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Harriett Baldwin winds up Budget debate

9th July 2015

Harriett Baldwin winds up a Parliamentary debate on the Summer Budget which puts the country’s security first - and ensures financial security for the record numbers of people in work.

The Economic Secretary to the Treasury (Harriett Baldwin): This has been a lively debate on a summer Budget that puts the country’s security first—economic security, national security and financial security for the record numbers of people in this country who are now working, including the 2 million who have joined the workforce since 2010. It is a Budget that continues to carry Britain toward a secure, prosperous future by backing the aspirations of working people at every stage of their lives.

For too long, we have been a low-wage, high-tax, high-welfare society—one that took money away from the poorest in taxes, then gave it back to them in the form of tax credits and welfare. In this Budget, we are changing that around. We are setting out to build a high-wage, low-tax, low-welfare economy: an economy in which work always pays and working more always pays more; an economy in which working households are supported through higher wages and lower taxes, not subsidised through a tax credits system that even Labour Members have described as simply not sustainable; an economy that gives 2.5 million people—those on the lowest pay today—a 10% direct pay rise and establishes a living wage that could, at this Parliament’s end, exceed £9 an hour.

Mr Betts: How does the hon. Lady deal with the comments from the IFS? Does she dismiss them, or is she saying that the IFS is absolutely wrong to say that, as a result of a small increase in their wages but a bigger cut in their tax credits, 3 million people will be £5,000 a year worse off? Does she disagree with that figure or, if she accepts it, how does she justify it?

Harriett Baldwin: The IFS figures do not include, for example, the full impact of the increased offer of free childcare. According to the Treasury figures, eight out of 10 working households will be better off as a result of the changes, acting in combination, by 2017.

As a country, we have 1% of the world’s population, we produce 4% of global GDP, and we are responsible for 7% of the world’s welfare payments. That is not right, it is not sustainable and it needs to be reformed. In introducing the reforms, we have set out four principles. The first is protecting the most vulnerable—that is fundamental. It is why we will honour our commitments to uprate the state pension according to the triple lock; we will neither means-test nor tax disability benefits—in fact, all disability benefits are exempt from the four-year freeze of working-age benefits—and we will increase funding for domestic abuse victims and for women’s refuge centres.

The second principle is to expect those who can work to look for work and to take work when it is offered, because work is the best route out of poverty. The third principle is to place the entire welfare system on an affordable and sustainable footing, fulfilling our commitment to run a budget surplus, because that is the best route to long-term economic security.

Edward Argar (Charnwood) (Con): Given the shadow Chancellor’s and Opposition Front Benchers’ unwillingness throughout the day to comment on Alistair Darling’s remarks, perhaps my hon. Friend will say whether she agrees with the former Labour Chancellor’s reported comments that the Labour party

“is in disarray”

and is

“paying the price of not having a credible economic policy.”

Does she agree with me that, judging by their performance yesterday and today, the search parties for that policy are still out and meeting with very little success?

Harriett Baldwin: My hon. Friend makes an extremely good point. Even when we announce elements of policies they were campaigning on only weeks ago, Labour Members seem to be unable to bring themselves to welcome the measures.

The Budget is not just about making changes to welfare; it is about ensuring that those who are in work do not face more difficult choices than those on benefits. Full-time benefits should never pay more than full-time work. Those are the principles underlying the welfare reforms. Over the next two years, eight out of 10 working households will have benefited from the measures announced in this Budget, such as our introduction of the national living wage. By 2020, a full-time worker on the national living wage should be earning over £5,200 more in cash terms. The tough decisions we are taking now will lead us into a more prosperous and more secure future.

We enjoyed five maiden speeches. My hon. Friend the Member for North Warwickshire (Craig Tracey) has a remarkable distinction that may be in the record books. He succeeded a colleague with a majority of 54 and took the majority up to nearly 3,000, which is a remarkable achievement.

I enjoyed the maiden speeches of the hon. Members for Bradford South (Judith Cummins) and for St Helens South and Whiston (Marie Rimmer). I understand that there is already a bit of a rivalry between them—they support different rugby league teams—which will be followed closely during their time representing those areas in Parliament.

We heard from Members from two beautiful areas of Scotland. The hon. Member for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk (Calum Kerr) spoke eloquently about the Scottish border country, which we all know is exceptionally beautiful. He speaks for his party on agriculture and rural issues. He succeeded the former Secretary of State for Scotland, the Liberal Democrat Michael Moore, and spoke eloquently about his lasting contribution in the form of the 0.7% commitment that he achieved through his private Member’s Bill. That was no mean feat, as I discovered early on in this place. The hon. Gentleman also received something you may have frowned on, Madam Deputy Speaker—a round of applause for his excellent delivery. I will say no more on that because he might get into trouble.

We also heard from the hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (Dr Monaghan). I have yet to visit his part of Scotland, but it sounds absolutely wonderful. After he had taught us about the history of the highland clearances, I was sorry that he could not welcome with greater fervour the significant increase in wages for people working in his constituency, which currently enjoys the lowest unemployment in its history.

A range of other issues were raised, and I will briefly go through some of the questions asked. Several Members made the point that the national living wage was different from the living wage calculated by other organisations. I can clarify that the methodology that has been followed is based on the work of Sir George Bain, who wrote the paper, “More than a Minimum”, for the Resolution Foundation. Labour Members carped on endlessly about the methodology, but none of them welcomed the fact that this represents a 10% pay rise for the lowest-paid 2.5 million working people in the UK.

Several Members raised student finance, and representatives of university towns paid particularly close attention to such points. The former Labour Chief Whip, the right hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne East (Mr Brown), probably remembers that a Labour Government abolished maintenance grants completely back in 1998. He probably had to do some deals in 2004, when maintenance grants made their reappearance. He is chuckling in his place about his memories of that time, so I am sure he had to make many arguments
about how wise the policy was when his Government implemented it. I want to emphasise that students from low-income households will not have to pay up front. Over the course of their lifetime, people who go to university will earn more—women who go to university will earn £250,000 more over their lifetime—and the cash they receive through their student loan will be more generous than it was before.

The hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Tom Elliott) and other Members asked about support for businesses. I can confirm that we will increase by 50% the amount that businesses can receive through the employment allowance. That will enable the small businesses that are the backbone of our economy to take on four people paid the national living wage. Effectively, it will be kept at the same level: employers will pay no national insurance for four people working full time on the national living wage. Employers will also benefit from my right hon. Friend the Chancellor’s announcement of a reduction in the corporation tax rate to 18% over this Parliament.

Several questions were asked about housing. I can reassure Opposition Members that there will be consultations on the housing changes, and a lot of exemptions in vulnerable cases.

In the brief time available, I conclude by saying that this is a Budget for the working people of Britain. It is a Budget that supports Britain’s working households not through state subsidies, but through lower taxes and higher wages.

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