The truth is that from Easterhouse—where the Secretary of State had his epiphany—to the Vatican, people are queuing up to tell the realities of this Government’s reforms. Rosemary Dixon, the chief executive of a

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charity on the Easterhouse estate in Glasgow—the Secretary of State might remember her—has said that the simple truth is that “things are going backwards.” A letter from 27 bishops stated that

“we must, as a society, face up to the fact that over half of people using foodbanks have been put in that situation by cut backs to and failures in the benefit system, whether it be payment delays or punitive sanctions.”

Archbishop Vincent Nichols has said that

“the role of food banks has been crucial to so many people in Britain today and for a country of our affluence, that quite frankly is a disgrace.”

The Secretary of State says that he is on a moral crusade. The people affected by his policies know what sorts of morals he has.

Nick de Bois: The hon. Lady may regret bringing the bishops and the moral case they were arguing into this. Perhaps she would like to reflect on what the position was of the bishops, and what Labour’s position was, when her Government kept people on benefits at a 95% marginal tax rate? Those people could not afford to take a job and Labour did nothing but trap them in a life on benefits.

Rachel Reeves: The employment rate reached a record high under the previous Labour Government and it has not risen to that level today. I believe that work did pay under the previous Government, and a flagship reform to make work pay under this Government has failed. The national minimum wage did more than anything under the previous Labour Government to make work pay, but that policy was opposed by the hon. Gentleman and his party.

If the Secretary of State really wants to get the welfare bill down, he must tackle the low wages and zero-hours contracts that leave too many people reliant on in-work benefits. If he really wants to get the social security bill down, he needs to build 200,000 extra homes a year to control the cost of the rising housing benefit bill. If he really wants to get a grip on the social security bill, he should introduce a basic skills test to help those who are unemployed to find and stay in work. If he really wants to control the cost of social security, he should introduce a compulsory jobs guarantee to get the young and the long-term unemployed back into work. The Budget failed to do those things. If we did them, however, we would gain control of social security. For those reasons, we will support the Government when we vote on the welfare cap tomorrow.

However, Labour would make different choices. We would get a grip on the failing programmes, such as universal credit and the Work programme, and focus on the cost of living crisis. We would scrap the bedroom tax, which is cruel and costs more money than it saves. We would take tough decisions, such as scrapping winter fuel allowance for the richest pensioners. We would get more people into work on decent wages that they can afford to live on. Different parties, different values, different priorities. Our priority would be to control the cost of social security; under the Tories, it continues to rise.

On pensions, I think that we can all agree that people need more help to save for their retirement. That is why I am pleased that the Labour Government legislated for automatic enrolment and that this Government have

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taken forward that Labour policy, based on the Turner consensus. We support greater flexibility so that people can get a better deal from the pensions market when they retire. We will continue to support reforms in the annuities market, which we have campaigned for and which the Leader of the Opposition called for in 2012.

The Government should go further than they did last week. Their figures show that savers are losing up to £230,000 from the value of their pension pots because of excessive fees and charges when they save. The Government should bring forward a meaningful cap on fees and charges to ensure that people’s pension pots are not drained by insurance companies. They should ensure that there is full disclosure of fund manager charges alongside that cap. They should ensure that, for those who want to turn a lifetime of savings into a secure and decent stream of income with an annuity, that is not made harder, and that brokerage is not just offered, but is taken up, so that people get the support they need to make the decisions that are right for them. We must not risk another Tory mis-selling crisis like the one that followed the personal pensions revolution of the 1980s.

To ensure that the Government get the reforms right, we will hold them to account with three tests. First, is there robust advice for people who are saving for their retirement? Secondly, is the system fair to those on middle and lower incomes who want a secure retirement income? Thirdly, are the Government sure that the changes will not result in extra costs to the state, either through social care or by increasing housing benefit bills? We will continue to push for the reform of pensions, but it must be reform that works for people who have saved all their lives, who deserve security and confidence in retirement.

We must be clear that the Office for Budget Responsibility has delivered a damning verdict on the Government’s record of getting people saving. The proportion of income that people are saving has fallen from 7.2% in 2012 to 4.1% this year, and it will fall to 3.2% by the end of the forecast period. More needs to be done to ensure that people have the confidence and the ability to save.

To conclude, whether you are a young person looking for work, a couple looking to buy your first home, a mum and dad trying to pay the bills and get decent child care, a pensioner struggling with rising energy bills or a business trying to access finance, you are worse off under the Tories. They have had four years to deal with the cost of living crisis and they have failed. They have had four years to help young people and the long-term unemployed, and they have failed. They have had four years to help those who are disabled and vulnerable, and they have failed.

There is a tax cut for millionaires, and beer and bingo for the working classes. George Orwell wrote of his nightmare vision of the world in 1984 that

“beer, and above all, gambling, filled up the horizon of their minds.”

Thirty years on in 2014, it seems that the Chancellor thinks that all he needs to do is to cut taxes on beer and bingo, and they will be happy. It is them and us, Mr Speaker—how patronising, how out of touch, how very Tory. The Tories cannot deal with the cost of living crisis; only Labour will.

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Several hon. Members rose—

Mr Speaker: Order. I remind the House of the seven-minute limit on Back-Bench speeches.

1.54 pm

Mr Mark Harper (Forest of Dean) (Con): I will start by drawing attention to the question that I asked the shadow Secretary of State. I notice that she did not deny saying that she wanted to reverse all the changes that the Government have made—[Interruption.] Well, according to the well-known Guido Fawkes website, with which I believe one or two Members are familiar—[Laughter.] If she did not say it, then she should deny it. At a meeting of Christians on the Left, she said:

“It will be much better if we can say that all of the changes that the Government have introduced we can reverse and all benefits can be universal.”

If she did not say that, she should just say so. I will take her intervention. She should deny that she said it. Given that she has not taken the opportunity to deny it, we will know when she leads her party into the Lobby to support our benefit cap that it is a mirage to fool the voters. If Labour ever gets its hands on the tiller, it will increase welfare spending and it will not help people into work.

Let me take the hon. Lady squarely on to the cost of living agenda and her allegation that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor said nothing about it. That is complete and utter nonsense. This morning, the rate of inflation fell according to the consumer prices index and the retail prices index. CPI inflation is at its lowest level for four years.

On jobs, unemployment is continuing to fall. When Labour was in power between 2003 and 2008, when the economy was creating jobs, 90% of those jobs were going to foreign nationals. That provoked the former Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr Brown), to say that there should be

“British jobs for British workers”,

but he had no idea what to do about it. I am very proud, as should be the Secretary of State and the Home Secretary, that since this Government have been in power, because of our welfare, immigration and skills reforms, more than 75% of the 1.3 million net new jobs have gone to British citizens. The British public will be very supportive of that. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) keeps chuntering, but he should listen. More than three quarters of the 1.3 million net new jobs have gone to British citizens. That is a record of which I am very proud.

Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): When the hon. Gentleman was Immigration Minister, he said at the Dispatch Box time and again that net migration was falling. Actually, it rose by a third in the year in which he was Minister.

Mr Harper: I have been very clear that net migration from outside the EU is falling, but that it is going up from inside the EU. That is why we will renegotiate and put the terms to a referendum. We trust the British people with that decision—something that the hon. Gentleman’s party is not prepared to do.

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One of the most important things that we have done on the cost of living is to enable interest rates to stay low. That means that one of the largest costs for any family—their mortgage—has stayed at a very low rate. That has been incredibly important and the Labour party would put it at risk.

Mr Stewart Jackson (Peterborough) (Con): Is it not a bit galling to take lessons from the Labour party on equity and fairness when, under this Government since 2010 there are 400,000 fewer workless households and 290,000 children who are no longer in workless households? That is a record that I will be proud to stand on at the general election next year.

Mr Harper: My hon. Friend is absolutely right.

Also on the cost of living, I am very proud that Conservative councillors in Gloucestershire, working in partnership with the Government, have delivered a council tax freeze. Council tax is one of the most significant costs for families, after their mortgage. Gloucestershire county council has delivered a council tax freeze in every year since 2011-12; Forest of Dean district council has delivered a freeze since the 2011 local election; and Tewkesbury borough council has frozen council tax for four years running. I am looking at my council tax bill. The Conservative-controlled bits of the bill are frozen. The only bits that have gone up are those that are controlled by the independent police and crime commissioner who, for the second year running, has broken his promise and put up council tax for hard-working families across my constituency. That is an unacceptable breach of his manifesto promises. I am pleased that Conservative councils, working in partnership with the Government, have kept council tax low.

In constituencies like mine, having a car is not a luxury but a necessity, so I am pleased that we have frozen fuel duty. That means that for my constituents petrol is 20p a litre cheaper at the pumps than it would have been if the fuel escalator put in place by Labour had continued. That is not a trivial matter for my constituents. It saves them £11 or so every time they fill up and it is very much welcomed.

The hon. Lady spoke about our pension reforms. I know why there is some confusion, to which the Secretary of State drew attention. I raised in the House last week at Business questions the interesting response from one of the Opposition’s key policy advisers, a man who used to advise their Social Security Secretary, the right hon. and learned Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman). He said—and I think this is what many on the Labour Benches believe—that

“you cannot trust people to spend their own money sensibly planning for their retirement”.

He was not a lone voice. He was supported by the hon. Member for West Bromwich East (Mr Watson), who said that the Labour party must oppose our policies, and there are a number of other Labour MPs such as the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Austin Mitchell), and the hon. Member for Aberdeen South (Dame Anne Begg), who is in the Chamber, who sounded a little confused. She was sort of welcoming—[Interruption.] She sounded a little confused about our policy. I have great respect for the hon. Lady, with whom I worked when I was in opposition as the shadow Minister for disabled people.

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Dame Anne Begg (Aberdeen South) (Lab): If the hon. Gentleman waits, he will hear that I will be asking the Government Front-Bench team rather a lot of questions. Perhaps at the end of today’s debate, Ministers will be able to answer them.

Mr Harper: All I said is that the hon. Lady is not as enthusiastic about our changes as the hon. Member for Leeds West suggested. It is clear that we on the Government Benches, as the Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions, my hon. Friend the Member for Thornbury and Yate (Steve Webb) set out clearly, trust people to save their own money and we trust them to make sensible decisions in retirement about how to spend it. The idea that somebody who has spent their entire lifetime working hard and building up a pension pot is going to throw the money away when they reach retirement age is nonsense.

Phil Wilson (Sedgefield) (Lab): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr Harper: I will not give way; I will make progress. Our pension reforms are very valuable and will be well supported.

Finally, I draw the attention of the House to the use of the phrase “middle income”. I noticed that a story I was reading in The Guardian referred to 40p taxpayers as being on a middle income. For example, according to the latest figures that are available by parliamentary constituency, the median income in 2011-12—not the mean income—in my constituency is only £18,800. We on the Government Benches are right to keep our tax changes focused on the least well paid and those genuinely on a middle income.

There is not a single constituency in our country where the median taxpayer—the middle taxpayer—is paying the higher rate of tax, not even in the Cities of London and Westminster, Chelsea and Fulham or some of the wealthiest parts of London. In those constituencies, the median income earner is paying the basic rate of tax. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor’s focus on helping those middle income payers was absolutely right. It is right for our party. The Conservative party should be focused on helping the great majority of taxpayers.

It is worth bearing in mind that a higher rate taxpayer—again, I am using the 2011-12 figures—is in the top 14% of income earners. That does not mean that those people are not important, but it is right that we focused our help on those at the middle and lower end. This Budget was one for hard-working people at all levels of the income scale. It was for people who want to save and for people who want to get on in life. I am proud to support it this evening and will continue doing so.

2.4 pm

Mr Alistair Darling (Edinburgh South West) (Lab): The hon. Member for Forest of Dean (Mr Harper)will forgive me, I hope, if I do not follow him directly in what he has just said. I want to say something about infrastructure in this country, and I want to talk about some of the slightly longer-term issues in relation to the capacity in our economy as it now is, as well as levels of public expenditure, but I start with annuities. In drawing the attention of the House to my entry in the Register of

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Members’ Financial Interests, I declare a further interest. As I was 60 at the end of last year, my professional interest in pensions has become rather more personal.

Five years ago when I was Chancellor I looked at the whole question of annuities, which at that time was receiving quite a lot of publicity. There were two reasons that I did not make any changes. One was that I was concerned about any major change that would undermine the insurance principle that underpinned the idea of annuities when they were introduced some 70 or 80 years ago. Also, at that time I was concerned about some of the safeguards that we would need. Given the general economic climate at the time and because I was more focused on what was happening to our banks rather than our insurance companies, I did not pursue the matter.

However, I quite accept now that, because of the very poor annuity rates in the past few years and because the industry has not helped itself in the range of products that it offers people, it is time to look at the matter again. There are three areas about which I want to express my concern. These are issues that the whole House needs to address, and the Government need to address them during the consultation period that follows. First, I am concerned about the effect of the proposals on the annuity market. It is interesting that one does not have to get too many pages into the White Paper to see that at paragraph 2.27 the Government say that annuities are

“the only realistic option for many.”

I read last week that the IFS is concerned about the effect that taking out the higher end contributions will have on annuity rates. The Government need to have regard to that. It is not insuperable, but we need to look at it.

Secondly, the Australians have shown that it is possible to have a wide range of products that we would not necessarily recognise as annuities, but safeguards are needed, particularly in relation to the advice being offered. The Government said last week that they had made £20 million available. When I read the detail, I was surprised to find that that is a one-off payment. There is nothing after that. We in this House should all know that unfortunately the financial services industry has shown that if there is scope for mis-selling, mis-selling will happen. This is critically important.

Although the Pensions Minister may be indifferent as to whether or not somebody buys a Lamborghini, if they are buying it, they must at least understand that there might be consequences for how much money they have for the rest of their lives. It is not in the public interest that people go into something that might have to last them for the next 20 or 30 years without having received proper advice. That needs to be looked at. The offer of guidance is not enough.

Thirdly, the Government will have to consider the scope for tax avoidance. The reason that pensions are tax-privileged is that there is a societal interest in making sure that we save for our retirement. It was never designed to enable people to shelter their money from tax. Those are all aspects that need to be looked at.

I want to say a word about infrastructure. On Monday last week in the Financial Times there was the now traditional announcement of all the infrastructure projects

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that were on their way and on show, and an invitation to the pensions industry and others to invest. That is all very well. There were some old familiars which I recognise from my time in government, which are still not built and are still looking for money. Owing to the Budget, the pensions industry has just been relieved of quite a large sum of money. I would be interested in the Government’s assessment of where we will get the additional funds that we all know are needed from both the public and the private sector if we are to improve our housing stock, our transport stock and our ageing power fleet, which we are still struggling to replace. Successive Governments have had difficulties with that and this Government need to attend to the matter. That infrastructure will have some bearing on the capacity in our economy if we are to be able to provide for an ageing population and everything we have taken for granted over the past 30 or 40 years.

Reading the OBR report on the Government’s measures announced last week in relation to the economy, we see, rather surprisingly, that none of the measures announced by the Chancellor will, in the view of the IFS, make any difference whatever to the country’s GDP. The annual investment allowance which he doubled will, it says, have a negligible effect. That did not surprise me, because I doubled it when I was the Chancellor and it had no effect then. At least the advice from the IFS and the Treasury is entirely consistent. What is worrying is that we must increase the capacity of our economy. If we do not, we are locking ourselves on to a path where austerity will be unavoidable, because we will not have the wealth to pay down our debt, reduce the borrowing and generate the capacity needed in an economy.

This is an issue for Members on both sides of the House. We must decide how we are going to get more capacity into the economy. I hope the measures announced last week in the Budget work, but whether firms come to this country will be determined far more by big issues such as our infrastructure than by simply fiddling round the edges with tax reforms.

Mr George Howarth (Knowsley) (Lab): My right hon. Friend speaks with great authority on these matters. Does he agree that unlocking potential capacity and creating more employment in turn creates more revenue?

Mr Darling: Absolutely, and the argument that has been with us throughout this Parliament has been about how to ensure that we generate growth to pay down the debt. Part of the problem that the Government have at the moment is that the plan that they started out with did not achieve significant results—it is not the same plan as they are operating now, by the way, because it is running some four years late and is significantly different from the one set out in 2010—because we simply did not have the economic growth that people expected.

One of the most worrying points in the OBR’s report is that it expects our economy to be at full capacity in just four years’ time. Normally, when growth recovers after a recession, as it did in the ’80s and ’90s, it peaks at 3% or perhaps 4%, because spare capacity is being used up. The OBR says that there simply is not spare capacity in the economy at the moment. That should worry us, because if our economy is operating at capacity in four years’ time and inflationary pressures start kicking in, how on earth will we meet the future bills of a mature economy with an ageing society?

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I understand that some Government Members are more ideological than others about public expenditure, and understandably, many of them expressed concern about the flooding in the west country earlier this year.

Mr Tom Clarke (Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill) (Lab): Before my right hon. Friend finishes his interesting speech, will he respond to the concerns among Labour supporters about how the Conservative party keeps reminding us of what it claims was the mess that Labour left behind? Are we therefore to believe that the international recession, which had an impact on Ireland, Iceland, Japan, America and so on, did not have an impact on Britain? Was that his experience?

Mr Darling: Having been around at the time, I rather got the impression that it was having an impact on everybody, from communist China to the republican United States and throughout Europe and the whole world. If there is a banking crash, it is not surprising that it has consequences.

To return to my point about the west country, we have to recognise that there are some things that the private sector will never do, and flood defence is one of them, so there will always be a role for the public sector in the economy. I firmly believe in a mixed economy and I am enthusiastic about anything that we can do to help the private sector innovate and invest, but it has to be complemented with investment in science, innovation and so on. The Government have a role in such things.

The Chancellor talks seriously about reducing public expenditure to levels last seen in 1948, but I say to the House and the country that the world in which we lived in 1948 was hugely different from the world that we live in today. Expectations are different and the population is getting older—many Members, not just me, may be grateful in a few years for what the state is willing to do as opposed to what we can do as individuals. That issue affects all parties that will be standing at the 2015 election, and we need to address it, because we cannot allow ourselves to drift into a situation in which it is almost inevitable that our economy will stall and hardly grow. That would lock us into unpalatable and difficult consequences. It is dead easy to sign up to cuts in a debate such as this, but living with the consequences of them—60% of them are still to come—will cause a great deal of pain to constituents of Members on both sides of the House.

Of course we have to deal with the immediate consequences and fall-out of what has happened over the past five years. Some sensible reforms have been announced in relation to savings, but we need to get pensions right, because we have got them wrong in the past. We need to get our economics right in the long-term interests of this country and of future employment and jobs, and I am not sure we are doing that yet.

2.14 pm

Margot James (Stourbridge) (Con): It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Edinburgh South West (Mr Darling).

Four years ago, I promised my constituents that if we were elected our first priority would be to repair the public finances. No longer could we go on borrowing £1 for every £4 we spent. Reducing the deficit has

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involved tough decisions, and I pay tribute to the Chancellor for sticking to the necessary path, which has seen the deficit come down by a third. It is forecast to fall by 50% next year.

Even after all that work, the OBR estimates that we will still be spending more than we earn by £108 billion this year, so the job is not yet done. However, people are at last starting to enjoy the fruits of progress. Earnings are projected to exceed inflation this year, and the increase in employment has been huge. In my constituency, unemployment has fallen by 25% since the election. Contrary to the Labour party’s predictions, the 1.6 million private sector jobs created since 2010 have exceeded the number of jobs lost in the public sector by a factor of three.

There was a time, 18 months ago, when the International Monetary Fund, which was broadly supportive of our policies, looked on nervously as Britain was the one country that was serious about tackling an out-of-control deficit. The proof of the pudding is in the eating, and UK unemployment stands at just over 7% and falling. That is in sharp contrast to the rest of Europe, where unemployment averages 10.9%. Likewise, the OBR has raised its forecast for economic growth from 1.8% to 2.7%, which makes the UK the fastest-growing economy in both the EU and the G7.

Mr Brooks Newmark (Braintree) (Con): It is fascinating that the hon. Member for Leeds West (Rachel Reeves) resorted to quoting the old Etonian George Orwell during her peroration.

It is interesting to note that in today’s Treasury Committee meeting, the economists there predicted that growth would exceed that 2.7% figure, and even the Bank of England’s projection of 3.3%.

Margot James: I heartily agree, and I would not be surprised if things got even better than that over the next few years. We have momentum now, as my hon. Friend’s point shows.

Our economic strategy has been about far more than reducing the deficit: how we do that matters. The Chancellor set out a strategy to rebalance the economy, and we wanted to see growth that was more balanced between London and the south-east and the other important regions, between the service sector and the manufacturing sector and between the public and private sector. We also wanted to build an economy made more secure by savings and investment, instead of one built on excessive debt.

This Budget marks another milestone—it capitalises on the hard-won and sustainable economic progress to secure radical reforms that will restore the incentive that has been so recklessly destroyed over recent years. Scottish Widows estimates that fewer than half of us are saving enough for our old age, and that one in five are saving nothing at all. The bold increase in the ISA tax-free limit to £15,000 is welcome. There are more than half a million ISA savers in the west midlands alone. Not all of them will be able to put away the maximum every year, but the fact that they will now have complete freedom to invest cash as well as equities will encourage more saving among people who just want their cash to grow in a tax-free environment.

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Before 1997, Britain had one of the best-funded occupational pension systems in the world. That proud state was totally undermined by the last Government’s decision to end dividend tax relief on pensions. Incentives to save were also undermined by the growth of means-testing of the state pension. The welcome pension reforms that the current Government have already introduced were given a further boost last week by the Chancellor’s dramatic announcement that we are no longer to be forced to buy an annuity. That is welcome news for everyone who is saving into a pension scheme, regardless of their age.

Just under 20,000 people in Stourbridge are of pensionable age, and many have been badly hit by the poor annuity rates and exceptionally low interest rates of recent years. I was therefore delighted on their behalf by the new pensioner bond, which from next year will offer a much better return than anything available on the market today. Low-income savers will also benefit from the abolition of the 10p tax rate on savings from income of £5,000 or less.

Charlie Elphicke: Does my hon. Friend agree that unchaining annuities is likely to encourage more people to save into pensions and pension funds, so that contrary to what was said by the former Chancellor, the right hon. Member for Edinburgh South West (Mr Darling), that is likely to mean more money for infrastructure funds and other forms of investment?

Margot James: I know that my hon. Friend is an expert in these matters, and I strongly agree that the change will definitely encourage more people to save into pensions. The forced way in which people have had to invest so much of their pension savings into annuities was a disincentive, certainly to my generation.

In my last couple of minutes, I want to turn to opportunities for young people. The number of people aged 18 to 24 claiming jobseeker’s allowance in my constituency has fallen since 2010 by 18%, and we can all agree that we would like such falls to accelerate. The vast majority of young people on JSA gain employment within six months, but a small group do not. They face very real social problems, but this Government’s Work programme and their reforms in very much improving jobcentres and supporting young people—and those of all ages—into work will make and are making a difference.

Unfortunately, an even smaller minority of young people have been conditioned to not want to work. For too long, they have perhaps been allowed to be too choosy about their first job: if it is not the one they really want, they would rather have none. I am talking about a very small minority. There is no doubt, however, that the changes introduced by the Government—I give the credit to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions—have made people realise that they are entering a contract with the jobcentre and the taxpayer, and that they need to put in the effort to make a serious attempt to find work, with the state providing the necessary support.

In addition, I strongly welcome the continued support for the apprenticeship programme. My constituency has had a 90% increase in apprenticeship starts in the past couple of years. Last week’s Budget gave further

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support to apprenticeships by providing £85 million for the employers’ apprenticeship grant scheme and £20 million extra to support apprenticeships right up to postgraduate level, which carries on the good and vital work of creating greater parity of esteem between apprenticeships and degrees.

None of the support—for exporters, manufacturers, taxpayers, savers, pensioners—announced in the Budget last week would have been possible without the work done on restoring the public finances. There is a very long way to go to overcome our indebtedness, but the fact that we are now so clearly on the right road, with results starting to come in almost daily across every single economic indicator, means that the Government can provide support where it is most needed. That was amply demonstrated by last week’s Budget, which will make Britain truly competitive once again. I am delighted to support it in the Lobby tonight.

2.23 pm

Hazel Blears (Salford and Eccles) (Lab): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Stourbridge (Margot James). I want to concentrate my remarks on the social economy. I draw the House’s attention to my—unpaid—entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.

Since the crash of 2008, there have been a difficult few years for countries around the globe. Many companies have struggled to find investment and to grow. Ordinary people have very often been faced with redundancy and unemployment. That particularly applies to our young people, of whom nearly 1 million are struggling to find work. Public services have been cut quite dramatically, and many are facing increased demand at the same time, none more so than in the spheres of the national health service and social care.

Against that very difficult background, and as we enter what I certainly hope will be a period of better economic news of sustained growth and job opportunities, we have a real chance not to do business as usual, but to take a new path towards what many of us have talked about in this House—a more responsible capitalism. At the moment, it is still a fairly nebulous concept, but I believe that we can start to put some flesh on the bones and to invest in the social economy.

For the past 18 months, I have convened a group of local authorities, social enterprises and some large corporate firms to consider how we might come together to get the public sector, the private sector and the third sector to work in a much more integrated fashion. We have done that under the banner, “Doing good is good business”. Social enterprise has always been a passion certainly of mine, but it is now taking a much more central position in our economy. In this country, there are 70,000 social enterprises, which contribute £18.5 billion to the UK economy and employ about 1 million people. It is no longer a niche part of our economy, but is becoming absolutely mainstream. In Europe, one in four new businesses that starts up is a social business. Some 35% of people who left private sector employment last year have gone into the social economy. It is really moving on apace. There are now many brilliant social enterprises. I have Unlimited Potential and Social adVentures in Salford. In the constituency of every hon. Member, there will be social enterprises that not just

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provide jobs and opportunities, but bring into our economy the absolute gold dust of innovation and creativity.

I want us to give a real boost to social enterprise on a cross-party basis, but we also need to do something about public procurement. The Public Services (Social Value) Act 2012, which I helped to take through the House, empowers public authorities to take into account social, economic and environmental impacts, as well as value for money. That can be absolutely transformational, provided that we get behind it, give it teeth and really make it work.

Mr Duncan Smith: I pay tribute to the right hon. Lady, whose work in this area has been really first rate. I told her that last time we met, over dinner at Apsley House, but I am just dropping names. Will she take her point a little further, because the creation of social impact bonds is a very big and important area? I know that she is a big supporter, but how does she see that rolling out, particularly now that the Budget will bring in tax relief for it?

Hazel Blears: I am absolutely delighted that social investment tax relief has been set at 30%. Some estimates suggest that that might liberate up to £500 million of extra investment into the economy. At a time of austerity and when there is very little public money about—whichever party is in power—we must absolutely seize the possibility of mobilising private capital for public good.

I pay tribute to the Secretary of State, because he has been a pioneer. He set up his social investment fund, which has catalysed the market in Department for Work and Pensions areas. I have spoken to the Secretary of State for Education to try to get something similar in relation to social mobility and educational attainment, and he is very interested. I said to him, “The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions is a bit of a pioneer, so why don’t you get involved in this as well?” I have also spoken to the Minister of State, Department of Health, who has responsibility for social care, to look at social investment bonds for the care of the elderly, particularly in relation to dementia, which is a huge issue for all of us and, indeed, countries across the world. Mobilising private capital to enable us to transform public services is an extremely exciting agenda.

I want to say a word about the Public Services (Social Value) Act, because a whole range of local authorities are now taking up the new powers, including my own in Salford, as well as Liverpool, which has declared itself a social value city, Birmingham, Wakefield, Hackney and Lambeth. People from all political parties and local authorities of all shapes and sizes want to commission in this new way. We now need transparency, through metrics and measurements, so that the people on this playing field can get some recognition.

One of the most exciting things is that some companies in the private sector want to do exactly the same in moving from traditional corporate social responsibility into using their mainstream business model to make a social impact. Companies such as Fujitsu, Veolia, Interserve and CH2M Hill are now looking at their supply chain to see how they can get social enterprises and small businesses to bring them the agility and creativity that such big global enterprises sometimes cannot put into the system. In particular, Fujitsu has done a report

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called “Collaboration Nation” about building a very different supply chain. It has told me that it absolutely sees the business case for doing so, because it is able to develop new products. It is also attracting the best talent, because these days young people want to work for an organisation that has values, and to go home at the end of the day being proud of what they do. All those private sector companies want to do that and be responsible capitalists in that way, but we must encourage them and recognise that this will be a long-term agenda.

I say to the Chancellor and the Secretary of State that if we could extend the Public Services (Social Value) Act to goods and infrastructure—that is where the big spend will be in the next 10 to 15 years, not necessarily on services and revenue expenditure—why can we not have social clauses in procurement for High Speed 2, for the possible new airport, or for regeneration projects that bring apprenticeships, get a better supply chain and make a social impact?

As I said, I am delighted that social investment tax relief is being brought forward. We now lead the world in that, and at the G8 meeting that I was privileged to attend we could see how much the United Kingdom’s creativity has taken that forward. There are now a whole range of new social investment bonds. We have just signed one off in Manchester to help young people come out of care, and to provide foster care and adoption, which is an amazing ability.

When I went to Brussels last week I met Commissioner Andor, who was hugely encouraging about social procurement and social investment. We are about to launch some local investment funds. The first was launched in Liverpool two weeks ago, and we would like to have 10 to 15 across the country over the next year. We are hoping to do that in Greater Manchester, bringing together European Union structural social funds with social investment, to provide unsecured loans to social enterprises of £50,000 to £100,000—exactly the kind of loans they need.

All that brings the social economy into the mainstream. We used to think about social enterprise as a niche or an add-on to the mainstream economy, but no longer. If we take what measures we can to make social procurement mainstream, including goods and infrastructure, and to support social enterprises to make social investment and the market grow in the long term, we can genuinely harness the innovation that is often in social enterprise, together with people who want to do capitalism in a more responsible way and the engine of the public sector. In doing that we will show that “doing good” really is good business.

2.32 pm

Andrew Griffiths (Burton) (Con): It is a privilege to follow the right hon. Member for Salford and Eccles (Hazel Blears), of whom I am a big fan, and to support what she said in her exciting speech that extolled the virtues of the big society. I congratulate the Secretary of State who has done such a great deal to bring on the big society and social enterprise, through his work at the Centre for Social Justice and in the Department.

I am, however, somewhat disappointed to be speaking in this debate having heard the shadow Secretary of State be so disparaging about the cut in beer duty. It is not just I, the Member of Parliament for Burton—the

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home of British brewing—who will be disappointed that the Labour party dismissed such an important industry, but the 1 million people who are employed in that industry, the 4,000 people in my constituency who earn a living from the beer and pub industry, and the 120,000 members of the Campaign for Real Ale who campaigned hard across the country because they love British beer, they love the industry and they wanted a cut in duty.

Nigel Adams (Selby and Ainsty) (Con): My hon. Friend, the MP for Britain’s second foremost brewing town, has done a fantastic job on this issue. In the pub over the weekend I noticed a lot of people talking about a penny off a pint. Has he made any assessment of the scrapping of the beer duty escalator, as well as the cut in duty, and how much a pint would have cost had the Labour party had its way?

Andrew Griffiths: I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention, and I will not let petty rivalries interfere in this important debate. He is right, however, because this is cumulative: it is not just about the historic cut in duty by a penny this year, but last year’s 1p cut in duty and the scrapping of Labour’s hated beer duty escalator. Added together, they have taken more than 7p off the price of a pint in our local community pubs. Beer drinkers, publicans and the industry will welcome and raise a glass to that, and it is part of the measures that have shown this Government to be the most pro-pub and pro-beer Government in generations. It is historic: this is the first ever Chancellor to cut beer duty two years running, and it comes after the previous Government, when beer duty rose by an eye-watering 42% between 2008 and 2012. Is it any wonder that the industry has been in such dire straits?

This industry is important for our community pubs. We talk about supporting community pubs, but seven out of 10 drinks purchased in a pub are a beer. This is a great British product that is brewed and consumed in this country and employs people in this country. Those 1 million jobs are important—46% of those workers are under 25, and more than 50% are women. If we want to help young people into the jobs market and get more women into the workplace, supporting the hospitality industry, pubs and breweries is exactly the way to do it. CAMRA, the Society of Independent Brewers, and the British Beer and Pub Association have welcomed the support that this Government have shown for beer and pubs.

Last year the Chancellor had a beer brewed in his name. Pennies from 11 was brewed by a Tatton brewery, and Sajid’s Choice was brewed in recognition of the support that the Financial Secretary gave the brewing industry during his time in the Treasury. I have no doubt that in weeks to come, Morgan’s Magnificent Mild will be brewed in gratitude.

Lorely Burt (Solihull) (LD): I totally agree with my hon. Friend, but no list of beers named after hon. Members would be complete without Ginger Rodent, which was brewed in honour of the Chief Secretary to the Treasury.

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Andrew Griffiths: I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend, and I enjoyed sampling a pint of Ginger Rodent in the Strangers Bar. It was particularly enjoyable as it was a penny less as a result of this Government’s measures.

We should not underestimate the community pub. It is an important industry, and £620 million from beer exports came into our coffers as a result of the cut in beer duty last year. Beer exports outside the EU were up by 23%—this industry is incredibly important to our country and has great potential. We all know that we brew the best beer in the world in this country, and having a Government who stand up and not only listen but act in support of that industry will mean that the business will grow, employ more people, and create more revenue for the country as a result. I commend the work that has been done.

The facts speak for themselves. Last year we said to the Chancellor that if he cut beer duty, scrapped Labour’s hated beer duty escalator and gave beer and pubs a break, there would be investment and growth in the industry. That proved to be absolutely right. We have seen two quarters of growth in beer sales in the past 12 months, which is the first time in 10 years that beer sales have been on the increase. Brewers all say that that is as a result of the support that the Government have given to the beer and pub industry.

This is not just about scrapping the beer duty escalator. The Government also gave a £100,000 business rates break for pubs up and down the country, and scrapped Labour’s job tax by scrapping employers’ national insurance contributions for those under 21—important people whom this industry employs. As a result, we are seeing growth and investment. Some £400 million has been invested by the industry in the past 12 months. Only yesterday, Marston’s brewery in Wolverhampton announced 3,000 new jobs as a result of the Government’s support for beer and brewing.

I thank all the right hon. and hon. Members from all parts of the House who supported our campaign to reduce the duty on beer. This was a cross-party campaign. On behalf of CAMRA, SIBA, the British Beer and Pub Association and all beer lovers across the country, we will be raising a glass, saluting the Government and saying, “Cheers, George.”

2.40 pm

Lindsay Roy (Glenrothes) (Lab): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Burton (Andrew Griffiths) and to listen to his speech on small beer.

At a time when we hear that we are turning an economic corner—I welcome this immensely—after several challenging years of recession, this year’s Budget should have been one of optimism and hope for all, and in particular for those who have suffered the most under the Government’s austerity programme. Hard-working families have suffered a cost of living crisis and seen their incomes reduced by £1,600. The disabled, the disadvantaged and those with health issues that prevent them from working have all been badly affected financially.

I welcome the reduction in unemployment, but there are still thousands upon thousands of people who desperately want to work. They have not acquired the skills to take up the posts that are available. Despite their best efforts, they cannot find a job, an apprenticeship

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or training. It is ludicrous that so many people are willing to work but do not have the skills and expertise to do so. In my constituency, and in many others, jobs are advertised overseas and taken up by those from overseas who have an enhanced skill profile. That is primarily because of the lack of investment in high quality training and support here. These barriers must be removed as a matter of priority, with further investment in vocational training, but yet again the Government have missed a golden opportunity to invest in their people and pump-prime a further reduction in unemployment and benefit payments.

There were token increases in the amount of income exempt from tax, but the Government’s slogan “We’re all in this together” has been further discredited by their unjust refusal to increase tax on higher earners to 50% and their failure to clamp down on the many who avoid tax, thereby robbing the Exchequer of millions of pounds. Primarily, this has been a Budget for Tory vested interests in an effort to sustain support. In other words, these are the same old Tories, some of whose policies evoke blue language on the Opposition Benches. So much for the often quoted but meaningless Tory mantra, “Those with the broadest shoulders will bear the heaviest burden.” In effect, this is the politics of mirage and fantasy. The coalition think that if something is said often enough, people will believe it. On the Labour Benches, we emphatically do not. Thankfully, those who live in the real world are not so gullible and do not share the same self-delusion. They are only too aware of the opportunities missed: replacing the failing Work programme with the job guarantee scheme, an energy freeze, expansion of free child care for working parents and help for millions of workers by reducing basic income tax further.

Like all mainstream political parties, hard-working people support a cap on welfare spending and want effective measures to be taken against the small minority who are fit to work, but who have abused the welfare system and want to live permanently on benefits. However, hard-working people are also only too aware of the gross injustices forced on one section of our society in particular. The hallmark of a civilised society is how we treat our poor, disadvantaged and disabled. This Government have continuously presided over massive failures in policy development and implementation.

Graeme Morrice (Livingston) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend share my concern and horror at the escalation in the number of sanctions made by Jobcentre Plus which, on appeal, have been found to be erroneous?

Lindsay Roy: My hon. Friend makes a very important point. In my office, we deal with 12 such cases every week, concerning Atos and sanctions.

The forcible and inhumane imposition of the bedroom tax is a real concern for us. The Prime Minister should have sent the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions back to do his homework properly, and to plan a course of action on welfare benefits on a fair, consistent and evidence-based manner. The fact that he did not demonstrates a weakness to stand up to a dogmatic Minister who has taken a callous, uncaring and brass-neck approach to implementing hurriedly a range of flawed practices that have impacted unfairly on so many of our citizens.

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The Chancellor has been culpable in that he has done us a major disservice, as his Budget did absolutely nothing to address the multiple and shambolic failings of the DWP. Dogmatic intransigence and gross inefficiencies have led thousands to suffer through the application of a target-setting culture, in many cases resulting in unjust sanctions and declarations of fitness to work, despite medical evidence to the contrary. Those injustices have left many honest and upright citizens, for the first time in their lives, being forced to access food banks and payday loans and to get into debt. The numbers have grown massively. From my own constituency, I will highlight three inconsistencies and injustices, but I am sure that they are mirrored many times over in other constituencies throughout the country.

The first involved a man who had a medically certified spinal injury and was therefore unable to lift weights. That was interpreted as job avoidance, despite the fact that he had participated in the required number of job applications. He was sanctioned for 13 weeks and had to resort to the local food bank for sustenance.

The second example involved a lady who had been waiting for months for an Atos appointment. Her employment and support allowance was stopped and she was advised to claim jobseekers’ allowance. She is still waiting for an appointment. It is no wonder that she has been waiting: an informed insider told my office last month that in Scotland and north-east England there are 24,000 Atos reports waiting to be processed. When questioned by me, the director of Atos in charge of quality assurance said he did not recognise that number, but we still await a figure. So much for DWP-Atos quality assurance and standards.

The third example concerns a lady who had suffered a close family bereavement. She explained her situation, but until there was prompt intervention by my office, she was ruthlessly sanctioned. The Government have received regular exhortations to abandon the inhumane and vile imposition of the bedroom tax, and to bring fairness, compassion and dignity to DWP-Atos assessments. They have singularly failed to do so.

The ongoing injustices I have highlighted make it clear that our disadvantaged, poor and disabled are still being treated unfairly. In my main jobcentre, there are only two computer access points. Those people are often dealt with callously, but they too have the right to be treated in a respectful and dignified manner, and the DWP must recognise that. Until this happens consistently, DWP Ministers should hang their heads in shame.

2.48 pm

Rory Stewart (Penrith and The Border) (Con): I want to speak briefly about the elderly. The response to the Budget has focused on the needs of the next generation and of younger people, but I represent a constituency in Cumbria with serious issues of isolation. I will make three points.

First, we should bear in mind the enormous contribution of older people. All of us, from all parts of the House, know from experience that people aged over 55 are probably the most vigorous and active citizens in our communities. Many of the things that happen day in, day out for us as constituency MPs involve people aged over 55 challenging our decisions, holding us to account, being highly articulate and leading community projects.

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Whether it is by digging in superfast broadband or working out how to support the hospice at home movement, the elderly make an enormous contribution.

The reality is, however, that the elderly in this country are suffering a real problem. We have developed a culture that is increasingly focused on the young: on the idea of youth, on the idea of productivity, and on the idea of the next generation. We are finding it more and more difficult, in the media or in the House, to talk properly about the elderly, although in my experience—and, I suspect, in the experience of many other Members—it is the elderly in particular who represent the most shocking scandal in our society. Day after day, walking into the homes of the elderly, we witness scenes of loneliness, isolation and deprivation which can be shocking. We do have ways of addressing this—the Government’s pension reforms are a very good step in the right direction, and it is good to hear, for example, Age UK praising those reforms—but there is much that we can do to become more ingenious.

One concrete example of the scandal in our society is deafness. We pride ourselves constantly on huge technological changes. We pride ourselves on being able to produce a new kind of laptop every year, and on increasing developments in miniaturisation. However, hearing aid technology is still basically stuck in the 1970s. Deafness is a terrible thing. Anyone who lives with a deaf person can see that it removes the complexity from conversation, it removes the human relationship, and it creates deep isolation. Yet we are not investing in and developing the technology in the way we could.

Secondly, we need to grasp the potential of telehealth and telemedicine, which, despite spending more than £1 billion on superfast broadband, the national health service has not yet done. If we want elderly people to remain at home, we need to find a way of addressing them directly. I recently had a very depressing conversation with staff in a GP’s surgery, who told me that they felt no need to use superfast broadband connections, because they were just coming to terms with the huge benefits of talking to people on the telephone.

Thirdly, we need to think about how we can use community hospitals in a much more flexible and imaginative way to support social enterprises and third sector organisations—about which we heard from the right hon. Member for Salford and Eccles (Hazel Blears)—when it comes to going into people’s homes. The biggest killer among elderly people in this country at the moment is, of course, loneliness. A person’s chance of dying doubles within a year of his or her partner’s death. We can all understand how that happens, in very concrete terms. Your partner dies suddenly, and perhaps you no longer receive a prescription for a new set of glasses. Your partner dies, and perhaps your medication is no longer checked. Perhaps the stair carpet is not being nailed down. Perhaps you are not being taken to the supermarket to buy food. Those are all things that the third sector can help to deal with, and they are all things that can be dealt with by community hospitals if they are imaginatively managed.

I shall not say much more, as I am aware that we are short of time, but if our nation is looking for a mission for the next 20 or 30 years, it is this: we need to come to terms with the elderly. We all understand the statistics,

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because they are easy. The number of people aged over 85 will double. The number of people aged over 65 will rise by 2 million between now and 2025. The number of people with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia will double. Every single one of us will experience, in our families and our homes, the terrible pressures of ageing.

As I saw when I was in Afghanistan, all young Afghan men—men in stonewashed jeans with the latest mobile telephones—show enormous respect to the elderly. Indeed, they will cross the road to show their appreciation and support. It is very worrying that in this country, where the elderly are contributing so much in terms of citizenship, wisdom, advice and support, every one of us, day by day, sees our parents, our grandparents or indeed our friends undergoing the terrible process of deafness, forgetfulness or, ultimately, dementia. We need, as a Government and as a community, to build a society that is fit not just for our children, but for our parents.

2.54 pm

David Wright (Telford) (Lab): I enjoyed the speech of the hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Rory Stewart). He focused on issues relating to older people, and I think that many of the points he made were welcome. No doubt we shall have opportunities to explore them over the coming months and years. However, I have to dispute, for reasons that I shall explain shortly, his opening remark that the Budget had focused on young people.

As we know, this year’s Budget followed a huge global financial crisis and several years of flatlining in our economy. The growth that we are now seeing is very welcome, but I think we must acknowledge that, outside the M25 collar around London, it is quite patchy. In many areas, local communities are struggling to secure balanced growth in their economies, and it is undeniable that many people are experiencing a cost of living crisis. In Telford, which has a history of low wages, a history of temporary working and a history of agency working, people are still struggling to make ends meet. There has been some growth in the banking sector—the food banking sector, that is. More people are having to resort to the food bank in Telford, for a variety of reasons. I pay tribute to the volunteers who work at the food bank. I also say “Well done” to the local authority for funding it, and for recognising its contribution.

Andrew Griffiths: I understand the point that the hon. Gentleman is making—I too represent a northern, or midlands, constituency—but does he not welcome the fact that unemployment in his constituency has decreased by 25.6%?

David Wright: I intend to talk about unemployment, and about youth unemployment in particular. I know that the hon. Gentleman represents a northern seat, although I do not know how much further north it is than mine, if at all. Let me add that I enjoyed his comments about the brewing industry. I welcomed the Chancellor’s policy announcements about the industry, which I think were very positive, and, as a supporter of CAMRA, I agreed with much of what the hon. Gentleman had to say.

Andrew Griffiths: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

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David Wright: I want to develop my argument before I give way again.

Telford has a particularly good and proactive Labour council, which is driving forward investment projects that will have a very positive effect on our local community. Hundreds of millions of pounds have been invested in the Southwater scheme in the town centre as a result of a partnership between the public and private sectors. That is what a proactive Labour council can do to deliver jobs and investment in the community.

Let me now say a little about what was in the Budget, what was not in it, and what could have been in it. I think that we can give a cautious welcome to what the Government have said about pensions reform, but I also think that the devil will be in the detail. A number of Members have referred to the mis-selling scandals that have taken place over the past few decades. There are significant problems involving fees, and we shall need to look at the regulatory regime more broadly in relation to the pensions market and the pensions sector. I assume that a Bill will be announced in the Queen’s Speech.

There are serious issues to consider in respect of how the pensions sector sits alongside social care, and how we should fund social care in the long term. I am not making a party point. If we are to reform the pensions structure and change the way in which people receive resources and assets, there are serious questions to be asked about the echoes of that when it comes to how we should pay for longer-term care for the people who will need it as our population ages.

Mark Tami (Alyn and Deeside) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend not think that it would have been better for the Government to explore some of those issues before announcing a policy that had clearly had not been fully thought through?

David Wright: I agree. I think that the Government could have made an announcement much earlier. They could have conducted a consultation exercise across the pensions sector, and we could then have reached a consensus in the House. The Chancellor is clearly attempting to use this issue as a political tool. We need to have a long-term debate, because these matters will affect our constituents in the very long term. I do trust people with their pension pots; I do trust people to make the right decisions. The people I do not particularly trust are those in the financial sector who will be coming up with new products to sell to people as the pension environment changes. That worries me, and we must think very carefully about how we regulate that sector.

The welfare cap is another issue that came up in the Budget. I do not have a problem with the welfare cap in principle as long as it acknowledges the prevailing economic circumstances that people face in local communities. A blanket cap that does not acknowledge changes in the economy or what is happening in the wider economy just will not work.

I also welcome the development on ISAs. The raising of the threshold to £15,000 is a good thing and gives a positive message about savings, but I have to say that the Conservative party seems to be living in a different world from me. Not many people in Telford can afford to invest £15,000 a year in an ISA, and I cannot think of many couples who can invest double the amount.

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Mr Raab: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

David Wright: No, I will not.

For many people in Telford £15,000 will be an annual income on a part-time job. People will struggle to be able to invest the kind of money the Conservative party clearly thinks they have got swilling around in their coffers, but never mind; they can go and enjoy themselves at the bingo.

Immediately after the Budget, I took part in a Federation of Small Businesses event—a phone-in debate and panel discussion at a hotel in Telford. I have to say that the small business community, and certainly the people I spoke to in the phone-in, were quite disappointed. They were concerned that there had not been more movement on business rates and that a lot of the initiatives the Chancellor was talking about were targeted at larger businesses. They felt they were getting a bit of a raw deal and they were being ignored. My view has always been that in our modern economy the strength of our future economy and of our nation will depend very much on the success of small and medium-sized enterprises. We must, therefore, think much more about support for small businesses.

There were two glaring omissions from the Budget, the first of which relates to young people. Unemployment rates among young people in Telford and Wrekin remain stubbornly high and hundreds more young people are underemployed. The Chancellor spent little time in his speech talking about young people, but it should have been his top priority. It is for us in Telford. The local authority is investing £1.3 million specifically to target youth unemployment, and the job junction initiative is helping people in towns across the borough, providing support for them to get back into work. We also have other partners, such as Telford college of arts and technology, which have programmes targeted at getting young people who have found formal education difficult back into education and into securing skills and training. I recently had the pleasure of opening a campus facility for the college in Dawley.

The other omission from the Budget was any discussion of the need for a significant increase in the provision of social sector housing units for rent. Understandably, we all want to talk about affordable housing for sale in this country, but we face a real dilemma in that we do not have enough properties for rent in the social housing sector. The next Labour Government must have an enormous drive to build more social housing, to ensure that we deal with what is one of the biggest issues for my constituents.

3.4 pm

Crispin Blunt (Reigate) (Con): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Telford (David Wright), but judging from what he said about small businesses, he does not appear to have noticed that in previous Budgets under this Chancellor there have been changes to the tax and investment regimes that have been enormously beneficial to them. It is right that in this Budget the Chancellor should turn his attention to savings and pensions.

This was a great and profound Budget. Its consequences will live with us, to the substantial overall benefit of the United Kingdom, for decades to come. I share the huge

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enthusiasm for treating savers like adults and creating a vastly improved environment to encourage saving. However, changes on this scale will have unforeseen difficult consequences, as well as some that are already being identified by expert commentators.

I represent four major providers of savings products in the Reigate constituency: blue-chip market leaders in Legal and General with 2,500 jobs and Fidelity with nearly 2,000 jobs; and two newer market entrants, Partnership and Just Retirement. The latter two have provided astonishing case studies of what can be achieved by well-led and innovative companies. They have become market leaders in specialist annuity products and have led the growth of the equity release market, which is such an important product in the suite of products available to give people a sustainable and comfortable retirement. Between them they have added many hundreds of jobs in my constituency in the last few years alone. I am astonished by the market reaction to the Budget, which saw their share prices halve under the assumption that the annuity business was now effectively over.

The Chancellor’s proposals are just ushering in an era where innovation in savings products and market fleet-footedness will play straight to the competitive advantages of the people employed by those two companies. The behemoths of Legal and General and Fidelity are also rightly highly bullish about the much-improved climate for savings that the Chancellor now proposes. The short-term analysis of some market-makers has left me bemused. They plainly do not know enough about the companies or their excellent people and products and their ability to innovate in this great new market.

The challenge is to ensure the spirit of the reforms develops into a well-governed and safe experience to deliver good customer outcomes. Rightly therefore, much of the attention has been on guidance. The financial services industry has held a protracted debate on the differences between advice and guidance without delivering a solution for the 500,000 people who retire each year with defined contribution pensions or the future wave of retirees who have been auto-enrolled into them. The Financial Conduct Authority reported evidence of major failure in pension provider pre-retirement processes, with eight in 10 consumers who purchased an annuity from their incumbent pension provider able to get a better deal by shopping around. This perhaps explains why a recent Which? survey found that only 42% of consumers coming up to retirement trust their pension provider to act in their best interest. Taking provider interests out of the new guidance framework is necessary to ensure savers are properly equipped to consider their options in the external open market.

The Government have just resisted amendments to the Care Bill about guidance on the cost of care, but I now think we need to nudge people in the direction of properly informed independent advice at retirement to help them make the best plan for their circumstances. I suggest that a small percentage of any tax-exempt saving should be reserved for paying for independent financial advice at retirement. If savers have a proffered pot of funds that has been ring-fenced for advice, they will be in no doubt as to what the state thinks they should do. However, consistent with treating people as adults, if they take a positive decision to opt out of independent

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advice at retirement, on their own head be it if they decide to put those ring-fenced funds into their wider savings pot and make their own decisions or place themselves in the hands of an existing provider without taking an informed view of the whole market.

The complexity of choice in the use of all one’s assets, pensions, savings and property at the point of retirement to insure against future care costs, provide an annuity, make cash available and decide on protection or use of the family property cries out for independent advice. We should nudge people in that direction. Expecting the provider industry to deliver that is a triumph of hope over experience. This will continue to be a key debate and, given my constituency interest, one of which I would want to be a continuing part. Yes, that is a bid to serve on the Committee of the Pensions Bill. There are, however, now a series of concerns about the consequences of the behaviour of savers faced with these welcome new freedoms and what that will mean for the financial markets.

Much reaction to the Budget has focused on the less competitive, inert parts of the annuity market, but the majority of pension value is placed in the open, transparent, competitive external annuity market, which does deliver good value for consumers. People should continue to value security, especially at a time of life when returning to work may not be an option for providing income. Annuities will remain the only means of providing a guaranteed income for life.

Just Retirement and Partnership are both specialist retirement income providers whose arrival in the past 10 years has driven innovation, value and competition, and has positively disrupted the market. The development of equity release, led by Just Retirement, has opened a vast new opportunity for meeting Europe’s gaping black hole in provision for a comfortable retirement for a growing number of retirees as a proportion of our population, so we ought to raise the warning flags over the potential unintended consequences of this welcome policy change.

In conclusion, this Budget will live in the pantheon of the great Budgets, along with Geoffrey Howe’s lifting of exchange controls and Nigel Lawson’s cutting of the higher rate of income tax. Overall, it is a great measure and I am proud to support the Chancellor.

3.11 pm

Mr George Howarth (Knowsley) (Lab): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Reigate (Crispin Blunt), who stressed the importance of getting independent advice. That advice was well worth giving, but I simply observe that in the past people have had independent advice but it has not always turned out to be to their advantage. There are two kinds of independent advice: good advice and bad advice. How we distinguish between the two will be—

Crispin Blunt: The important change is that independent advice is now definitively independent advice—the era of relationships, commission and so on between financial advisers and providers has gone, and that is an important benefit.

Mr Howarth: I agree, but my concern is that the people giving the advice need to be competent; it is not necessarily a question of whom they are connected to.

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I want to use the time available to me to talk about the Budget and poverty, but first I wish to refer to my experience of volunteering in our local food bank—the Big Help Project—last Saturday at the Tesco supermarket in Prescot, in my constituency. The first point to make is how generous the response of shoppers was to the appeal. It was so overwhelming that at one point the volunteers struggled to keep up with the number of bags of groceries that were being given to us, and that is a great tribute to everybody involved. Secondly, from talking to volunteers and supporters it became clear that they did not take a prescriptive view of people who, unfortunately, have to rely on the services of a food bank to feed their family. The statistics bear out why people are right to be sympathetic. The Big Help Project has had 6,000 referrals over the past 12 months, 73% of which are the result of benefit changes, benefit delays or low income. The project has a vital job to do, but we need to be mindful of the reasons why people find it necessary to go to a food bank.

I want to talk specifically about poverty, and not about welfare. We have sometimes managed to confuse those terms, but they sometimes go together and sometimes do not. According to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation,

“the most distinctive characteristic of poverty today is the very high number of working people who are also poor.”

Again, the food bank experience in Knowsley bears that out, as 22% of those referred are in employment but they are so poorly paid that they are forced to rely on the food bank to make ends meet. The other two main groups relying on the food bank are people who are dependent on the benefits system and who are affected either by benefit changes or by delays in payments. In some cases, these people find themselves with absolutely no income at all, and often that is as a result of sanctions, which in some cases are arbitrarily put on people who are trying to make a claim.

The trouble with the Government’s approach to welfare reform is not just that it is morally flawed, but that it is based on the subjective view that welfare dependency is, in some way, a choice that people can make. If it were as simple as that, it would be a relatively straightforward phenomenon to resolve—but it is not as simple as that. The reality is that people who want to re-enter the labour market are often confronted with a complex web of barriers that can, in some cases, be impossible to negotiate without help that is tailor-made to their particular circumstances.

Research from the Department for Work and Pensions itself has concluded that what matters for poverty reduction is not the aggregate employment rate, but the share of working age adults and children in workless households. In other words, an increase in the number of people in the labour market will not necessarily reduce poverty if it consists of people entering the labour market from households which are not already in poverty. So, even if employment rates are rising—I acknowledge that they are—below the surface there is a highly polarised employment structure, with a high number of double earners and a high level of zero-earner households. The Secretary of State referred to that in his opening speech.

What the Government’s approach fails to take into account are the barriers that those in zero-earner households have to surmount to become earners—certainly at a level that does not lead to their still living in poverty.

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Time forbids me from going into too much detail, but let me offer two examples of the barriers that people experience. The first is the recruitment practices in many companies. A UK Commission for Employment and Skills report in 2010 concluded that employers increasingly use informal channels of recruitment rather than the jobcentre, which further disadvantages those who are unemployed and, as a result, they do not have the informal contacts needed to be in the know. That approach is probably even more commonplace now in my constituency than it was at that time.

The second barrier is the increasing use of zero-hours contracts by employers. There are varying estimates as to the level of their use, with between 500,000 and 1 million people thought to be affected. I do not intend to get into a discussion about which figure is correct, but that barrier, taken together with the unreliability of agency contract work, makes it difficult for families to abandon the benefit system altogether. That is because the employment available is so insecure and unreliable as to be too risky to contemplate—certainly for families. Indeed, it presents the very real possibility that by finding a job someone will be plunging their family into even greater poverty than they were experiencing already.

Although there are obvious improvements in the economy and in the levels of employment, poverty is stubbornly persistent in this country, to a wholly unacceptable degree. I am afraid that I am bound to conclude that because the Government do not understand the causes of poverty, they have not addressed it at all in this Budget.

3.19 pm

Nick de Bois (Enfield North) (Con): I am pleased to follow the right hon. Member for Knowsley (Mr Howarth). I tried to follow his argument, but felt some confusion, because his constituency, notwithstanding the barriers there, has seen a drop in youth unemployment from a terrible high of 17% to 10%, so clearly some progress is being made. [Hon. Members: “Well, that is all right then.”] Before he attempts to misinterpret my words, he should read Hansard to see exactly how I phrased my thoughts.

In the Budget, the Chancellor demonstrated that he has the ideas to continue his drive to rebalance and rebuild the economy on a sustainable platform, rather than on the platform we inherited after 13 years of the previous Government, where our over-dependency on one sector and a bloated welfare state led to many of the problems we are dealing with today.

I talk about ideas. Opposition Members would do well to remember—those who are old enough to remember—what James Callaghan said after the election defeat of 1979. He said that he knew he had lost the election because his Government had run out of ideas. Frankly, it seems that Labour has nothing new to offer judging by the responses of its leader and the shadow Work and Pensions Secretary. It has chosen to move off the historic centre ground of British politics. Nothing illustrates that more than the contemptible speech that we heard in response to the Budget. It was full of class war rhetoric and it lacked ideas. The intellectual pulse of the Labour party is not there; the party is flatlining and, as I have said, it would do well to remember the words of its former Prime Minister.

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It seems that Labour, having nothing new to offer, have returned to the past. Yesterday, the right hon. Member for Tooting (Sadiq Khan) talked about returning to widespread union-brokered collective bargaining and direct action. Labour is now officially wedded to the unions. It also remains married to the discredited politics of borrow and spend and has no ideas for the future.

Unsurprisingly, the Chancellor and his team present a stark contrast to the Labour team. They understand not only the scale of the challenge but how to bring forward ideas to help sustain the economy. They have recognised that there is a massive transfer of economic power from the west to the east. Conservatives understand that nobody owes us a living. We have to create the conditions and the mentality to go out and earn our way.

The Budget is about developing building blocks to rebalance the economy and to sustain the growth that we need. Above all else, the Conservatives trust individuals to spend their money far better than the Government. Individuals recognise that tax is not the Government’s money but the taxpayer’s money, and that if they do the right thing, this Government will be on their side.

The platform for growth may have been laid down in this and other Budgets, but it is the aspiration of the British people that will see us exporting more and getting on in life. It is they who will deliver the competitive business environment and stable public finances. However, to achieve that we must look beyond economics to education and the welfare system. There are people in this country who are trapped in worklessness. They leave school at the age of 16 ready to compete in the world. The shame of the Opposition was that they stifled ambition and strangled aspiration for so many people and trapped them on benefits. There were 1 million households in which people had not worked for more than 10 years. This Government are reducing the numbers of workless households. Fewer children are growing up in workless households, employment is increasing, youth unemployment is reducing—in my own constituency the number is down by 32% since the election. It is our deep understanding of making work pay that drives our reforms. We want to rid this nation of the appalling high marginal tax rates. The fact that someone could pay a 95% marginal tax rate if they came off benefits into work provided no incentive to work, which is why we inherited a legacy of high long-term unemployment and youth unemployment.

The Government have proved that financial measures alone are not enough. By tapping into the natural aspirational instincts of the British public we can change behaviour and improve lives for ever. Nothing illustrates that more than the measures we have taken to trust people with their own money—albeit in savings or in reducing the tax burden. We have shown trust in companies to invest in their people and their businesses by lowering corporation tax. That has been done within the difficult, demanding financial constraints that we inherited and are having to deal with. These are the issues that will drive greater growth and more employment and will change lives for the future. The tax-free allowance has gone up to £10,500. It represents a 66% rise in the amount that a person may earn before tax, which is a

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good thing. The pensions policy, which allows a person to use their own money as they wish, is indicative of a Conservative Chancellor who uses Conservative values in a Conservative Budget and who trusts the people.

3.26 pm

Mr Jim Cunningham (Coventry South) (Lab): The tragedy of the hon. Member for Enfield North (Nick de Bois) is that he actually believes what he said. I think that we need to be a bit more realistic now. For the past four years, we have heard the Conservatives blaming the previous Labour Government for the economic recession—[Interruption.] If Members want to follow North Korean doctrines such as that of the “Dear Leader”, they should just carry on, but let us get a little bit real.

The recession started in America. I am sure that my colleagues remember Lehman Brothers and Fannie Mae. In this country, we had a problem with Northern Rock, which the Labour Government tried to address. All of this talk about us running up a deficit is nonsense. Basically, we had to save the banks. When the Labour Government came to power in 1997, they cleared the national debt. They inherited the policy of 50p of every pound paid in tax going to pay off the national debt; crumbling schools; patients waiting for treatment in hospitals on trolleys; and declining manufacturing, especially in Coventry and the west midlands. Coventry was losing thousands of manufacturing jobs a week, and household names such as Standard Triumph were disappearing. I am sure that my colleagues remember that.

The previous Tory Government attempted to rebalance the economy. They moved from manufacturing for export to the service industries, which led to the crisis of 2008. When we left office, we still had our triple A rating. We had introduced low interest rates to help families and pensioners and quantitative easing to help the economy and we had bailed out the banks to protect savings. Growth was returning. We had persuaded George Bush, an American Republican conservative President, to pump billions into the American economy.

When the present Government were in Opposition, they said that they would maintain our spending levels. They opposed freedom for the Bank of England and said that the economy was over-regulated and that they wanted to cut red tape. That was their solution to a worldwide crisis that started in America and spread across the world. Their plan was to pretend that it was confined to Britain so that they could blame the previous Labour Government and justify breaking their election promises to the British people.

We must remember that 13 million people are still living below the poverty line in the UK and that 350,000 people used a food bank last year. Energy prices are high, housing is inadequate, wages are low and the Government are offering nothing at a time when many people are suffering. The Government have very little to offer.

My first major problem with the Budget is that it is extremely unfair to our young people—a group who have been undervalued and forgotten by this Government. The Government should be ashamed of how they have simply abandoned a whole generation, who will suffer the most during this recession. Some 282,000 people under the age of 25 have been jobless for a year or more. That figure is at its highest since 1993 and has almost

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tripled since 2008. More than 900,000 young people are still out of work. That is a serious problem and the Government seem completely complacent about it.

The Government are pleased about the employment picture, but they have not considered the experience of young people in this country. What about young people who can find only part-time work? What about young people who have work, but in a different field from that in which they are trained, or for which they are overqualified? The Local Government Association has warned that a third of all young people will be out of work or trapped in underemployment by 2018 if we are not careful.

A young person’s first job is just a statistic to this Government, but someone’s early career can make a huge difference to their life. For someone who went to university, studied hard and hoped for a job in a particular field, it can be highly disheartening to work in a non-graduate job or a completely unrelated field. Nearly half of recent graduates are in non-graduate jobs. That can be a blight on their future in competitive industries.

Similarly, when people are burdened with financial pressures, being able to find only part-time work is a problem. We are talking about hard-working, driven young people who want to get on but instead spend their whole lives in jobs that are well below their capacity. Yet the Government smugly pat themselves on the back for the employment figures.

Our young people are being abandoned. If the Government do not see that as a serious problem and begin to take action, we are looking at a lost generation. That reminds me all too well of life for young people under Thatcher.

The Government’s flagship Youth Contract has been declared a failure by their own advisers and the Work programme is finding work for only one in six of the long-term unemployed. That is simply not good enough. Labour’s compulsory jobs guarantee scheme, which would be funded by a tax on bank bonuses, would ensure a paid job for every young person under 25 who was out of work for more than a year.

It looks to me as though the Government have given up on young people, perhaps because they think that they have not forgotten about tuition fees, or perhaps because they know that Labour will give the vote to 16-year-olds and they will not. Either way, they have simply decided that the youth vote is not worth chasing and they are going after pensioners instead. That is disgraceful. Young people are being forgotten. A Government should be a Government for everybody, not just for the people who might vote for them or the people who they are afraid might vote for the UK Independence party. That is no way to run an economy.

The Budget does shockingly little to address the fact that women are so unfairly hit by the cuts. Women are bearing the brunt of the cuts and the Budget is no exception.

Mrs Mary Glindon (North Tyneside) (Lab): Women form the majority of employees in the public sector, so the cuts to that sector are doubly affecting women. Does that not show that the Government are going about this in an unfair way?

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Mr Cunningham: I agree with my hon. Friend. The majority of jobs created that are part time and have limiting career prospects have gone to overqualified women. Since 2010, male unemployment has decreased by 17% whereas female unemployment has risen by 7%. Disgracefully, women still tend to have lower end-of-career salaries than men and so often have lower pensions. Women are under-represented in the Government and that shows in their policies. What in the Budget will address that?

I want also to raise my concerns about local government finance. I have raised the issue on a number of occasions, but I cannot stress enough how much it matters. It needs to be made clear that a crisis is coming in many local authorities. Coventry city council has already lost approximately £45 million in core Government grant in the past three years and has had to implement a significant savings programme to minimise the impact on front-line services. That has, of course, put a huge strain on services. Coventry will face a—

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dawn Primarolo): Order.

3.34 pm

Sir Tony Baldry (Banbury) (Con): Coventry and Banbury are not that far away from each other. When the hon. Member for Coventry South (Mr Cunningham) and I entered the House of Commons together about 30 years ago, I think that the unemployment rates in our constituencies were not dissimilar at about 15%. Unemployment in my constituency today is 1%, so it is possible to make progress if the community works together and drives forward jobs.

Guto Bebb (Aberconwy) (Con): Indeed, progress is being made in Coventry South, where the number of jobseeker’s allowance claimants has fallen 17% year on year. In the 18-to-24 age group, it has fallen 20% and the number of long-term unemployed in Coventry South has fallen 16% in the past year.

Sir Tony Baldry: But, of course, Opposition Members simply are not willing to acknowledge that there has been a persistent fall in unemployment. I am not sure that their dirge of pessimism will resonate with electors, however. This past week was a defining week. By Friday, the shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions was acknowledging on “Any Questions?” that the Opposition would support the Government’s pension changes. She obviously had a busy weekend, because on Sunday she acknowledged in The Observer that Labour

“will vote for a cap on welfare spending to keep the overall costs of social security under control.”

Of course, the Chancellor has attached the welfare cap to the charter for budget responsibility in such a way that tomorrow, essentially, the Opposition will be voting for the coalition’s deficit reduction programme. Having spent pretty much all of this Parliament resisting every welfare reform and every attempt to reduce the budget deficit, at the end of the Parliament with just over a year to the next general election the Opposition are suddenly trying to catch up, accepting the fundamentals of the Government’s economic policy and recognising the strength of the Government’s long-term economic plan.

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The Opposition can do the big stuff, but when it comes to the detail they still cannot quite bring themselves to acknowledge what they must do. They say that they will reverse the spare room subsidy. I still do not understand why they want to treat tenants in the social housing sector differently from the way in which they treated tenants in the private rented sector, notwithstanding that they will have to find nearly £500 million to reverse that policy. Where do they say the money will come from? The shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions said again from the Dispatch Box today that it would come from taxing higher rate taxpayers through the winter fuel allowance, but that would bring in only £100 million. We can already see that they are about £400 million adrift on just that simple question. It is all very well talking the talk about signing up to the welfare cap, but they cannot bring themselves to acknowledge what they will have to do to enforce that. Welfare budgets were completely out of control under the previous Government. The number of households in which no one had ever worked nearly doubled under Labour. This Government have taken difficult decisions to bring the benefits bill down, saving £19 billion a year for the taxpayer. The new welfare cap will ensure that never again will the costs of welfare be allowed to spiral out of control and never again will the incentives to work be distorted. The level of the cap will be allowed to rise only in line with forecast inflation. Of course people who have worked hard all their life deserve security in their retirement, so the cost of the state pension will be excluded from the cap, as will cyclical unemployment benefits. We need to see a welfare system that returns to the safety net that Beveridge intended, instead of the entrapment that it had become.

We have seen the Government make some brave and positive moves to get the welfare budget back under control. The latest workless household figures show a dramatic fall of 450,000 since 2010. We have record employment figures. I can recall at the beginning of this Parliament Opposition Members all saying that the Government’s long-term economic plan would lead to the disappearance of a million private and public sector jobs. What has actually happened since 2010 is that more than 1.7 million more people are employed in the private sector, which is more than four times the number of jobs lost in the public sector.

As we heard in an intervention from the hon. Member for North Tyneside (Mrs Glindon) in the speech of the hon. Member for Coventry South (Mr Cunningham), the Opposition’s answer to any conundrum is more public sector jobs. Their default position is still more public spending and more public sector jobs. In reality it is in the private sector that more jobs are being created. Indeed, almost 80% of the rise in private sector employment has taken place outside London, in constituencies such as mine and Coventry and in the constituency of probably every Member who has spoken in the debate. Almost 90% of the new jobs went to British nationals.

There are those, such as the Bank of England, who argue that the increase in employment has to a certain extent been as a consequence of the tightening of the eligibility requirements for some state benefits, which have caused people to see whether they cannot find

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their way back into the world of work. I visited one of the Work programme providers in my constituency the other day, which is doing a really good job of ensuring that the long-term unemployed get back into work. So the increase in private sector employment is now more than four times the number of jobs lost in the public sector. The rise in employment is being driven by businesses and entrepreneurs across the country who are feeling increasingly confident with the improving economy.

I have few large employers in my constituency. The continuous driving down of the unemployment rate month on month, week by week, in constituencies such as mine is being achieved by the private sector and by entrepreneurs, all of whom found measures in last week’s Budget that were supportive and which they supported.

We heard much about young people in the debate, but the number of young people in work has increased by 43,000 in the last three months alone, and the proportion of 16 to 24-year-olds not in employment, education or training is at its lowest in five years.

Employment is at a record high, up by over 1.3 million since the election. For the first time in three decades, the number of people employed in the UK is better than that in the United States. Unemployment in other European countries is going up, whereas unemployment in the UK is going down. That bodes well and will bode well for the Government come the general election next year.

3.43 pm

Mr Mike Weir (Angus) (SNP): The changes to pensions and annuities have caused a great deal of interest in my constituency, but many constituents are unsure what it means for them. This is dangerous, because the changes are being introduced quite quickly and many people will have to decide whether to defer taking their pensions until the changes come into play.

At one of my surgeries on Friday a constituent who had already bought an annuity asked me whether he could now take a lump sum instead. I fear that the answer to that is no as he had already entered into an annuity contract, but it shows that there may be some ill feeling about the sudden change among those who have only recently bought annuities.

It is also not clear to many constituents that the changes apply only to defined contribution schemes. Many are unsure what type of scheme they are in. Another constituent asked me how the changes affected his company scheme, but it seemed to me that that scheme was a hybrid, with elements of both defined contribution and defined benefit. Again, my understanding of the changes is that they would not apply to such schemes, at least at the moment. Have the Government given any thought to whether hybrid schemes will be affected? Will the possibility of taking a lump sum from such a scheme be limited, and if so, what impact is that likely to have on the scheme as a whole?

While I appreciate that anyone who is considering what to do would be well advised to seek professional advice, these are serious issues that require a clear answer to allow constituents in such schemes to determine what is in their best interests. They may have to do so fairly quickly. The changes could mean a huge change in how people save for their future, but I suspect that it

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will also mean a huge change in how such savings are viewed, both by the general public and, crucially, by future Governments.

Dame Anne Begg: The hon. Gentleman has rightly challenged the Government about the uncertainties caused by the changes proposed in the Budget. Can he enlighten the Scottish people as to the attitude of a Scottish National party Government on the proposals if, heaven forfend, there is a vote for independence?

Mr Weir: I may as well ask the hon. Lady what a future Labour Government would do, given that Labour has flip-flopped on the proposals since they were announced last week. When we achieve our independence, we will inherit these proposals, and a future Chancellor will improve them.

There is evidence from other countries that when such changes are made, a substantial number of people take their savings as a lump sum, rather than buying an annuity. There are very good reasons why people might choose to do so, and I accept the argument that we should allow them more choice over how they use their own savings. On Thursday, during the statement by the Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions, the hon. Member for Thornbury and Yate (Steve Webb), I raised the question of whether these new pensions vehicles will be truly different from other forms of savings. That is important, because we have traditionally given greater tax incentives to allow savings for retirement that are not available for other savings products. If, however, someone entering a pension scheme can in future take the whole sum as a lump sum rather than as an annuity, what exactly makes that pension scheme any different from other long-term savings schemes? Will a future Government look at that and decide to end any tax reliefs, which could have a significant impact on future savings? In his response the Minister said:

“One of the differences between workplace pensions and other forms of saving is the employer contribution. Whereas someone of working age can save through any savings vehicle they like, it is only through workplace pensions that they get not only tax relief but the employer contribution.”—[Official Report, 20 March 2014; Vol. 577, c. 956.]

That is true to some extent, but it does not really address the question, as defined contribution pension schemes are not necessarily workplace schemes, so they do not all have an employer contribution. For example, many self-employed people may use such schemes. They get tax relief, but will that continue should the pension element of the scheme effectively be removed? Is it therefore the Government's intention to make a distinction between those schemes that have an employer contribution and those that do not? Do the Government intend to have a process for determining which schemes are pension savings and which are just ordinary savings? Again, some clarity on these points is much needed.

I also asked the Minister how someone, say in their late 50s, who comes to claim means-tested benefits would have their defined contribution scheme treated. I did not really get an answer to that point, so I shall put it again to the Exchequer Secretary. I put the question to the House of Commons Library, and it responded:

“Income from a defined contribution pension is treated as income for the purposes of means-tested benefits”.

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So far, so good, and that is no surprise, but what is the position if someone has a defined contribution scheme and has the ability either to withdraw their money or take it as income? Up to now, that has not been an issue, as most people cannot get access to their funds until they reach retirement age, but the changes, as I understand them, will mean that anyone over 55 will have access to their fund.

A clue to what might happen is to be found in the rules for pension credit, where a person can be treated as having pension income for which they have not yet applied. The leaflet from the Pension Service “A detailed guide to Pension Credit for advisers and others”, which was issued last September, states:

“Notional income is income your customer does not actually get but is treated as getting. We may treat them as having notional income when they have: not claimed state pension but are entitled to it; not taken income available to them under a personal pension plan or a retirement annuity contract; deferred payments from an occupational pension; given up their rights to an income (from a trust fund for example) because they wanted to get Pension Credit”.

At present, such rules do not apply to means-tested benefits for people of working age. In this case, the present rules specify that income from a personal pension should not be treated as income available on application. Will that remain the case once it is possible for anyone who has reached 55 to take their funds from their pension plan?

It may well be that some Government Members will be of the view that any potential income should be treated as income for the purpose of assessing state benefits, but the implications of that are that someone who has done what we all wish people to do and has saved towards their retirement but is then made redundant at a late stage in their working life, could have their whole retirement fund wiped out because of a period of unemployment. Again, clarity is needed on that point. Similar concerns arise over those who are in care and meeting care costs, which is a point raised by the hon. Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis) on Thursday and also by Age UK and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.

Of course, the situation in Scotland is slightly different from that in England, but Jane Vass of Age UK is quoted in The Guardian as saying:

“The pension pot is protected from means testing. So when it is in a pension it can’t be touched but there is a risk when it comes out of that wrapper.”

It is possible that many of those who have been saving for retirement find that they have to use the fund to meet care costs, or perhaps a substantial part of their pot will go on meeting the costs of an insurance policy to meet future care costs.

Those are real issues concerning the whole set of changes to annuities, pensions and pension pots. People who are thinking of what to do with pension schemes that are coming to an end—do they take an annuity or do they defer until the new changes come in?—need that information now. Although the Government have said that advice will be available, it is not yet available, and it will probably be some time before it is. Clarity is needed now; otherwise, many people could make the wrong decision. It may be that they should take an annuity, or maybe they want to take the lump sum. They need proper advice now before the changes come into effect, possibly in 2015.

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3.51 pm

Mr David Ruffley (Bury St Edmunds) (Con): The Chancellor of the Exchequer is to be congratulated on an intellectually bold and intellectually coherent Budget that will do much to bolster the growing confidence in the British economy. We are already seeing a recovery that is not, contrary to ill-informed observers, a credit-fuelled recovery. The growth we are seeing is to do with higher employment levels. The amount of unsecured lending—credit card borrowing—is remarkably modest and small; it does not account for the recovery we are seeing. Furthermore, the gross household debt to income ratio was 170% in the credit-fuelled days of the previous Parliament. It has fallen to 140% this year.

What the Chancellor reminded us of is that there are no final victories when it comes to economic management, and he reminded us of five things that have to happen if this recovery is to be sustainable. First, the measures to improve exports—so that we have the most competitive export finance regime in western Europe—will help our net trade position. Our net trade position is frankly not good enough: 5% of GDP is the level of the deficit on our current account.

Secondly, the Chancellor reminded us that as a country we have in recent years not been saving enough, so I particularly welcome the boldness in abolishing the 10p savings rate and the 55% punitive rate of tax on draw-downs from pension pots. It will now only be at an individual’s marginal rate. He has also abolished the compulsory need to annuitise. All those things will improve the incentives to save.

Thirdly, the Chancellor said that we have not been investing enough as a nation. I think that the single most important change in the Budget for manufacturers and exporters—those in the real economy—will be the increase in capital allowance from £150,000 a year to £500,000 a year. I have only one gripe about that for Government Front Benchers: it is another temporary increase. Over the years, under successive Chancellors, capital allowances have been chopped and changed, abolished, taken down to very low levels and then whacked up again. What we have in this Budget is an extension of the capital allowance until the end of 2015. Many of us would like to ask, on behalf of those in the real economy, for a little more consistency when such measures are announced.

Fourthly, we all know that our productivity is 20% lower than the G7 average, as measured by total output hours, and we have seen lots of work over the past three years on apprenticeships, skills and training.

The fifth issue dwarfs all the others, and without it British families will have no security whatever in their economic lives. It is deficit reduction. The key failure of this country and its people, and especially its Government, over many years has been the failure to live within our means. The cyclically adjusted primary deficit is going to be cut by 10 percentage points of GDP, which is a colossal fiscal contraction. Half of that is happening in this Parliament, and the other half will happen in the next Parliament. Four fifths of the 5% tightening in this Parliament occurred in the first two years, so we are now in conditions of relatively less tightening. But, my word, it will really pick up. We will have to find another 5% between 2015-16 and 2018-19.

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I will point to two charts in the Office for Budget Responsibility’s report that accompanied the Budget. Chart 3.39 shows that general Government consumption, excluding welfare, will fall from 21.8% of nominal GDP this year to 16.1% in 2018-19. That statistic is significant because it is the lowest figure for Government general consumption since 1948. It is a fiscal squeeze on steroids. It is serious. It will have to be delivered if we are to return to surplus at the end of the next Parliament, as the Chancellor so rightly points out.

Chart 4.4 shows us that if we keep the protected budgets, particularly that of health, we will see massive further squeezes in departmental spending, much tougher than those we have already experienced. The departmental expenditure limit figures show that health alone will account for 45% of departmental spending in the next Parliament, with massive cuts elsewhere. Only the Conservatives can guarantee that fiscal austerity.

3.58 pm

Stephen Twigg (Liverpool, West Derby) (Lab/Co-op): Last week the Chancellor said that his ambition was to support the makers, the doers and the savers, but we also need to focus on the millions who want to make, who want to do and who dream of saving but cannot, either because they are not in work or because they are in low-paid employment. Let me say very clearly that I welcome the recent fall in unemployment, but long-term joblessness is still a major concern, as is the increasing level of under-employment in many of our communities.

I want to focus my remarks this afternoon on youth unemployment. In the city of Liverpool, 1,665 young people are facing long-term unemployment. This is an economic challenge, but it is also a social challenge. Recent research published by the Prince’s Trust has shown that about one in 10 young people in Liverpool have suffered mental health problems attributed in part to their unemployment. Many of them feel that they do not have a lot to live for. They may be depressed or feel that they have very little to contribute to society.

Tackling long-term unemployment is never easy. In my constituency, however, the previous Labour Government have a record of which we can be very proud. In 1997, the unemployment level of young people in West Derby was 850; by 2010, that had fallen to 335—a very significant fall though still much too big a figure. The future jobs fund played an important role in achieving that. I have seen its positive impact in my constituency in delivering opportunities, contrary to what Government Members have said, not only in the public sector but in the private and voluntary sectors, particularly through the fantastic role played by social enterprises. The future jobs fund was not perfect, but it was much better than the Government’s Work programme. In Liverpool, more people on the Work programme have received benefit sanctions than have found work. Different localities are seeing wildly different results. For example, in my constituency the ratio of job outcomes to referrals is just half what it is in Horsham. Such wide differences across the country serve to emphasise the need for solutions that are shaped locally.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh South West (Mr Darling), the former Chancellor, spoke about the Government’s plans to cut public expenditure back to 1948 levels. Liverpool city council is facing

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drastic cuts. Over each of the past three years it has had to make savings of £176 million, and it has to make almost the same amount over the next three years—£156 million. In that context, I pay tribute to the remarkable record of Liverpool’s Labour council and Labour mayor, Joe Anderson, in prioritising jobs and apprenticeships, especially for young people. The mayoral youth contract involves working with businesses to take on apprentices to support young people back into work. In its first year, more than 100 young people who were otherwise facing long-term unemployment got into work. I welcome the progress that we have seen on a combined authority for the Liverpool city region. The city region has identified local growth sectors of advanced manufacturing, the Liverpool super-port, and the visitor economy, setting out in detail the skills needed by the sectors involved and what businesses and educational establishments need to do to deliver this change.

When Building Schools for the Future was cancelled in 2010, the mayor of Liverpool picked up the programme, and we are now delivering the rebuilding or refurbishment of 12 local secondary schools as part of Liverpool’s city deal. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Salford and Eccles (Hazel Blears) said, Liverpool has just become a social value city. Even in tough times, Liverpool has sought to give priority to getting people into work—in particular, ensuring that young people do not fall into the trap of long-term unemployment. As a result, youth long-term unemployment in my constituency has fallen to 290, which is hugely welcome.

The Budget inevitably focuses on the role of central Government, which provides a valuable framework, but solutions to long-term unemployment and the poverty that other Labour Members have talked about are best shaped locally by institutions rooted in our local communities—elected local councils, local businesses, and the local voluntary sector. That is why I very much welcome the fact that my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds West (Rachel Reeves) has said that Labour’s compulsory jobs guarantee will be commissioned by a partnership of local and central Government, taking the place of the traditional approach, under Governments of both parties, of a top-down, bigger-is-better model.

To deliver sustainable, properly paid jobs and apprenticeships for the future, the best approach must be central and local government working together. Only when we succeed in aligning schemes and programmes with the realities of local labour markets and local community priorities will we be able to tackle the scourge of long-term unemployment—in other words, by putting local communities in the driving seat. If we do that, we will have a real prospect of delivering help and support to the millions—I referred to them at the beginning of my speech—who want to make, who want to do and who dream of saving.

4.5 pm

Dame Angela Watkinson (Hornchurch and Upminster) (Con): I apologise for being absent from the Chamber for a while, Madam Deputy Speaker, but I had to attend a Statutory Instrument Committee.

I want to start by congratulating the Chancellor. We inherited the most monstrous debt in 2010 as a result of Labour’s overspending and over-borrowing and of living beyond our means with no thought for tomorrow, but

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after the 2010 election, tomorrow came. Drastic action was needed to stop the country spiralling down further into irrecoverable debt, so the Chancellor drew up our long-term economic plan. He has shown courage and determination in sticking to his guns in the face of relentless criticism and opposition to every proposal to control public spending. The reward is an economy that is growing faster than that of any other European Union or G8—or perhaps it is now G7—country. In this Budget, the Chancellor has been able to ease the squeeze to help hard-working people who have been feeling the pinch.

I am particularly pleased with the range of measures to help retired people. When interest rates were higher, pensioners were able to rely on the interest on their savings to help boost their retirement income. Although low interest rates are undoubtedly a boon to all mortgage holders, pensioners’ incomes have suffered. Now, people who have saved for a pension in a defined contribution scheme during their working lives will have the freedom to manage their own retirement income as they choose. I welcome the fact that annuities will no longer be compulsory. Insurance companies and annuity providers, such as those in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Reigate (Crispin Blunt), who is no longer in his place, will have to make their products more competitive, innovative and attractive to those who still choose to buy one. That, plus the removal of all remaining tax restrictions on access to defined contribution pension pots, is excellent news.

New pensioner bonds, effective from next January, will offer a better interest rate than any equivalent product on the market today, including individual savings accounts. They are predicted to be 2.8% on a one-year bond and 4% on a three-year bond, which is another boost to pensioner income. For 1.5 million low-income savers of all ages—not just pensioners—the abolition of tax on savings up to £5,000 is a great incentive for everyone to start putting away something for a rainy day. In Hornchurch and Upminster, the increase in the personal allowance to £10,500 will raise 410 more people out of income tax altogether and reduce income tax bills for 44,055 workers.

The Secretary of State’s welfare reforms are founded on the knowledge that every person returning to or starting work gains security and self-esteem. Every new job is better not just for the employee, but for the taxpayer and for the country. Unemployment fell by 63,000 in the three months to January, and the number of people signing on for jobseeker’s allowance last month fell by 34,600. The number of people in work rose by 105,000 in the last quarter to a new record of 30.19 million—nearly half a million more than a year ago. Moreover, 1.7 million new private sector jobs have been created by businesses up and down the country, showing confidence in the economy.

I want to pay tribute to the schools and colleges in Hornchurch and Upminster, not only for their academic, practical and creative education, but for preparing pupils for the future by developing in them social awareness and an ability to question, think laterally and understand one another and the adult world they are about to enter. The pupils at the schools and colleges in Hornchurch and Upminster know that having an interest in sports and hobbies makes their CV more interesting to a university or prospective employer, and increases their

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chances of getting that all-important interview. They know that good timekeeping and good manners, looking and sounding interested, and having a pleasant demeanour, as well as their exam results, will help them to compete successfully for apprenticeships, jobs or university places.

Fiscal education now plays an important role in personal financial management and debt avoidance, and helps people to resist the constant temptation of credit card offers that come through the letterbox. That is particularly helpful for students who will be living away from home for the first time and will be faced with paying for food and heating.

I am pleased to report that the number of young people in Hornchurch and Upminster who are claiming jobseeker’s allowance is down from 7.2% in 2010 to 4.5% in 2014. The role of schools and colleges in engendering ambition and aspiration in their pupils is an important contributory factor in that reduction.

An important part of the Secretary of State’s welfare reforms is the Work programme, which is designed to help long-term unemployed people to break the cycle of benefit dependence. To ensure effective jobseeking, the programme is tailored to the individual’s needs. It is a partnership between the DWP and all sectors, and is based on payment by results to ensure value for the taxpayer. So far, almost 500,000 jobs have been started by Work programme participants, including 208,000 people who were very long-term unemployed.

This is a Budget for business, workers, pensioners and savers of all ages. There are forecast to be 1.5 million more jobs over the next five years, and 1.6 million apprenticeships have started since 2010. Every new job means that a family has independence and a more secure future, and is able to contribute to the growth in the economy. All that vindicates the difficult decisions that have been taken since 2010. The fiscal policies are working, the number of new private sector jobs means that more people are working, the Work programme is working, and the long-term economic plan is working. I congratulate the Chancellor.

4.12 pm

Lisa Nandy (Wigan) (Lab): This is the third day of the Budget debate that I have sat through, and I surely cannot be the only one who is finding it incredibly depressing. Too often in this House, we pretend that the reality is either black or white, but people outside this place know full well that real life is much more complex than that. I want to say from the outset that of course the last Government made mistakes. It is right that my party should and does acknowledge those mistakes. It is also right that Government Members should acknowledge that when my party was making some of those mistakes, they did not just agree with us, but were urging us to go further.

The Secretary of State expressed dismay that we were not talking about the fall in unemployment. He is no longer here, but I wanted to say to him that of course I welcome the fall in the unemployment figures. Unemployment is a tragedy that affects not just individuals, but entire families and communities. I know that only too well from my constituency of Wigan.

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Although I welcome any fall in the unemployment figures, we should not pretend for one moment that that is where the picture ends and that, as a consequence, life for people outside this place is rosy and is getting much better. The fall in the headline unemployment figures masks a much more complicated picture for many people, including many of those whom I represent. It masks a sharp rise in under employment, which has been a feature of the economic recovery. It masks particular problems for women and young people, especially in relation to long-term unemployment.

Many people in the workplace not only have low wages, but face extreme job insecurity. When we talk about the strivers and the shirkers or, to use the Chancellor’s new language, the doers, we need to remember that the people we are labelling doers or strivers today might be labelled something much more offensive tomorrow, because many people are moving in and out of insecure, low-paid jobs at an alarming rate. To label people strivers or shirkers depending on which day we happen to catch them is not just offensive, but utterly stupid. In parts of the country such as mine, a combination of those factors —low pay, job insecurity and long-term unemployment among particular groups—contributes to the entrenched problems that we face. I am concerned that the Budget has very little to say to those people, and the Chancellor has had little to say about the problems.

In the brief time available to me, I shall outline a few of the major problems that we have and some of the things we could do about them. First, we have seen over recent years that, as has been the case in every major recession in history, Government intervention increases growth. For four years I have sat in the Chamber and listened to the Chancellor delivering Budgets. Over that time his language has not changed, but slowly, gradually I have heard the policies change slightly. The changes have been too small and too late, but in recent years I have heard him talking about the need to build houses, Government investment in mending roads, and underwriting exports. If only we had been talking about that four years ago, what would we have seen?

The public and the private sectors are not separate; they are heavily interdependent. In my constituency, which is a good case in point, many people are employed in the public sector, and every time they go out and spend in local shops, those small businesses get a boost and they are able to keep the staff they have and employ more people. We have to understand the role of Government if we are to get out of the present mess. I am concerned that small businesses are not getting the support they need and deserve. When I talked to small business people in my constituency after the Budget, they said that they are still struggling to get lending—net lending to small and medium-sized enterprises continues to fall—and that business rates are crippling. Although there were measures in the Budget to help larger businesses, SMEs need help now as they are some of the biggest employers in this country.

The Government need to take seriously the issue of underemployment. If the people on low and middle incomes do not have enough money to make ends meet at the end of the week, they cannot go out and spend in local shops and businesses, and areas such as mine will continue to sink under the weight of unemployment and all the other challenges we face.

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I pay tribute to people at this time. One Government Member said that doom and gloom does not chime with the public mood. I believe that. People are experiencing horrendous problems, yet they are still optimistic, they are volunteering and they are trying everything they can to make their communities work.

One thing we need to understand is that subsidies do work. I have heard too many Government Members, including the Secretary of State, saying that they do not. Youth unemployment is our biggest and most urgent national challenge. I see young people losing confidence by the day because they are unable to get a job. Many of them are the first in their families to go to university and they are now competing with 16-year-olds for jobs that they could have done years earlier. If young people get a job and remain in it for long enough, they get the skills and the confidence and they are worth it to their employers, and those jobs persist. That is why the Conservatives should not rubbish Labour’s youth jobs guarantee. That is the way to get young people on to the ladder and out of the revolving door of apprenticeships and unpaid work.

Over the past four years the richest 10% have indeed paid a price as a result of Budgets, but the poorest 10% have come off second worst. When we look at where the economic burden has fallen, it makes no economic sense. Every pound that goes into the pocket of one of my constituents who does not earn very much money at all goes straight back out into the local economy, boosting jobs and boosting the economy.

Finally, the benefits cap does nothing to deal with the real structural challenges that we face. We need to have an urgent debate about how to deal with entrenched problems such as child poverty—

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dawn Primarolo): Order. Time is up. I call Guto Bebb.

4.19 pm

Guto Bebb (Aberconwy) (Con): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Wigan (Lisa Nandy), who spoke passionately and eloquently on behalf of her constituents. It should be stated, however, that the figures imply that the success of Wigan’s economy is much greater than she indicated. Figures from the Library show that the number of jobseeker’s allowance claimants in Wigan is down by 35%, and the most fantastic thing is that youth unemployment has gone down by 55% in a year. We would kill for such a reduction in Wales, but we have the dead hand of a Labour Welsh Government in Cardiff who have no intention whatever of working with the national Government to deal with youth unemployment.

In my constituency, we have seen a drop in unemployment, including youth unemployment and long-term unemployment, which the people of the constituency have welcomed. However, young people on the Work programme are not allowed access to educational programmes, because the Welsh Government refuse any Work programme client access to any programme using funding from the European social fund. They do that to try to ensure that the Work programme fails, and it is left to me and other Conservative Members from Wales to put on job fairs.

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Susan Elan Jones (Clwyd South) (Lab): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Guto Bebb: The hon. Lady makes comments from a sedentary position, but—

Susan Elan Jones: No, I want the hon. Gentleman to give way.

Guto Bebb: I will happily give way after I have made this point.

My comments about the Welsh Government’s failure to support the Work programme are endorsed not just by Conservative Members but by the Welsh Affairs Committee, on which the majority of those voting were Labour Members.

Susan Elan Jones: The hon. Gentleman has returned from Patagonia as partisan as ever. Why does he not commend the fact that 80% of traineeships under Jobs Growth Wales are in the private sector? Surely, as a former small business man, he welcomes that.

Guto Bebb: The hon. Lady makes an interesting point about Jobs Growth Wales. When I wrote to local businesses in my constituency, I mentioned the possibility of young people getting on to the Work programme, but I also mentioned the possibility of using Jobs Growth Wales. I find it odd, however, that because somebody who is about to leave a youth detention centre in England, for example, is automatically enrolled on to the Work programme, they cannot access Jobs Growth Wales owing to the policies of the hon. Lady’s party. It would be well worth her while to read the criticisms that the Welsh Affairs Committee made, with cross-party consensus, of the Welsh Government’s actions on programmes that are there to support and train young people and to give them skills to take up opportunities that exist in their communities. She should raise that issue with members of her own party.

We have a success story on jobs. We are seeing a fall in unemployment in my constituency, with positive measures to support small businesses. We depend entirely on the small business community for the growth and development of jobs, and one key thing that we are doing is reducing the burden of employers’ national insurance contributions on small businesses. The reduction of £2,000 in the next financial year will be a great boost to small businesses that are looking to employ members of staff, and that is crucial.