Inequality and Social Mobility

– in the House of Commons am 4:25 pm ar 12 Mehefin 2019.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, Speaker of the House of Commons, Chair, Speaker's Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, Chair, Commons Reference Group on Representation and Inclusion Committee, Chair, Speaker's Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, Chair, Commons Reference Group on Representation and Inclusion Committee 4:25, 12 Mehefin 2019

We now come to the second Opposition day motion in the name of the Leader of the Opposition. To move the motion I call Margaret Greenwood. [Interruption.] Perhaps the House can calm itself. A number of Members are engaged in no doubt stimulating and public-interest focused discussions, but the said discussions could just as usefully take place outside the Chamber. No names, no pack drill, but I see a number of very senior denizens of the House thinking it proper to chatter away in the Chamber. I am sure they know, say I playing for time, that the courteous thing to do is to sit attentively, as exemplified by our young friend in the Public Gallery who is a model of good conduct and an example to all right hon. and hon. Members. We take our lead from that young citizen.

Photo of Margaret Greenwood Margaret Greenwood Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions 4:45, 12 Mehefin 2019

I beg to move,

That this House
notes the findings of the Institute for Fiscal Studies that the UK is second only to the US in terms of income inequality among the major world economies in Europe and North America, that the share of income going to the wealthiest one per cent of households has nearly tripled in the last four decades and that deaths from suicide and from drug and alcohol overdoses are rising among middle-aged people;
further notes that 1.6 million food parcels were handed out by Trussell Trust food banks last year and that child poverty has increased by 500,000 since 2010; recognises that following the resignation of the entire Social Mobility Commission in November 2017 in protest against the Government’s inaction and a near year-long delay in appointing replacements, the new Commission has found that social mobility has stagnated for four years;
considers that the Government’s programme of austerity has decimated social security and led to growing inequality of provision across education, health, social care and housing;
further considers that the Government’s austerity programme has caused and continues to cause suffering to millions of people;
and calls on the Government to end child poverty, to end the need for the use of food banks and to take urgent action to tackle rising inequality throughout the UK and increase investment in public services.

Levels of inequality in the UK are both shocking an unsustainable. The crisis in homelessness evident on our streets, the stark rise in food bank use and the millions of children growing up in poverty should sound alarm bells for this Government that something is deeply wrong. It should not have taken a debate in the House to get the Government to take note, yet sadly that is where we are today.

In December 2017, the chair of the Social Mobility Commission and all four board members, including a former Conservative Education Secretary, resigned over the lack of progress in tackling inequality. What an indictment of this Government’s social policy! It is the commission’s job to monitor progress towards improving social mobility in the UK and to promote social mobility in England. The chair, Lord Milburn, said in his resignation letter:

“Whole communities and parts of Britain are being left behind economically and hollowed out socially.”

He added that he saw little evidence of the Prime Minister’s rhetoric being translated into meaningful action. In 2018, the commission’s report confirmed that view, finding that social mobility had been stagnant for the past four years.

Photo of David Hanson David Hanson Llafur, Delyn

I thank my hon. Friend, with whom I share a constituency border, for giving way. Does she agree that one thing we do not need at this time to tackle social mobility is a tax cut for those earning between £50,000 and £80,000 a year?

Photo of Margaret Greenwood Margaret Greenwood Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

My right hon. Friend is absolutely spot on. I wholly agree.

Of course, it is not just the commission that is seriously concerned. In May, the Institute for Fiscal Studies launched a five-year study on equality, reflecting growing concern about the deep divisions within our society. In the same month, the final report by the UN special rapporteur for extreme poverty and human rights said that

“key elements of the post-war ‘Beveridge social contract’ are being overturned” and highlighted that

“British compassion has been replaced by a punitive, mean-spirited and often callous approach” by Government. The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions has attacked what she called “the extraordinary political nature” of the report and the Chancellor, too, has brushed aside the evidence that Professor Alston presented—as if none of it mattered; as if the devastated communities and the lives of people ground down by poverty are of no concern. What sort of a Government are they who fail to see that the impact of their policies on people’s lives is always political? And what sort of a Government are they who can have such disregard for the suffering of their people? One of Professor Alston’s conclusions was that the

“Government has remained determinedly in a state of denial” about the impact of its austerity policies. How right he is.

The next Labour Government will do things differently. Last Saturday, my colleague, the shadow Education Secretary, announced that Labour will create a new independent social justice commission to replace the current Social Mobility Commission. That is in line with the recommendation of the Education Committee, which called for a new commission to drive forward work across Government to tackle social injustice. We believe that social justice is the right goal to pursue, rather than social mobility. Social mobility focuses on how easy it is for individuals to escape poverty. That is, of course, important, but it does not address the wider issue of tackling the causes of poverty and inequality. Our goal has to be the delivery of a fair and just society.

The Government’s own figures tell a shocking story. In 2017-18, 14 million people in the UK were living in poverty, 1 million higher than in 2010; 2 million pensioners were in poverty, 400,000 up on 2010; and 4.1 million children were growing up in poverty, an increase of half a million since 2010. Of course the impact of child poverty can continue throughout life. Children in poverty are more likely to die suddenly in infancy, to suffer acute infections, and to experience mental ill-health. The disadvantage they suffer can affect their progress at school or in work. By the age of 11, only 46% of pupils entitled to free school meals reach the standards expected for reading, writing and maths, compared with 68% of all other pupils. Only 16% of pupils on free school meals pass at least two A-levels—less than half as many as all other pupils.

Photo of Stephanie Peacock Stephanie Peacock Llafur, Barnsley East

Only 9% of kids on free school meals in Barnsley go on to university. Does my hon. Friend share my view that that is absolutely outrageous and that we need such things as the education maintenance allowance back under a Labour Government to change that?

Photo of Margaret Greenwood Margaret Greenwood Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

My hon. Friend makes an absolutely crucial point and it is important that young people in Barnsley get the support that they need.

Photo of Philippa Whitford Philippa Whitford Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Health and Social Care)

The most shocking statistic that I have heard since I have been in this House was when we did an inquiry with the UK Faculty of Public Health, which said that 1,400 children a year under the age of 15 die as a direct result of poverty. If it was the roof of a high school, we would be doing something about it.

Photo of Margaret Greenwood Margaret Greenwood Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

The hon. Lady is absolutely right; she raises a shocking example and highlights the importance of this issue. We know that 4.1 million children growing up in poverty is leading to such disadvantage and we have talked about the mental ill health and the effects on children’s educational attainment.

Photo of Margaret Greenwood Margaret Greenwood Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

I will not give way any further, because a lot of people have put in to speak.

Even graduates who have been on free school meals earn 11% less than their peers five years after graduating. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation reported that 1.5 million were living in destitution in 2017, including—shockingly —365,000 children.

The last Labour Government understood the importance of tackling child poverty and set statutory targets for reducing it based on household income, with a co-ordinated strategy across Government that took 1.1 million children out of poverty. Despite that, the Government abolished those targets and only continued to publish figures for poverty at all after pressure from Labour and voluntary organisations. Will the Secretary of State assure us that the Government will wake up to the crisis in child poverty rather than wasting time by coming up with alternative criteria and trying to dispute the figures, as they have done so far?

We know from the Trussell Trust that Government policy has played a key role in the sharp rise in food bank use. In 2018-19, it distributed around 1.6 million emergency food parcels, of which nearly 600,000 went to children. Low incomes, delays in benefit payments and changes to benefits were the key reasons that people turned to the trust for help. It has made the link clear between universal credit and increased food bank use and it is campaigning, alongside other voluntary organisations such as Citizens Advice, for Government action to end the five-week wait for an initial universal credit payment. It is absolutely right to do so.

Photo of Margaret Greenwood Margaret Greenwood Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

As I explained, I am short of time so unfortunately, I am not going to give way.

Leaving people to wait for over a month without any income at all, when many may not have any savings, is simply callous, so will the Government end the five-week wait? The Joseph Rowntree Foundation has identified cuts to social security, low pay and high housing costs as key reasons for rises in poverty since 2011. It has said that the benefits freeze, which affects 14 million people on low incomes, is the single biggest driver of rising poverty levels. By the time the freeze is due to end in April next year, the JRF estimates that it will have increased the number of people in poverty by 400,000, but of course, the cuts to social security did not begin or end with the benefits freeze alone. By 2020-21, the Government will be spending £36 billion less each year on working-age social security than they did in 2010.

Photo of Margaret Greenwood Margaret Greenwood Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

Apologies—I am short of time so I will not.

That lower spending includes a cut of £5 billion in support specifically for disabled people. The Institute for Fiscal Studies identified the two-child limit as a key reason for the increase in child poverty to a predicted 5.2 million by 2021-22. The Government must wake up to that reality and understand that as a country, we have no option: child poverty must end.

When we consider social justice and disabled people, the picture is bleak. A report by the Social Metrics Commission shows that nearly half the 14 million people in poverty live in families with a disabled person, yet the basic disabled child element in universal credit is worth less than half that in child tax credits and there are no disability premiums. The equivalent support under universal credit for people who receive severe disability premium is around £180 a month lower than under legacy benefits.

Research by Scope demonstrates the inequality in living standards that disabled people face, driven by the additional costs that they face for essential goods and services. Social security support should ensure that disabled people can meet these costs, and participate as fully as possible in wider society.

The Secretary of State said in a speech in March that she recognised that disabled people often feel on trial when claiming social security, yet she simply proposed merging personal independence payment and employment and support allowance assessments. The MS Society has likened that to

“harnessing two donkeys to a farm cart and expecting it to transform into a race chariot.”

Will she commit to scrapping the existing system of assessments, and replace it with a supportive environment that responds to people’s needs?

The Government repeatedly say that work is the best route out of poverty, yet this is not borne out by the statistics. About two thirds of people living in poverty live in a working household. The UK is second only to the United States in income inequality among the major world economies in Europe and North America. An IFS study in May found that average chief executive officer pay among FTSE 100 companies in the UK in 2017 was a staggering 145 times higher than the average salary of the worker, up from 47 times higher in 1998. This points to a huge social injustice. It cannot be right that those at the top earn so much more than the vast majority of working people.

All too many people are trapped in low-paid, insecure work, unable to pay the bills. In 2018, in-work poverty increased faster than employment, and 4 million workers were in poverty, a rise of over 500,000 over five years. About 840,000 people are on zero-hour contracts in this country, and women and young people in particular are more likely to be in insecure work. Research by the TUC shows that only 12% of people on zero-hour contracts get sick pay, while 43% do not get holiday pay, and they have average hourly pay over £4 lower than those not on zero-hour contracts, yet this Government still refuse to ban zero-hour contracts.

To make matters worse, under this Government employment support is based around the punitive sanctions regime, despite the fact that there is no evidence it leads to people finding work that lasts and lifts them out of poverty. Shockingly, over 1 million sanctions have been imposed on disabled people since 2010, but there has been little progress in closing the disability employment gap, which is currently at 30%. Are we meant to believe that disabled people deserve this treatment? Clearly, disabled people are being punished by this Government, rather than supported. Young people are more at risk of being sanctioned, but again there is a real question mark over the effectiveness of the employment support they are being offered through the youth obligation.

I now turn to the high cost of housing. It has long been assumed that younger generations coming through would do better than their parents, but that is no longer the case. Millennials are half as likely to own their own home by the age of 30 as baby boomers, and the Office for National Statistics has estimated that about a third of young adults were living with their parents in 2017. How can they forge their own futures and start families of their own in these circumstances?

This Government have decimated the provision of social rented homes. Since 2010, the number of new social rented homes has fallen by over 80%, and the number of people in the private rented sector has increased by over 1 million households. The evidence of a crisis in housing is all around us. Rough sleeping has more than doubled since 2010, and over 120,000 children are recorded as homeless in temporary accommodation. What kind of a start in life is that?

Research has shown that greater equality has a positive impact on wellbeing for all, yet in the UK we see widening inequality and lack of social justice having a devastating impact on individuals, families and communities. We see a failure of this Government to tackle the most serious social problems that successive Labour governments have sought to address—poverty, homelessness, disadvantage and destitution. This Government’s austerity programme has decimated social security and led to inequality of provision across education, health, social care and housing.

There can be no excuses. We on these Benches call on the Government to end child poverty, invest in social housing and public services, and take urgent action to tackle rising inequality and the suffering of millions.

Photo of Amber Rudd Amber Rudd The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions 4:58, 12 Mehefin 2019

I am grateful to the Opposition for giving me the opportunity, on behalf of the Government, to talk about our commitment to reducing inequality and to improving social mobility.

I know I came into this House to help people improve their lives. In my experience, so did every single Member of Parliament sitting across this House. We do that every weekend in our surgeries in our constituencies, and we do that on whichever side of the House we sit—addressing different policies and trying to use the levers we have and the financial stability that we hope to have to improve the quality of people’s lives—because supporting social mobility, fighting poverty and giving people a chance is not distributed along party lines. That is why I always want to hear from colleagues who are fighting to improve people’s lives, from the vision of my right hon. Friend Mr Duncan Smith, who introduced universal credit, to the tireless work of Frank Field in championing the most vulnerable in society.

Photo of Rushanara Ali Rushanara Ali Llafur, Bethnal Green and Bow

When she came to office, the Secretary of State rightly delayed the two-child policy limit along with the universal credit roll-out, and she deserves credit for that. Does she agree that she should scrap that limit altogether to prevent millions of children from being forced into poverty? That would be one way in which she could honour the commitments that she is making today to tackle child poverty.

Photo of Amber Rudd Amber Rudd The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

The hon. Lady must bear in mind the context in which some of those welfare reforms were made. The Government came to office in 2010, in the midst of an economic crisis. Reforms were needed, and if we had not made those reforms, the consequences for the national economy could have been so destabilising that they might have reduced the funds that are now available for us to spend on social security.

Photo of James Cartlidge James Cartlidge Ceidwadwyr, South Suffolk

What we also inherited was a welfare system in which dependency had been spread right across the income scales. What I encountered as an SME owner was employees deliberately stating that they did not want to work more than 16 hours a week because the system penalised them so heavily for having the aspiration to do so.

Photo of Amber Rudd Amber Rudd The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. When people express concerns about universal credit, as they do sometimes, I often remind them of what it replaced: six different systems, two different places, annual assessments, and tax credits that were often incorrect. Our present system is about ensuring that there is real-time information, so that it is accurate.

Several hon. Members:


Photo of Amber Rudd Amber Rudd The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

If Members will forgive me, I shall make some progress, and then I will take some more interventions.

Let me talk for a moment about the Government’s record. Margaret Greenwood went on at some length about that, so let me make some points to her in reply. I will begin with our record on employment. We have helped more than 3.6 million people to enter work, we have reduced unemployment to its lowest level since the 1970s, we have supported nearly 1 million more disabled people into work, and women’s employment is now at record levels.

Those jobs are not just in London or the south-east; more than 60% of the employment growth since 2010 has taken place in other parts of the UK. Nor—I can already hear the suggestions coming at me from the Opposition Front Bench—are they just part-time and temporary jobs. The jobs that make up this increase are overwhelmingly full-time, permanent roles, giving people the dignity and security of a regular pay packet. Behind every employment statistic is a person or family whose mental health, wellbeing and life chances are improved by participation in the workforce. This increased employment means that 660,000 fewer children are growing up in workless households, which makes them less likely to grow up in poverty.

Photo of Stephen Timms Stephen Timms Llafur, East Ham

The Secretary of State will know that the number of food parcels distributed by Trussell Trust food banks increased by 19% last year. Does she recognise the close link between the growth of that problem and the roll-out, with its current flaws, of universal credit?

Photo of Amber Rudd Amber Rudd The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

I know that the right hon. Gentleman has been very engaged in this subject. He will be aware that there are many reasons why people turn to food banks. There were some issues with the early roll-out of universal credit in terms of the timeliness of the payment. That has been corrected, and between 85% and 87% of recipients are now paid on time, which compares favourably with the previous legacy system.

Let me now talk for a few minutes about income inequality. Since coming to office, we have lifted 400,000 people out of absolute poverty. Another key fact that I can give in response to the Opposition motion is that household income inequality is lower now than it was in 2010. However, that is not enough for us; we need to build and do better.

Our safety net is one of the strongest in the world. We deliver the fourth most generous level of welfare support in the OECD. In this financial year, total welfare spending will be more than £220 billion[This section has been corrected on 15 July 2019, column 5MC — read correction]. As has been acknowledged by the Institute for Fiscal Studies, thanks to the benefits system overall income inequality has remained stable, even as earnings have increased for the most well paid. That is because we have what the IFS has described as a highly redistributive tax and welfare system. We have deliberately taken action, through the tax system, to ensure that income inequality is reduced.

Photo of Ged Killen Ged Killen Labour/Co-operative, Rutherglen and Hamilton West

In my constituency, we have one of the top 100 least deprived postcode areas and just two miles down the road one of the top 100 most deprived postcode areas, where child poverty is heading towards 30%. What does the Secretary of State have to say to people living in that area, just two miles down the road from one of the least deprived areas, about income inequality?

Photo of Amber Rudd Amber Rudd The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

I say to the hon. Gentleman that we recognise that there is more to do. I expect that those two areas have had the same differential for a long time, but this Government want to do more to narrow that and I will come on to some other proposals and examples of what we have put in place to try to improve that.

Photo of John Redwood John Redwood Ceidwadwyr, Wokingham

Will the Secretary of State confirm that there was a very sharp fall in real incomes at the end of Labour’s period in office, and the good news is that we are now above that old level and rising? Rising real incomes is the way to get people out of poverty.

Photo of Amber Rudd Amber Rudd The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. It is now over a year that monthly increases in wages have exceeded inflation. That is the best way to get people out of poverty.

Several hon. Members:


Photo of Amber Rudd Amber Rudd The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

I will make a little more progress and then take some more interventions.

I was referring to the information from the IFS that the hon. Member for Wirral West cited. It went on to say that household incomes are now more evenly distributed than 25 years ago. However, improving opportunities for those on the lowest incomes will always be a priority for a one nation Conservative Government.

Photo of Sarah Jones Sarah Jones Shadow Minister (Housing, Communities and Local Government) (Housing)

About 1.3 million children living in poverty in this country at present are in the private rented sector. Many of them would be lifted out of poverty if we had more council housing, which is far cheaper to live in. Does the Secretary of State agree that we need council building again and to build more homes that are more affordable, so we can lift those children out of poverty?

Photo of Amber Rudd Amber Rudd The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

I certainly agree with the hon. Lady that we need to do more to provide more housing for people on low incomes, and this Government are committed to ensuring that we do build more houses, that we make more available and that we make more houses available at prices within the local housing allowance, which has also been a challenge.

Photo of Jim McMahon Jim McMahon Shadow Minister (Housing, Communities and Local Government) (Devolution)

Is not the truth, however, that as well as the pound that people have in their pockets being worth less now than before, the social and economic contract of this country has been completely smashed apart? The idea that if you roll up your sleeves and work hard you can get on in life and have a better life for you and your children is no longer true for millions of people in this country.

Photo of Amber Rudd Amber Rudd The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

The hon. Gentleman paints a very bleak picture but the facts that came out on Tuesday demonstrated that monthly incomes are rising faster than inflation. There are jobs being made available and inequality has started falling since 2010.

Photo of John Woodcock John Woodcock Annibynnol, Barrow and Furness

The Secretary of State is being generous in giving way. Does she agree that, if the Government are sincere in wanting to accelerate progress in reducing poverty, it would be madness to advocate a tax priority of cutting income tax for those earning more than £50,000 a year? She must oppose that.

Photo of Amber Rudd Amber Rudd The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

The tax cuts by this Government that I am most proud of are those that have taken the lowest paid out of tax altogether. Thirty million people have received a tax cut under this Government. We brought forward the threshold, which is now at £12,500, a year early in order to make that point and so that people on the lowest incomes do not pay tax at all.

Photo of Amber Rudd Amber Rudd The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

I am going to make some more progress.

Let me set out how this Government are supporting social mobility and helping people to improve their lot. We know that social mobility support has the greatest potential at the earliest time in life. That is why we introduced 15 hours of free childcare for disadvantaged two-year-olds. This is on top of the 15 hours of free childcare offer for all three and four-year-olds, which we doubled to 30 hours for working parents. This is more provision of childcare than at any time under Labour.

We are investing in our world-class education system. Core funding for schools and high-needs education has risen from almost £41 billion in 2017-18 to £43.5 billion this year. Since 2010, the proportion of children in good or outstanding schools has risen from 66% to 85% in December 2018.

Photo of Jim Cunningham Jim Cunningham Llafur, Coventry South

We talk about help for childcare but, in actual fact, local authorities and childcare facility people are only getting £5 for every child, which is less than the cost. Surely the Secretary of State has to do something about that. Earlier, she mentioned the fact that wages were increasing, and they are, but they are increasing from a lower base because we have had 10 years of wage stagnation in this country. That has to be taken into account.

Photo of Amber Rudd Amber Rudd The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

I gently remind the hon. Gentleman that we came in in 2010 to an economic crisis, and the fact that we have seen an increase in people’s wages over inflation in every month for the past 13 months is something that we should celebrate. The fact that we now provide 85% of assistance for people who need it for their childcare costs, compared with the 70% they received previously, should help people to access the work that they want and the support for childcare that they need.

We are also overhauling technical education, with investment of an extra £500 million a year once T-levels are fully rolled out. The UK has a long history of providing world-class university education. We have four of the 10 top universities in the world, more women than ever before are studying STEM—science, technology, engineering and maths—subjects at university, and disadvantaged 18-year-olds are now entering full-time universities at record rates.

For most people, full-time work is the best route out of poverty, so it is vital that we help welfare claimants to find jobs, to progress and to work. That is why the Government designed universal credit, which removes the legacy system’s disincentives to entering employment by ensuring that work always pays more than being on benefits.

Once fully rolled out, universal credit will cost £2.1 billion more per year than the system it replaced.

Photo of Ruth Cadbury Ruth Cadbury Llafur, Brentford and Isleworth

The Secretary of State talks about rising wages and full-time work, but is she aware just how many families depend on zero-hours, inconsistent and unsociable hours work while their costs, including rent and council tax, are rising? They are having to find childcare out of normal hours and they cannot make ends meet. Those people’s incomes are not improving, given all the other costs that they face.

Photo of Amber Rudd Amber Rudd The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

The amount of people on zero-hours contracts has started to fall. This Government are always going to respond to the changing labour market and to regulate to ensure that it works for people. It was this Government who made sure that no zero-hours contract employer could say that someone could have only one contract. We legislated against that, so that people could have more independence on zero-hours contracts.

The benefits of universal credit are that, because of the real-time information, people are given the correct support once they interact with their work coach and with their page, so I hope that they will see the benefit of that. We have built a welfare system fit for the 21st century that not only supports people in need but provides a springboard into work. Every extra hour worked is rewarded, and tailored work coach support helps claimants to find the right job for their circumstances.

Photo of Amber Rudd Amber Rudd The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

Not just now.

I have heard success stories from people across the country who have been supported into their dream jobs through the hard work of my colleagues in jobcentres. I sometimes think that Opposition Members underestimate the great work that the work coaches do. When I go round and talk to them, they take very personally the assistance that they can give to individual members in hon. Members’ constituencies, the way they can signpost them to the additional help they can provide and the personal support that they give them. When I asked one of them recently what aspect of universal credit they would change, they replied, “Our reputation.” So many people talk down universal credit, but the person-to-person work that is done in the jobcentres is actually very sympathetic and constructive. We continue to roll out universal credit, and it will provide additional opportunities to people who access it. That is why the Joseph Rowntree Foundation has reported that universal credit is likely to help an extra 300,000 members of working families out of poverty, the majority of whom include someone who works part time.

I recognise that my Department, working with colleagues across Government, must continue to open up new opportunities for workers as the labour market responds to automation and new forms of work, so we will face the challenges of a changing labour market head-on and continue to support everyone to thrive in work while of course providing support for those who cannot work. Indeed, under universal credit, 1 million disabled people will receive approximately £100 more per month than they did under the legacy system.

Photo of Marsha de Cordova Marsha de Cordova Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions) (Disabled People)

I thank the Secretary of State for giving way. She has mentioned disabled people and the fact that 1 million are better off, but does she agree that the abolition of the severe disability premium meant that a number of disabled people were left worse off? It was left to the courts to make a judgment stating that those disabled people were wrongly treated. Will she now commit to separating out the managed migration regulations to ensure that disabled people who lost out on the severe disability premium have their money back paid immediately?

Photo of Amber Rudd Amber Rudd The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

The hon. Lady raises a good point. We are considering how best to respond, ensuring that we put the interests of the clients first. I also point out that we are spending £2 billion more on disabled people than was spent under the legacy system.[This section has been corrected on 18 June 2019, column 3MC — read correction]

I will now say a few words, if I may, about health. Everyone in this House is proud of our health service. The Commonwealth Fund ranks the NHS as the best healthcare system globally. Our long-term plan for the NHS commits to tackle health inequalities, and we will target a higher share of funding towards areas with high health inequalities—worth over £1 billion by 2023-24.

Photo of Graham Stringer Graham Stringer Llafur, Blackley and Broughton

Professor Dame Sally Davies, the chief medical officer, drew attention in her most recent report to the fact that there has been no change in health inequalities, both regionally and by class, since the Black report was published in 1980. To go back to the right hon. Lady’s first point, that implicates all political parties over nearly 40 years for not having dealt with those inequalities. What does she think can be done about it?

Photo of Amber Rudd Amber Rudd The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

Characteristically, the hon. Gentleman raises an important point. We know that different headwinds are at play here, and we know that social media is, in some respects, having a negative impact on health inequalities. My right hon. Friend the Health Secretary recently met with social media companies to see what can be done to control the harmful websites that are, for instance, part of the reason why we believe people may be committing suicide. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary recently commissioned Dame Carol Black to review drug usage. Different things are going on here, but I reassure the hon. Gentleman that we are alive to wanting to improve health inequalities in this area, and we recognise that there is more to do.

We will set specific, measurable goals for narrowing discrepancies in health outcomes, and all local health systems will be expected to set out how they will reduce them in their area. That will ensure that we continue to provide world-class healthcare free at the point of use not just for this generation, but for generations to follow. As part of our long-term funding for the NHS, a five-year budget settlement will see funding grow by an average of 3.4% in real terms, because it is vital that anyone who suffers illness or cannot work knows that we stand ready to support them at times of need.

Photo of Amber Rudd Amber Rudd The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

I want to make some more progress.

We continue to look for ways to help people out of poverty, which is why we have acted to increase the incomes of the poorest in society. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor has injected an extra £10 billion into universal credit since 2016, and that meant we could increase the universal credit work allowance by £1,000 in April, providing extra cash in the pockets of hard-working people in 2.4 million households.

Photo of Neil Gray Neil Gray Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Work and Pensions)

While we all accept that the Government have taken some steps—I pay tribute to the Secretary of State for making some changes to universal credit since she has taken office—does she accept that the interventions from the Chancellor at the last Budget do not even make up for the cuts in the 2015 Budget?

Photo of Amber Rudd Amber Rudd The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

The hon. Gentleman must acknowledge, as I said earlier, that we took on an economic crisis in 2010 that required some reduction in spending, and those changes allowed us to stabilise and grow the economy. There has now been an acknowledgment that some of that money can be put back, and I am pleased that the Chancellor was able to support us in doing that.

This Government introduced the national living wage, providing the biggest pay rise for workers in 20 years, and increased it this year to £8.21 an hour, and we have also increased the personal tax allowance to £12,500. We are acting to increase female employment and economic empowerment, reaching out to marginalised women and trying to eliminate the gender pay gap. We are spending billions to ensure that opportunity and growth are spread throughout the country through our stronger towns fund and our transport investments, but we will not stop there. We have committed to finding new and better ways to analyse and tackle poverty in this country.

The Social Metrics Commission’s “A new measure of poverty for the UK” report, which the hon. Member for Wirral West mentioned, makes a compelling case for why we should look at poverty more broadly to give a more detailed picture of who is poor, their experience of poverty and their future chances of remaining in poverty or falling into it. We are working with the commission and other experts in the field to develop new experimental statistics to measure poverty, which will be published in 2020 and, in the long run, could help us to target support more effectively. It is vital that we have evidence on the effects of poverty in order to tackle it, and in the run-up to the spending review we will examine what more can be done to address poverty, particularly child poverty, and to support social mobility.

Photo of Danielle Rowley Danielle Rowley Llafur, Midlothian

I am interested in hearing more about how the Secretary of State, or her Department, plans to measure social mobility and poverty because often it is based on income, rather than wellbeing. Constituents who come to my surgeries week after week are fed up of hearing from the Government in the media that poverty is going down and employment is going up when they are in such desperate situations and are seeing no more money. They are going to food banks and having a terrible time. All they hear about is all the success the Government are having and it does not reflect their lives. So how will the Department reflect people’s lives in reality more accurately?

Photo of Amber Rudd Amber Rudd The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

I know there are people who have difficulties, and I listen to people in my Hastings constituency. I try to make sure that we respond as a Government, and I try to help them individually, but the Government cannot just base policy on anecdotes. We also have to look at the statistics and there are many different ways of doing that.

The hon. Member for Wirral West may quote relative or absolute statistics, but it is important to have an agreed basis so that we know we are measuring the same thing. That is why I have said we will look at the Social Metrics Commission’s “A new measure of poverty for the UK” report, of which she may approve because it looks not just at people’s income but at their actual spending. That makes a huge difference to people on low incomes. I urge her to look at the report.

Photo of Jim McMahon Jim McMahon Shadow Minister (Housing, Communities and Local Government) (Devolution)

I appreciate the Secretary of State’s generosity in allowing an intervention again. In that spirit, is the Department having cross-departmental conversations on the impact of other taxation? VAT, the most regressive indirect taxation, and council tax, the most regressive direct taxation, take 8% of a lower-income family’s income. Surely there should be such conversations across Government.

Photo of Amber Rudd Amber Rudd The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

We always have conversations across Government. I work very closely with my colleagues across Government to ensure that we devise the best policies to help everybody on low incomes. Those people need our support.

Supporting those on the lowest incomes and making sure that people’s life chances are not determined by their background or gender is at the heart of a one nation Conservative Government. For as long as we lead this country, we will always put social mobility at the centre of what we do and prioritise those most in need of financial support.

We believe that good government can empower people with a hand up, not just a handout, to get a good education, enter work and earn a decent wage. We have sought to keep taxes as low as possible, particularly for those on low and middle incomes, so that these people can keep more of the money they work hard for. We are not complacent about the challenges faced by the lowest earners in this country, which is why they are entitled to free childcare earlier in their child’s life than anyone else. Our increased national living wage and work allowances ensure that, once people are in work, they now earn more than ever.

It is the Government who are improving the situation for families across Britain. I urge all colleagues to reject the motion.

Photo of Neil Gray Neil Gray Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Work and Pensions) 5:23, 12 Mehefin 2019

I am grateful for the opportunity to take part in this important debate, and I thank the Opposition for moving the motion.

The IFS’s recent report, “Inequalities in the twenty-first century”, which partly prompted today’s motion and debate, states:

“Too often the debate takes place in silos, focusing on just one type of inequality, a specific alleged cause or a specific proposed solution.”

Indeed, looking back at debates in this House over the past few years—when we had the time to divert our attention from the Government’s Brexit shambles—there have been many discussions on issues such as changes to housing benefit, scrapping student nurse bursaries, freezing working-age benefits, the impact of the state pension changes on women born in the 1950s, income tax changes that disproportionately benefit those on the highest incomes, and universal credit, which in itself covers a plethora of issues that could be the focus of this debate—the two-child limit, the five-week wait or the cuts to disability premiums. Although Members can argue back and forth, as they have done and will again, about the merits and demerits of these individual policies and others, what connects these disparate issues is a sense that the UK Government’s priorities are not geared to tackling inequality across these isles. The Secretary of State is right to say that we all came into politics to improve the lives of others, but we differ on the route to improving people’s lives. The evidence shows that the Government are not tackling burning injustices; they are fanning the flames with petrol.

This debate was originally scheduled for 22 May, which would have been apt as that was also the day when Philip Alston, the UN rapporteur on extreme poverty, released his final report on the impact of austerity and human rights in the UK. If anything, however, having the debate today makes it even timelier, given that the UK Government’s denial and abnegation of the report’s findings have been almost as concerning as the report itself. We must remember what Mr Alston actually said:

“The bottom line is that much of the glue that has held British society together since the Second World War has been deliberately removed and replaced with a harsh and uncaring ethos.”

It seems clear that, collated together, the issues I mentioned earlier, and others, have contributed to some of the stark reading contained in the rapporteur’s report. I hoped that, given the time that has now passed in which to reflect on Mr Alston’s findings, the Minister or the Government would offer a clearer outline of what the Government intend to do about the concerns raised, today or in the near future. Sadly, that has not been offered.

We contrast what we hear in the report about the UK Government’s issues with Mr Alston’s conclusions about the devolved Administrations. He said:

“Devolved administrations have tried to mitigate the worst impacts of austerity, despite experiencing significant reductions in block grant funding and constitutional limits on their ability to raise revenue. Scotland and Northern Ireland each report spending some £125 million per year to protect people from the worst impacts of austerity and, unlike the United Kingdom Government, the three devolved administrations all provide welfare funds for emergencies and hardships.

But mitigation comes at a price, and is not sustainable. The Scottish Government said it had reached the limit of what it can afford to mitigate, because every pound spent on offsetting cuts means reducing vital services.”

Those are Mr Alston’s conclusions.

So many factors can directly and indirectly determine a person’s life chances, including family income, status and health. Although Governments cannot override or entirely supersede all these factors, they can and must try to put in place measures that at the very least do not widen or exacerbate them. Unfortunately, the UK Government’s record in the areas that can determine this appears to show that many of their measures would appear to do just that. Page 6 of the IFS report shows that there has been a sharp rise in the incomes of the highest earners, with the incomes going to the top 1%—the richest in this country—now being 8% of the total incomes, which represents an increase from 3% in 1970. The average pay for a chief executive officer in a FTSE 100 company is now 145 times higher than that of the average worker in those same companies—increasing from 47 times higher in 1998—while household earnings have stagnated at the bottom end of the income distribution. After adjusting for inflation, the lowest earning households today can earn little more than their counterparts did in the mid-1990s.

No one policy can end inequality or progress social mobility, which is why it is essential that all these areas—taxation, income distribution, social security, education, childcare and other policy areas—are looked at collectively and cognisance is taken of how interconnected and crucial a role they play in ensuring that future generations are more equal.

I wish, therefore, to focus on education, social security and tax changes, and policies directly about or impacting the state pension, as I believe that it is only by ensuring that those starting out have the opportunity to achieve all they can, that those who find themselves falling behind have a safety net that they can rely on and that those who have worked hard and contributed to the system throughout their lives are duly rewarded can we address inequality and stagnant social mobility.

Education is clearly key to tackling poverty, which is why the Scottish National party in government has made closing the attainment gap it’s absolutely priority. This has led to recent statistics showing a record high for school leavers going to positive destinations. For those who have chosen the destination of higher education, there are free tuition fees, which the Social Mobility CommissionState of the Nation” report acknowledges have

“Contributed to the increased number of disadvantaged people attending university.”

However, for those who have chosen instead to enter the world of work straight from school, the UK Government’s age-discrimination policies in respect of national living wage entitlement make life more difficult, as many find themselves doing the same job as their colleagues but for far less pay.

The Scottish Government’s “Every child, every chance: tackling child poverty delivery plan” contains a detailed and ambitious plan for reducing child poverty rates, and places education at the forefront of this effort by addressing some of the issues that directly and indirectly affect a child’s chances of getting the best start in life, through initiatives such as a new minimum school clothing grant payment to help low-income families to have more money for school uniforms and £1 million of new practical support for children who experience food insecurity during the school holidays. The Social Mobility Commission acknowledges that these plans are made more difficult in Scotland due to “UK-wide benefit changes”. It is to some of those changes that I shall now turn.

The 2015 Budget announced some of the most punitive cuts to social security in recent memory. We are now starting to see those cuts actively reverse previous reductions in child poverty. The Budget saw the removal of the ESA work-related activity group and the cuts to universal credit work allowances, and the introduction of the two-child policy and a harsher benefit cap, as well as the benefits freeze. The freezing of benefits has made it almost impossible for those already struggling the most to focus on long-term advancements and improvements in their job prospects, their life chances, or their family’s wellbeing. Instead, they have to focus on month-to-month survival, with no certainty about whether they will have enough for the bare essentials.

Photo of Alison Thewliss Alison Thewliss Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Treasury), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

My hon. Friend is making a good point. Does he agree with the Church of England analysis that a single parent with three children who works 16 hours at the Government’s pretendy living wage would now need to work 45 hours just to make up the cuts from the two-child cap?

Photo of Neil Gray Neil Gray Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Work and Pensions)

I absolutely agree, and that is clearly impossible. Policies such as the two-child limit, on which my hon. Friend has been a doughty campaigner—she has led the campaign against that pernicious policy—affect the life chances of all members of the family. For the parents, it may mean increased focus only on finding the bare essentials, which for the children means less money and less time for sports, travelling, holidays, extracurricular activities and other factors that play an often unacknowledged or underplayed role in equipping children with the skills and experiences that will prove useful later in life. Often, the focus in these debates is solely on the income side of the equation, and less attention is given to those extracurricular activities and the often-ignored life-chances elements, but it is worth noting that the Child Poverty Action Group’s most recent report said that the removal of the two-child limit or the benefit freeze would be the best way to stop any increased rises in child poverty.

Housing costs have become the biggest worry for many up and down these isles, which is why the Scottish Government have embarked on an ambitious programme of council house building. Since 2007, some 86,000 affordable homes have been built and 59,000 homes have been built for social rent, and they are on course to reach their target of 50,000 in the lifetime of this Holyrood Parliament. The Scottish Government have also ensured that discretionary housing payments are available for those impacted by the bedroom tax and that the housing element of universal credit can be paid direct to the landlord. Although that is beneficial for those who choose that option, one problem I have been made aware of from recent casework is that when the landlord is the local authority, the Department for Work and Pensions takes no cognisance of when the rent is due to the council, meaning that housing payments are often made after the rent was due, leading to constituents being threatened with eviction proceedings by the landlord. I have raised that issue previously and hope that Ministers will look into it.

If we look at those approaching retirement age, or who are already there, we see that the Government’s recent announcement of changes to pension credit entitlement mean that some couples could lose out on up to £7,000 a year, because if one partner is under 65 they will have to claim universal credit instead. The longest running issue in this policy area, and on which the Government have shown little sign of wishing to help, is that of women born in the 1950s and the delays and changes, with little or no notice, to their pension entitlement. The issue has been debated many times in the Chamber already, and I do not wish to go over that ground in any great detail, but such policies mean that inequality is being exacerbated for people at a time of their life when they are least able or likely to be able to rely on work or education to assist them. I hope that we will have a chance to discuss Mr Alston’s report in more detail, but it would have been remiss of me not to highlight some of the aspects I have raised today.

Photo of Vicky Ford Vicky Ford Ceidwadwyr, Chelmsford

On the Alston report, the UN special rapporteur spent exactly 11 days in the UK. Is that enough to get a clear picture of our country?

Photo of Neil Gray Neil Gray Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Work and Pensions)

I think it is; Mr Alston’s report was comprehensive and spoke to the issues that we see in our surgeries daily. I invite the hon. Lady to Glasgow, where Mr Alston spent much of his time, and to which he dedicated much of his report, to see the impact of the problems I mentioned.

Photo of Amber Rudd Amber Rudd The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

Mr Alston, of course, spent two days in Scotland, to follow up on the point made by my hon. Friend Vicky Ford. I refer Neil Gray to the leader in The Times of 25 May, which said,

“The failings of Mr Alston’s report are legion.”

It referred to his report as “nonsense”, and said,

“The government is vulnerable to many criticisms in economic and welfare policy”—

A point that the hon. Gentleman often throws at me—

“Yet poverty in this sense does not exist in Britain in the 21st century.”

I urge him to get a copy and read it later.

Photo of Neil Gray Neil Gray Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Work and Pensions)

The Secretary of State needs to look at the report and realise why Mr Alston was able to come to his conclusions on the evidence that he found during his visit to this country, rather than doing what she and her colleagues have done up to now: report personal attacks against a UN rapporteur who visited this country to draw conclusions about poverty and human rights.

Photo of Chris Stephens Chris Stephens Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Fair Work and Employment)

I thank my hon. Friend for being most generous in giving way. Would he be surprised to hear that this morning, in the Select Committee on Work and Pensions, a Minister stated that the Department’s policy is now that it regrets the inflammatory language in its response to the rapporteur’s report, and is taking that report seriously?

Photo of Neil Gray Neil Gray Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Work and Pensions)

I would be very interested to see the transcript, because that directly contradicts what the Secretary of State just did to me in her intervention. I would be very interested to see what was said in more detail.

There is no doubt but that the Institute for Fiscal Studies has blown a rather wide hole in the Tory rhetoric around inequality in the United Kingdom. Its report can be complemented by so many others—from the Trussell Trust, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and the Child Poverty Action Group, to name just a few of the expert charities highlighting how the UK Government’s policies are impoverishing people across the UK. That is why we support the motion. I hope that the Government will finally wake up to the social destruction that they are causing, will act, and will no longer take their path of austerity.

Several hon. Members:


Photo of Rosie Winterton Rosie Winterton Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Order. As colleagues will see, a good number of them wish to speak in the debate, and there is a further debate after it, so I am imposing a six-minute time limit, of which I was able to warn Members.

Photo of Justine Greening Justine Greening Ceidwadwyr, Putney 5:37, 12 Mehefin 2019

The debate seems to pose a false choice to the House. We do not have to choose between a Britain with social justice and a Britain with social mobility, and the Leader of the Opposition is fundamentally wrong-headed to suggest that we do. It is disgraceful that a modern Labour party has sought to ditch the objective of our country achieving social mobility. Yes, people absolutely want a route out of poverty, but they also want a route up. There is no point in getting them out of poverty if, when they find the ladder to an improved life, they cannot climb up it.

I want to talk a little about how we can bring real system change to our country, and how we can have more thoughtful solutions, instead of the politicisation of opportunity that I fear the Labour party is about to attempt. Social mobility has characterised my life. It is absolutely vital that this country makes the best use of its most important resource—its people. I care about that so much that I walked away from Cabinet to focus, in my time as an MP, on my community, and on driving and campaigning on this issue more broadly across our country.

The Opposition are patently wrong to attempt to portray social mobility as a narrow term that is about a gifted few making it to the top. That simply misunderstands any well-known or conventional definition of “social mobility”. Social mobility is about achieving equality for all and the system change—in our Government, politics and communities, and in corporate Britain—to facilitate that, with the underlying view that we will only do our best as a country when we unlock the talents of all our people, not just some.

I understand that Labour might want to criticise some policies, which is of course the practice of politics, but it is fundamentally wrong—I absolutely object to this—that in doing so the Opposition seek to ditch the entire objective of tackling weak social mobility in our country. That is plain wrong and fundamentally anti-aspiration. The Labour party led by Jeremy Corbyn is simply engaged in prioritising class warfare over aspiration. That is absolutely wrong.

Photo of Stewart McDonald Stewart McDonald Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Defence)

When the right hon. Lady was a Minister in the Conservative Government—a Cabinet Minister no less—why did they seek to close half the jobcentres in Glasgow, which would have reduced social mobility? The only one that we were able to save, by the way, was in my constituency, in Castlemilk, and that was four miles from the alternative jobcentre. How did that help aspiration at that point?

Photo of Justine Greening Justine Greening Ceidwadwyr, Putney

The hon. Gentleman falls into the trap that many of us in this Chamber do: he focuses on inputs, but I want to focus on outcomes. The employment outcome for people is that unemployment has fallen dramatically. When we came into government, youth unemployment had risen by nearly 50%. Having the dignity of work and the opportunity to live a productive life are surely at the heart of how we have a socially just as well as a socially mobile Britain.

We need an evidence-driven systemic approach to get long-term change, and we need to shift away from this incessant debate about day-to-day policies. Yes, we need a welfare system that protects the vulnerable—of course we need a welfare system to provide a ladder out—but the challenges that Britain faces are manifold times more complex than that and need to be addressed in the round.

This House needs to understand that the solutions to unlocking social mobility do not lie only in this House or happen only through Whitehall. If throwing money at the problem had been the way to tackle it, when we came into office in 2010 unemployment would not have already risen dramatically, and schools would have already closed the attainment gap. In reality, however, the attainment gap has started to close since 2010, not before.

Labour needs to walk the talk, but its student fees proposal—scrapping tuition fees—is one of the most regressive redistributions of taxpayers’ money that I have seen proposed by any party in a long time. It would directly channel money to some of the young people in our country who have the best prospects ahead of them and are likely to have had the best starts. I find it bewildering that a Labour party that talks about social justice can think that that is somehow a step in the right direction.

This Government took crucial steps to improve technical education, after years and years of a lack of strategy—frankly, from any previous Government. People want real change on the ground—system change. That is why the Social Mobility Pledge, which I set up, now works with hundreds of companies to improve, I hope, opportunity for millions of young people over time. Communities therefore need to be more involved in opportunity areas—again, that is system change genuinely to improve lives on the ground. I had the privilege of meeting the Bradford Opportunity Area team last week. They were quite keen, of course, to see this Government support the work that is going on there beyond 2020.

It is important that our politics changes. If this House cannot work together on long-term policy change and focus on what it has consensus on—if it is simply arguing about where the divisions lie—we should not be surprised if we have not collectively managed to deliver social mobility for this country.

Photo of Emma Hardy Emma Hardy Llafur, Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle 5:45, 12 Mehefin 2019

In thinking about the best way to present my argument in this debate, I decided on the idea of doing a “compare and contrast” by talking about someone who matters significantly to me—in fact, one of the people who has had the greatest influence on my life. I would like to take a bit of time to tell you about my grandma—my nan—who on Saturday turned 90 years old. She is an incredible woman who benefited from the radical changes that the 1945 Labour Government brought about. She is a proud Labour supporter. In fact, family legend has it that her father helped to form the Labour party in the very beginning. She used to tell me stories about going around knocking on her neighbours’ doors for, as she put it, “the Labour”, to collect their subs—the money for their membership.

My nan benefited from having a secure house. She was moved into council housing when the new towns were being built. She told me how the family moved in with orange boxes because they did not have any money for furniture, and that is what they used until they were able to buy some. When I was younger, she gave me the best advice ever on how to deal with double-glazing salesman—“If they ring you up or knock on your door, Emma, tell ’em you’re from the council and there’s no point bothering until they go down the council office.” That is great advice if you ever get anyone trying to sell you anything on the phone. She benefited from secure jobs. She believed in education. My mum went off to higher education, which was free and she got a grant to do it. She went on to become a teacher, and met my dad. That is how I have ended up with a southern grandmother and a northern grandmother, and my mum becoming an honorary northerner and moving up to Hull.

Shortly after my mum had moved out, my nan became a single parent when her husband left her. She ended up living on benefits and raising more than two children—a situation, had it happened right now, she would be penalised for, because she had five children, not only two. But she did not live in poverty at that time, even though she was on benefits, and she still worked. She worked as a school dinner lady and as a cleaner. She worked on assembly lines in a factory, and as a sales assistant as well. All the time, she was able, through the benefits system and the safety net that was there, to bring up her children and not to live in poverty at the same time, despite earning what would now constitute the minimum wage.

All my aunts and uncles—my mum is one of five—have gone on to become successful. They have nine grandchildren, and I think we are on about eight great-grandchildren already—the family is growing. They have all gone on to become successful individuals. They were not rich, but they were not poor either. When my nan suffered from cancer and had to have an operation to recover from it, the operation left her disabled, but she did not face a PIP assessment—a work capability test. The doctor’s note was enough to say that she was not well enough to work and that she therefore had to take early retirement. Again, she did not live in poverty. She was treated with respect; she was not humiliated. She benefited from community education when she found herself—obviously, after having cancer and becoming disabled—on her own a bit. She used to go to the community education centre and did beautiful watercolours. She used to go to see her friends down there and was able to socialise, all for free, all provided by the state. She was a second world war survivor and she is still surviving now. She is still opinionated and she is still brilliant. She will still argue with anyone who knocks on the door if they are not from the Labour party.

The promise that the state gave my nan and her generation—“You work hard, and when you need it we’ll look after you”—was kept. That promise is now broken. Every single one of us in this place underestimates at our peril the way that this is breaking down the fabric of our society, and the deep unrest that is out there. We can see it in the rise of populism and the far right across Europe, as people move away from centre parties because we are no longer giving them the answers that we used to.

I ask each and every one of us here to give back that promise to people like my nan who work hard and to whom, then, through no fault of their own, things happen—life happens—and they need help from the state. I want to give back that promise and say, “When you need that, here you go.” In return, my nan has raised five kids, with nine grandchildren, eight great-grandchildren and more on the way. We will all be there to celebrate her 90th birthday.

In my final minute, I would like to thank my nana and every other nana out there who instils in their children, their grandchildren and their great-grandchildren those values and respect for the elderly. I want to promise every nana out there and my nana that, for as long as I am here, I will fight with the Labour party for a Labour Government who give people like my nana the respect and dignity that everybody deserves.

Photo of Gillian Keegan Gillian Keegan Ceidwadwyr, Chichester 5:50, 12 Mehefin 2019

I believe that every Member in this place—on both sides of the House, in every party—came here wanting to reduce inequality and boost social mobility. At the most basic level, there will always be inequality. There is no controlling where we are born, which country we open our eyes in and under what circumstances. Some people start with opportunity, but many do not. As politicians, it is our job to create a society where there are opportunities at every stage of life for as many people as possible. By doing so, we will not only help individuals but stop wasting the potential in our country.

All my friends who I grew up with back in Liverpool had just as much potential as those I have met at the top of business, and now in politics, yet many of them were denied opportunity. In my experience, education and training are the key to unlocking that potential. I grew up in Huyton near Liverpool in the ’80s. My grandad was a miner. My nan—who sounds very much like the grandmother of Emma Hardy—worked in a biscuit factory, and my other nan was a dinner lady. My mum and dad grew up in council houses. I went to the local—unfortunately failing—comprehensive school, which I left aged 16, as there was nowhere in the whole borough to do A-levels. Opportunity came for me in the form of an apprenticeship in a car factory. Little did I know at the time that that first step on the ladder was a brilliant opportunity that would launch my subsequent 30-year business career.

Even before a child is born, inequality exists. According to the Social Mobility Commission, by the age of five, 48% of children who are on free school meals achieve poor levels of attainment compared with those from better off-families. That does not have to be the case. Chichester Nursery in my constituency is excellent at supporting children who come from disadvantaged backgrounds. The maintained nursery has a children and family centre that works with the families. When I visited, I was blown away by the diversity of activities on offer, all aiming to develop both physical and mental agility, such as woodwork, cookery and computer technology.

School is a crucial time for those looking to improve their life chances, and children must have access to a good-quality education, so I am pleased that since 2010 there are now 1.9 million more children in good or outstanding schools. I did not get that opportunity, but I am glad that many more do today. Chichester exceeds the national average for attainment at key stage 4 and A-level, as a result of the hard work and dedication of teachers all the way from early years to secondary school. Even when schools are performing well, we can all think of examples when, for one reason or another, education gets disrupted. That can be because of bullying, illness or bereavement. Sometimes people miss out on their first chance, and we need to create a network of chances, so that people can always get a second and third shot.

University often provides an opportunity for people to become more socially mobile. Today there are more people from disadvantaged backgrounds going to university than ever before. None of my friends or I got that opportunity, but many of their children do. Chichester University is a great example. It works incredibly hard to be an attractive option for people who do not know anyone who has been to university and do not come from that background—people like me, if I had got that chance. It offers all kinds of courses and gives people advice and guidance, to prepare them for a smooth transition to university. It is doing a fantastic job.

Apprenticeships are another brilliant way to develop relevant skills. They are really needed for the workplace, because they allow people to implement, the very next day, in a practical environment what they learned in the classroom. They also ensure that whatever someone studies is relevant to the workplace, which is a problem in the university sector. The Government have an excellent record of developing and promoting apprenticeships. My focus, as an apprentice ambassador and co-chair of the all-party parliamentary group on apprenticeships, is to make sure that we build on that, that the programmes we offer are of the highest quality, and that people can go on up the qualification levels.

This year I have been very lucky to have an intern, Hillary Juma, from Mr Speaker’s internship programme, which opens up Parliament to people from disadvantaged backgrounds. During her time with me, Hillary explained that most people who live on her council estate are often in lower paid, lower skilled jobs, but there is no shortage of aspiration. She said that her experience on the scheme has opened doors for her and I am delighted that she is now off to work in the civil service. Hillary told me that anyone from her estate who makes it gets called “a star in the hood”, and I know that she is well on the way to becoming one. Hillary will be a future role model for others from her estate, and that is so important in encouraging social mobility.

Social mobility is about giving people chances in life. It is much better if that is done earlier in life, but if for some reason the opportunity has been missed, it is never too late to improve life opportunities and learn new skills in an ever-changing world. We as a Government must make sure that the opportunities we develop through apprenticeships and further education are properly funded and available all the way through a person’s life, so that we can all fulfil our potential.

Photo of Judith Cummins Judith Cummins Shadow Minister (International Trade) 5:56, 12 Mehefin 2019

It is a pleasure to follow my friend Gillian Keegan. My constituency ranks bottom—533rd out of 533 of all English constituencies—for school-age social mobility. Put simply, anyone growing up in Bradford South has far fewer opportunities than someone growing up in a wealthier area. Rather than just talking about social mobility in a narrow sense, I want to look more closely at how opportunity is distributed in this country. I believe that it is a structural problem that requires a structural response.

Ultimately, the key to improving life chances for everyone is to redistribute opportunity more equally. At the moment, some people and some places have more opportunities than others—opportunities to go to an outstanding school, to get into the best universities, to access high-paying jobs. This must change.

In the short time I have, I want to focus on three areas: first, how we can empower schools to improve life chances; secondly, the role and future of the Government’s opportunity areas scheme, particularly in Bradford; and finally, the vital role that further education has to play in redistributing opportunity.

I would like to start, as other hon. Members have, by commending the Social Mobility Commission for its excellent recent “State of the Nation” report, which breaks down in forensic detail the scale of the problem we face. I was pleased to attend a meeting between the APPG on social mobility, chaired by my hon. Friend Justin Madders, and the commission. The commission rightly points out that schools are an essential vehicle for social mobility. In fact, I would go as far as to say that schools are the essential vehicle for social mobility. Good schools, as many of us know, can turn a child’s life around and open up opportunities they never had before.

We need to empower schools to do more to improve social justice. Of course, this is partly about funding. Education cuts do not fall on children equally. We know that cuts to support staff, after-school activities and targeted interventions impact disproportionately on disadvantaged children. I am concerned about the number of children who arrive at my primary schools with severely delayed speech and language skills. Headteachers across my constituency have raised that issue with me, and I recently met the children’s communication charity, I CAN, to discuss solutions. I CAN has developed a 10-week programme aimed at four, five and six-year-olds to deliver a language boost, and it is targeted at disadvantaged children. In the current funding climate, schools will struggle to fund such vital schemes.

I now turn to the opportunity areas programme, the Government’s place-based social mobility programme, which is targeted at 12 social mobility cold spots, including Bradford. In Bradford, the scheme is focused on improving the quality of teaching, improving literacy and oracy, and widening access to good jobs. While it is too soon to evaluate properly the success of the Bradford opportunity area, I would like to make a few points. We need clearer information about where the money is being spent. I am concerned that it does not always reach the communities, including those I represent, that need it most. If such schemes are to be successful, they must be open and accountable, including to Members of Parliament, and run over at least five years, with early and regular evaluation so that we can see their real impact.

The Government should also expand cross-departmental working in opportunity areas to include the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and the Department for Work and Pensions. Finally, we need clarity, which I hope the Minister can provide today, about whether the Government intend to continue with the opportunity areas programme beyond 2020. People in my constituency deserve a clear answer on that.

Further education colleges take on an increasing proportion of our disadvantaged young people for their post-16 education, at a time when they face severe funding shortfalls. Those Government funding cuts, coupled with an historical debt, has led Bradford College, my local college, to propose making over 130 redundancies in a workforce of around 850. That cannot be right. The Government must increase per-student funding for 16-19 education, reintroduce the education maintenance allowance and consider a student premium for disadvantaged students in FE.

A child growing up in Bradford South should have as many life chances and opportunities as a child from the wealthiest parts of the country. It cannot be acceptable that some children are born more equal than others. That will not be solved by any one policy alone. We need a wholesale response to bring about structural change to redistribute opportunity.

Photo of Vicky Ford Vicky Ford Ceidwadwyr, Chelmsford 6:01, 12 Mehefin 2019

I was not going to speak in today’s debate, but I thought I should because I am getting frustrated by some of the rewriting of history and the pretence that somehow there was a world of milk and honey under the last Labour Government. I will make a few brief points and tell a few brief stories.

In 2005, I was taking a break from work. I had three small children and I chaired the community pre-school, which was a lifeline for many working families in my local community. One day, one of the best members of staff came to see me in tears. Her partner had left her and she had to give up her job, which she loved, because she could not afford to work anymore—she was better off on benefits. The Labour Government did not give people opportunities, but trapped them on benefits. I also remember, during the 2005 general election campaign, mums coming to see me, again in tears, because they had been massively overpaid working tax credits by an incompetent Government that could not manage a benefits system. They were asked for that money back, which drove them into debt and desperation.

I remember the last Labour Government’s legacy. We were left with a crash. When an economy crashes, it is young people who suffer. A million 18 to 25-year-olds were not in employment, education or training. That was the Labour legacy for young people: a million of them left on the dust heap without opportunity.

Look at the position now. Unemployment among young people has halved. More women are in work than ever before. Real wages are rising and there is more money in people’s pockets because we have taken more people out of paying tax and given more people the ability to drive their cars and get to work without extra petrol taxes. People have £6,000 more in their pockets, and Labour voted against that.

Yes, there is more to do. I want to do more about the gender pay gap, but thank goodness—and thanks to my right hon. Friend Justine Greening—we have gender pay reporting so we know how big the gap is.

I also want to do more for people with disabilities. Please, Secretary of State, may we have video recordings of PIP assessments? I am really concerned about that—we must have those recordings.

I would like to do more for women in their 50s and 60s. Secretary of State, just a personal story: on my way into work this morning I had, for the first time, the experience of a hot flush. Men—thank goodness you do not menopause. We need to do more for women in their 50s and 60s, because the skills we need today are not going to be the skills we need tomorrow. We are living in a digital revolution. We are living in the fourth industrial revolution. The lives our children will be facing will be very different from the ones we have experienced. The jobs that people are doing right now will not be the same jobs that they will be doing in five and 10 years’ time. So let us not hark back to a history that did not actually exist, but look forward to the future.

Photo of Preet Kaur Gill Preet Kaur Gill Shadow Minister (International Development) 6:05, 12 Mehefin 2019

Almost three years ago, the Prime Minister stood on the steps of Downing Street and told us that she would fight a number of burning injustices. After almost three years, let us see how she has done.

The Prime Minister told us that if you are born poor, you will die on average nine years earlier than others. Last year, researchers from Imperial College found that children from lower socio-economic backgrounds are two-and-a-half times more likely to die before they reach adulthood than their peers from affluent families. We know that the Government are not addressing these inequalities. The Fabian Society found that the Government now provide more support through benefits and tax reliefs to the richest fifth of non-retired households than to the poorest fifth. The IFS estimated that more than 5 million will be living in poverty by 2022.

The Prime Minister told us that you are black, you are treated more harshly by the criminal justice system than if you are white. In 2017-18, there were three stop and searches for every 1,000 white people, compared with 29 stop and searches for every 1,000 black people, and black people were over three times as likely to be arrested as white people.

The Prime Minister said that if you are a white working class boy, you are less likely than anybody else in Britain to go to university. The Higher Education Statistics Agency data show that the number of white boys attending university fell by almost 8,000 between 2014-15 and 2017-18. Earlier this year, a National Education Opportunities Network report found that more than half of England’s universities have fewer than 5% of white students in their intakes from a lower socio-economic background. As well as raising tuition fees as part of their coalition with the Liberal Democrats, since 2010, the Government have decided to provide more financial support for the richest 20% of households than the poorest 20%, according to research by the Fabian Society.

The Prime Minister told us that if you are at a state school, you are less likely to reach the top professions than if you are educated privately. Only about 6% of the UK’s school population attend private schools and the families accessing private education are highly concentrated among the affluent, but those who did attend make up 51% of leading journalists, 74% of judges, almost 30% of Members of Parliament and 70% of the current Conservative leadership candidates. Attainment earlier on in life is also unequal. In 2018, the proportion of private school students achieving A*s and As at A-level was 48%, compared with a national average of 26%, while at GCSEs at A or grade seven or above, the respective figures were 63% and 23%.

The Prime Minister told us that if you are a woman, you will earn less than a man. In the Cabinet Office, where the Government Equalities Office sits, there is a reported pay gap of 10.7% in favour of men. That is a higher gender pay gap than the public administration sector average, but it is not alone among Government Departments: in the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy the gap is at 14%, in the Department for Exiting the European Union it is 14.5%, and in the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport it is 22.9%. In 2019, the BBC found that fewer than half the UK’s biggest employers have narrowed their gender pay gap.

The Prime Minister told us that if you suffer from mental health problems, there is not enough help to hand. A Public Accounts Committee report from earlier this year found that children and young people are being turned away from NHS services because their condition is not considered severe enough to warrant access to overstretched services. This is due to the lack of trained mental health professionals. There are only 4.5 psychiatrists per 100,000 young people. Even those with serious mental health problems are being turned away because Britain has one of the lowest numbers of hospital beds in Europe for young people struggling with such problems.

The Prime Minister told us that if you are young, you will find it harder than ever before to own your own home. Wages have not kept pace with property costs. The IFS found that about 40% of young adults cannot afford to buy one of the cheapest homes in their area even with a 10% deposit. Meanwhile, 1.7 million private rented households are paying more than a third of their income in rent, making it harder than ever to save. To make matters worse, an estimated 150,000 homes for social rent have been lost between 2013 and 2018 because of the Government’s failure to address a broken housing system.

These are all things that Mrs May told us that she would address, in her first statement as Prime Minister, yet almost three years later, it is clear to me that she has failed to achieve her mission. Instead she has supported the powerful, prioritised the wealthy and entrenched the advantages of the fortunate few. I hope that the next Prime Minister will do more than just talk about injustices and actually match policy to rhetoric.

Photo of Jo Platt Jo Platt Shadow Minister (Cabinet Office) 6:10, 12 Mehefin 2019

It is an honour to follow my hon. Friend Preet Kaur Gill. To give everyone the opportunity to succeed, we need to tackle the injustices that hold people back. Poverty and inequality hold far too many people back in my constituency and are the No. 1 issue that they face. Our current system exposes the systematic imbalances and inequalities across society and the country. It dictates the life chances of people, often based purely on their postcode or their parents’ experiences, and it entrenches a sense that, regardless of someone’s aspiration and through no fault of their own, their talents can be limited. Ultimately, if someone’s destiny in life is predetermined, if their ambition and hard work do not pay off and if the town that they call home is not providing them with the first rung on the ladder to success, surely they will conclude that this is not a country, society or economy working for them. Far too many people in Leigh are now being brought up believing exactly that.

I am hugely privileged to represent such a proud town and constituency. The resilience that the people demonstrate astounds me, but there is only so much that people can take. What is so heartbreaking is that Leigh was once the heart of the industrial revolution and the soul of the country. The mills provided not only employment, but community. Our economy and industry were at the foundation of our society and represented the glue that held the fabric of our society together. The success of our towns was everyone’s success. The closure of our mills, factories, pits and rail connectivity was therefore felt not just economically but socially. As the promise of a community that worked for everybody died, the glue that once held our community closely together began to dissolve.

Thatcher’s Britain sowed the seeds of social fragmentation, but it was not until the austerity of the Tory-Lib Dem Government that the fertile ground was provided for the issues that we face today. Austerity pitted community against community and town against town, all scrapping for a drip of investment while the Government mercilessly cut the funding and investment tap. Although Leigh is not unique in facing these challenges, last year the statistics confirmed what many of us locally already knew: as a constituency, we are at a particular disadvantage. Thanks to the House of Commons Library, we know that Leigh ranks in the lowest 7% of English constituencies for social mobility. We in Leigh also know that this is not because of any lack of ambition, determination or effort, but because our proud town has been given a sore deal. We have been let down.

We are without not only the core industrial or economic base, but the means to rebuild our economy, reskill our workforce or renew our community. Because of underinvestment by the Government, their austerity agenda and their inability to invest in place-based schemes that provide communities with the resources to build within their areas, the people of Leigh are left believing that their proud hometown will no longer provide the opportunities that they deserve.

As we have seen, however, tackling social mobility alone is no longer going to cut it. We know that children’s life chances are determined at birth. Children from low-income families are more likely to fall behind in education, have poorer health and leave school with few or no qualifications. Without tackling the issue of poverty, we will never be able to provide opportunity for all. Social justice provides not only the means, but the opportunity. This is not about a select number of children being given a chance, but about access and justice for all. Social justice and social mobility must go hand in hand.

In this time of incredible division for our country, only a radical plan to reshape our country will heal those divisions and bring people back together. We must build Britain inclusively—sharing prosperity and opportunity across the country, and utilising the incredible assets of our post-industrial northern towns as the natural home for the economics of the future to flourish in. We know there are no quick, simple answers and that is why the Opposition have the detailed, costed plans to tackle our social mobility crisis by rebuilding Britain and restoring faith in a society that should be working for every town across the country.

Several hon. Members:


Photo of Eleanor Laing Eleanor Laing Deputy Speaker (First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Order. I am afraid that I have to reduce the time limit to five minutes, with apologies to Marsha De Cordova.

Photo of Marsha de Cordova Marsha de Cordova Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions) (Disabled People) 6:15, 12 Mehefin 2019

It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend Jo Platt.

This Government have talked up social mobility, but their record is woeful. Last month, the UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty compared Tory austerity policies to the creation of 19th-century workhouses. He described cuts as leading to the

“systematic immiseration of a significant part of the British population”, with

“punitive, mean-spirited, and often callous” austerity policies causing what he called a

“social calamity and an economic disaster”.

This is truly a damning indictment, and it joins many international bodies in slamming the Government for their treatment of society’s most oppressed and marginalised. A recent Human Rights Watch report said that “cruel and harmful” Government policies are responsible for increasing the number of children going without adequate food.

We are used to hearing about such things happening in poor and exploited countries, but not in the fifth richest country on earth. However, this is the consequence of nine years of Tory austerity. It is what happens when we slash social security spending for some our most vulnerable, public services are starved of much-needed funding and wages are frozen. Many Members from across the House, or perhaps just on the Opposition side of the House, come across many such instances in their constituency surgeries—from families crammed into unsuitable, overcrowded and poor housing to disabled people being denied social security. We see it in food banks handing out record numbers of food parcels—1.6 million last year, with more than 500,000 for children. That is shameful.

At the same time as the assault on the living standards of the poorest, the Government have handed out over £110 billion in tax cuts to some of the wealthiest. The 1,000 richest individuals in this country now hold record wealth: £771 billion in total, up nearly £50 billion in the last year alone. This is a shameful record, and it is the Government’s legacy—record numbers of billionaires alongside record numbers of food banks.

The hardest hit are disabled people, members of the black and Asian community, and women. Let there be no doubt but that these stark inequalities shape life chances. Young people who are born black and working class in my constituency will face struggles that are very different from those of the wealthiest. They may be living in poor housing: it might be overcrowded, and the conditions will be poor. Their parents are likely to be working multiple and low-paid jobs. Their school will be struggling with funding, and their teachers will be overworked. Those who are poor growing up in my constituency know that going to college or university is a route for them to secure a better future, but what has happened? The Government have cut the education maintenance allowance and trebled tuition fees. They face barriers that some of the wealthiest do not face. That is the reality for so many of our young people.

This is what happens when the country is run in the interests of the most wealthy, not to benefit the many. We can fund our public services, build good social housing, build a social security system, and create secure and well-paid jobs. We can tackle inequality. Labour believes that the best way to give everyone a fair chance to succeed is to tackle the underlying structures of inequality. That is how we achieve real social justice, and that is how we achieve equality for all.

Photo of Debbie Abrahams Debbie Abrahams Llafur, Oldham East and Saddleworth 6:20, 12 Mehefin 2019

I am afraid that the Government’s record on inequalities, across the piece, is absolutely woeful. I was particularly concerned by some of the data mentioned by the Secretary of State.

Last month, on the 49th anniversary of the Equal Pay Act 1970, the Equality Trust published more data showing pay inequalities. It analysed the average pay of chief executives and other workers, gender pay gaps and gender bonus gaps in FTSE 100 companies. That followed the report, in February, of an increase in income inequality according to the Gini coefficient, a standard measure. Who could forget “Fat Cat Friday” in January, which exposed the fact that top executives were earning 133 times more than their average worker? In 1998, the ratio was 47.

My hon. Friend Margaret Greenwood was absolutely right to draw attention to the impact of austerity and the Government’s choices—and they are choices: poverty and inequality are politically determined—to ensure that their tax and spending plans harm the poorest most. That is not just my view. A report from the Equality and Human Rights Commission has shown that the poorest tenth of households will lose, on average, 10% of their income by 2022, which is equivalent to £1 in every £8. There have been similar findings from the Institute for Fiscal Studies and other organisations.

However, it is not just a question of income inequalities. Wealth inequalities are also prevalent and have worsened in this country. The richest 1,000 people in the UK have wealth estimated at £724 billion, which is more than the wealth of the poorest 40%, at £567 billion. That privileged 1,000 saw their income increase by £66 billion in one year alone and by £255 billion over the last five years.

Photo of Matt Rodda Matt Rodda Shadow Minister (Transport) (Buses)

Does my hon. Friend agree that, at a time of widening inequality and huge gaps between those who have advantages in life and those who do not, it is deeply and utterly irresponsible for a leading politician to promise tax cuts to the very wealthy while lacking any consideration for those in much more challenging circumstances?

Photo of Debbie Abrahams Debbie Abrahams Llafur, Oldham East and Saddleworth

I could not agree more. In fact, I think that a stock question to all who aspire to be the leader of this country should be “How are you going to tackle the inequalities that our country faces?”

The impact of these inequalities on life expectancy, which is now stalling after decades of growth, has not gone unnoticed. Among women, the gap is the largest since the 1920s, and for older women—as we have heard from other Members today—life expectancy is actually reversing. What has been the Government’s response? To increase the state pension age. People’s lives are becoming shorter, but they will have to work for longer to receive their pensions. The gap in life expectancy between the rich and the poor is 10 years for men and seven a half years for women, and that applies to healthy life expectancy as well.

The analysis shows that, while life expectancy is slowing down in the United States and some European countries, the slowdown is worst in the United Kingdom. This is not a developed country phenomenon: life expectancy is increasing in Denmark, Norway and other Scandinavian countries. The stalling in life expectancy has been picked up by the actuaries, who have estimated that there could be a 15% reduction in pension deficits—equivalent to £310 billion.

None of this is new. Seminal works such as “The Spirit Level”, published 10 years ago, showed that in societies and communities in which the gaps between the rich and poor are narrow, life expectancy, educational attainment, social mobility, trust and more increase. In addition, more equal societies see economic benefits, as described by the International Monetary Fund in 2015. Fairer, more equal societies benefit everyone.

Wilkinson and Pickett’s most recent work, “The Inner Level”, examined how more equal societies reduce stress and improve everyone’s wellbeing, unpicking the evidence of the pathophysiological pathways and mechanisms through which inequalities act to affect our health and wellbeing, physical, mental, emotional and more. Our health and longevity depend on how and where we are able to live, which in turn depends on our financial means. But on top of this, there is an independent and universal effect that reflects positions in our hierarchy: our “class”, status and relative power. The impacts of inequalities in power—political, practical and personal—are worthy of greater exploration and analysis and I hope that the Deaton review will pick up on that.

Photo of Paul Sweeney Paul Sweeney Shadow Minister (Scotland) 6:25, 12 Mehefin 2019

It is a pleasure to follow so many other considered and thoughtful contributions on the complex issue of inequalities and structural poverty in this country.

While the impacts of the Tory party’s austerity agenda over the last decade are well documented and have been well discussed, there is a broader issue to be considered, particularly when looking at a city such as Glasgow: the economic geography of the city. Madam Deputy Speaker, you are no stranger to the city of Glasgow. I was brought up in a part of the city called Milton. I was speaking about Milton just yesterday to David Begg, who was involved recently in undertaking a study into connectivity around Glasgow and how the transport system could better join up the city and make improvements on equality. We were talking about Milton and how cut off it is from the city. That got me on to thinking about the story of how I uttered my first word.

My first word was, oddly, someone’s name, “Brian”. I was always curious about why my first word might be Brian, and it was the name on the fruit and veg van that used to go around the housing scheme of Milton. There was no grocery shop in Milton at that time as the housing scheme was built in the post-war period as a way to relieve slum housing conditions in the city and overcrowding, but many of the amenities were never built properly and the legacy of that persisted. That speaks in many ways to the broader issues of structural poverty and inequality in Glasgow.

Research based on the historical development of Glasgow, particularly in the post-war period, suggests that Glaswegians’ higher risk of premature death was caused by that structural inequality created through the planning system. Some researchers have labelled this the “Glasgow effect”: excess mortality that cannot be accounted for by poverty and deprivation alone. It impacts on everyone in the city.

Glaswegians have a 30% higher risk of dying before they are 65—which is considered a premature death— than people in comparable deindustrialised cities such as Liverpool and Manchester. They die from the big killers—cancer, heart disease and strokes—as well as the “despair diseases” of drugs, alcohol and suicide. Although they have a higher chance of dying prematurely in Glasgow, if they are poor, deaths across all ages and social classes are 15% greater. So it is clear that economic advancement alone and mobility will not improve overall life expectancy.

The mystery of the Glasgow effect has been studied for many years. Recent research by the Glasgow Centre for Population Health has shed new light on the situation. In explaining excess mortality, it confirmed that in many cases the combination of the historical effects of overcrowding, poor planning decisions in previous decades and a democratic deficit in local communities is among the reasons that drive premature deaths in Glasgow.

The issue of what was described by one researcher as “skimming the cream” of the city’s population to rehouse its best citizens in new towns is particularly striking. The research is based on Scottish Office documents. It discovered that towns such as Cumbernauld, East Kilbride and Irvine were populated by Glasgow’s skilled workforce and young families, while the city was left with

“the old, the very poor and the almost unemployable,” which severely harmed the city’s tax base and distorted the population of the city region as a whole.

Clearly this legacy needs to be addressed in the city of Glasgow through repopulation, re-densifying and increasing the diversity of incomes and social class into the city to address that structural effect and improve social mobility. This is a long-term strategy. It needs to be gripped at all levels of Government to address these long-term structural problems.

The issues in my constituency are clear. Although efforts were made, with great intentions, to improve social housing in the cities, such as the construction of Red Road in Sighthill, the impact of Thatcherite policies in the 1980s led to slum conditions emerging in those areas, particularly when drug dealers moved in, problems with antisocial behaviour and despair were apparent and the housing quality was reduced. Efforts have been made to improve those situations, most notably in 2003 with the writing off of the City of Glasgow’s £1 billion social housing debt, which has allowed an unprecedented expansion and renovation of the city’s housing stock, but there is still a structural problem with that issue in Glasgow. In Springburn, 91% of the population still live within 500 metres of vacant and derelict land.

I welcome Labour’s social justice commission proposal because it will delve into the structural and complex factors that drive structural inequality and social mobility issues in cities such as Glasgow. There needs to be much more research into, for example, understanding the comparative differences between Glasgow and other deindustrialized cities in Britain to understand what can be done, particularly when looking at the role of the physical environment as a component of deprivation. That is a major issue, and that is something the Government and the Opposition should consider as they consider solving this problem.

Photo of Siobhain McDonagh Siobhain McDonagh Llafur, Mitcham and Morden 6:30, 12 Mehefin 2019

It is a delight to follow the really thoughtful speech of my hon. Friend Mr Sweeney.

I do not believe that there is a parent who does not want the best for their child, and I do not believe that there is a teacher or a school that does not want the best for their pupils. I do not even believe that there is a politician or party that does not want every child to get as far as their hard work takes them. Why, then, in the 21st century and the fifth largest economy in the world are the life chances of our children still determined by the economic status of their parents? The statistical reality is that social mobility has remained virtually stagnant since 2014, and for children born into a family at the bottom of the income distribution, it will take five generations for them to move up to the average income.

These are the roots of social mobility, and they start from birth, leaving an attainment gap that will be lifelong. If we track the route of a disadvantaged child, we see that by age three, they are already four and a half months behind their better-off peers. By age eleven, they are 10 months behind, with less than half of poor children deemed secondary school-ready. By GCSE, they are 18 months behind. If they were not secondary school-ready, they had just a 10% chance of getting five good GCSEs, and by A-level, just 16% of those on free school meals attain at least two A-levels, compared with 39% of all other pupils. The anomaly is the Harris Federation, which is the only large school chain where children on free school meals outperform every other group of children in every other school.

Given those figures, the importance of the early years for a disadvantaged child could not be clearer. Why then do the early years workforce face a skills gap, low pay and poor career progression? Why are a staggering 45% of childcare workers surviving on in-work benefits, and why has the Department for Education not committed to funding the national schools breakfast programme beyond March next year, despite the clear evidence that children achieve an average of two months’ additional academic progress in reading and maths over the course of one year alone when breakfast is provided?

Given the scale of this issue, I am afraid I disagree with those on my Front Bench on abolishing key stage 1 and 2 SATs. How can we ever close the gap if we do not know how many children are behind? There has to be a way of measuring progress and of ensuring standards. I understand the argument that SATs can be stressful, but when a teacher at St Mark’s Primary School in my constituency asked her year 6 class to write down what was stressful in their lives, they wrote about their housing and living conditions, their fear of knife crime and their fear that their scarf-covered mother would be attacked in the street. It is the real-life problems that are going unaddressed by this Conservative Government that worry them, not the tests that they are sitting.

The evidence for the Government is clear. We know that poorer children do better in good schools, but we also know that they are 19 times more likely to go to a bad school. So why would the Government try to encourage all schools to become academies? Labour’s successful academy programme just changed failing schools. Now a staggering 53,000 pupils are attending zombie academies—academies that failed their tests. I recently received a letter from Jonathan Duff, acting director in the office of the regional schools commissioner for the south-east of England, who said that a transfer to another trust is not mandatory when an academy is judged inadequate. Could it be that many failed academies are in such debt that no new sponsor will take them on without a bail-out from the Department for Education? These poor children are the innocent victims of this Government’s policy. When summing up, or in writing, will the Minister say how many failed academies are in debt and how many schools and, more importantly, poor children are being left in limbo simply because the Government are not willing to pay the bill?

Photo of Mohammad Yasin Mohammad Yasin Llafur, Bedford 6:35, 12 Mehefin 2019

It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend Siobhain McDonagh. So bad is this Government’s failure on social mobility that in December 2017the Social Mobility Commission walked out in protest, warning that “nothing” was being done to deal with inequalities and social division. That happened within a year of the new Prime Minister delivering a mission statement to the nation, promising to make Britain a country that works not for the privileged few, but for every one of us, and to tackle

“the burning injustice that, if you’re born poor, you will die on average 9 years earlier than others.”

Of all the Government’s failures—on Brexit, schools, public services, and children’s and adult social care—this is the most shameful, because not only have they utterly failed to improve the lives of the less fortunate but they have made those lives much more difficult.

Homelessness, food bank usage and in-work poverty have soared, and the Government’s own data shows that the number of children in absolute poverty has risen to nearly 4 million. What could be more telling of a policy failure than the fact that a quarter of children are growing up in poverty? The privileged have become wealthier, while people from disadvantaged backgrounds have had their opportunities to get on and move up cut off. That is the Conservative way. Big businesses and the super-rich get tax cuts, while children grow up in poverty and schools struggle to pay for basic resources, struggling even to stay open for a full working week.

A hungry child cannot learn, which is why poorer children are falling behind their peers by the age of five. Teenagers who cannot afford university tuition fees and increased debt have their life chances cut off at 18, with children from better-off backgrounds almost twice as likely to go to university than those from low-income families. The out-of-control housing market prevents children from leading independent lives or from moving to bigger cities where job prospects are better. “Know your place and stay in it”—that is the result of Tory austerity.

It is a shameful record, and it is set to get worse under this shambolic Government. The front runner to be the next Prime Minister has already found £10 billion to fund a tax cut benefiting only the richest 12% of taxpayers. The Foreign Secretary wants to cut corporation tax even further than the Government already have to 12.5%, making the UK’s tax rate by far the lowest in the G20 and turning the country into a tax haven for rich people. Whoever is appointed to become our next Prime Minister, there will be more of the same for the majority—“Know your place and pay for the mistakes of the wealthy and powerful.” Rather than helping a few people up the social mobility ladder, we need to construct a framework of social justice, so that everyone can climb, not just a few.

Photo of David Linden David Linden SNP Whip 6:39, 12 Mehefin 2019

When we debate inequality and social mobility, it is important that we recognise the role of housing. Thankfully, it seems that not a week goes by these days when there is not a sod-cutting in my diary, which is a result of the record investment in housing in Glasgow. I am proud to see that, not least because it is the biggest issue in my mailbag. Arguably one of the reasons why we have such a significant housing crisis is the disastrous right-to-buy policy pursued by the Conservative party in the 1980s without replacing any of the stock.

I realise that time is tight, so I will focus on a matter relating to social mobility and, in particular, on practices that are endemic in this House. Since as far back as 2008, when I arrived here as a researcher, I have been uneasy about the concept of unpaid internships in the House of Commons and the fact that, more often than not, they simply perpetuate inequality and widen the gap between rich and poor.

I realise that what I am about to say will not sit easy with colleagues who have benefited from Hansard Society or London School of Economics interns, who all work for Members in Westminster free of charge. However, if we are genuine about looking at social mobility, we need to confront the inescapable reality that unpaid internships, by and large, do not advance social mobility. If this place is to be truly representative of the society we seek to serve, we need to do more to diversify the swathes of youngsters coming into Parliament to intern for MPs.

I realise that it is not just in politics that the practice of using unpaid interns is rife. In journalism, for example, 83% of new entrants do internships for, on average, seven weeks. Some 92% of those internships are unpaid, which will almost certainly be a factor in squeezing out people from less-advantaged backgrounds.

The costs of living and working in London are well documented, but it is only when we look more closely at the figures that we realise just how much an unpaid internship freezes out those from less well-off communities. For example, recent data shows that the cost of an unpaid internship in London has gone up to more than £1,000 a month. In reality, very few of my young constituents in Glasgow’s east end would be able to afford to come to live in London and work in Parliament as an unpaid intern.

We are therefore left with a pool of largely middle class, often privately educated individuals who can essentially afford to work for free, and I understand that, for them, this is a phenomenal experience. But the inescapable truth is that, however convenient it is for MPs to have beefed up staffing teams in Westminster, we should be doing more to ensure that people are adequately paid for the work they do. If we do not, we will continue to have a Parliament in which the majority of interns are from well-off backgrounds.

We know these internships often provide a route into paid employment. Research from the Social Mobility Commission finds that around 40% of graduates working in a profession had previously worked as an intern to get on the first rung of the ladder.

Then there is the wider issue of how internships are advertised, and whether they are transparent or, in fact, just part of an old boy network. Let us say that a person is in the unusual position of having the spending power or capital to be able to work for free. The next thing they have to do is go on the spurious Work4MP website, of which I suspect few folk in Easterhouse shopping centre will have heard, to search for these wonderful unpaid internships.

Out of courtesy, I will not name the hon. Member, but a quick search on the Work4MP website this morning found an advert for not one but two interns to come and work, free of charge, for that Member of Parliament during the summer recess. It is for the conscience of that hon. Member to decide whether that is fair or advances social mobility, but we need to do more as MPs to ensure that the interns we take on are representative of our communities and help to diversify Parliament.

It is all good and well for us to debate how we tackle inequality and promote social mobility, but I am reminded of a verse in the book of Matthew:

“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?”

Put simply, if we are serious about showing leadership on social mobility and inequalities, perhaps we ought to put our own House in order first.

Photo of Justin Madders Justin Madders Llafur, Ellesmere Port and Neston 6:43, 12 Mehefin 2019

I refer David Linden to the report on access to the professions by the all-party parliamentary group on social mobility, which talks about politics and the scourge of unpaid internships.

As chair of the APPG, I was pleased when, on taking office, the Prime Minister talked about tackling the burning injustices. She seemed to sum up many of the frustrations and factors that led to the Brexit vote. Ironically, the fact that the Government have been tied up with that is part of the explanation for the stagnation on social mobility right now.

When the board of the Social Mobility Commission took the unprecedented step of resigning wholesale 18 months ago, it was not a decision taken hastily or lightly; it was an act of desperation, following months of frustration at the Government’s failure to engage meaningfully on the issue. We have a new chair now, Dame Martina Milburn, who attended the all-party group last month, when we asked for her view on what she considered to be the top three asks of the Government. She said that they were: extending the eligibility of the 30 hours’ free childcare to those working eight hours a week; introducing a student premium for those aged 16 to 19; and making the Government a living wage employer. A recent study by Pearson found that there had been a 60% drop in funding for 16 to 19-year-olds in the past few years—how on earth is that investing in young people? As for the Government being a living wage employer, as a result of what she said I have been asking written questions to Departments and it seems that most do not even hold the data on who receives it already, which hardly suggests great enthusiasm for the idea.

I was encouraged by similarities between some of the recommendations the all-party group made in its recent report on the regional attainment gap and those put forward by the commission, such as: looking at the way Ofsted operates; thinking differently about how the pupil premium can be used; and the importance of children’s centres in getting a good early start in life. The question we both have is: are the Government listening? What happens if the commission’s recommendations are not acted on? How much longer will things be left to stagnate? For how much longer will the most likely experience in the job market for our young people be casual work, low pay and chronic insecurity?

The commission’s report provides us with a wholesale national analysis of the issues, which demands cross-government action. Yes, its focus is on education—addressing inequalities in access to early years provision; primary and secondary schools; and technical, further and higher education—but it goes far wider and includes access to work, tax, welfare, housing, transport and health, to name but a few. There is plenty to build on, but we need a focused, consistent approach across many Departments, one that transcends the day-to-day whirl of politics. That is where I hope the commission can really add value.

Taking just two of the headlines from the latest state of the nation report, we can see the scale of the challenge we face. The first is that social mobility in this country is virtually stagnant and has barely moved in the past five years. The second is that a staggering half a million more children are in poverty now than there were seven years ago. Those two facts alone tell us we need to do so much more, and it is even more damning that this is coming off the years of consecutive economic growth. Could there be a clearer example of how growth is not evenly spread?

I believe there is much merit in the Select Committee’s recommendation that a Minister be given specific responsibility for leading cross-government work on social mobility, with a dedicated unit to tackle social injustice. Indeed, I am pleased that my own party has pledged to create a Minister for social justice, who would also work cross-departmentally to help drive the social justice agenda across all parts of the Government, so that whom someone was born to and where they were born are no longer the biggest influences on their prospects. The analysis that the commission’s powers need to be expanded and become much more proactive is one I support; the limited role it has at the moment is evident from the previous chair’s frustrations and resignation. There does need to be much greater accountability and transparency about what the Government do in this area. It seems incredible that no automatic impact assessment is carried out on every piece of legislation. Perhaps if it were, we would not have much legislation coming forward.

I wholeheartedly agree that social justice should be central for any Labour Government, but I also believe that social mobility can play a part in levelling the playing field as we work towards creating a society where everyone has the same opportunities in life, regardless of their background. We have a long way to go, and as long as three quarters of the senior judges, more than half the top 100 news journalists and more than two thirds of British Oscar winners are privately educated, we will not have a fairer society and the kids from the council estates will still get the message that those jobs are not for them. So “aspiration” should not be a dirty word, but “inequality” and “injustice” should be. The evidence shows that countries that have greater social mobility tend to have less inequality, thus demonstrating the two go together. It is a scandal that in 2019 where someone is born and whom they are born to are still the biggest influences on their prospects. If we are ever going to move forward as a nation, everyone should be given the same opportunity to achieve their potential.

Photo of Lyn Brown Lyn Brown Shadow Minister (Treasury) 6:48, 12 Mehefin 2019

We have heard some really impressive speeches in this debate, including those from my hon. Friends the Members for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle (Emma Hardy), for Bradford South (Judith Cummins), for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Preet Kaur Gill), for Leigh (Jo Platt), for Battersea (Marsha De Cordova), for Oldham West and Royton (Jim McMahon), for Glasgow North East (Mr Sweeney), for Mitcham and Morden (Siobhain McDonagh), for Bedford (Mohammad Yasin) and for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Justin Madders). They were cracking speeches all, and I am so proud to be included in their number this afternoon.

In April, the Social Mobility Commission told us that social mobility had stagnated, and it is going to get worse without change. This was yet another wake-up call to a catatonic Government so consumed by the disaster of their Brexit that they cannot seem to do, frankly, anything.

Poverty and inequality in this country are dire. In the G7, only Trump’s America is more unequal. Last month, Human Rights Watch told the story of Allie from Hull, who was transferred on to universal credit when she 18, as she became pregnant. She had exceptionally severe morning sickness almost every day for months. She would call the jobcentre and throw up while on the phone, but she was still fined £60 a week from the money that she needed to live, for two whole months. After sanctions and bills, she had £10 left. She was stuck in the flat on her own, lonely, ashamed to go out and suffering from depression. At her time of need, our Government, by their actions, got her into debt with her rent, council tax and water. They left her with so little money that she would wake up hungry with nothing to eat in the House.

For Allie, there was no safety net; it had been cut away. Just think about it, because actually it is worse than that. She was 18 years old. Many of us would not consider that to be a fully grown adult in our own families. We would not want our 18-year-old child to be living on £10 left over each week, especially when they were pregnant. That £10 will not buy Allie or her baby the nutrition that they need. What will happen if Allie’s troubles do not end here—if, like 900,000 others, the only job that Allie can access while her baby is growing is one with zero hours? What if, like so many jobs, it has no security, no workplace training, no progression and simply not enough hours to keep her away from the food bank and out of debt? What impact will that have on the life chances of Allie and her child?

Some 4.5 million children are already in poverty, and 70% of them are in families where at least one parent is in work. The fact is that in-work poverty is rising faster than employment. When the Government are faced with damning research or analysis, whether from the UN, Human Rights Watch, think-tanks that are respected across the House or child poverty charities, they do not even bother to respond. We have had the Chancellor denying that there are 14 million children in poverty in this country, but that is what the Joseph Rowntree Foundation says, it is what the Social Metrics Commission said and it is what the Government’s own statistics say. When it comes to poverty and inequality, frankly this Government are a bit like Millwall: “No one likes us, we don’t care!” When we talk about our children’s life chances, they should care.

Through all this, the Conservative party has had the gall to talk about opportunities. The Government cannot say that opportunities are increasing for children in my constituency: 50% of them live in poverty. They cannot say that opportunities are increasing when 120,000 children were homeless last Christmas. They cannot say that opportunities are increasing when Human Rights Watch states that their policies are “cruel and harmful”, or when they have been told that they are depriving children in this country of their simple right to food. As the UN rapporteur said last month, it is about the glue that holds our society together being

“deliberately removed and replaced with a harsh and uncaring ethos”.

It is simply shocking.

Hard work is essential—obviously—but there is no shortage of hard work in this country. On average, Britons work more hours a year than they did a decade ago, and for a lower real wage. Talent is essential, but there’s no shortage of that either. We all see it every time we visit a school. The truth is that we are able to create better lives when Governments invest. We need a Government who will focus on this agenda now, target the real divisions in our society and offer a joined-up strategy to tackle them. This Government cannot offer that vision, but Labour will.

We understand the simple truths. We do not want a grammar school society in which we get a better chance only if others get a worse one. That is not socially just. We do not want a society as horribly unequal as ours, where the richest 1,000 individuals have more wealth than the entire bottom 40% of the country. Since the 1970s, our country has become massively and increasingly unfair. The benefit of the little sustainable growth that there has been has gone to a narrow elite: the share of national income going to the top 1% has almost tripled since 1980.

Our economy does not work for the many. Huge efforts are needed to change that, but I really do not think that the Conservative party gets it. It will never ensure that the elite pay their fair share—it ain’t gonna bite the hand that feeds it—but Labour will make that commitment; it is who we are. That is why we will change the Social Mobility Commission, so that it investigates the fairness of our society across every policy area, from class inequality to regional inequality, and creates fair opportunities for all. We will match that by creating co-ordination on social justice across a Labour Government.

Cutting poverty and increasing life chances will be core goals. We will assess every policy to make sure that it plays a part in cutting child poverty and creating a fairer country. We will look at pay gaps, and at the responsibility on every part of government, from parish councils to Whitehall offices, to increase social justice. We will look at new ways of tackling class discrimination and all other forms of inequality—and we will not mark our own homework; our policies and statistics will be trustworthy because they will be checked from the outside.

A Labour Government will rebuild public trust in politics, and will rebuild the public services that give our children a fair starting point in life: social homes, public buses and trains, regional and national public banks to fuel hundreds of billions of pounds of investment, a national education service providing the skills that our economy needs, and a flourishing NHS. A Labour Government will work tirelessly to end child poverty. A Labour Government will be a Government for the many, not the few.

Photo of Nadhim Zahawi Nadhim Zahawi The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education 6:57, 12 Mehefin 2019

I welcome the opportunity to respond on behalf of the Government. I was sorry to hear Lyn Brown accuse the Government of not responding to the report of the UN rapporteur. That is not true; they have responded. I was also sorry to hear her exploit Allie, an 18-year-old, in an attempt to weaponise this issue, when we have heard really thoughtful contributions from other colleagues. Labour employs the politics of division; it was sad to see that today.

I thank colleagues who have spoken, including Neil Gray, my right hon. Friend Justine Greening, Emma Hardy, my hon. Friend Gillian Keegan, Judith Cummins, my hon. Friend Vicky Ford, and the hon. Members for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Preet Kaur Gill), for Leigh (Jo Platt), for Battersea (Marsha De Cordova), for Oldham East and Saddleworth (Debbie Abrahams), for Glasgow North East (Mr Sweeney), for Mitcham and Morden (Siobhain McDonagh), for Bedford (Mohammad Yasin), for Glasgow East (David Linden), and for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Justin Madders).

Many of the contributions this afternoon were about the long-term issue of delivering social mobility. As Under-Secretary of State with responsibility for children and families, I will naturally focus in my speech primarily on the work of my Department. You will not be surprised to hear, Madam Deputy Speaker, that I believe that one of the most effective means of reducing inequality is education. As someone who came to these shores unable to speak a word of English, I know at first hand how education can change lives and truly open doors. Everyone has the right to a good education, regardless of their circumstances.

Social mobility, tackling inequality and social justice are rightly critical priorities for my Department and of course my Government as a whole. That is why, for the Social Mobility Commission, we have recruited a fantastic chair in Dame Martina Milburn, along with a board of commissioners each with a unique experience of social mobility. I will say a few words about their vital work.

At the end of April, the commission published a comprehensive “State of the Nation” report which shines a light on where Government, businesses and employers can continue to raise the bar for everyone living in this country.

Photo of Nadhim Zahawi Nadhim Zahawi The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education

If I have time at the end, I will happily take an intervention.

We welcome the commission’s thorough analysis and its efforts to promote social mobility and social justice across the United Kingdom, and we have therefore awarded it £2 million to undertake further work on that agenda. Indeed, despite some claims to the contrary, social justice is already an intrinsic part of the commission’s role. It is already concerned to help the most disadvantaged in society and to ensure that someone’s background does not determine future chances in life.

This Government share the view that everyone should have the chance to fulfil their potential. That is why we are taking action across the whole of Government in order to make real progress.

Photo of Nadhim Zahawi Nadhim Zahawi The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education

I will at the end if I have time. I have a lot to get through. I will try to respond to the hon. Lady and to other contributors to the debate, and I will happily take interventions at the end if possible.

Making progress means building a strong economy, achieving record levels of employment and reforming the welfare system so that it supports people into work. Now, 665,000 fewer children grow up in workless households, the support of an income making them less likely to grow up in poverty. The UK’s national living wage is growing faster than similar or higher minimum wages in other OECD countries, such as Belgium, France or Germany.[This section has been corrected on 17 June 2019, column 2MC — read correction]

Photo of Nadhim Zahawi Nadhim Zahawi The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education

I will try to take some interventions at the end. I want to get through my remarks and to address some of the questions asked of me.

In 2014, we extended benefits-related free meals to cover further education—not something that the Labour party had contemplated—and introduced universal infant free school meals, benefiting a further 1.5 million infant pupils. In 2018, we introduced new eligibility under universal credit, and we estimate that by 2022 more children will benefit from free school meals than under the previous benefits system. Such efforts are targeted at the root causes of poverty and disadvantage.

Improving this country’s education system starts in the early years—Martina Milburn focused on that in her report. We have already made progress in closing the gap that emerges between disadvantaged children and their peers: 71.5% of children achieved a “good level of development” in 2018, up from 51.7% in 2013. Despite that very encouraging progress, far too many children still start school behind their peers, in particular in language development, which a number of colleagues mentioned. We have set out an important ambition to halve, by 2028, the proportion of children finishing their reception year without the communication and reading skills that they need.

To tackle that, this year alone the Government will spend about £3.5 billion—yes, Mr Deputy Speaker, you heard me right—on early education entitlements, which is more than any previous Government have spent. Our early years social mobility programme, backed by more than £100 million of investment, includes: a professional development programme for early years practitioners, who will shape those little ones to make the most of their lives as they become adults; and work with Public Health England to train 1,000 health visitors to identify speech, language and communication in families who need that additional help. We will soon launch a home learning environment campaign, because what happens in the home in the earliest years has a huge impact, and there are many opportunities to help parents to support their children to learn—to have the confidence to help their children to learn better and faster. I look forward to working with hon. Members across this House to ensure that we make the most of the very significant potential of that campaign to help disadvantaged children.

This Government have focused on raising school standards because we know that what happens in our classrooms is critical to reducing inequality. There is nothing moral or decent about crashing an economy and leaving the most vulnerable people behind. That is why we are targeting extra support at the areas of greatest challenge and least opportunity in order to raise standards and attract great teachers to our primary and secondary schools. This has helped to ensure that, as of December of last year, there are 1.9 million more children in good and outstanding schools compared with when we came into office in 2010, representing 85% of children, compared with just 66% in 2010. That is partly down to our reforms.

I am pleased to say that this Government have also made significant progress in closing the opportunity gap with regard to education. The difference in attainment between disadvantaged pupils and their peers has fallen across all stages of education. Commenting on the changes we have made to the system, including the pupil premium, the Institute for Fiscal Studies, which has been mentioned a number of times today, said:

“A system that was substantially skewed…towards the better off is now, if anything, skewed towards the least well off.”

It also said:

“Reforms since 2010 are likely to have increased total funding in favour of pupils from poorer backgrounds.”

Our efforts do not stop there, when school comes to an end. To tackle inequality, everyone must have the right level of ongoing support to help them on a path to a skilled job, be it via university or a more practical, technical path. That is why widening access in higher education to ensure that an academic route is open to all is a priority for this Government, as shown in the recent report by Philip Augar.

Photo of Nadhim Zahawi Nadhim Zahawi The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education

I have said that I will at the end when I have a bit of time.

In 2018, 18-year-olds from disadvantaged backgrounds were proportionally 52% more likely to go to university than they were in 2009. Higher education providers have committed to spend £860 million in 2019-20 on measures to improve access—up significantly from £404 million; in fact, this is more than a doubling since 2009. This Government have also embarked on a long-overdue overhaul of technical education, backed by significant investment. Over 1.7 million people have started an apprenticeship since May 2015. Alongside this, we are introducing T-levels, which will offer a rigorous technical alternative to academic education, available to all.

On children’s social care, this Government take the view that all children, no matter where they live, should have access to the support they need to keep them safe, provide them with a stable and nurturing home, and overcome their challenges to achieve their potential. This Government are committed to improving outcomes for children in need of help and protection. That is why, owing to the work of my Department, my officials and all our teams, and of course all the brilliant social workers on the frontline, our children’s social care reform programme is working to deliver a highly capable, highly skilled social work workforce, with high-performing services everywhere and a national system of excellent and innovative practice.

It is both an economic and moral imperative that we ensure that the skills system works for all—my right hon. Friend the Member for Putney spoke eloquently about why the system really matters—and that it does so up and down the country. That is why we are taking action in every region, at every stage of a young person’s life, to close the opportunity gap. We are targeting extra support at some of the poorest areas of the country through our £72 million opportunity area programme and £24 million for Opportunity North East.

Members made a number of points that I would like to address. The hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden asked how many academies are in debt. I will be happy to respond to her question in writing, but I can say that the reforms of the last eight years show that autonomy and freedom have allowed the best leaders and teachers to make the right decisions for their pupils to reach their full potential.

The hon. Member for Glasgow East rightly held us to account for our own behaviour in this place. There really should not be any unpaid internships. I remind colleagues of the care leaver covenant, which all Departments have signed up to, meaning that we offer 12-month paid internships to those most vulnerable children who, through no fault of their own, have had to be taken into care.

The hon. Members for Mitcham and Morden and for Bradford South attacked the Government about what steps they would be taking to support children who live in food insecurity. I remind them that we are supporting more than 1 million children with free school meals and investing up to £26 million in school breakfast clubs, providing approximately 2.3 million children aged four to six with a portion of fresh fruit or vegetables each day.

Photo of Nadhim Zahawi Nadhim Zahawi The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education

The hon. Members for Battersea, for Oldham East and Saddleworth and for Bedford talked about the national living wage and the inequality—[Interruption.] I am trying to address the issues that—

Photo of Lindsay Hoyle Lindsay Hoyle Chair, Panel of Chairs, Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means, Chair, Standing Orders Committee, Chair, Panel of Chairs, Chair, Standing Orders Committee

Order. Let me say to those on the two Front Benches that if the Minister wishes to give way, that is his choice, but I do not need somebody next to him chuntering that the shadow Minister only gave way once. Let us continue.

Photo of Nadhim Zahawi Nadhim Zahawi The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education

Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. I was trying to address some of the issues raised.

The issue of inequality was raised by the hon. Members for Battersea, for Oldham East and Saddleworth and for Bedford. Our policies are highly redistributive. This year the lowest-income households will, on average, receive more than £4 in public spending for every pound they pay in tax—

Photo of Nick Brown Nick Brown Opposition Chief Whip (Commons)

claimed to move the closure (Standing Order No. 36).

Question put forthwith, That the Question be now put.

Question agreed to.

Main Question accordingly put and agreed to.


That this House
notes the findings of the Institute for Fiscal Studies that the UK is second only to the US in terms of income inequality among the major world economies in Europe and North America, that the share of income going to the wealthiest one per cent of households has nearly tripled in the last four decades and that deaths from suicide and from drug and alcohol overdoses are rising among middle-aged people;
further notes that 1.6 million food parcels were handed out by Trussell Trust food banks last year and that child poverty has increased by 500,000 since 2010; recognises that following the resignation of the entire Social Mobility Commission in November 2017 in protest against the Government’s inaction and a near year-long delay in appointing replacements, the new Commission has found that social mobility has stagnated for four years;
considers that the Government’s programme of austerity has decimated social security and led to growing inequality of provision across education, health, social care and housing;
further considers that the Government’s austerity programme has caused and continues to cause suffering to millions of people;
and calls on the Government to end child poverty, to end the need for the use of food banks and to take urgent action to tackle rising inequality throughout the UK and increase investment in public services.