the typical family has more than £5 extra in their pockets. It may not matter to the people on the Opposition Front Bench that £5 extra is in people’s pockets—that is £275 a year, as a result of the cut in VAT. It is more money for everyone in the community, not just the few whom they support, and more money so that people can make choices about what they spend. If we take together all the measures that we have taken, and look at every other country in the world, we find that they want fiscal expansion and that the Conservative party is the only party that wants public spending cuts. The Conservatives are out of touch with the rest of the world; they are completely isolated.

Mr. Cameron: There is no other country in the world that is proposing to cut 2.5 per cent. off VAT. There is no other country in the world that is having to put up taxes on people earning £19,000 and £20,000 because it is so bankrupt. It is the Prime Minister who is completely isolated.

I thought that the Prime Minister might mention the former Chancellor, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke)—my forecast is slightly better than the Prime Minister’s—and I checked what he said on the day of the pre-Budget report. He said that the fiscal stimulus was “not affordable” and a “reckless gamble” and that it would make the recession “worse” and

That is what he said—and by the way, this was the Chancellor who gave this Prime Minister a golden inheritance that he ruined. Only the Prime Minister could smile at ruining a golden inheritance.

Let us look at what the retailers say about this VAT cut. The head of Marks and Spencer says that the VAT cut has

The head of Sainsbury’s describes it as an “annoyance”. These are the very people it was meant to help, yet they are condemning it. Is it not time to admit that the Prime Minister has wasted £12.5 billion in an appallingly expensive failure?

14 Jan 2009 : Column 209

The Prime Minister: Let us be clear, first, about what the former Chancellor said:


Next Section Index Home Page