Graham Speaks Out Against Tax Credit Cuts
Graham spoke yesterday in the House of Commons against the Government's proposed Tax Credits cuts which would have a hugly negative impact on the Nottingham North constituents.
To listen to the speech in full click here: http://goo.gl/jbN9KQ
Mr Graham Allen (Nottingham North) (Lab): This has been a strange debate. It is as if we have managed to collect in the Chamber all the sensible people from all the parties, and to have a serious debate on some of these issues. It is unnerving to step out of the comfort zone of yelling at each other, and instead to hear sensible contributions from across the House, including the speech by the hon. Member for Waveney (Peter Aldous) that we have just heard.
Perhaps the lesson for us all is that this is how we should have done it in the first place, before the Chancellor made his announcement. He could have set out broad principles, as he is entitled to do, and said: “We need to reduce the welfare budget because we made a commitment in our manifesto. We would like to consider these issues. We need to find £12 billion, so how might we best do that?” By using the wit of Members from across the Chamber—including those who are appointed to Select Committees and work incredibly hard on our behalf—I am sure we could have come up with something less painful, crude and crass, while also saving the Chancellor some grief. However, we did not do things that way; we are doing it the other way round, so let us hope that we can reach a sensible result by listening to Parliament.
I also hope that we will listen to people out there. This is a classic debate, and we must listen to those who will be impacted on and influenced by these changes. Often, those people are not necessarily very articulate or in touch with their Member of Parliament, but I want to speak up for them, particularly those in my constituency. Dinner ladies, check-out and administrative staff, nursing and teaching assistants and manual workers all need us—whatever our political persuasion—to stick up for them right now.
We should all be in it together, but it often feels that we are not. I looked for the number of people in my constituency who will benefit from changes to inheritance tax, and after a lot of searching I came up with a large zero. Unfortunately, it did not take long to find the number of people in my constituency who will not be benefiting from the changes to tax credit, because 12,300 children will be affected. That is important because I am the Member of Parliament for the second most deprived area in the United Kingdom in terms of child poverty in low-income families, which is a matter of great concern. We are not “all in it together”, because those kids are not in it with those whose families have higher incomes and should be shouldering a fair share— nothing more—of the tax burden in our country. Colleagues who know their food banks will unfortunately know that this measure is a food bank recruitment scheme on behalf of the Government, and we must be careful about how we tread forward with it.
No one was ready for this change. Some of us believed the Prime Minister when he was on television before the general election and said that there would be no changes to the tax credit system. It is the same Prime Minister who, sadly, was in this House a week ago and said he was “delighted” that the cuts had been voted through the previous evening. That indicates a contempt for institutions other than government—I know I labour this point, but listening to Parliament and to people outside does not mean that someone gets diverted from their principles; it means that they can better enable those principles by listening to those who might be able to help in a slightly better way.
These cuts will have a broader impact on families. Four out of five families in my constituency receive tax credits because of the low-income nature of my area—my constituency is among the 20 most deprived—and we can do a job for them. We will not necessarily overturn what the Chancellor thinks, but Members of the House can do what my right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Frank Field) has done and consider tapers, thresholds, transitions, and the time needed to allow people to adjust to a massive change in their life. We must look consistently at that family element, and review and analyse the impact of the changes in future years, so that we can mitigate the worst cases.
I am delighted that we have not heard the word “scroungers” in this debate, or heard people being described as having a free ride on the state or the system. As it happens, two-thirds of people in my constituency who are in receipt of tax credits are at work. They are being subsidised by the rest of us to be at work, and low-paying employers are being subsidised.
Huw Irranca-Davies: Perhaps one reason the debate has not been disfigured by such terms is that the people my hon. Friend is talking about are the friends, families and neighbours we stand alongside in supermarket queues and on the side of the rugby pitch on a Sunday morning. These are people we know. This is not a matter of “them and us”. They are us and that is why, as we stand alongside them at the rugby and in supermarkets, we must stand alongside them here, too. They need us.
Mr Allen: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We, and some of the media, think this is a big issue right now, but you would be amazed how many people do not know that this is going to hit them, and they will not know until that letter drops and it actually happens. A wise old bird—Joe Ashton, who used to be the MP for Bassetlaw—taught me this lesson: passing a Bill will not influence anybody’s real life until whenever—in this case, I believe, next April—it takes effect. Then there will be a shock. Then there will be a tidal wave of people saying, “My god, what are you doing to us? Why did you allow this to happen? We don’t care which way you voted, why are you allowing it to happen?” That is why between now and then we have to bend our backs to ensure that we mitigate the worst consequences.
The national living wage is a bit like English votes for English laws: it is such a smart slogan that one could perhaps run an election on it. Does the reality, however, have the substance and the detail that people need in their lives? Saying that we are going to have a national living wage sounds fantastic, but if it does not actually mean that incomes will be at least as good as they were before, it is a fraud.
Liz McInnes: Does my hon. Friend agree that the Government’s national living wage is not the actual living wage, which is set by the Living Wage Foundation? The actual living wage is far higher than the Government’s national living wage. To call it a living wage is a misnomer.
Mr Allen: I totally agree with my hon. Friend. The Living Wage Foundation has already blown that myth straight out of the water and said it is not actually what everybody else seems to think of as being the living wage. Indeed, the Institute for Fiscal Studies and our own House of Commons Library have both said that the so-called national living wage does not make good what people will lose. Both those highly authoritative, independent organisations say it will only cover about a quarter of the loss that families will incur. On top of that are a lot of other factors. Difficulties relating to the introduction of universal credit are compounding the situation for people on low incomes.
For my constituency, all this shows that society is not addressing deprivation in the way it should. In the past five years, the indices of deprivation have indicated that in my constituency 5.9% more people are in the category of being deprived than they were five years ago. I ask the Chancellor to try to understand that it is not always about Tatton or Witney. The 20 most deprived constituencies—such as Nottingham North, Liverpool Walton, Birmingham Hodge Hill, Manchester Central and so on—are where our people live. That is where people need their representatives to stick up for them. That is where the free market politically does not work. Inviting people over for a weekend of shooting, riding or whatever—that is not where I live, and it is not the way our people will get the message over and have their voices heard. It is by sensible people, from all parties, putting the case forward.
Guto Bebb: In the spirit of cross-party co-operation, does the hon. Gentleman not accept that there are small businesses in constituencies such as mine, where we do not go shooting and are not involved in that type of behaviour, which appreciate that the Treasury is allowing them time to adapt to a new living wage? The concern we have about the tax credit issue is that the time allowed for small businesses to adapt was not necessarily made available to the recipients of tax credits.
Mr Allen: I hope the hon. Gentleman will forgive me. I was not trying to characterise all his constituents as people who hunt, shoot and fish; on the contrary.
We must work together and make our points collectively so that the Government will listen, which they should have been doing before. I represent places such as Bilborough, Aspley, Broxtowe, Bulwell, Basford and Bestwood. These are areas not known to anyone in the Chamber, but they are where real people live—every Member will have the same sorts of places in their constituencies—and they are the people who will be hit hard by these changes. It will not be about the little debate I had with my right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead earlier about the technical knowledge. Let us work together, put our shoulders to the wheel and make the best of a bad job.