Andrew Percy: What I clearly remember from my time as a Hull councillor is that, at the end of the last Labour Government, we had fewer jobs in the city than we had at the beginning. I also remember Labour frittering away the KC money. Public health funding in Goole will be £27 per ahead, but in Hull that figure is

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four times greater. Is the hon. Lady defending the fact that people in Hull, which has a similar demographic profile to Goole, have four times as much spent on their public health as somebody in my constituency?

Diana Johnson: I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would not argue that people in Hull should lose the money they need to deal with health inequalities and that that money be given to the people of Goole. Surely, he should fight his corner for the people of Goole and ensure that the Government provide the necessary funding.

I am reminded of the 1920s and the dispute involving Poplar borough council. We had a Liberal-Tory coalition then, and the good councillors of Poplar had to fight their corner then, because of the nature of the cuts being imposed on poorer areas of the country. It was generally accepted after a High Court ruling that richer areas should subsidise poorer areas, but of course the Government are rowing back completely on that and reverting to the idea that everywhere has to cope on their own, as a result of which the wealthy areas do well and the poorer areas sink without trace.

The new homes bonus will not help areas such as Hull. It is the wealthier areas that benefit from new homes being built. The Liberal Democrats like to talk about the pupil premium, but in 2011-12, Hull city council had £6,516 per pupil to spend on education and support services, whereas Kensington and Chelsea could afford to spend £8,920 per pupil. My constituents know jolly well what the Government are doing to the funding available to them and other northern cities.

This is a time for people in Hull to come together, and that includes the Liberal Democrats. There was a brief flirtation with the Liberal Democrats in Hull, but I think that most people there now recognise what they really are—Tories. People in Hull now recognise that this is not a fair settlement from the Government. We need to stand united in Hull, just as people in Newcastle and other parts of the country are standing united, and say, “Enough is enough.” The bedroom tax, council tax benefit—they cannot keep doing this to cities that are already struggling. I call upon the Minister to address the inequality in the cut given to Hull in particular and to explain it to my constituents, because they do not understand why they are being so penalised. They are doing their very best, living on limited incomes, working as hard as possible and looking for extra work when possible, yet the Government, time after time, seem hellbent on making the poorest pay the most. It is not fair.

6.42 pm

Julie Hilling (Bolton West) (Lab): I do not know how the Government and Government Members can justify what they are doing to local government finances. It is rare that I agree with a Tory, but I absolutely agree with the hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Robert Neill), who is no longer in his place, who said that those in greatest need ultimately bear the burden of paying off the debt—perhaps that is why he is no longer in post. That attitude is apparent in the cuts to local government spending—cuts that disproportionately affect the poorest communities.

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Newcastle city council research shows that Bolton, the 36th most deprived borough, will receive a cut of £178.26 per head over the four years, while Epsom and Ewell will lose £15.18 per ahead. It is not fair and it is not right. Why did the Secretary of State sign up for the biggest hit across Whitehall? Why did he sign up to £5.6 billion of cuts to local authority spending—a higher percentage than other Departments? If it is to pay down the deficit and debt, well it is clearly not working, because both are increasing because of those savage cuts. [Hon. Members: “No they’re not!”] The poor are paying the price of an economic crisis not of their making.

Catherine McKinnell: The debt is going up.

Julie Hilling: The deficit is going up too.

The Government will not even take responsibility for these cuts, because they simply try to pass on the responsibility to hard-working councillors up and down the country. They are masters of the politics of passing the buck. They try to say that it is the fault of Wigan and Bolton that services are reduced, that libraries are closing and that youth workers are being made redundant. How dare they? They like to paint a picture of profligate local authorities wasting taxpayers’ money, but that is not true of the councils in my constituency.

One of the senior officers in Bolton told me that he had worked in local government for 24 years and never known a year in which the council had not had to make savings of £3 million or £4 million from the main budget area. However, he went on to tell me that he had never seen anything like what is happening now. Bolton has already had to find cuts of £60 million to its budget since the election, and it will now have to find an extra £43 million over the next two years, out of a controllable budget of £178 million. Of course services will be affected; it would be ridiculous to suggest otherwise.

The Secretary of State has told us all to go and challenge our local authorities on the cuts, so I did. I took his list of 50 ways to save, and asked people on my council what they were going to do about it. Their response was illuminating. They asked me what on earth I thought they had been doing over the years. They also said that most of the changes would save only pennies, in comparison with the £43 million savings that they needed to find. As Members would expect, however, I did not accept that. I went through every one of the 50 suggestions with them. They said that they already share back-office services and, where possible, procurement and IT. They pointed out, however, that those things could not be achieved overnight because contracts came up for renewal at different times in neighbouring local authorities. They control spending, they have transparency and they take cheats to court. Their reserves are already committed. The Yorkshire Purchasing Organisation was set up 30 years ago to enable combined procurement. They collect 99% of the council tax due, which is a great achievement in the 36 most deprived areas.

Andrew Gwynne: I am sure that Bolton and Wigan councils will be really concerned, just as Tameside council is, that their collection of council tax will start to drop as a result of the council tax benefit changes.

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Julie Hilling: My hon. Friend makes an important point. The changes are creating real concern among local authorities. They are wondering how on earth they are going to collect extra money from people who already have incredibly squeezed budgets.

I will continue with my list. The council has already closed all the cash offices except the central one. It shares buildings and is centralising its staff, who already hot-desk. The canteen breaks even. The council stopped using posh hotels and holding glitzy award ceremonies years ago. It opened a coffee shop in the library, but it did not work. It has got rid of more than half the senior posts in the authority. It considered sharing the chief exec post, but realised that that simply would not be feasible for a local authority the size of Bolton.

The people I spoke to laughed at the suggestion of a recruitment freeze, because they have not been recruiting for four years. Like my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn), they thought that getting rid of councillors’ pensions was a disgrace and that it would work against fulfilling the need for younger councillors, as well as the need for cabinet members to have real oversight of their departments. The council does not have consultants, and it uses agency staff only to cover the changes that it is being forced to make.

Andrew Percy: I declare an interest, in that when I was officially Hull’s most popular councillor, I did not take a pension. I was the only one on the council who would not take one. Is the hon. Lady saying that councillors should not make any savings at this time in the cycle? My councillors in North Lincolnshire took a cut in their expenses so that they could employ apprentices. Does she not think that councillors should lead by example?

Julie Hilling: I do not think the hon. Gentleman has been listening. I am saying that Bolton council is already looking at every one of the points on that list. On pensions, it is a disgrace to say that councillors should not be able to pay into the pension scheme—[Interruption.]

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Order. We cannot have challenges about each other’s pensions at this stage—[Interruption.] Order. Mr Percy, you should know better. I am not worried about your pension; I have no interest in how much your pension is worth, and the House does not want to know either. We want to hear the hon. Member for Bolton West (Julie Hilling).

Julie Hilling: Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker.

The only time my council uses agency staff is when it is forced to do so because of the changes it has had to make. The people I spoke to pointed out that agency staff were often cheaper because they did not have pensions or sick pay, but we want local authority workers to have those things. The council does not send people on leadership courses, and it certainly does not waste money on head-hunters or adverts, because it has frozen all posts. Absenteeism is low, and it invests in physiotherapy to get injured employees back to work. It releases staff only for trade union duties; because of the scale of the changes that the Government have wrought, that is essential for effective consultation with staff. Of course, trade union reps are incredibly busy at this time.

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The council does charge for check-off and has never employed a lobbyist. It does private advertising, including on roundabouts across the borough, and has service level agreements with the voluntary and community sector projects to which it gives money. It stopped free food and mineral water years ago, and now provides no tea or coffee at meetings, including all-day planning meetings. There is no first-class travel. Travel is paid at nationally agreed rates, but the top two bands have been cut. It uses videoconferencing when it can, but as the borough is compact there is no money to be saved on travel. It uses the voluntary sector and has had multifunctional printers for years. It does not produce glossy leaflets and makes questionnaires only when it consults on Government cuts.

The council sells the services that it has not already had to get rid of, and the town hall has been hired out for years. It may be able to lease a few more works of art if that makes financial sense, but it thinks that will bring in only a few pennies. It already leases out the Egyptology collection, which raises a lot of money. It saves money on computer software where it can, and asks staff for suggestions.

The Minister will, of course, have been listening very carefully and knows that I have missed two areas. Bolton council wanted me to ask how the Government think it can inform residents about changes to services if it does not communicate with them, and it finds the Secretary of State’s point about scrapping the “town hall Pravda”very insulting. In fact, the newspaper that the council produces four times a year is virtually self-funding.

The Secretary of State says that councillors can issue their own ward newsletter using party political funds—what nonsense. Anyone who has read a Lib Dem leaflet will know that it is not an organ for unbiased truth, and they and I fundamentally disagree with the Secretary of State’s proposal to stop translating documents into foreign languages. Would it not be wonderful if all our residents were fluent readers of English? In the real world, however, in which Labour Members live, people do not. What absolute nonsense to propose that translation undermines community cohesion. Translation enables all our citizens to play a full part in society and find out essential information. Without such information, there are higher costs to the state in terms of health and dealing with problems.

The Government are trying to put up a smoke screen and say that despite the most savage cuts ever known, local authorities do not need to cut services. Cutting more than £100 million from Bolton, the 36th most deprived local authority in the country, is wrong and will mean that my constituents suffer. The Government should hang their heads in shame.

6.52 pm

Mr Gordon Marsden (Blackpool South) (Lab): As the Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, the hon. Member for Great Yarmouth (Brandon Lewis) who opened the debate moved to the apotheosis of a speech that, sadly, was rather shot through with bombast and self-satisfaction, he delivered the stirring words that putting councils in charge of their own destiny was the centre point of this local government statement. In the time allowed I would like

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to look at one council—my own council in Blackpool—and see what it has done to put itself in charge of its own destiny and how it has been affected by the way the Government have dealt with it.

As a small unitary authority, Blackpool is entering a difficult situation and difficult narrative due to Government cuts over the past two years. According to the multiple deprivation index, it is the sixth most deprived council in the country, and in that respect resembles a number of other seaside and coastal towns that have pockets of severe deprivation—such as the Minister’s council in Great Yarmouth, for example. Most of those areas, including many in the north, were hit badly by the removal of area based grants, which, as we have heard, were famously defended by a former Minister because most must be cut from those who have received the most.

Blackpool does not benefit from any dedicated funding because of the level of transience, and there is no acknowledgement in its health funding of the extra burdens placed on services by visitor numbers. On the heat register, Blackpool will lose an average of £215 per person over four years, and £83 over two years. My council has had funding cuts of 19.2% for the past two years. It has lost £40 million over the past two years, with approximately £14 million of further cuts in 2013-14 and approximately £20 million more over the next two years. I noticed that the Minister waxed lyrical about profligate councils sitting around with big reserves, but Blackpool council’s current reserve stands at £4 million, out of a proposed net expenditure budget for 2013-14 of £150 million.

Like many other councils we have heard about this evening, Blackpool has done many of the things that Ministers have preached should be prudent for local government to do. It has worked on ways to cut waste in a major way and cut a whole level of senior officers. Sadly, it has had to lose hundreds of posts and hundreds of jobs over the last two years, with 300 posts proposed to go this year. Blackpool has also frozen the council tax, but—of course, the Minister did not tell us this—that is on the basis of a grant of only 1% this year as opposed to 2.5% for previous years. Despite all that, Blackpool council has gone ahead with progressive measures, including moving towards a living wage for its workers and free breakfast clubs, so it does not need to take any lessons from Ministers about that. The cash reduction in this year’s Government settlement is £3 million. The council tax freeze grant, to which I have referred, means a further loss of £1.5 million, with demographic pressures from children’s social care of £1.1 million.

Let me turn to the council tax changes and the basis on which they are taking place. As we heard from my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn), the shadow Secretary of State, millions of people in England on low incomes face rising council tax this year, including those who will now have to contribute to council tax who have previously been exempt. What will that figure of £410 million and a 10% cut in funding do for people in Blackpool? In Blackpool, it means a tax rise on a large number of people on low incomes. Like most seaside and coastal towns, we have people doing two or three part-time jobs, many of them women. We

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have larger than average numbers of older people and disabled people, which has specific implications for the amount that my council will now be forced to charge those who are not exempt, because this Government have decided that pensioners should be exempt from contributing to the council tax support scheme.

However, the more pensioners and older people an area has—it is a well known and established fact that large numbers of old people move into seaside and coastal towns—the higher the level of account that has to be placed on other people. Who are those other people? They are not the millionaires, who will receive a tax cut; they are people working hard on low incomes—carers, the disabled and single mums. They are people who are already being hit by the Government’s cuts in the uprating of benefits and working families tax credit. They are the people who will suffer and whom my council will not be able to protect from the depredations of this Government.

The Minister who opened this debate comes from a seaside town. He knows of some of these issues. Perhaps if he were to move away from the distorting mirror that he has had inserted in his little red ministerial box—

Mr Foster: It is a big ministerial box.

Mr Marsden: Well yours might be, but I am not sure about the Minister who opened this debate.

If the Minister got away from that distorting mirror and went back to his constituents in Great Yarmouth—to some of the houses in multiple occupation, the people living in bad private housing or some of those groups of his constituents who will be most affected—perhaps he would not come to this House with a speech so full of complacency and smugness.

Brandon Lewis: I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman is talking about the same people who will now benefit from the £7 million transitional grant or the next £4 million to £5 million of efficiency grant that the council will get, following the cliff edge left by the last Labour Government, leaving them without that money.

Mr Marsden: I am interested that the Minister has turned to the transitional grant, because in percentage terms the average transitional grant will cover only a quarter of the original 10% cuts. It just so happens that my council in Blackpool will receive the lowest proportion of the transitional grant, so I am afraid the Minister will win no plaudits from Opposition Members or, I suspect, from many of his own constituents for the settlement he has imposed on them. The reality of this settlement is that it is unfair and unjust for some of the poorest people who are working hard as carers, part-time workers and single mums. Such people in Blackpool and many other places can ill afford to pay this money, and the Government should be ashamed of the incoherent and unequal settlement that they have put before the House.

7 pm

Helen Jones (Warrington North) (Lab): This has been a very interesting debate, with some thoughtful and well informed contributions from my hon. Friends, and even from Members on the other side of the House, especially the hon. Member for North Cornwall

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(Dan Rogerson). He made some sensible points about the needs of rural areas, and also managed to nip out to attend mass on Ash Wednesday.

I do not have time to go through all the contributions from my hon. Friends, but they have highlighted the unfair nature of this settlement, and how shambolic it has been. It arrived late, and different grants dribbled out at different times, making it very hard for local councils. The Government could not even get basic calculations right. They miscalculated spending power, because they double-counted. They came out with alternative notional amounts that would not only have meant some councils holding a referendum if they wanted to increase council tax by less than 2%, but some having to do so if they wanted to freeze it—and the Government lecture councils on efficiency.

There is no doubt that this is a very difficult settlement for local government. It is so difficult that even the Minister’s friends are starting to complain. Councillor Bob Banks from Wychavon council has said:

“The general thrust is that we’ve been given a lousy funding settlement by the Government which will affect us very badly.”

The Local Government Association, which is Conservative-controlled, estimates that the funding gap will be £16.5 billion by 2019. We have heard about the Secretary of State’s 50 ways to save, but even he cannot think that sacking the chief executive and putting a coffee shop in the library will raise £16.5 billion.

We heard from the Minister—I think someone described his statement as rather bombastic—who said that the settlement was fair. A settlement that ensures that the 10 most deprived authorities in the country are taking spending cuts six times higher than the 10 least deprived is not fair by anyone’s estimation, however much the Government try to use smoke and mirrors to cover it up. That is indeed what they have done. First, they changed the base—the 2012-13 funding base—by including in it cuts that do not start until the next financial year, including cuts to council tax support, to early intervention grants, and to grants for preventing homelessness. Then they added in the public health grant, but that is not only ring-fenced, it is a grant for new burdens on local authorities, so it cannot be used to calculate year-on-year changes.

The reason for those changes is very simple: they want to make it look as though the cuts in spending power are less than they are. But we know what they are. There is a 33% cut in funding for local authorities over the spending review cycle. For some authorities, of course, it is much worse. The Secretary of State has taken to giving out spending power cuts per dwelling now, rather than per person, but even on the Government’s own figures the unfairness is clear. Over the next two years, Knowsley will lose £206 per dwelling, Surrey will lose £14, Camden will lose £200, Wokingham—our favourite council—will lose £43, Liverpool will lose £184, and Windsor and Maidenhead will lose £46. At least we can grant the Tories the merit of being consistent: they always take money from the poorest people, whether it be through a bedroom tax for the very poorest and a tax cut for millionaires or attacking the poorest local authorities in the country. We can rely on them to be consistent.

Perhaps it is not quite the same for the Liberal Democrats, whose leader said in the local elections last year:

“We stand for the whole country not just parts of it”.

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Well, if he looks at the heat maps for where the cuts fall, I doubt whether he would say that in the north-east, in the north-west, in inner London boroughs or in our big cities—even in what he used to call “my city of Sheffield”. His city of Sheffield is taking a £50 million cut on top of the £140 million it has already taken. Of course, it will not affect him, because he does not live there.

Then we have the smoke and mirrors applying to the rest of the grant. We have heard about the new homes bonus. In fact, the money for that bonus is taken out of the formula funding by a straight percentage cut, but its distribution is related to council tax bands, which means that local authorities with a higher tax base gain more than those with a lower tax base. That is why Newcastle will lose £6.4 million and get back £3 million; and why Knowsley gets only 15p for every pound it is top-sliced. “To them that hath shall be given” seems to be the mantra of this Government. That is why in this settlement, the relative needs block has been cut by over £500 million. It is because this Government are not interested in funding for need.

The same is true if we look at the early intervention grant. Money in the settlement has been top-sliced supposedly to account for nursery places in schools for two-year-olds. In the autumn statement of 2011, however, the Chancellor promised that that would be new money. It is not new money; it is money taken from some of the most deprived children in the most deprived areas of this country. By the end of next year, the funding gap will be £488 million—and it will go on rising. I do not know how any Liberal Democrat who has trumpeted the need for support for the poorest children can possibly vote for such a settlement.

Let us look at the other part of the settlement—the localisation of business rates. The Government have determined local councils’ allocation based on a two-year average, but their own consultation recommended a five-year average. The reason is very simple: it was to reflect appeals over a full cycle. Now under great pressure, they have put money back in for appeals, but it is nowhere near the costs that local councils will face. What will happen when the appeals come in? Councils will have no choice but to cut services yet again to fund backdated appeals.

The Government have, of course, come up with a figure by which they expect business rates to grow. No one knows quite how they have reached that figure. I think that they have probably plucked it out of the air. The Office for Budget Responsibility has been wrong in every estimate it has made of business rate income since it was set up. It has always overestimated it. So, local authorities are then told to grow their business rates. They must bring in more jobs and businesses, but they are facing a flatlining economy and a double-dip recession. The Government have no plan for growth, yet they lecture local authorities on promoting it. It is like King Herod lecturing people on child care. What is more, they make it more difficult for the poorest economies because of the amount of money they are taking out of them.

Let us consider the reductions in council tax benefit funding. Birmingham alone will lose at least £10 million. Newham will lose £3 million, and Gateshead £2.9 million. Only a fraction of that will be returned in transition grants. Then there are the benefit cuts. Liverpool will lose £7.3 million per annum in bedroom tax alone, and

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Knowsley will lose £3.4 million. Newcastle estimates that the incomes of 27,000 families will be cut as a result of the Government’s tax and benefit changes. That money would otherwise be spent in local shops and businesses, funding the local economy. The Government take money away from the local economies that are struggling most, and then lecture authorities on how to grow those economies.

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

Helen Jones: I am sorry, but I must end my speech in a minute.

Nothing could better illustrate the doublethink that prevails in the Department, and that is why we will vote against this settlement tonight. It is unfair. It takes money that they need from the local economies that are struggling most. It does not help them to grow, because it is economically illiterate, divisive and ill-conceived. I urge my hon. Friends to join me in voting against it.

7.11 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Mr Don Foster): I agree with two things that were said by the hon. Member for Warrington North (Helen Jones). First, I agree that we do not have an opportunity to respond to all the contributions that have been made. If I do not manage to answer all the questions that have been raised, I will write to those who asked them, if that is possible. Secondly, I agree that this has been a passionate and largely well informed debate, which has demonstrated the existence of genuine interest in, and support for, the work done by all our local councils.

I fear, however, that the hon. Lady tended to be somewhat selective in her use of data. For example, she expressed concern about the education of less well-off pupils. What she failed to mention was that outside the local government funding settlement, the Government are providing significant additional funds through the pupil premium, and that the current amount will rise to £2.5 billion.

Helen Jones: Will the Minister give way?

Mr Foster: No; others may wish to intervene.

I suggest that the hon. Lady is wrong in her analysis. I genuinely believe that the settlement is fair, but I also believe that it represents a watershed moment for local government. We have made it clear that it arms authorities with an average spending power of £2,216 per dwelling with which to protect services. We have also acknowledged that that is a reduction—a reduction in spending power of, on average, 1.3%. The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana Johnson) questioned which figures we should use. We are using the spending power figure because it is the figure that the Local Government Association asked us to use.

Concerns that the poorest councils would suffer disproportionately as a result of the settlement are simply wide of the mark. Hackney, for example, receives £1,700 more spending power per household than Windsor and Maidenhead.

Helen Jones: Will the Minister give way?

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Mr Foster: No, I will not.

In connection with last year’s settlement, the shadow Secretary of State was keen to cite the Audit Commission’s report “Tough Times 2012”. The report specifically states that “after the cuts”,

“Deprived areas in the north…the Midlands and inner London…still receive more government funding per resident than less deprived areas.”

I know that many in local government have shown great skill in reducing budgets. Committed local authorities have protected front-line services, and it is to the credit of councillors throughout the country that satisfaction with their services has risen, as is shown by a recent LGA survey. Some 72% of people polled were very or fairly satisfied with the way their council was being run. That is a tribute to the many town halls up and down the country that are working hard on behalf of their local people, and it shows what determination and innovation can accomplish in trying times.

My hon. Friend the Member for Mid Dorset and North Poole (Annette Brooke) made an excellent and thoughtful speech, and I join her in praising those councils. Those are the qualities councils will need in the months to come, because we all acknowledge that there are big hurdles ahead. It will be a challenging time. That is why today we have announced an additional fund of £9.2 million—the challenge award—to help those councils who wish to be even more innovative.

There will always be some who make cynical, politically motivated cuts to services rather than look to alternative approaches. Newcastle council announced it will slash its arts budget by 100% and shut down a swimming pool, yet neighbouring Gateshead—also Labour-run—and nearby Lid Dem-run Northumberland are both facing bigger percentage cuts but are not doing anything so draconian. Let us be clear, therefore: anyone who sacks a member of staff or shuts down a public service for political purposes is a disgrace to politics and a disgrace to Britain.

The truth is that the majority of authorities are doing their best in challenging circumstances. Portsmouth council, for instance, has invested £4.5 million over the past two years in adult social care, while keeping libraries, play centres, youth centres and museums open, and it has also played a key role in building more affordable homes. I note in passing that in the last two years every Liberal Democrat-controlled council has frozen its council tax, because helping council tax payers, whose council tax rocketed under Labour, is crucial.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr Foster: I will not give way now.

Not only are this Government helping people by reducing their income tax; we are also helping them by keeping their council tax down. Interestingly, the shadow Secretary of State did not mention that issue. As my hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Robert Neill) said, the right hon. Gentleman’s speech was full of huff and puff and dated thinking. It was the same old mantra from Labour: nothing about protecting council tax payers from the huge rises they suffered under the Labour Government; nothing about finding more efficient and effective ways of delivering services, as many authorities are now doing; and nothing about the real opportunities provided

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by the business rate retention scheme. Helping local economies to grow means more money will flow into the local council.

The shadow Secretary of State asked a number of questions. He asked why the business rate baseline had been based on two years, not the five years we originally proposed. The answer is simple: we consulted and that is what the Local Government Association asked us to do. He asked what we are doing to help councils with the potential impact of business rate appeals. Again, we listened to local government, and then agreed that the costs could be spread not over one year, but now over five years, and we reduced by 8% the anticipated income and we have introduced a safety net for those whose income falls below 7.5%.

I was surprised that the shadow Secretary of State again attacked what he called the bedroom tax and failed to mention that the same approach was adopted for 13 years by the Labour Government. [Interruption.] He failed to mention that 390,000 households—[Interruption.]

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Order. We must have a little more order. It is very hard to hear the Minister, and it is important that all Members can listen to what the Minister has to say.

Mr Foster: My point is that the shadow Secretary of State failed to mention that 390,000 households have two or more spare bedrooms, while 278,000 households are overcrowded. However, I will give him some credit for getting up to date in one area. Last September, he came out in support of Manchester council spending nearly half a million pounds on a single Alicia Keys concert, so he is at least ahead of the Secretary of State in that he knows who Alicia Keys is, and I give him credit for that.

The Government have already done much to help local councils by giving them increased freedoms to help them meet the needs of council tax payers. In Monday’s debate, the hon. Member for Derby North (Chris Williamson) said that

“Labour’s policy is to give a fair deal, a new deal, for local government and to allow local government on the ground to determine the shape of local government, rather than it being imposed from the top.”—[Official Report, 11 February 2013; Vol. 558, c. 676.]

That certainly was not the policy of the Labour party when it was in power. Central Government’s stranglehold over local government got ever tighter then, but perhaps he is right and Labour has seen the error of its centralising ways. While the Opposition debate a new approach, we are delivering a new approach. We have already provided greater borrowing flexibilities, a general power of competence, the removal of numerous ring fences, and increased flexibilities in the decision-making process.

Mr Graham Stuart: Will the Minister please give us an answer to the questions on rural funding?

Mr Foster: I am happy to do so, and I congratulate my hon. Friend on his lobbying campaign. The Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, my hon. Friend the Member for Great Yarmouth (Brandon Lewis) has given a clear answer to him, to my hon. Friends the Members for North Devon (Sir Nick Harvey)

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and for North Cornwall (Dan Rogerson), and to others: we are a listening Government, the Under-Secretary’s door is open and he will continue to listen.

The key change that has occurred in this budget which has almost totally been ignored is the one to allow local councils to retain a key proportion of business rate, giving them the real opportunity, for the first time, that if they work with the local business community to help get growth in that community, they will get a real-terms reward. This is a fair settlement and it is a settlement about opportunity. We are talking about opportunity through the new homes bonus, through the business rate retention scheme and now through our new challenge fund. We believe that the majority of local councils are up to the challenge, and those who take on that challenge will have our full support.

Question put.

The House divided:

Ayes 274, Noes 196.

Division No. 163]


7.23 pm


Adams, Nigel

Afriyie, Adam

Aldous, Peter

Amess, Mr David

Andrew, Stuart

Arbuthnot, rh Mr James

Bacon, Mr Richard

Baker, Steve

Baldry, Sir Tony

Baldwin, Harriett

Barclay, Stephen

Barker, rh Gregory

Baron, Mr John

Barwell, Gavin

Beith, rh Sir Alan

Bellingham, Mr Henry

Benyon, Richard

Beresford, Sir Paul

Berry, Jake

Bingham, Andrew

Binley, Mr Brian

Birtwistle, Gordon

Blackwood, Nicola

Boles, Nick

Bone, Mr Peter

Brady, Mr Graham

Brake, rh Tom

Bray, Angie

Brazier, Mr Julian

Bridgen, Andrew

Brokenshire, James

Brooke, Annette

Browne, Mr Jeremy

Bruce, Fiona

Buckland, Mr Robert

Burley, Mr Aidan

Burns, rh Mr Simon

Burrowes, Mr David

Burstow, rh Paul

Cairns, Alun

Carmichael, rh Mr Alistair

Carswell, Mr Douglas

Cash, Mr William

Chishti, Rehman

Chope, Mr Christopher

Clark, rh Greg

Clarke, rh Mr Kenneth

Coffey, Dr Thérèse

Collins, Damian

Colvile, Oliver

Cox, Mr Geoffrey

Crabb, Stephen

Crouch, Tracey

Davies, David T. C.


Davies, Glyn

Davies, Philip

Davis, rh Mr David

de Bois, Nick

Dinenage, Caroline

Djanogly, Mr Jonathan

Dorries, Nadine

Doyle-Price, Jackie

Drax, Richard

Duncan, rh Mr Alan

Duncan Smith, rh Mr Iain

Dunne, Mr Philip

Ellis, Michael

Ellison, Jane

Ellwood, Mr Tobias

Elphicke, Charlie

Eustice, George

Evans, Graham

Evans, Jonathan

Evennett, Mr David

Field, Mark

Foster, rh Mr Don

Francois, rh Mr Mark

Freeman, George

Gale, Sir Roger

Garnier, Mark

Gauke, Mr David

Gibb, Mr Nick

Gillan, rh Mrs Cheryl

Goodwill, Mr Robert

Gove, rh Michael

Graham, Richard

Grant, Mrs Helen

Gray, Mr James

Grayling, rh Chris

Greening, rh Justine

Griffiths, Andrew

Gummer, Ben

Gyimah, Mr Sam

Hague, rh Mr William

Halfon, Robert

Hammond, rh Mr Philip

Hammond, Stephen

Hancock, Matthew

Hands, Greg

Harper, Mr Mark

Harrington, Richard

Harris, Rebecca

Hart, Simon

Harvey, Sir Nick

Hayes, Mr John

Heald, Oliver

Heath, Mr David

Heaton-Harris, Chris

Hemming, John

Henderson, Gordon

Hendry, Charles

Herbert, rh Nick

Hinds, Damian

Hoban, Mr Mark

Hollobone, Mr Philip

Hopkins, Kris

Horwood, Martin

Howarth, Sir Gerald

Howell, John

Hughes, rh Simon

Hunt, rh Mr Jeremy

Huppert, Dr Julian

Hurd, Mr Nick

Javid, Sajid

Jenkin, Mr Bernard

Johnson, Gareth

Johnson, Joseph

Jones, Andrew

Jones, rh Mr David

Jones, Mr Marcus

Kawczynski, Daniel

Kelly, Chris

Kirby, Simon

Knight, rh Mr Greg

Kwarteng, Kwasi

Laing, Mrs Eleanor

Lancaster, Mark

Lansley, rh Mr Andrew

Leadsom, Andrea

Lee, Jessica

Lee, Dr Phillip

Leech, Mr John

Leigh, Mr Edward

Leslie, Charlotte

Letwin, rh Mr Oliver

Lewis, Brandon

Lewis, Dr Julian

Liddell-Grainger, Mr Ian

Lidington, rh Mr David

Lilley, rh Mr Peter

Lloyd, Stephen

Lopresti, Jack

Lord, Jonathan

Loughton, Tim

Luff, Peter

Lumley, Karen

Macleod, Mary

Main, Mrs Anne

Maude, rh Mr Francis

Maynard, Paul

McCartney, Jason

McCartney, Karl

McIntosh, Miss Anne

McLoughlin, rh Mr Patrick

McPartland, Stephen

McVey, Esther

Menzies, Mark

Metcalfe, Stephen

Milton, Anne

Mitchell, rh Mr Andrew

Moore, rh Michael

Mordaunt, Penny

Morgan, Nicky

Morris, Anne Marie

Morris, James

Mowat, David

Mulholland, Greg

Mundell, rh David

Munt, Tessa

Murray, Sheryll

Neill, Robert

Newmark, Mr Brooks

Nokes, Caroline

Norman, Jesse

Nuttall, Mr David

Offord, Dr Matthew

Ollerenshaw, Eric

Opperman, Guy

Osborne, rh Mr George

Ottaway, Richard

Paice, rh Sir James

Parish, Neil

Patel, Priti

Pawsey, Mark

Penrose, John

Percy, Andrew

Perry, Claire

Phillips, Stephen

Pickles, rh Mr Eric

Pincher, Christopher

Poulter, Dr Daniel

Prisk, Mr Mark

Pugh, John

Raab, Mr Dominic

Randall, rh Mr John

Reckless, Mark

Redwood, rh Mr John

Rees-Mogg, Jacob

Reid, Mr Alan

Rifkind, rh Sir Malcolm

Robertson, rh Hugh

Robertson, Mr Laurence

Rogerson, Dan

Rudd, Amber

Ruffley, Mr David

Russell, Sir Bob

Rutley, David

Sanders, Mr Adrian

Sandys, Laura

Scott, Mr Lee

Selous, Andrew

Sharma, Alok

Shelbrooke, Alec

Shepherd, Sir Richard

Skidmore, Chris

Smith, Miss Chloe

Smith, Henry

Smith, Julian

Soames, rh Nicholas

Soubry, Anna

Spencer, Mr Mark

Stanley, rh Sir John

Stephenson, Andrew

Stewart, Bob

Stewart, Iain

Stewart, Rory

Streeter, Mr Gary

Stride, Mel

Stuart, Mr Graham

Sturdy, Julian

Swales, Ian

Swayne, rh Mr Desmond

Swinson, Jo

Swire, rh Mr Hugo

Syms, Mr Robert

Teather, Sarah

Thurso, John

Timpson, Mr Edward

Tredinnick, David

Truss, Elizabeth

Turner, Mr Andrew

Tyrie, Mr Andrew

Uppal, Paul

Vaizey, Mr Edward

Vara, Mr Shailesh

Walker, Mr Charles

Walker, Mr Robin

Walter, Mr Robert

Ward, Mr David

Watkinson, Dame Angela

Weatherley, Mike

Webb, Steve

Wharton, James

Wheeler, Heather

White, Chris

Whittaker, Craig

Wiggin, Bill

Williams, Stephen

Williamson, Gavin

Wilson, Mr Rob

Wollaston, Dr Sarah

Wright, Jeremy

Young, rh Sir George

Zahawi, Nadhim

Tellers for the Ayes:

Mark Hunter


Karen Bradley


Abbott, Ms Diane

Ainsworth, rh Mr Bob

Alexander, rh Mr Douglas

Ali, Rushanara

Anderson, Mr David

Ashworth, Jonathan

Austin, Ian

Bailey, Mr Adrian

Bain, Mr William

Balls, rh Ed

Banks, Gordon

Barron, rh Mr Kevin

Bayley, Hugh

Beckett, rh Margaret

Begg, Dame Anne

Benn, rh Hilary

Benton, Mr Joe

Berger, Luciana

Betts, Mr Clive

Blears, rh Hazel

Blenkinsop, Tom

Blomfield, Paul

Blunkett, rh Mr David

Bradshaw, rh Mr Ben

Brennan, Kevin

Brown, rh Mr Gordon

Brown, rh Mr Nicholas

Brown, Mr Russell

Bryant, Chris

Buck, Ms Karen

Burden, Richard

Byrne, rh Mr Liam

Campbell, Mr Alan

Caton, Martin

Clark, Katy

Clarke, rh Mr Tom

Clwyd, rh Ann

Coffey, Ann

Connarty, Michael

Cooper, Rosie

Corbyn, Jeremy

Crausby, Mr David

Creagh, Mary

Creasy, Stella

Cryer, John

Cunningham, Alex

Cunningham, Mr Jim

Dakin, Nic

David, Wayne

Davidson, Mr Ian

Davies, Geraint

De Piero, Gloria

Dobson, rh Frank

Dodds, rh Mr Nigel

Donaldson, rh Mr Jeffrey M.

Doran, Mr Frank

Dowd, Jim

Doyle, Gemma

Dromey, Jack

Eagle, Maria

Edwards, Jonathan

Efford, Clive

Ellman, Mrs Louise

Esterson, Bill

Evans, Chris

Farrelly, Paul

Field, rh Mr Frank

Fitzpatrick, Jim

Flello, Robert

Flynn, Paul

Fovargue, Yvonne

Francis, Dr Hywel

Gapes, Mike

Gardiner, Barry

Gilmore, Sheila

Glass, Pat

Glindon, Mrs Mary

Goggins, rh Paul

Goodman, Helen

Green, Kate

Greenwood, Lilian

Gwynne, Andrew

Hain, rh Mr Peter

Hamilton, Mr David

Hamilton, Fabian

Hanson, rh Mr David

Harris, Mr Tom

Havard, Mr Dai

Healey, rh John

Hendrick, Mark

Hodge, rh Margaret

Hodgson, Mrs Sharon

Hood, Mr Jim

Hopkins, Kelvin

Howarth, rh Mr George

Hunt, Tristram

James, Mrs Siân C.

Jamieson, Cathy

Jarvis, Dan

Johnson, Diana

Jones, Graham

Jones, Helen

Jones, Susan Elan

Jowell, rh Dame Tessa

Joyce, Eric

Keeley, Barbara

Kendall, Liz

Lammy, rh Mr David

Lavery, Ian

Lazarowicz, Mark

Leslie, Chris

Llwyd, rh Mr Elfyn

Love, Mr Andrew

Lucas, Caroline

Mactaggart, Fiona

Mahmood, Shabana

Marsden, Mr Gordon

McCann, Mr Michael

McCarthy, Kerry

McClymont, Gregg

McDonald, Andy

McDonnell, John

McFadden, rh Mr Pat

McGovern, Alison

McGuire, rh Mrs Anne

McKechin, Ann

McKenzie, Mr Iain

McKinnell, Catherine

Meale, Sir Alan

Mearns, Ian

Miliband, rh Edward

Miller, Andrew

Mitchell, Austin

Moon, Mrs Madeleine

Morrice, Graeme


Morris, Grahame M.


Munn, Meg

Murphy, rh Mr Jim

Murphy, rh Paul

Murray, Ian

Nandy, Lisa

Nash, Pamela

O'Donnell, Fiona

Onwurah, Chi

Osborne, Sandra

Owen, Albert

Pearce, Teresa

Perkins, Toby

Phillipson, Bridget

Pound, Stephen

Powell, Lucy

Qureshi, Yasmin

Raynsford, rh Mr Nick

Reed, Steve

Reeves, Rachel

Reynolds, Emma

Reynolds, Jonathan

Robertson, John

Robinson, Mr Geoffrey

Rotheram, Steve

Roy, Lindsay

Ruddock, rh Dame Joan

Sarwar, Anas

Sawford, Andy

Seabeck, Alison

Shannon, Jim

Sharma, Mr Virendra

Sheerman, Mr Barry

Sheridan, Jim

Shuker, Gavin

Skinner, Mr Dennis

Slaughter, Mr Andy

Smith, Angela

Smith, Nick

Spellar, rh Mr John

Straw, rh Mr Jack

Stuart, Ms Gisela

Tami, Mark

Thomas, Mr Gareth

Thornberry, Emily

Timms, rh Stephen

Trickett, Jon

Turner, Karl

Twigg, Derek

Vaz, Valerie

Walley, Joan

Watson, Mr Tom

Watts, Mr Dave

Williams, Hywel

Williamson, Chris

Wilson, Phil

Winnick, Mr David

Winterton, rh Ms Rosie

Woodcock, John

Woodward, rh Mr Shaun

Wright, Mr Iain

Tellers for the Noes:

Julie Hilling


Heidi Alexander

Question accordingly agreed to.

13 Feb 2013 : Column 973

13 Feb 2013 : Column 974

13 Feb 2013 : Column 975

13 Feb 2013 : Column 976


That the Local Government Finance Report (England) 2013-14 (HC 948), which was laid before this House on 4 February, be approved.

7.36 pm

More than six hours having elapsed since the commencement of proceedings on the motion on police, the proceedings were interrupted (Order, 6 February).

Mr Speaker put forthwith the Questions necessary for the disposal of the business to be concluded at that time (Order, 6 February).


That the Referendums Relating to Council Tax Increases (Alternative Notional Amounts) Report (England) 2013-14 (HC 928), which was laid before this House on 4 February, be approved.—(Brandon Lewis.)


That the Referendums Relating to Council Tax Increases (Principles) Report (England) 2013-14, which was laid before this House on 4 February, be approved.—(Brandon Lewis.)

deferred divisions

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 41A(3)),

That, at this day’s sitting, Standing Order No. 41A (Deferred divisions) shall not apply to the Motions in the name of Secretary Iain Duncan Smith relating to the draft Jobseeker’s Allowance Regulations 2013 and the draft Employment and Support Allowance Regulations 2013.—(Joseph Johnson.)

Question agreed to.

Mr Speaker: I have to announce a correction to the result of the deferred Division on the draft Universal Credit (Transitional Provisions) Regulations 2013. The Ayes were not, as previously stated, 284, but 280. The Noes were 190s, so the Ayes have it.

13 Feb 2013 : Column 977

Pensions and Social Security

Mr Speaker: We come now to motion 6 on pensions, with which we will debate motion 7 on social security.

7.38 pm

The Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Steve Webb): I beg to move,

That the draft Guaranteed Minimum Pensions Increase Order 2013, which was laid before this House on 28 January, be approved.

Mr Speaker: With this we shall consider the following motion, on social security benefits uprating:

That the draft Social Security Benefits Up-rating Order 2013, which was laid before this House on 28 January, be approved.

Steve Webb: The guaranteed minimum pensions order is a routine and technical order which provides for contracted-out defined benefits schemes to increase their members’ GMPs that accrued between 1988 and 1997 by 2.2%, in line with inflation. I assume that this will be uncontentious. The order paired with this is the Social Security Benefits Up-rating Order 2013.

I shall begin with the basic state pension. Despite the tough fiscal context, the Government remain committed to protecting those who have worked hard all their lives, which is why we have stood by our triple lock commitment to uprate the basic state pension by the highest of earnings, prices or 2.5%. This year the third element of our triple lock comes into play for the first time—our 2.5% minimum commitment. That means that we shall be increasing the basic state pension by more than inflation for millions of pensioners.

Mr Alan Reid (Argyll and Bute) (LD): I congratulate my hon. Friend on the work he has done as pensions Minister to drive through the triple lock, which means that pensioners will get an above-inflation increase this year. The days of 75p increases, which happened under the previous Government, are long gone.

Steve Webb: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for pointing that out. He will know that we have set a minimum increase of 2.5%, which is what we are having this year. Under that policy, it would now be impossible for us ever to go back to the days of 75p increases.

Stephen Timms (East Ham) (Lab): Will the Minister confirm that the order contains a real-terms cut in the amount of the basic state pension?

Steve Webb: The right hon. Gentleman is well aware that the Government increase benefits in line with inflation in the year to September, as did his Government. He will know that inflation under the consumer prices index in the year to September was 2.2%, and we have increased not in line with inflation, but by more than inflation, at 2.5%.

Stephen Timms rose

Steve Webb: I have obviously dealt with the point, but I am happy to give way again.

Stephen Timms: The Minister will have heard today’s announcement that CPI is currently at 2.7%. Last year he claimed that he was introducing a substantial real-terms

13 Feb 2013 : Column 978

increase in the level of the basic state pension. On precisely the same terms he used last year, this order has a real-terms cut. Will he confirm that the order contains a real-terms cut in the level of the basic state pension?

Steve Webb: I well remember our exchanges last year, and I seem to recall that the right hon. Gentleman rejected that way of measuring things.

Our above-inflation increase will be £2.70 a week, taking the new level of the basic state pension to £110.15 a week. That means that from April 2013 the basic pension is forecast to be around 18% of average earnings. My right hon. and hon. Friends might be pleased to know that that is a higher share of average earnings than at any time in the past 20 years. Our triple-lock commitment means that the average person reaching state pension age in 2012 with a full basic pension can expect to receive an additional £12,000 in basic state pension over the course of their retirement.

Let me turn to additional state pensions, often referred to as state earnings-related pension schemes. This year SERPS pensions will rise by 2.2%, which means that the total state pension increase for someone with a full basic pension and average additional pension will be around £3.33 a week, or £175 a year. Unlike the Labour party, which froze SERPS in 2010, the coalition Government will, for the third year in a row, uprate SERPS by the full value of CPI.

Let me turn to pension credit. As I announced in my statement on 6 December, we have taken steps to ensure that the poorest pensioners will benefit from the effects of our triple lock. Each year the standard minimum guarantee must be increased by law at least in line with earnings. That means that the minimum increase this year would be 1.6%. However, we decided to increase the value of the standard minimum guarantee credit by 1.9% so that single people will receive the full increase of £2.70 a week, which is equal to the increase in the basic state pension, while couples will receive £4.15 a week. Consistent with our approach last year, the resources needed to pay that above-earnings increase to the standard minimum guarantee have been found by increasing the savings credit threshold, which means that those with higher levels of income will see less of an increase.

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): Although the increase in pension credit is welcome, what steps are the Government taking to ensure that those who do not take up pension credit are enabled to do so? A vast number of people in Northern Ireland—somewhere in the region of 100,000—are not taking advantage of pension credit, and I am sure that the same applies across the whole United Kingdom.

Steve Webb: The hon. Gentleman is right that non-take-up of pension credit has been a persistent problem. Over the past year or so we tried a pilot scheme in which we took a sample of people we thought, based on our records, might be entitled and put the money in their bank account. We then wrote to them to say, “We’ve put some money in your bank account. Would you like to claim pension credit?” The experiment failed. Incredibly, people did not claim it, or decided that they did not want or need it, or thought that they were not eligible. Even putting money into people’s bank accounts, based on our records, did not succeed. However, I have some

13 Feb 2013 : Column 979

good news for the hon. Gentleman. As a consequence of the universal credit reforms, whereby housing benefit for working-age people will be merged with universal credit, we will be merging housing benefit for pensioners with the pension credit.

The reason that is relevant to the hon. Gentleman’s question is that we know that some people claim their housing benefit and not their pension credit, and that some claim their pension credit and not their housing benefit, but when we combine the two in a single payment each group will claim both and we anticipate several hundred million pounds of extra benefit expenditure to low-income pensioners as a result. I think that that will be the most tangible thing that any Government have done in many years.

Michael Ellis (Northampton North) (Con): Will the Minister confirm that that will also save administrative costs to the state, because we want as much saved in such costs as possible?

Steve Webb: My hon. Friend is right that placing the housing element in a single benefit—the pension credit—rather than it being a separate claim through a local authority will reduce administrative costs and increase take-up as well.

On disability benefits, this year the coalition will ensure that those who face additional costs because of their disability and who have perhaps less opportunity to increase their income through paid employment will see their benefits increased by the full value of CPI. Therefore, disability living allowance, attendance allowance, carers allowance and the main rate of incapacity benefit will all rise by the statutory minimum of 2.2% from April 2013, as will the employment and support allowance support group component and those disability-related premiums paid with pension credit and with working-age benefits.

Stephen Lloyd (Eastbourne) (LD): Will the Minister make it absolutely clear for the record that, despite some noise in the media, disability benefits are all going up by the higher rate?

Steve Webb: Yes. My hon. Friend is right. The specific benefits for the extra costs of disability are all rising by the full 2.2%.

Stephen Timms: Will the Minister tell the House by how much the benefit paid to people in the ESA support group will go up overall under the order?

Steve Webb: As the right hon. Gentleman knows, the main rate of ESA will rise by 1%, which is just over 70p a week, and the addition that people in the support group receive will go up by 2.2%.

Mr Russell Brown (Dumfries and Galloway) (Lab): What message can I give to one of my constituents whose doctor has notified me that she has terminal cancer and is on a syringe drive and whose disability living allowance has been taken from her?

Steve Webb: I sympathise with the hon. Gentleman’s constituent, whose individual circumstances I do not know. Disability living allowance has not yet been reformed

13 Feb 2013 : Column 980

by this Government, so we have changed nothing about DLA. If his constituent believes that she has been wrongly assessed, I hope that she will have his support in appealing against that decision.

On working-age benefits, as the International Monetary Fund has said, strong fiscal consolidation is under way, and reducing the high structural deficit over the medium term remains essential. As we continue to face pressure on our national economy, we have had to take some tough decisions. There was, as my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Stephen Lloyd) has suggested, speculation about benefit freezes. It is true that we cannot afford to be as generous this year as we have been in the past. However, in the exercise of his discretion in the uprating of certain benefits, having regard to the national economic situation, the Secretary of State has found sufficient money to pay a 1% increase to those of working age on the main rate of jobseeker’s allowance or income support, as well as for housing benefit and the main rate and work-related activity component of employment and support allowance.

Dr Eilidh Whiteford (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): Has today’s news that inflation is set to stay very high for the next few years encouraged the Minister to rethink in any way this real-terms cut in working benefits?

Steve Webb: The rate of CPI has been 2.7% for four consecutive months. We were aware of the level of inflation when we made these judgments about 2013. Clearly, there are things we can do to help ourselves with the cost of living. For example, the cost of petrol is 10p a litre lower than it would have been if we had implemented the previous Government’s escalator; council tax bills, which are a huge cost of living for many people, have been frozen in many places for three years; and people in low-wage work will receive a substantial income tax cut in April. Those measures will all help people with the cost of living.

Sheila Gilmore (Edinburgh East) (Lab): It is interesting that the Minister should mention council tax, because in large parts of the country many working-age people, working and unemployed, will be paying substantial sums in council tax, and that will have a big effect on their standard of living.

Steve Webb: The unprecedented three-year freeze in council tax in many areas is a huge boost not only to those on the lowest incomes but particularly to those whom one might describe as not rich and—

Sheila Gilmore rose

Steve Webb: I wonder if the hon. Lady would allow me to finish replying to her previous point before she intervenes with the next one. The three-year freeze will help particularly those whom I would describe as not rich and not poor—not poor enough to get benefit and not rich enough not to care. We meet them all the time; they have saved a bit, worked hard, and feel penalised. Our freeze will benefit those people in particular.

Sheila Gilmore: It may be an unprecedented freeze in England, but it is not unprecedented in Scotland. It is a very regressive form of assisting people, because the higher their level of council tax banding, the more

13 Feb 2013 : Column 981

advantage they get from it. Someone who is already in receipt of council tax benefit gets no benefit from the freeze, and the effect on councils is to lead them to raise the cost of many fees and cut services. In fact, therefore, the poorest and most vulnerable do not benefit from a council tax freeze.

Steve Webb: In responding to the hon. Lady, I occasionally lose count of the logical flaws in her argument. However, I will take one in particular. The Government have made available for this coming year, 2013-14, an additional £100 million to help local authorities to dampen down the effect of the council tax benefit changes. Many local authorities have reduced the subsidy given on empty homes and on second homes—which are not generally associated with poverty, I would add—and many have damped, or reduced to zero, the impact on council tax. Some Labour authorities have chosen not to do that, which is an unfortunate political decision.

I remind those who might consider voting against the order—the interventions that we have heard suggest that the Opposition are considering it, or perhaps they want to give that impression—that they would be voting against an above-inflation increase in the state pension, a full increase in line with CPI for disability benefit, and any increase in any benefit this coming April.

Kate Green (Stretford and Urmston) (Lab): I am sure that the Minister will be reluctant to penalise with his uprating measures people who are in employment, so why is statutory maternity pay encompassed within the 1% freeze? Has he seen the letter in The Guardian today from six mums who have written to complain about this measure and point out that having a new baby costs families money?

Steve Webb: Statutory maternity pay applies to those who are leaving work to have a baby and who often return to work, and for those in work our income tax cut in April will be a very substantial benefit. It is true that the 1% figure applies to SMP. It also applies to in-work benefits such as tax credits, which are not within the scope of the order. That is a consistent approach, particularly given that many people in work, such as those in the public sector, are also getting a 1% increase.

Mr David Winnick (Walsall North) (Lab): The Minister says that we cannot vote against the 1% figure without opposing the uprating of pensions and the rest. That may well be so, and no doubt he is pleased about it, but the fact remains that whether we vote against it or not, some of us feel very strongly about it because we believe that it is hitting the most vulnerable, and I look on it with loathing and contempt. Only a Tory-led Government could carry out such a measure.

Steve Webb: I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman’s Front Benchers share his loathing and contempt, but they have a vote to cast and they can use it if they want to.

Mr Russell Brown: Will the Minister give way?

13 Feb 2013 : Column 982

Steve Webb: No, I am going to conclude; there will be plenty of opportunity for people to contribute.

At a time when the nation’s finances remain under real pressure, this Government will be spending an extra £2.8 billion in 2013-14 to ensure that those people who are least able to change their regular income are protected against increases in the cost of living. Of this, about £2.1 billion is for the state pension, including an above-inflation increase for the basic pension; nearly £500 million will go to disabled people and their carers; and nearly £300 million will go to people of working age. We have protected the triple lock, we have helped our poorest pensioners, and we have protected the key benefits for disabled people. Even as we face the need to make savings to rebalance our economy, we have still found money for a 1% increase to help to support those who are not currently in work. I have set out our ongoing commitment to ensuring that even in these difficult times no one is left behind. I commend the orders to the House.

7.54 pm

Stephen Timms (East Ham) (Lab): I thank the Minister for his explanation of the measures, albeit that it was brief. He reminded us, correctly, that this is the third year since the announcement of the triple lock for the basic state pension. There is absolutely no doubt that the triple lock has been a great success as a rhetorical device. The term has entered the lexicon, and I note that the Minister’s right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport has gone one better and announced a quadruple lock for the Bill that she recently placed before the House.

While in rhetorical terms the triple lock has undoubtedly been successful, I am afraid that the reality has been rather different, because once again the increase in the state pension is less this year than it would have been if the uprating method previously used was still in place. In retail prices index terms, for the second year this is a real-terms cut in the value of the basic state pension, as well as—I made this point earlier—a real-terms cut in today’s consumer prices index rate.

Mr Reid: Will the right hon. Gentleman clarify what his party’s current policy is on uprating? Should it be CPI or RPI?

Stephen Timms: We have made it plain, in all the three uprating debates since the election, that in our view there would have been a case for a temporary move from RPI to CPI uprating, as a contribution to reducing the deficit. Unfortunately, the Government decided that this should not be a temporary move, but a permanent move—or so we thought. Now it turns out that they are not even uprating in line with CPI for a large part of the benefits, but the position is the one that I have set out.

Richard Graham (Gloucester) (Con): Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm whether the change from RPI to CPI, for the pension indexation of Labour party agents, is temporary or permanent?

Stephen Timms: I think the hon. Gentleman is asking me a question about the administration of the Labour party on which, I am afraid, I am unable to assist him.

13 Feb 2013 : Column 983

It is worth reflecting on the history of the triple lock. In its first year, it was announced but not actually implemented. If it had been implemented, it would have produced, from the Government’s point of view, an embarrassingly small pension increase. The Minister, sensibly, chose to override it and instead apply a larger increase that in that year was in line with RPI. At its first outing, therefore, it failed. In its second year—last year—it was actually implemented, and delivered an increase in line with CPI, along with working-age benefits. This year it is being applied again, and for the first time it is delivering something better than CPI uprating—a point made by the Minister.

The increase in CPI, as measured last September, was 2.2%, and the uprating amount in line with the triple lock is 2.5%. So that is it: in comparison with the CPI uprating, which until recently was the Government’s policy for working-age benefits, the triple lock has delivered a higher pension by a paltry 0.3%. Of course, if it had been applied in the first year, it would have been less than the CPI uprating. The triple lock has delivered a higher pension of 0.3% over three years—a rather derisory achievement. It is clear that the triple lock has been something of a damp squib. Of course, if it was something other than a damp squib, the Chancellor would have vetoed it long ago.

Stephen Lloyd: I have a lot of respect for the right hon. Gentleman’s honesty generally, and in particular in this area. Will he therefore agree with me that it is unfortunate that the Government in which he served as a Minister did not have a triple lock, otherwise pensioners all those years ago would not have received an uprate of only 75p?

Stephen Timms: Had the previous uprating RPI mechanism been in place, there would have been a larger pension increase this year and last year than has been delivered. I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s comments about my honesty, so let me pay a tribute to him. As a man who is also frank, he will recognise that the last Government did an enormous amount, particularly through the introduction of pension credits, to reduce the extent of pensioner poverty. In the past, pensioners were always more likely to be poor than the population as a whole, but that ceased to be the case under the policies of the last Government. Indeed, pensioner poverty was halved, as my hon. Friends have said.

Greg Mulholland (Leeds North West) (LD): The right hon. Gentleman highlights the pension credit, but if he truly believes that all pensioners should receive that extra money, why does he not support the Government’s idea to move towards a higher pension rate for all?

Stephen Timms: I am sure we will have an interesting debate on the Government’s proposals when the time comes, but there is no doubt that pension credits made enormous inroads—thankfully—into pensioner poverty in Britain.

Mr Winnick: Shortly after we were elected in 1997, did we not introduce both the non-means-tested winter fuel allowance, which the previous Tory Government had refused to do, and the free television licence for pensioners, which I had tried to introduce in a private Member’s Bill on Friday 16 January 1987, when the Tories opposed it with a three-line Whip?

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Stephen Timms: I congratulate my hon. Friend on his foresight in pushing for that change. I am delighted that, partly thanks to his work, the previous Government were able to deliver it. It is greatly appreciated by pensioners.

In my view, the triple lock has been a triumph of rhetoric, but a damp squib in reality. One can only hope that the quadruple lock delivers rather more for those following the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill than the triple lock has done, but perhaps we should be a bit kinder to the triple lock. Perhaps we should credit it at least with saving pensioners from the fate of strivers. The order locks in the strivers tax to working-age benefits for the coming years. Strivers are being hammered.

It is worth looking back at what the Minister said last year about working-age benefits. It is hard to believe now, but last year he announced a 5.2% increase in working-age benefits:

“These increases will ensure that the most vulnerable people in society are protected and that those looking for work get the support they need to move into the labour market.”—[Official Report, 23 February 2012; Vol. 540, c. 1046.]

How different is the picture today! After another 12 months of failed economic policy in which the economy has hardly grown and the Government’s forecasts for unemployment and borrowing have risen sharply, the most vulnerable are no longer being protected; they are being hammered and are paying the price for the failure of the Government’s economic policy and the Chancellor’s inability to deliver the steady growth and falling unemployment that he promised.

Let me remind the Minister of something else he said last year. He said that

“there were siren voices from some quarters suggesting that we could not afford, or that we should not go for, this inflation figure. He is absolutely right that the coalition parties decided that it was a priority. That is something that I am proud to be associated with.”—[Official Report, 23 February 2012; Vol. 540, c. 1045.]

I think we can safely assume that he is not proud to be associated with the shabby treatment of working-age people in the social security system. This year, the siren voices have won. This year, the coalition parties have decided that safeguarding strivers is not a priority. This year, and for the next two years, the most vulnerable are being kicked in the teeth. The measures will come into effect at the beginning of April, on the same day as the introduction of the tax cut for everyone earning over £150,000 a year.

Steve Webb: The right hon. Gentleman will have noticed that I did not use the word “strivers”. Will he clarify who he means by “strivers” and who he is excluding from that definition?

Stephen Timms: The term “strivers” refers to those who are working, who are often struggling to make ends meet and who are going to find things a good deal harder because tax credits are being uprated by only 1%. That is being done on exactly the same day as every one of the 8,000 people earning over £1 million a year will get a tax cut averaging over £2,000 a week. Let me remind the Minister that that will happen on the same day as the employment and support allowance paid to a single person aged over 25 goes up by 70p a week. The hon. Member for Eastbourne (Stephen Lloyd) reminded the House a few minutes ago about the 75p a week

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pension rise some time ago. This order will give the people I have just described a 70p a week increase, and that is a disgrace.

Mr Michael McCann (East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow) (Lab): Will my right hon. Friend confirm that, although strivers are the very people the Prime Minister has said he wants to protect, he will ultimately be damaging them as a result of the new regulations?

Stephen Timms: That is undoubtedly the case. The rhetoric and the reality are quite different.

Dame Anne Begg (Aberdeen South) (Lab): Does my right hon. Friend acknowledge that the bedroom tax will also come into effect on 1 April? That means that a large group of people whose income has not gone up by very much will have to subsidise their housing costs to a far greater extent than they are doing at the moment.

Stephen Timms: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. It is fair to say that the bedroom tax is increasingly being seen as a hated tax across the country, as its impact becomes clearer and the date on which it will be applied approaches. It will make life a great deal harder for those people who have no option to move into a smaller place because there are no smaller places available in the council or housing association stock.

I commend to the Minister the speech made by the Bishop of Leicester in the other place in the Second Reading debate on the Welfare Benefits Up-rating Bill on Monday. He said of the Bill:

“It will depress hard-working families even further, remove much needed support for the vulnerable and unable to work, and potentially take us in the wrong direction for a generation, condemning countless children to poverty. It is a proposal that I cannot support.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 11 February 2013; Vol. 743, c. 471.]

He was speaking for Britain. The Resolution Foundation has pointed out that the measure is a strivers tax, and that well over half the savings from uprating working-age benefits by just 1% over three years will be taken from people in work, because tax credits are being cut in real terms.

My hon. Friend the Member for Stretford and Urmston (Kate Green) has pointed out that the provisions will hit women particularly hard. The House of Commons Library has calculated that two thirds of those hit will be women. The real-terms cut of £180 to statutory maternity pay has already been dubbed the “mummy tax”. Taking into account all the cuts that will affect a woman during pregnancy and the first year of her baby’s life, including maternity pay, pregnancy support, tax credits and child benefit, the loss adds up to an average of £1,700. So, on the day when the highest paid are getting a massive tax cut and the rich are getting a £3 billion tax giveaway, people who are striving will be hammered.

Steve Webb: The right hon. Gentleman’s words in Hansard will show that he is very concerned about all this. Will he therefore tell the House whether it is his intention to reverse any of these measures?

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Stephen Timms: The hon. Gentleman knows that we have demanded not only an inflation-level rise this year but a similar rise for both the two years covered by the Welfare Benefits Up-rating Bill. As to our policies for beyond the next election, he will have to await our manifesto, just as the whole country is eagerly awaiting it. It will tell him how we will put these problems right.

Ian Murray (Edinburgh South) (Lab): Is my right hon. Friend as surprised as I am—I asked the Secretary of State for Scotland this question this morning—that it is a Liberal Democrat Minister who is about to give the biggest tax cut to millionaires the country has ever seen, while at the same time ensuring that people trying to do the right thing are worse off?

Stephen Timms: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. That does surprise me very much because in opposition the Minister’s party used to champion reducing child poverty. In government, however, it has surrendered and is cutting in real terms the incomes of the poorest in what is frankly a craven surrender to the Tory party at its worst. It is implementing policies that even Mrs Thatcher did not dare propose.

Kate Green: My right hon. Friend is right. This order will simply make poor people poorer. Is it not absolutely cynical that, rather than face up to the fact that more children will be in poverty as a result of these miserable measures, the Government decide instead to change the definition of child poverty?

Stephen Timms: That appears to be what they are going to do, and it was striking that the impact assessment for the Welfare Benefits Up-rating Bill did not tell us what the impact on child poverty would be. After the election, the Minister and his colleagues started well and said, “Yes, we are serious about tackling child poverty; here are the figures.” They have stopped that now and it is difficult to get an answer out of them even with a parliamentary question. My hon. Friend is absolutely right—they apparently want to change the definition of child poverty, but they will not get away with it because we will be able to tell what is going on.

Mr Winnick: My right hon. Friend is being very generous with his time. Is he aware that, as someone who from time to time did not always agree with every aspect of the Labour Government during their 13 years—although I certainly did in the vast majority of cases—one of the things that most pleased me were the measures that lifted so many families out of poverty? Both Tony Blair and his successor as Prime Minister can be proud of that.

Stephen Timms: My hon. Friend is right. There was dramatic progress on reducing child poverty but, as I shall explain in a moment, all that ground will sadly be lost under the current Government’s policies. Those policies are hitting the disabled because, as the Minister said, although disability living allowance is being raised in line with the consumer prices index, employment and support allowance is not. On Second Reading of the Welfare Benefits Up-rating Bill the Secretary of State said that he was protecting people in the ESA support group. In fact he is not and, as the Minister confirmed, their benefit will be uprated by less than inflation—I

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know the hon. Member for Eastbourne has taken a close interest in that matter. Those people will see their income rise by less than inflation; they will have a real-terms cut.

As we have discussed, child poverty will rocket. The Institute for Fiscal Studies, where the Minister once had the task of compiling the statistics on child poverty, was already predicting on the basis of Government policies an increase in child poverty of 400,000 by 2015 and 800,000 by 2020.

Stephen Lloyd: I appreciate the right hon. Gentleman’s generosity in giving way. He mentioned the Institute for Fiscal Studies. Does he agree with its director, Paul Johnson, who said that

“the 1% uprating of welfare would start to put benefits back in line with earnings after welfare has grown twice as much as wages in recent years.”?

Stephen Timms: It would be particularly interesting to see a revised child poverty forecast from the Institute of Fiscal Studies, which I expect to appear before the Budget. We now know—as I say, these figures had to be dragged out of reluctant Ministers—that this order plus the Welfare Benefits Up-rating Bill will increase the number of children growing up below the poverty line by 200,000, including 100,000 in working families.

Kate Green: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for allowing a further intervention. When Government Members say that the uprating of benefits is in line with the uprating of wages, including in the public sector, are we not talking about the exactly the same people who are facing a double whammy? Those receiving the 1% benefits uprating are the same as those receiving the 1% pay uprating.

Stephen Timms: My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and we are talking about a large group of people. Indeed, the hon. Member for Eastbourne and I were on the radio together when somebody rang in whose total income was £71 a week. She was going to get an increase of 70p a week as a result of this order and she asked, “How am I supposed to manage?” To their credit, the hon. Gentleman and his friend from the Conservative party, the hon. Member for Camborne and Redruth (George Eustice), could not give her an answer.

Stephen Lloyd: I recollect that radio programme. I am sure the right hon. Gentleman will accept that the point was that surviving on £70 a week is a challenge for anyone in any circumstances, with or without a benefit uprate.

Stephen Timms: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right, but what was clear from that contributor was the despair at the prospect of a rise of only 70p a week. At a time when inflation is running at more than 2% and is likely to increase, according to the Bank of England inflation report published today, that is a very alarming prospect indeed.

Mr Reid: The right hon. Gentleman is being generous in taking interventions. I have been sitting listening and wondering what the Labour party’s policy is. If my memory is correct, he said earlier that CPI was currently

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2.7%. Will he tell the House by how much all these benefits would have been increased if a Labour Government were in power?

Stephen Timms: I answered that point earlier. I was hoping the hon. Gentleman was going to tell us why, after he attacked us a few moments ago for the 75p pension rise of many years ago, he is this evening supporting a 70p increase for people such as those who are dependent on employment and support allowance in the work-related activity group. If he explained the conflict between the two positions he has taken, I would be very grateful to him.

Mr Reid: I am sure the right hon. Gentleman will recall that I spoke in debate in support of an amendment to the Welfare Benefits Up-rating Bill to increase benefits in line with average earnings, and that is still my view. As he knows, the order is not amendable, so either we vote for the whole thing, including the triple lock for pensioners, or we vote against it, but my views are on the record.

Stephen Timms: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for clarifying that he opposes what the Government are doing in this order.

I was talking about the impact on child poverty. We are expecting the revised projections from the Institute for Fiscal Studies ahead of the Budget. On the basis of the numbers that Ministers have reluctantly given us for the impact of this measure on child poverty, we will see a projected increase in child poverty of more than 500,000 by the expected date of the next election and 1 million by 2010. That is a shameful record indeed, undoing so many years of progress made in reducing child poverty by the previous Government, as my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall North (Mr Winnick) pointed out.

Mr Reid: I have put my views on the record, but the right hon. Gentleman has not answered the question I asked in my second intervention. What percentage increase does he think should be in the order this evening?

Stephen Timms: I will give the hon. Gentleman the answer I gave a few moments ago. We think there would have been a reasonable case for the Government to make a temporary change to the uprating methodology, from RPI—the previous methodology—to CPI, but unfortunately they did not do that. They came up with a proposal for a permanent change to the methodology, using CPI only, but now they are not even sticking to that and have reduced the figure further to 1%.

What if inflation rises sharply in the next few years? The Governor-designate of the Bank of England has suggested that there should be greater flexibility in the inflation target used by the Monetary Policy Committee. If inflation rises sharply, the consequences for working families—for strivers, struggling to get by at the moment and lumbered with a 1% rise hard-wired into law for next year and the following two years—do not bear thinking about. The Bank of England inflation report published today places a probability of 39% on inflation being over 3% before the end of this year. The fan chart

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shows possible figures of 5%. What would the consequences be for people who will see a 1% rise in their incomes for the next three years if inflation rose in that way?

Why are the Government doing this? Why have the siren voices won this year? It is because the Government’s economic policy has failed. Let us look at the three years covered by this order and the Welfare Benefits Up-rating Bill. Compare the spending on unemployment benefits over those three years, which was predicted in the Budget last year, with the spending predicted in the autumn statement, just a few months later. The forecast spending on unemployment benefits over those three years went up, just between the Budget and the autumn statement, by the same amount that this order and the Bill will save over those three years. That is what is happening—the Government are clawing back the increase in unemployment benefits resulting from the failure of their policies from those who receive those benefits.

Stephen Lloyd: The right hon. Gentleman talks about the failure of the Government’s economic policies. Does he accept two absolute facts—that this is the worst economic recession since the great depression, and that since the general election the coalition Government have generated 1 million extra private sector jobs?

Stephen Timms: The hon. Gentleman is undoubtedly right that this is a very serious financial crisis, although I do not remember Government Members making that point before the election. I ask him to justify to the House why, on the very day that these measures will take effect, millionaires will all get a tax cut averaging more than £2,000 a week.

Stephen Lloyd: Under the coalition Government, people on higher incomes will pay more tax than they did during the entire 13 years—except for 30 days—of the Labour Government, during one of the strongest and most powerful booms we had had for 40 years. Can the right hon. Gentleman defend that record?

Stephen Timms: What would the hon. Gentleman say to the woman we spoke to on the radio, who will get a 70p per week rise as a result of this order? How would he defend to her the fact that the Government whom he supports will give a tax cut of £2,000 a week to everybody who earns more than £1 million a year? For me, that is completely indefensible, although he may have a defence—

Stephen Lloyd: Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that the IFS and other bodies have said that under the coalition’s tax policies the wealthier will actually pay more tax than they did before?

Stephen Timms: It is the people at the bottom who are being clobbered by this measure, and that is clear from the analysis. The hon. Gentleman has not defended the tax cut—I do not blame him as I do not think it can be defended that millionaires should get this enormous tax cut on the very day that people such as the woman on the phone to us on Radio 5 Live will get a 70p per week rise.

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Ian Murray: I think what the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Stephen Lloyd) is trying to say is that the 50p tax rate created £7 billion of tax avoidance, so rather than going after the tax avoidance the Government have reduced the rate.

Stephen Timms: My hon. Friend is right: if it is an avoidance problem, the Treasury should address that.

Strivers will pay the price for the Government’s economic failure. The most vulnerable are being hammered and the rich are getting a tax cut. The solution is to get Britain back to work. That is why we have argued for our compulsory jobs guarantee. It will cost about £1 billion a year. We will pay for it by restricting the tax relief on pensions saving for those earning over £150,000 per year. We will guarantee anyone over 25 who has been in receipt of jobseeker’s allowance for two years the offer of a choice of jobs or a training position, and after that the payment of jobseeker’s allowance will cease.

The case for our compulsory jobs guarantee received a welcome boost from the Minister’s Department when it published an evaluation of the last Government’s future jobs fund. I am grateful to both Ministers who are in their places on the Front Bench for the publication of this helpful and informative evaluation. The evaluation pointed out just how successful the future jobs fund was in getting young people back to work. It estimated that the net benefit to society as a whole was £7,500 for every participant in the future jobs fund, and that is after taking account of all the costs of the initiative. Of the gross cost of some £750 million for the future jobs fund, over half was recouped by the Treasury in additional tax payments and reduced benefit payments. Our compulsory jobs guarantee will repeat that success for the over-25s. We will get Britain back to work; we will end this punishing spiral of increasing struggle for strivers and for the most vulnerable in order to fund, as the Government find they have to do, the price of ever-increasing unemployment.

The proposals in this order for working-age benefits are a disgrace, although the Minister made a perfectly fair point in his speech earlier—that an increase is better than no increase at all. The proposals for pensions uprating are worth having—I put it no more strongly than that—but the proposals for working-age benefits are shameful and quite contrary to everything the Minister’s party argued for when in opposition. I hope that in the course of this evening’s debate we will be able fully to expose that.

8.26 pm

John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington) (Lab): It is unfortunate that the order cannot be disaggregated, which would allow us to vote for its individual elements—supporting the increases at the rate of inflation and opposing those with a 1% increase. The breaking of the historic link between inflation and social security benefits, which has lasted over a generation on a political consensus, is a significant step, so it is important for us to judge it issue by issue in respect of the people affected by it.

I have looked at the Government’s impact assessment, which says that we are affecting one in eight households. The households most affected—those most likely to receive a cut—will be those further down the income scale, families with children and women who are heading

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lone parent families. I think that when we take decisions such as this, it is important to assess the position of those whose benefits are at stake and to look at their plight. The Institute for Fiscal Studies said that 2.5 million workers’ families will lose an average of £215 a year; 7 million in work will lose £165 a year; and, to reiterate what was said in previous debates, 68% of those affected by the order will be in work.

An assessment undertaken by the House of Commons Library showed that these families are already facing higher inflation because they spend more on food and utilities. Their experience of low income is quite startling. Children born in families with low incomes already have a birth weight 130 grams lower on average than children in social classes 4 and 5. These families are more closely associated with infant mortality and chronic disease later in life, yet these are the ones whose benefits and income we are cutting. Before their second birthday, a child from a poorer family is already showing a lower level of attainment than those in professional families. By six, a poorer child will already have been overtaken in terms of attainment by a child of lesser ability from a professional family. Children aged up to 14 from unskilled families are five times more likely to die from an accident and 15 times more likely to die from a fire at home than a child from a professional family. Such children also leave school with fewer qualifications.

Last year, according to the figures, 130,000 people—and they will be the people whom we are discussing tonight—including 20,000 children were fed by the Trussell Trust through its food banks. That is the reality of what is happening to the people whose benefits we are cutting tonight—for that is effectively what we are doing.

I pay tribute to Save the Children for two pieces of research that it conducted. One was a survey of parents, and in the other it talked to children directly, which I think was quite a significant thing to do. It is important for the voices of children to be heard in the House. As the survey of parents showed, what families are currently experiencing is shocking; and, as I have said, those are the families whose benefits we are cutting.

In response to the survey, well over half the parents on low incomes—more than 60%—said that they were having to cut back on food, while more than a quarter said that they had skipped meals in the last year. One in five families said that their children had to go without new shoes when they needed them. A large number of the children in poverty said that they were missing out on things that many other children took for granted, and one in five specified school trips. One in five parents in poverty said that they had had to borrow money to pay for essentials such as food and clothes in the past year. Those are the families who are in the most poverty, and they will be impoverished even further as a result of what we are doing tonight.

Mr Russell Brown: My hon. Friend is entirely right. Organisations such as Save the Children, Barnardo’s and the Children’s Society have produced the cold hard facts that Labour Members all know about. I should like to think that Government Members would get a grasp of the facts as well.

Does my hon. Friend recognise, as I do and as, I think, many people do, that a mother who is trying to prepare a meal and put it on the table often says that she will eat something later, when in fact she is skipping that

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meal in order to feed her children, knowing full well that they need food in their bellies to get through the rest of the day?

John McDonnell: Indeed. According to the survey, half the parents questioned had gone without food themselves at some time in the past year to ensure that their children were fed.

We sometimes forget that children have views as well, and that those views can permeate a whole family. When a family is living in poverty, the children understand what is going on. They have a glimpse of what is happening, and they realise what their parents are going through. I found the survey of children shocking as well, and quite startling. Save the Children said that

“the most striking finding from the survey is the extent to which children are aware of the financial strain their parents are under. Parents are stressed by lack of money and”

—whatever they do—

“many children are sharing this burden.”

It said:

“The majority of all children (58%) think it is getting harder for their family to pay for everything.”

Those children understand. It also said:

“Over half of children in poverty (52%) agree that not having enough money makes their parents unhappy or stressed.”

Kate Green: My hon. Friend is advancing a powerful case. I am glad that the Secretary of State is present. He often says that debt is a route to poverty, but is not the situation that my hon. Friend is describing proof that, in fact, poverty will drive those families into debt?

John McDonnell: That is true, and I shall say more about it shortly. There is a wider debate to be had, but the pressure on parents that forces them into debt eventually has implications for their children.

According to Save the Children,

“Over a third of children…say their family struggles to pay the bills….4 in 10 children… ‘agree’ or ‘strongly agree’”

—that phrase is typical of surveys—

“that their parents are cutting back on things for themselves, such as…clothes and food.”

The children witness their mums and dads not eating properly.

Let me leave the last word to the families themselves. A number of parents were quoted extensively by Save the Children. It is worth reading quite a few of those quotations, because they hit home and reveal what people are really experiencing. One parent said:

“ I regularly leave the heating off and use blankets and jackets to keep warm so that we have more money towards the food bill... I buy the cheapest brand foods so that I can afford the right amount of fruit and veg for the children. Missing a meal or two a week is not uncommon for me so that my children can eat. My children never go without what they need, but I sometimes have to.”

Brendan is 13. He says:

“I had shoes that were all broken up and full of holes. People at school laughed at me…I saved up my own money for my own shoes, but I don’t care about the brand or the make.”

They are the people who will be driven further into poverty as a result of the decisions we take tonight. We now have 3.5 million children living in poverty, and as a result of the last Budget, the autumn statement and

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today’s measures, we will probably have another 400,000 or 500,000 children living in poverty by 2015. We are blighting a generation.

Those children will never forgive us, and nor should they forgive us, because we are currently redistributing wealth from the poor to the rich, not from the rich to the poor so that we can tackle poverty and child poverty. That is why I wish I could vote against tonight’s orders. We are in a bind, however. If we vote against this order, we vote against the CPI increases as well. I hope lessons will be learned so that in future years we will properly consider each element of any such proposals.

Any Member who votes for this order tonight should feel a weight of guilt on their shoulders. Individuals and families are suffering greatly. The Save the Children survey findings reflect what we see in our constituencies. People say to us in our advice surgeries every week that they cannot survive on the income they have, whether they are in work because of low wages, or out of work because of low benefits, or—that dangerous combination—in work and on benefits at the same time. They cannot survive on their incomes.

Poverty is not just about income, of course. There is a range of other interventions that need to be discussed and debated, but those other interventions do not work if people cannot put food on the table. They do not work if people are cold at night and do not have shoes or a coat to put on their children. That is why we must halt this cutting of benefits.

We must instead start to look at how we can create a fairer society. We had a consensus for at least two generations after the welfare state was established that when inflation took hold, we would increase social security benefits in line with inflation, so that the poorest would be protected. I agree that we occasionally had rows in this House—both between and within parties—about what form that protection should take. I refused to support the shift from RPI to CPI. That was a debate worth having, and even under the new definition at least people on social security benefits were protected. Now we have torn up that consensus and the people who suffer will not be those who take part in party political debates, but the sort of people who were surveyed by Save the Children, and most of them will be children. That is a total disgrace.

We cannot vote against the Government tonight because of the nature of the order before us, but we can campaign against these measures, and that is what we will do. We will take our argument into our constituencies. We will mobilise people, and I think this generation of children will remember who forced them further into poverty. Any Member who votes for this order tonight will pay for it in the long term—even if they end up paying for it in history. Those Members will be taking part in the impoverishment of a whole generation—kids who cannot afford coats, school shoes and school trips and whose parents have to go without food. That is unacceptable in 2013 in the seventh richest country in the world.

8.38 pm

Sheila Gilmore (Edinburgh East) (Lab): It is a shame that if we talk for as long as many of us would like to talk tonight, we will probably be slightly unpopular

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with some. However, people who will be affected by these changes will be watching these proceedings, and they will be dismayed to see that this important debate has been tacked on to the end of the parliamentary day and not a single Conservative Back Bencher is sufficiently interested to want to take part in it. When I was standing for election in 2010, the Liberal Democrats used to like to position themselves, at every hustings I was at, somewhere to the left of Labour, but it is their Back Benchers who are defending the Government’s choices—for they are choices. The public have to be well aware of that.

One regrettable thing about what has been happening for nearly three years now is the constant pitting of one group against another: older people against younger people, and people in work against those not in work. That is not helpful because it provides no analysis of the real roots of the problems facing us. The hon. Member for Eastbourne (Stephen Lloyd) has been doing a good job of defending the Government. He made the point about how out-of-work benefits have risen by more than earnings in the past five years, using it to justify the 1% rise. However, he knows that if we look at a different time period, we come up with a very different figure. Since 1979, unemployment benefit and its successor benefit, jobseeker’s allowance, has fallen from 22% of average earnings to 11% of average earnings. We are starting from a very low base indeed, and it is not right or fair therefore to say that 1% is adequate for people who are struggling.

Why are we in some of these spending positions? The irony of all this is that so many of the policies we are facing will drive up spending, be it on some of the benefits under discussion today or on the related benefits—the ones that would come under the tax system at the moment, such as tax credits. Some 90% of new housing benefit claimants in the past couple of years have been people in work, and that has been because of the level of wages and because these people are in part-time work. That has been driving up the housing benefit totals, which the Government are very concerned about, as I am. I am not comfortable with the fact that, as we are told repeatedly, the housing benefit bill has risen so much in the past 10 years, but we need to examine the reasons for that. The major reason is that so many people on low incomes are finding themselves with no other housing choice but the private rented sector, the cost of which in housing benefit is very high. If we do not tackle that underlying issue, in one way or another, be it by creating more affordable housing or by dealing with the issue of private sector rents, the housing benefit bill will still creep up and up, and in a couple of years’ time we will not have made any progress in reducing it.

In the meantime, many of our constituents living in low rent housing are about to have their income cut substantially. I have a constituent in her 50s who lives in a house that is not grand—it is a two-bedroom house, where the second bedroom is small and the kitchen opens off the living room. That removes the notion that she could have someone in to share—one of the Minister’s fondest examples. At her age and stage of life, why should she be expected to live in that way? She will be losing £50 a month in April, and I can assure the Minister that in my city the choices of where to move to are very limited, even if she wanted to move or should move.

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When we are looking at a figure of 1%, we have to consider what is happening in the wider sphere. If just one thing—one change—were happening, it would not be quite so painful for a lot of families, but these things are happening to the same people. I give the example of a lady who is on employment and support allowance in the work-related activity group. She will be suffering from the 1% rise as well as from the £50 knocked off her housing benefit. People such as her have to deal with the cumulative effect of what is happening. She did not want to be claiming benefit. She did not want to fall ill in her 50s, but it is something that, after a working life, has happened to her and to thousands and thousands of people like her up and down this country.

Instead of dealing with the issue in this rather rushed way, perhaps the Government could do as some organisations have asked and make a cumulative impact assessment of the effects of the change on disability. Why do we not have that, and why do we not make time available for a proper debate? We need to see what is happening. Some people may see the change as relatively small, but a whole package of measures is coming in.

I am seeing a big change. A couple of years back, people would say that the Government’s welfare reforms were all about “those terrible scroungers—it’s not me and mine, it’s somebody else.” Now, people come to my surgeries and ask, “Why is this happening to me? I’m not a scrounger. How come this is happening? I’ve worked hard all my life, so why is it happening to me?” People are not inherently either workless or working. People move in and out of work, particularly at the lower-paid end of the spectrum.

We know why the measure had to be brought in this year. It was because the Government’s economic policies had failed. I am glad the hon. Member for Eastbourne decided to raise the question of jobs. It is frequently said in this place that 1 million private sector jobs have been created, and therefore our economic policy is working. The Prime Minister says it all the time. In January 2011, within a short time of coming into office, the Government told us that half a million new private sector jobs had been created. Presumably that was the true figure at the time. Many of us think that one of the reasons for the increase in jobs was the economic stimulus applied by the previous Government; it was certainly very soon for the coalition Government’s policies to have taken effect. If that figure was correct and the figure of 1 million is correct, since then—two years ago—apparently only half a million jobs have been created. But—it is a big but—in that period, 170,000 jobs in colleges were reclassified from the public to the private sector, and 100,000 jobs appear to be unpaid work placements. At the last Department for Work and Pensions questions, the employment Minister, the hon. Member for Fareham (Mr Hoban) admitted that unpaid jobs were being counted in the total. Apparently, the Prime Minister does not know, because he still talks about his million jobs and how wonderful it all is.

Ian Murray: I am delighted that my hon. Friend has allowed me to intervene to point out that the other big contributors to the million new jobs total are people on short and zero hours contracts. They are classified as employed when they are not being paid.

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Sheila Gilmore: I thank my hon. Friend for that point. I was about to say that many of the jobs are exactly of that nature, which ratchets up the support payments. People on low earnings or who work very part-time hours are the very people who depend on housing benefit and, in many cases, tax credits. When we look at that situation, we see that the wonderful recovery in jobs is really not so wonderful. Indeed, some of the jobs are so part-time as to be almost invisible.

Life is very difficult for people who work in those kinds of jobs. They often have to start work at very difficult hours. A constituent who came to see me was desperate to work, and she found a job, but it meant that she had to get from Edinburgh to Livingston, which is about 20 miles. Without a car, it is quite a long way—it may be 18 miles; my figures might not be quite right. She had to get there for 7 o’clock in the morning. How can someone do that when they do not have a car and public transport is either non-existent or very expensive? That job did not last long, because she could not keep it up.

Another constituent was told by a large department store, for which she had worked for a number of years in a job that fitted with her children’s school hours, that that option was no longer available to her. She now had to work for just 12 hours—she had previously managed to work for 20 hours—or she had to go on a flexible contract so that she could be called in whenever the shop wanted her. That was difficult—in fact, virtually impossible—for her because of things such as child care arrangements. She could not just suddenly come in on a Saturday or come in of an evening. The job had suited her needs, and it had brought a reasonable income that enabled her to support her children. Now she was told, “Well, if you don’t like it, there are plenty of people looking for these jobs and we can fill them very easily. If you do not want the new contract you can simply leave.”

That is the kind of job offer that many people are getting. If, on top of that, tax credits, which have been frozen for the past couple of years, go up by only 1%, and housing benefit payments are limited, those people will indeed suffer.

Julie Hilling (Bolton West) (Lab): Has my hon. Friend made an estimate of the number of people who have to juggle two, three or more part-time jobs? How many of the new posts that have been created are occupied by just one person who is trying to juggle different jobs and doing just a few hours in each one every day?

Sheila Gilmore: That is a good question. We need to know far more detail about those figures. We know from the people who come to see us, the people we talk to and the people we meet when we go around our constituencies exactly what is happening: if people can get more than one part-time job they will do so in order to make up their income, but it can be difficult for them.

That is the backdrop to these provisions. That is the bigger picture that the public will want to understand, as they realise that this will actually happen over the next few years. It has begun to hit many people hard, and it can only get worse. We must make it clear that if we are to be part of a society that is truly one in which we are all in it together, we should not go down that road.

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8.52 pm

Dr Eilidh Whiteford (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): It is a pleasure to follow the other Back-Bench contributions in this somewhat sparsely attended debate, particularly the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell), who always speaks with consistency and clarity on these issues. Like him, I very much regret that the motions have been grouped in such a way that voting against the egregious real-terms cut in working-age benefits would potentially jeopardise the essential support to some of the most disadvantaged people in our society. I regret that it is not possible to vote against part of the measures.

When we debated the issue a few weeks ago, I raised a number of concerns. What I have heard this evening has done nothing to assuage those concerns. A below-inflation rise and a real-terms cut over three years will do nothing except pile on the pain for low and middle-income households that are already paying the price of the recession. The cap of 1% on the uprating of working-age benefits will drive low-income families into real hardship, increase levels of deprivation, and accentuate the gross inequalities that plague our society. It will hit parents especially hard, particularly those in low-paid or part-time work. Given the extremely short time that we had to debate this a few weeks ago, with strict time limits, it would be utterly wrong to allow this debate to end without challenging those points and reiterating the key issues.

It is fair to say that low-paid workers have already borne the brunt of the economic downturn. Many people have seen their working hours cut. Increasingly, we find people, especially women, working part-time when they really want a full-time job. Those who have child care and caring responsibilities, as the hon. Member for Edinburgh East (Sheila Gilmore) mentioned a moment ago, often find themselves in seasonal, temporary, part-time, insecure and sometimes zero hour contract work. It is extremely difficult for them to juggle the competing demands on their time if they have caring responsibilities or children to look after.

We should not forget that unemployment is still unacceptably high and concentrated geographically in certain parts of the UK. It is neither fair nor accurate to lay responsibility for high unemployment solely on people who are unemployed. Although it may be easier for us to abdicate responsibility for economic policies and political decisions and blame unemployed people for their own plight, we should acknowledge the role of the wider economy, the climate we are living in, our political response to it and the inadequacies of that in creating the present high levels of unemployment.

The key point is that it is not just the unemployed who are hit by a freeze and a cut in working-age benefits—it is people in work who will pay the highest price. The Resolution Foundation has said that around 60% of the cuts will fall on people in work. It is important to see the impact of the autumn statement in the round, looking at the freeze on benefits alongside other measures. According to Citizens Advice, a family of two parents both working in full-time low-paid jobs, with two children, paying a modest rent of £130 a week, will be more than £12 a week worse off by 2015. A similar family with one full-time earner on minimum wage will be about £13 a week worse off by 2015.

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A disabled lone parent of two children receiving the support component of employment and support allowance will see a comparable net loss of income in real terms. This does not take account of the cuts that such families have already experienced through last year’s changes to the tax credit system and child care support. The distributional analysis of the Government’s own impact assessment shows that the Government’s reforms will hit the lower half of the income spectrum hard. The analysis by the Institute for Fiscal Studies shows that the pain of the austerity measures is being felt in the lower five income deciles, with the biggest losses in the lowest deciles.

The point that I have made previously in debates on this subject is that although these distributional analyses can be helpful, they do not tell the human story. More than that, they do not show the disproportional impact that the rising cost of living has on low-income households. In the context of today’s inflation forecasts that show that high inflation is set to be with us for several years, this point becomes even more acute. Whether it is hikes in domestic fuel prices or rises in the price of staple foods, it is the things that lower income households most depend on that are going up in price most quickly. I have said before that I do not think the retail prices index or the consumer prices index is a particularly good measure for assessing the experience of inflation in lower-income households, but the CPI for sure underestimates the real impact of those real-term cuts in support.

This is not just abstract economic theory. We are talking today about the difference between a 1% rise of about 71p and an inflationary rise of a meagre £1.50 a week. It is important that we bear in mind what we are doing. Abandoning any link with earnings or prices sends a strong signal that the Government are abandoning any support for citizens going through tough times. It undermines the social contract that most of us thought we had.

The 4% cut in real terms to low and middle-income families will have material consequences for thousands of families right across the UK. These are deeply regressive measures. They are mean and miserable. They will affect 30% of all households in Scotland. They will affect the vast majority of families with children. Given the importance of the issue, the consequences that it will have for our constituents, and the lack of time that we have had to debate it, it is a scandal that the Government Benches are so empty this evening. No one has risen from the Back Benches to defend this egregious policy. I urge the Government to think again.

Karl McCartney (Lincoln) (Con): Will the hon. Lady give way?

Dr Whiteford: I am just concluding, and the hon. Gentleman was absent for most of the debate, so I do not think it is fitting that he should try to get in at the last gasp.

8.59 pm

Mr Russell Brown (Dumfries and Galloway) (Lab): I had not intended to speak this evening, but my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) has somewhat inspired me. He spoke on a subject that I want to say one or two things about. It is

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extremely saddening that we are taking both orders together, because we on the Opposition Benches—




Well, we can support one order, but we have severe difficulties with the other. We will see what happens.

Steve Webb: Just to clarify, for the convenience of the House, we have three hours to talk about both orders. One is uncontentious, so the hon. Gentleman can talk to his heart’s content about the other and vote against it if he wants to.

Mr Brown: We are taking one vote, and the Minister knows that.

Kate Green: Is not the problem that there is a single order dealing with the uprating of a whole range of benefits, including disability living allowance, which is going up by more than 1%, and other working-age benefits that are limited to only 1%? The problem is that a single order is dealing with a combination of benefits within it.

Mr Brown: Exactly, and that is the difficulty we face this evening.

I have raised the point about the 1% freeze on benefits before. I have asked Ministers in both the Department for Work and Pensions and the Treasury what kind of impact assessment has been done and what consultation there has been between the two sets of Ministers, but I have never had a straight answer. What we will be witnessing over the three-year period, according to the Government’s figures, is almost £6 billion being saved or, as I would put it, £6 billion being taken away from the lowest income households. The Minister must surely know that that £6 billion would have been spent in the local economy.

When I first arrived in this House, in 1997, the then Labour Government decided to introduce a national minimum wage, which effectively put money into people’s pockets. The impact assessment at the time was based on £1 million being given to the poorest households, which clearly would then be spent in the local economy. For every £1 million spent in the local economy, 40 jobs were created.

If the Minister is able to do his work—I think that he is an intelligent man—he will see that taking £6 billion out of local economies over three years will have a detrimental impact. My hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh East (Sheila Gilmore) is telling me that yet another high street outlet is on the brink this evening, so more jobs might go.

Julie Hilling: Does my hon. Friend agree with the International Monetary Fund, which states that the cuts to welfare benefits will cost the UK economy £40 billion, almost double the cuts to welfare?

Mr Brown: I do not know whether it will be £40 billion, because I have not seen the figures, but I trust what my hon. Friend says. There is no doubt that it will have a severe and adverse impact on the economy.

I come now to the point that my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington made about families and children. If we do not give the next generation the right start in life when they are children, we give them

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the wrong start. I must say to the Minister that even now we see across our country the struggle that my party had in government to undo some of the damage from the previous 18 years. The damage can be done in a short period, but it takes an awful lot longer to recover from. We struggled in government to try to get things back on track. What the Minister is doing today is not what he said he would do when he was in opposition.

When he leaves this place tonight, I implore the Minister to pick up a copy of a documentary called “Poor Kids”. I have seen it a couple of times and it is heart-breaking, to say the least. As a father and grandfather, I say to the Minister that what the documentary shows is not beyond belief, because it does happen. It happens in many towns and cities across this country where families are living on basically nothing. Children as young as eight, nine or 10 years old have become worldly wise: they know about not having money and what debt is, and they understand how trying to put a meal on the table can result in other elements of poverty. That is not how children in this country should be spending their early years. They survive on hand-me-down clothes, not necessarily from older brothers or sisters but from other family members. Despite what many people think, charity shops on our high streets are an absolute godsend for such families, because sometimes they are the only way children can be clothed.

Parents sometimes sacrifice their own meals to feed their children. Perhaps I have led a sheltered life, but it was only when it was drawn to my attention that some mothers will prepare a meal for their children and tell them, “I’ll get something to eat later,” that I realised—I take no pleasure in saying this—that I witnessed that as a child in my household. I was part of a family of five and I know only too well now—perhaps I was naive when I was younger—that that was going on in my household. I witnessed my mother having nothing to eat while the rest of the family sat waiting for my father to come home from work.

Ian Murray: My hon. Friend is making an incredibly impassioned speech. The stories from the documentary and those that we all hear in our constituency advice sessions—one family in my constituency has been living off the cheapest white bread and jam for the past few months—are happening now, before the impact of any of these changes is felt, and the inflation of energy and food prices, the bedroom tax and the 1% uprating will make the situation not just worse but much worse.

Mr Brown: My hon. Friend is spot on. It is very difficult for families at the moment and it is about to get worse. The Minister mentioned the housing benefit changes. Some places are under-occupied and we all have families coming to us regularly—almost weekly—saying that they need an extra bedroom. Surely the Minister and other Government Members know, however, that to marry up families who are under-occupying and those who are overcrowding is a mammoth task.

Sheila Gilmore: Not only is it a mammoth task, but, in fact, if it was possible to reshuffle people into the right-sized houses within a reasonable time scale, there would be no saving to the Government; and yet they have a saving in their budget.

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Mr Brown: My hon. Friend is correct. I worry about some of the figures that the Government are working with in terms of savings. Only time will tell, two or three years down the road, whether all this has been worth it.

We need to give children a proper start in life. We really do. As my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh South (Ian Murray) said, we are already witnessing difficult enough times for many families.

Julie Hilling: What does my hon. Friend have to say about the fact that we are the seventh richest country in the world and yet last year 200,000 people had to go to food banks? In that context, what does he think we should be saying to the Government?

Mr Brown: My hon. Friend makes the same point as my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington. We are the seventh richest nation but this is how we are treating families—treating children—in this country. Two food banks are about to start in my constituency. I hate the idea, but I recognise that it is the only way some families are going to survive. My wife volunteers and works alongside the local church providing meals for homeless families. In reality, there are very few homeless families, but there are families who are in great need of a hot meal a couple of times a week. It is right that she does that, and I suspect that if at some stage I ever retire from this place she will have me in there helping her—because it is going to that long before we throw off what we are witnessing at the moment.

I mentioned to the Minister earlier the case of the lady who has lost her disability living allowance and I told him what her GP said to me. The GP also said that his practice is now coming under real pressure because aspects of the welfare reform are starting to bite. He has patients with fluctuating conditions, mental health problems and stress-related illnesses that are leading them back in to see him. People are going back to their GPs to look for help, support, guidance, and even help with completing forms. Some GP practices are beginning to creak at the seams in having to deal with people they should not really be seeing—people whose conditions will never, in all honesty, get any better medically. It is a real worry when the professional people in our communities are beginning to see, to recognise and to understand that life is really going to get tough for some.

Let me finish by saying to the Minister that if he has not watched the documentary “Poor Kids”, I suggest that he and many others do so, because it is quite frankly heartbreaking. This is not how people should be living in the seventh richest country in the world, and things are only going to get tougher for these families.