Dawn speaks on Ways and Means — Budget Resolutions and Economic Situation — Amendment of the Law 9 July 2015
I congratulate all those who have made their wonderful maiden speeches today. I received a tweet from a constituent that said: “I’m seriously scratching my head to that bit.” Members might ask, “What bit?”, because we were scratching our heads to quite a few bits of the Chancellor’s Budget speech. My constituent was referring to the bit about the minimum wage, or the “living wage” as the Chancellor likes to call it. I fully support the increase to £7.20 an hour, rising to £9 by 2020, but that is an increase in the minimum wage; it is not a living wage, however many times Government Members like to say it is. As I have said previously, “You can fool some of the people some of the time, but you can’t fool all the people all the time”, yet I fear that is what they are trying to do.
The Living Wage Foundation currently considers that to achieve a minimal acceptable standard of living someone must be paid £7.85 outside London, and £9.15 in inner London. That is the living wage. If the Chancellor needs some help, perhaps he could congratulate Brent council on its work in championing the £9.15 living wage, and on incentivising employers to pay it. The Opposition need to humanise the Government’s policies as they seem not to know many of the people whom their policies adversely affect. The living wage calculation is also based on tax credits that have helped to boost low wages, but if those are removed, the living wage would be £11.65 an hour—that is how much someone would need to be paid if tax credits are removed.
I want to support working people—we all do, and, I might add, more seriously on the Labour Benches. The Chancellor seems to feel that working people live a lavish lifestyle that he wants to curb. Before the election, Jenny Jones asked the Prime Minister to put to bed rumours that he planned to cut child tax credit and restrict child benefit. David Cameron replied: “Well thank you, Jenny. I don’t want to do that.” What has changed?
Brent has the above average number of 5,609 lone parents, which is 11% of all households. Some 64% of families in Brent Central are receiving tax credits. It is okay to have universal credit—I agree with that; I used to work in the employment service—but the Institute for Fiscal Studies has stated that 13 million families will be affected by the benefit cap, and that 3.4 million working families will lose £1,000 a year. There will be an increase in absolute child poverty.
Why is that happening? In Brent, we have large Muslim and Irish communities. Many families have more than three children per household. I would like to challenge the Chancellor to do a husband swap with some of my constituents. I am sure they would be able to give him advice on managing budgets and debt. Given that family breakdown costs the country an estimated £49 billion a year, this is a false economy. The OBR has forecast that household debt will rise even above the record levels seen prior to the crash in 2007-08. What does that mean for the future of our country? The root cause of welfare spending is low pay and high housing costs, so in one fell swoop the Chancellor could build more affordable and social housing, and more people would be in work and paying taxes. We should just stop playing politics and make it happen.
Millions of households are forecast to plunge into debt. We will see another increase in homelessness and children living in absolute and relative poverty. That is not scaremongering—this afternoon the IFS has said just that. Is this really the legacy that the Chancellor wants as he launches his bid to become the Prime Minister? He has lost weight, he has got longer trousers and he has styled his hair differently. All he needs now are some workable policies for working people. The Chancellor always mentions fixing the roof while the sun is shining, but he always forgets to mention the Thatcher legacy of £19 billion worth of household repairs that Labour had to make. Now, with these supposed fixes, the first Tory Budget in almost 20 years is taking the roof from over the heads of my constituents. He should be a little bit embarrassed about that.
The Chancellor spoke about apprenticeships. The reality is that the majority of apprenticeships in the previous Parliament were rebranded jobs. People were already working for companies and their jobs were rebranded as apprentices. We have actually seen a reduction in apprenticeships of almost a quarter, from 82.3% under the Labour Government to 63.2% under this Government.
As I said, I used to work in the employment service. I welcome the simplifying of the benefit system, but I am afraid the Chancellor needs to seek some advice from the Social Security Advisory Committee and examine any variations in his policy. Do not say that young people in university have a future and then burden them with about £53,000 of debt when they finish. It was estimated that 923,000 young people would take up maintenance grants in 2014-15. Do not tell me that that will not have an effect on my constituents and young people in Brent Central when they are choosing whether to go on to further and higher education.
This is a reminder of who the Budget is really for: the haves, not the have-nots. I see nothing in the Budget that aims to address the scandal of a 50% increase in long-term youth unemployment among black, Asian and minority ethnic—