Hospitality Sector: Fiscal Support

Hannah Bardell Excerpts
Wednesday 31st January 2024

(3 months, 3 weeks ago)

Westminster Hall
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None Portrait Several hon. Members rose—
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Hannah Bardell Portrait Hannah Bardell (in the Chair)
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Order. I remind Members that they should bob if they want to be called. The hon. Gentleman was good enough to be brief to let colleagues in, but seven Back Benchers are looking to catch my eye. I will not impose a time limit, but I ask colleagues to try to keep to about five or six minutes.

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Rachael Maskell Portrait Rachael Maskell (York Central) (Lab/Co-op)
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It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Bardell. The hospitality sector is at the sharp end of all market sensitivities and feels every economic challenge acutely. Although it is used to seasonal highs and lows, when covid hit, the sector’s resilience became dependent on intervention. Whether businesses were supplying food, drink or accommodation or operating as a wider part of the tourism sector, the covid and post-covid shocks served their blows on hospitality. There are also the issues of the cost of living—whether that is seen through reduced customer disposable income or increased energy costs—and diversion of shipping in the middle east; each part has a story to tell about the sector.

Indeed, Brexit produced serious challenges in labour supply, and the new visa rules are also creating pressure. Last year, 8,500 visas were provided for the sector, and that is not to mention the dependants who come with health workers and so on, and the students; that also takes its toll. I ask the Government to think again. Although I welcome higher income and a rise in the minimum wage to address the wage disparity in this sector, we must recognise that it needs cushioning and that the sector needs support.

In York, we face the additional challenge of flooding. The floods have an impact. There is usually poor reporting describing York as being like Venice, but I can assure everyone that York is open and functioning. Today, because of the resilience measures that have been put in place, only a small cluster of hospitality outlets are impacted by flooding. However, they have received no business rate suspension—they must receive that, and I ask the Minister to look at that issue—and the Bellwin scheme cannot be triggered for a small area. Those businesses have costs associated with flooding, so that needs to be addressed.

Turning to other fiscal challenges and solutions, we would welcome a reform of business rates. I have long debated in this place how disadvantage and disincentives impact on the sector. Frankly, the Government have demonstrated a sticking-plaster approach during my time here. I am glad that Labour is listening and that it will bring in reform of business rates, but I plead that it puts those reforms in its manifesto so that everyone can be clear about that.

The hospitality sector and other businesses in York have talked about a profit-related tax to make it a fairer system in the long term; I urge the Minister to look at that.

The sector’s turnover in York is worth £1.16 billion annually and is ranked 16th highest in the country. For a relatively small, concentrated area it employs 16,500 people across 1,283 venues to date. However, there is a 5.4% vacancy rate—484 jobs—so we need to consider the impact that is having on the sector’s ability to stay open full time and welcome people into their establishments. I recognise how York has weathered this stormy time and I recognise its resilience. People enjoy coming to the incredible city of York and taking advantage of the offer that we have, but that should not be taken for granted. Ensuring that resilience measures and fiscal reforms are put in place is important for the long term for the hospitality sector in York.

I note that the overseas sponsorship programme has offset some of the vacancy issues, not least for chefs, and we need to ensure that the labour shortages are tackled. I ask the Government to look again at the impact that withdrawing from such schemes will have.

A focus of my work looks at how we can increase the family offer in York. We really need to broaden the base of people wanting to come and use our city for a broader interest. I certainly welcome those interested in talking about the family coming to York because that will also build greater resilience for the longer term.

I know that the Minister understands the sector well, given his previous roles. Indeed, he could come on a whistlestop tour round the city with me. I urge him, as we come up to the next fiscal event, to allow an extension, a quick win, on the covid loans. Businesses could make further investment to grow their businesses if they could pay their loans back over a longer period. That would be a quick and easy win for the Government.

On VAT, I concur with the remarks made earlier. Hospitality Association York has also made the case to me that a drop in VAT would very much assist the sector and provide an economic stimulus. We all want to see that benefit passed on to consumers and customers who use the sector. I want the work that Hospitality Association York is doing in growing the skills and talents in the sector and building for the long term to be recognised and supported.

Finally, as York becomes a world heritage site and York Central is developed for the future, we have great opportunities for investment beyond the walls as well. Up in Acomb we see many independent businesses now providing great opportunities. Right now we are in the heart of the most challenging season for our sector. Despite the ice trail coming up this weekend, the Viking festival over the half-term period and the residents’ festival that we have just had, we need action from the Treasury to ensure that the hospitality sector is sustainable now and in future.

Hannah Bardell Portrait Hannah Bardell (in the Chair)
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Before I call the next speaker, I ask Members to stick to five-minute speeches because I want to try to call everybody and give equality to all.

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Priti Patel Portrait Priti Patel (Witham) (Con)
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It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Bardell. I congratulate the hon. Member for Stirling (Alyn Smith) on securing a very important debate.

The tourism and hospitality sector in Essex is valued at just over £3.5 billion, and supports over 60,000 jobs. In the debate thus far, we have heard about the enormous contribution made by the sector across the United Kingdom. With the spring Budget approaching, it would be remiss of me not to make my representations to the Minister and His Majesty’s Treasury; I want to press the Treasury, and outline why further fiscal measures are needed in support of the hospitality sector and wider areas.

Across Essex, but specifically in my constituency, there is a strong case for lowering the tax burden on hospitality. We have already heard that is also the case for other parts of the country. We all have fantastic businesses in our constituencies; mine specifically has Colchester Zoo, the Langford Museum of Power, the Tiptree Tea Rooms—which most colleagues will know about—and many other venues, including a lot of hospitality and wedding venues, which did receive support from the Government throughout the pandemic. I pay tribute to those businesses because they have not only been resilient during the pandemic, but learned to adapt so that they can continue to grow and diversify.

Leisure businesses and attractions clearly suffer from volatility in the economy, and it is important that we do everything possible to support them, hence my modest call—and the collective modest call—for changes to the tax regime that we know would make the difference between businesses closing and surviving.

But although this is about surviving, it is also about thriving and growing; we already know about the impact on retail in our town centres and we have seen pressures in our local communities, but we need the sector to be vibrant and thriving. Central to that—and I make no apology to the Minister for saying that this is what we need—is a better labour market strategy. We have heard about labour shortages throughout this debate. I have been consistent, in my time not just in Parliament but in Government, in saying that I do not think it is right to associate or link our trade deals with automatic visas and some of the schemes proposed; I think we should have a better labour market strategy. We have to invest in the sector, grow the talent and pay people properly. We have a real epidemic of low wages in hospitality, and that is simply not good enough.

I would welcome the Government considering the whole issue of business rates, and I have also made representations on this previously. The freeze in the small business rates multiplier has been welcome, and I think it is vital, but we need a strategic, longer-term approach so that businesses can plan ahead, invest in the bricks and mortar of the properties they buy or lease, and look at how they can grow. With that, the 75% rates relief is welcome, but when reliefs of that size are removed, it clearly places seismic pressures on cashflows. We have to look at the sector from a basic day-to-day perspective and think about what this means for cash flows. Hospitality businesses operate with very tight margins, and they are having to absorb so many costs that they automatically pass on to their customers. I know that the Minister and the Treasury have heard me speak about this issue before, but we really need to look at it.

The case for reducing VAT has been made very clearly and I support it; we have seen so many issues around VAT levels, and their impact on hospitality and tourism. I absolutely support the case made by the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Tim Farron) for reducing VAT on shopping and tourism; there is really big argument for that. VAT is complex and we need to do much more to simplify our tax system, as the Minister has heard me say many times. We need a tax system that supports tourism and hospitality.

I am a great believer in encouraging overseas visitors to our amazing country—more so than perhaps other countries in the world. In Essex, we are always open for business, and one of our prized assets is of course Stansted airport. I praise its 24% growth in passenger numbers last year to nearly 28 million. It has massive and exciting expansion plans—I have also always supported expansion at Heathrow airport—and should be commended for supporting employment and apprenticeships. We need our airports to attract more tourism not just to Essex but to Britain; this is about the health and wellbeing of our country. I am therefore making the case to the Minister and pressing the Government yet again to re-examine their approach to tax-free shopping for overseas visitors, and to duty free at arrivals and air passenger duty—there is a long-standing argument in that regard. The case for tax-free shopping has been made many times in this Chamber and the main Chamber, and it will bring in huge dividends.

It is important to reflect, with the spring Budget coming up—that is why we are having this debate and everyone is making representations. I genuinely believe in making changes, as they could result in another £4 billion into our economy on the shopping side of things, but the principle of cutting tax and reducing the tax burden is also one of the most effective ways in which we can grow and support the hospitality sector, and that means more growth and more sustainability.

I urge the Minister and the Chancellor to take the maximalist approach—using the fiscal levers at their disposal to really support these businesses across all constituencies of the United Kingdom. They are the backbone of our economy and many of our communities, so of course we want them to thrive and grow.

Hannah Bardell Portrait Hannah Bardell (in the Chair)
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We now come to Front-Bench speakers, who have around 10 minutes each, which should allow the sponsoring Member to sum up at the end.

John Nicolson Portrait John Nicolson (Ochil and South Perthshire) (SNP)
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It is an honour and a privilege to see you up there in the Chair, Ms Bardell. Like so many colleagues, I started working in the food and hospitality industry. I was a shelf-stacker in Tesco, a caddie on the Old Course in St Andrews, and I worked in a cocktail bar. I have to say, cocktail bars do rather better in Glasgow than it sounds like they do in other parts of these islands.

Like many of my colleagues, I spend a lot of time visiting local businesses. Indeed, I was delighted recently to host the First Minister Humza Yousaf at the excellent Unorthodox Roasters in Kinross, where I chaired a roundtable discussion with business owners in the hospitality trade from across Ochil and South Perthshire. It was a listening exercise for the First Minister, with regional entrepreneurs updating him on their successes and their struggles. We were joined by an award-winning ice creamer, Stephen Sloper, from Penny Licks in Tillicoultry; those from Unorthodox Roasters themselves; Alex from the Glenturret distillery; and my friends from Café Rhubarb in Dollar.

Everyone, from the owners of a wee Syrian café in Alloa called Syriana—who arrived as asylum seekers and are now embedded in their community—to Scotland’s oldest distillery, kept telling us variations of the same story: times are beyond tough; and costs are so high that they are simply unsustainable in the long term. One business owner said

“the big issue which is strangling us is gas and electricity costs.”

That is a common refrain. The Westminster Government and the Prime Minister set out their solution: drill for more oil and gas in the North sea. Remember, that was the oil and gas that, during the independence referendum 10 years ago, they told us was worthless and about to run out. Due to disastrous decision making by successive Labour and Tory Governments, North sea energy is sold back to us at world market prices. This will not make energy cheaper for people in Scotland. Clean renewables are the future. To the glaikit Tory MSP who demanded to know what we would do when renewables ran out, the key is in the name—they are renewable.

The hospitality sector needs help now. Westminster has the levers to control VAT, and as we have heard from Members all around this room, it is important to get VAT down. The UK Government refuse to take measures to limit energy prices, so let them instead give the businesses in our communities a break by lowering VAT. We have been out and about talking to businesses in Alloa this past week to get a sense of the difference that a VAT reduction would make. Alison Turner, from the Ladybird Tea Room, said that this reduction would be “an enormous help”. Craig, the owner of the Royal Oak in Alloa, said,

“When the previous VAT reduction happened, it was amazing. It made such a difference.”

The owners we spoke to had little faith that Westminster would act to help.

In his latest toe-curling party political broadcast, I noticed that the Prime Minister briefly stopped attacking asylum seekers in order to pose in front of a massive sign reading, “TAX CUTS”. We might think, “Oh, good! A chance to relieve the burden on those hardest pressed in these difficult times.” No, of course not. He wants to cut taxes for the wealthy so that their families can benefit from inheritance tax cuts. Earlier this morning, we discovered that the Labour leadership now wants bankers—[Interruption.]

Hannah Bardell Portrait Hannah Bardell (in the Chair)
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Order. If Members at the back would like to make an intervention and have it on the record, I am sure we would all be very interested. If they do not, perhaps they could keep their comments quiet so that the rest of us can hear Mr Nicolson deliver his speech.

Tobias Ellwood Portrait Mr Ellwood
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On a point of order, Ms Bardell. This is Westminster Hall; this is not “Just a Minute”, but if it was “Just a Minute”, that contribution would probably have been a deviation.

Hannah Bardell Portrait Hannah Bardell (in the Chair)
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I say kindly to the right hon. Gentleman that whether in Westminster Hall or the main Chamber, that is not a matter for the Chair; that is a matter of opinion. The right hon. Gentleman is entitled to his opinion, but it is not a matter for the Chair.

John Nicolson Portrait John Nicolson
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And that would certainly have been repetition; we all know the rules of “Just a Minute”—in fact, some of us have even been invited to be on it. If I may continue, I was about to highlight the new Labour policy of allowing bankers to keep tens of millions in bonuses.

The one subject that everybody in the hospitality sector wants to talk about is Brexit, and what a disaster it has been. The Gleneagles Hotel in my constituency is world famous, but it cannot get enough staff post-Brexit and so cannot operate at full capacity. Harvesters cannot get enough people to pick fruit and other crops. A cheese manufacturer in my constituency fears that they will have to lay off staff because one of their ingredient suppliers in France does not want to do the mountains of post-Brexit paperwork; it is simply not cost-effective.

The Glenturret distillery has stopped exporting to several European Union countries because the post-Brexit labelling rules are too cumbersome and expensive. It has told me that it sometimes now takes longer to get whisky to Paris than to Japan. This is the Tories’ Brexit dividend. And what of Labour? Well, it is now up to its oxters in Brexit Kool-Aid, too. The Labour leader tells us there is “no case” for rejoining the EU. Try telling that to young Scottish voters or to businesses in my constituency.

I am glad that this debate has been brought forward by my SNP friend and colleague, my hon. Friend the Member for Stirling (Alyn Smith). I am glad that Humza Yousaf spent so much time with entrepreneurs in my constituency. I thank all the businesses in Alloa and elsewhere for giving me their thoughts so that I could bring them here to the Westminster Parliament. The Minister, a friend of mine from our days on the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, is an expert in this field. He cares deeply about it, is knowledgeable about it and was passionately anti-Brexit; he warned wisely and accurately of its dangers, and I know that he will be listening carefully.

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Nigel Huddleston Portrait Nigel Huddleston
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Again, these are ongoing conversations across multiple Government Departments. In my former capacity as tourism Minister, I certainly had extensive conversations. There were sub-working groups at UKHospitality identifying areas for further work. That has had some impact, including through apprenticeship schemes. My right hon. Friend was absolutely right to highlight this issue. We have debated Brexit, which probably goes slightly beyond the current remit, although I understand the impact—and, by the way, the opportunities that come from that. My right hon. Friend is right that we need to focus on the domestic skills agenda. The hospitality and leisure sector contributes to one in five new jobs, so it is absolutely pivotal to that.

If hon. Members will forgive me, I will try to get through some of my speech—and not try your patience too much, Ms Bardell—because I am not even on page 1 yet.

Hannah Bardell Portrait Hannah Bardell (in the Chair)
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Just to clarify, the Minister has a little bit of flexibility. Given the extent of the debate and the number of questions, he is free to go over the 10 minutes and answer everyone’s questions—as he would like.

Nigel Huddleston Portrait Nigel Huddleston
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I will make sure I leave a minute or two at the end for the hon. Member for Stirling to conclude—I may have shot myself in the foot there by giving everybody the opportunity to ask all the awkward questions they now have.

Like many hon. Members, my first job was in the hospitality and leisure sector, with a travel agent. I then had the very difficult choice at the age of 22 between taking a job for Arthur Andersen and becoming a Club 18-30 rep. I wonder if my life might have been considerably different if I had taken that slightly different path. My right hon. Friend the Member for Witham is right: jobs in the hospitality and leisure sector help people with numeracy skills, self-confidence and interpersonal skills, which can stay with them for life.

We need to recognise that this sector is not just about part-time jobs for students or young people; we should not forget that there are also valuable, often very high-paying, long-term careers in the sector. The sector has evolved and changed, and is now a major contributor to the UK economy, with £140 billion of economic activity. There are masses of opportunities there, but the reputation and image of the sector is sometimes one of its inhibitors. I am therefore a huge champion of the sector for all the reasons we have outlined.

We have had quite a lot of debate today about the various support measures, including business rate relief. It is worth remembering that the Government provided £16 billion of business rate relief in England through the pandemic. In addition, we launched the temporary 50% retail, hospitality and leisure relief scheme at the 2021 Budget. That was built on in the 2022 autumn statement, and the Government announced further tax cuts to the sector in last year’s autumn statement—about £4.3 billion over the next five years—and extended the retail, hospitality and leisure relief scheme at 75% up to a cash cap of £110,000 per business for 2024-25.

As has been recognised, the Labour Government in Wales and the SNP Government in Scotland were not able to extend those reliefs. I recognise that everybody realises there are considerable financial pressures, but with the greatest respect to my opposite numbers, who have been somewhat critical, I do think this is important and it is something I will play up very heavily: we have done things in England, where we have controlled the levers, that have not been done in Wales and Scotland.

Overall, this tax cut is worth about £2.4 billion for around 230,000 retail, hospitality and leisure properties to continue support for our vital high streets and protect so many small shops and businesses. The Government have also decided to freeze the small business multiplier for the fourth consecutive year. That will protect over a million rate payers and 90% of all properties from a multiplier increase.

For example, as a result of the changes, the average independent pub will receive about £11,800 of relief off their final business rates bill in 2024-25. Combined with the small business multiplier being frozen, they will benefit to the tune of about £12,800 of support. I repeat: that is not the level of support that they would get in Scotland or Wales.

A few points were raised about other areas, and I remind hon. Members that reliefs are also available for improvements in property. If there is an incremental rateable value because of improvements, that will not be included for the first year where eligible. I also remind hon. Members about the changes in alcohol duty and the Brexit pubs guarantee, which are designed to support the pubs sector and to help it operate on a level playing field with supermarkets.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Witham (Priti Patel) made many points about skills and jobs. I will not repeat what I said, because I think I have made the point that we are very aware of the importance of that sector and the role we have in developing skills and opportunities.

Cutting VAT was mentioned by nearly everybody, and I want to be clear on this point. As we all know, VAT is a major contributor to the nation’s finances, which we then spend on our vital public services. It is forecast to raise about £173 billion in 2023-24. Since we left the EU, we have been taking advantage of multiple reliefs. I believe that if we were to rank ourselves against all other EU countries for the total number of reliefs we are able to exercise through VAT, we would be about second or third. We have been taking advantage of leaving by reducing reliefs and making real differences where and when we can.

The VAT cut for tourism and hospitality that we made during the pandemic came at a significant cost of more than £8 billion. Reintroducing it would come at a considerable cost. That was just one element of the support for the retail, hospitality and leisure sector during the pandemic, but it was a really important part of it.

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Steve Double Portrait Steve Double
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Will the Minister give way?

Hannah Bardell Portrait Hannah Bardell (in the Chair)
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Order. Before the Minister gives way, I just say that I gave him extra flexibility so that he could answer everybody’s queries and questions, but I want to give an opportunity to respond to the sponsoring Member, the hon. Member for Stirling (Alyn Smith). So please keep the intervention short.

Steve Double Portrait Steve Double
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On the housing issue, one thing that the Treasury could do is level the tax playing field on the tax breaks between short-term holiday lets and residential properties. That would make a significant difference and would really help. Perhaps the Minister will take that message back.

Loan Charge

Hannah Bardell Excerpts
Thursday 18th January 2024

(4 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Hywel Williams Portrait Hywel Williams (Arfon) (PC)
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It is a pleasure to agree with so many right hon. and hon. Members, which I must say is a novel experience for me. Looking at the history of this scandal, it reminds me of the time when many of our constituents were claiming working tax credits. Sometimes those credits were overpaid, and they would receive letters from the Revenue, which were standard letters but had individual clauses stitched together to give the semblance of having been personalised. One such sentence is etched on my memory. It goes like this:

“Even though we told you that your assessment was correct, it was not reasonable for you to believe so.”

[Laughter.]Thank you. This, though, is an extremely serious matter. As I thought about how I would approach the debate, I thought that I would tell the story of my constituent, Rob Cowen, who was a victim of the loan charge scandal. I do, however, speak today for other colleagues in Plaid Cymru, and particularly my right hon. Friend the Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd (Liz Saville Roberts), who cannot be here, though she would wish to be.

While some people gained financially through the use of umbrella organisations and services, Rob Cowan was using the scheme on advice as a simple accounting service so that he could be paid legally and conveniently, as so many other people found. He had sought advice from accountants, who assured him that the product he was using was legal; only later did he find out that it was not.

Rob has suffered immensely since then. Back in 2011 when he was in his early 50s, he was considering winding down his business, changing his work pattern, moving from full-time to part-time work and enjoying the fruits of his work over many decades. He then started receiving communications from HMRC, informing him that he was liable to pay back thousands of pounds due to the loan charge. That forced him back into full-time work, but that aggravated a repetitive strain injury that he had developed over the course of his working life. Eventually, that led him to becoming disabled, so he could no longer work and make an income to pay back the money due under the loan charge.

At the age of 63, Rob found himself unable to work and unable to pay back the money that allegedly he owes, and he faces a very bleak future. He now has no savings and no ability to work. He cannot pay HMRC the money that it says he owes. He has suffered psychological and physical trauma from this ordeal, as have so many. To give just one example, which I am sorry to say is common, he told me recently that he was unable to switch on the heating during this very cold period. He cannot afford it, as so many people have found.

Hannah Bardell Portrait Hannah Bardell (Livingston) (SNP)
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I thank the hon. Gentleman for sharing that powerful example. I have constituents in my Livingston constituency who have suffered and who have come to see me. As the right hon. Member for North East Somerset (Sir Jacob Rees-Mogg) spoke about the other scandals that we have faced and challenged in this place, I was reminded of the Primodos scandal, and the words of Baroness Cumberlege, “First do no harm”. It should be the duty of the Government of the day, and of this place, to first do no harm to our constituents. When harm is done and policies are wrong, as this one has been proven to be, surely it is the duty of Government and HMRC to take some responsibility, and not to put the hon. Gentleman’s constituents, my constituents and others through hell before they get the justice that they need. How many more folk need to die before this will be sorted out?

Hywel Williams Portrait Hywel Williams
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I thank the hon. Lady for that powerful point. It is an old saw, but justice delayed is justice denied, which is quite obviously the case in this matter.

My constituent also points to the stigma associated with what has happened to him, as other right hon. and hon. Members have pointed out. He feels that he is in the wrong; he is being made to feel that he did something wrong but he acted in good faith throughout, sought expert advice and followed the advice that he was given, because he had no intention of doing anything wrong. In contrast, as has been pointed out—I will finish on this point—the owners of the companies that ran these schemes have made considerable sums of money. Rob feels that he has been denied a fair hearing, while other people have got away with it.

As the hon. Member for Buckingham (Greg Smith) said, HMRC is judge, jury and executioner in its own case, which is obviously wrong. People are receiving retrospective punishments even though they acted in good faith. There must be justice for Rob Cowen and the other victims of these schemes and of HMRC’s behaviour. I join the calls on the Minister to act quickly.

Credit Unions and the Cost of Living

Hannah Bardell Excerpts
Tuesday 18th July 2023

(10 months, 1 week ago)

Westminster Hall
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Westminster Hall is an alternative Chamber for MPs to hold debates, named after the adjoining Westminster Hall.

Each debate is chaired by an MP from the Panel of Chairs, rather than the Speaker or Deputy Speaker. A Government Minister will give the final speech, and no votes may be called on the debate topic.

This information is provided by Parallel Parliament and does not comprise part of the offical record

Rupa Huq Portrait Dr Rupa Huq (in the Chair)
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I call Hannah Bardell to move the motion. I shall then call the Minister to respond. As this is a 30-minute debate, there is no opportunity for a winding-up speech.

Hannah Bardell Portrait Hannah Bardell (Livingston) (SNP)
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I beg to move,

That this House has considered credit unions and the cost of living.

It is a pleasure to move the motion, Dr Huq. I am grateful to the Backbench Business Committee for granting this short debate and to the Minister for responding. I am sure that other colleagues will want to make an intervention along the way in this debate on the importance of credit unions during a cost of living crisis.

First off, I declare an interest as someone who saves and borrows with credit unions, including my own in West Lothian—the great West Lothian Credit Union. I start by paying a passionate tribute to West Lothian Credit Union, its chair, Nancy MacGillivray, and her team, who work and fight tirelessly to develop their services and support our local community through that local credit union. I also thank my own team for the work they have done to prepare for today and the work they do every day for our Livingston constituents throughout this cost of living crisis. I am sure all of us here in the House are very conscious of the pressures on our constituents and the work that our teams are doing for us—in particular Marcus, Yvonne and Adam, who have had a close hand in today’s preparations.

Similarly, I pay tribute to my constituency colleague Angela Constance, the Member of the Scottish Parliament for Almond Valley, and her team, who have worked closely and fought for our local credit union over many years. My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow South West (Chris Stephens) was not able to stay for this debate, but he wanted me to mention the work that Pollok Credit Union does in his constituency and the fact that so much great work is being done by credit unions with affordable food larders and community supermarkets—particularly a programme in his Glasgow South West constituency.

The role that credit unions play in supporting hard-working families across Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom during this unprecedented cost of living crisis is indisputable. Unlike the high street banks, credit unions are run and owned by their members and distinctly operate under a co-operative principle. While credit unions are a relatively new form of banking in historic terms—they were first established in the UK in the 1960s—their founding principles of mutual co-operation and collective benefit were born of the friendly society movement of the 18th century.

Credit unions even predate the creation of the welfare state. My own grandparents were active members in the co-operative movement in West Lothian and beyond, and its importance in our communities is a long-held tradition. As we become increasingly globalised and vested interests creep further and further into our lives, the role of credit unions and co-operatives is increasingly important and potentially under threat.

The formation of the first credit unions in the UK was inspired by those in Ireland. The first recorded credit union in the UK was formed in 1960, in Derry, Northern Ireland; that union now has over 30,000 members. In Scotland and in other parts of the UK, several credit unions were established by immigrants who came to the UK with very little, but simply wished to tackle the inequalities and the financial hardship of others—what a worthy cause. Over the last 50 years, credit unions have grown to provide loans and savings to more than 1.2 million people across England, Scotland, and Wales. I am incredibly proud of West Lothian Credit Union and in awe of the work that it does in supporting my community. I have seen that first hand, and once again pay tribute. It offers a range of services, from banking to funeral plans. Its services are available to all those who live or work across West Lothian.

As colleagues will know, credit unions are regulated by both the Financial Conduct Authority and the Prudential Regulation Authority. The objectives of all credit unions are simply this: to promote thrift among their members by the accumulation of their savings; to create sources of credit for the benefit of their members at a fair and reasonable rate of interest; the use and control of members’ savings for their mutual benefit; and the training and education of members in the wise use of money and the management of financial affairs.

Those objectives may sound simple, but many of the high street lenders and other financial service providers would do very well if they simply applied the same ethical standards. Not only would they be better viewed by the public, but they would be able to act in the public interest—rather than for private profit, as we so often see. Credit unions work with many employers to set up payroll saving schemes for their employees. Many credit unions operate school credit unions, encouraging a savings habit among young students, as well as giving them life skills in operating a cash collection. My own credit union has done fantastic work in my constituency.

These are fantastic initiatives that help foster better relationships between individuals and their employers. They also help create greater educational awareness about the importance of money for young people. Despite those successes, more employers could be encouraged to participate in payroll schemes for their employees. Similarly, operating school credit unions can be a costly process for which limited funding is available, and I hope the Minister can give some thoughts on that. There is a clear need to provide better support to our children and for financial education to be done not just by banks. It is one of many ways we should be doing more to ensure that every child has the best opportunity in life.

We are already seeing change for credit unions. For instance, the community banking platform Engage has partnered with 10 credit unions to deliver its faster payment service to nearly 100,000 customers. That is a great example of how technology can help, and I note with interest the article shared by Electronic Payments International. Sofia Dogan, CEO of Kingdom Community Bank, based in Glenrothes, highlighted that the cost for its service was less than 50% of the cost that its bank was preparing to charge and that payments could now be sent to members’ accounts in minutes. The Bank of England’s latest report in April shows that the number of adult members of credit unions in the UK has risen to an all-time high of 1.98 million. The starkest increase was in loans to borrowers, which has jumped by a staggering 18.9% to £785 million last year in England alone.

Amy Callaghan Portrait Amy Callaghan (East Dunbartonshire) (SNP)
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It is worth reflecting on the point my hon. Friend just made. The number of people borrowing with credit unions has increased, and one part of that is that we are seeing such high interest rates from high-street banks and those more typical lenders. Credit unions certainly play a far more vital role during this Tory-induced cost of living crisis.

Hannah Bardell Portrait Hannah Bardell
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My hon. Friend makes an excellent point—perhaps she has foreseen what I am about to say. It is an important point to highlight because although it is welcome that more people are using credit unions, the root cause is increasingly concerning. The cost of living crisis has placed a huge economic squeeze on hard-working families.

A report from Responsible Finance found that 41% of people borrowed to pay for essential bills and expenses, while 20% borrowed to pay for appliances and white goods. Analysis from Freedom Finance found that credit unions are lending record sums to UK borrowers following the surge in borrowing costs. Again, it is great news that people are getting their money through responsible borrowing from credit unions, but it is concerning that they are having to borrow such high levels just to get by.

Total loans exceeded £2 billion for the first time by the end of 2022—an annual increase of £251 million, or 15% over the course of 2022. Time and again, evidence shows that increases in the cost of living disproportionately impact the poorest in our society. Those individuals are often helped by credit unions, but some fall victim to unscrupulous lending practices, such as high-interest payday loans, simply to meet basic needs. The Freedom Finance credit monitor has revealed that the average household quoted on credit cards rose to its highest level last year since 1998, reaching 22.8% at the end of December. We can all reflect that if things worsen and interest rates go higher, more and more people will be tipped over the edge.

Stephanie Peacock Portrait Stephanie Peacock (Barnsley East) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I congratulate the hon. Member on securing the debate and making such a powerful speech. On that point, the Barnsley Chronicle stated that a report from the local council last week showed that one in five residents in Barnsley have debts that overtake their incomes. Obviously, people are really struggling with the cost of living. Food has gone up by 19%, and we have seen similar increases in gas and electric.

Given that situation—not just the rising cost of living, but the sheer rising level of debt—credit unions obviously play a huge role, but they are not always known about. I pay tribute to a fantastic credit union in my constituency in Wombwell, but residents do not always know they can access that affordable credit. Would the hon. Member join me in encouraging people to raise awareness of the issue?

Hannah Bardell Portrait Hannah Bardell
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I agree with everything that the hon. Member says. Part of the reason for today’s debate is to raise awareness of credit unions, as well as to recognise the challenges that we and many of our constituents face. An estimated 20 million consumers in the UK are underserved and unable to access credit from high street banks. That is compounded by the number of bank branches that are closing. Everybody across the House has been outraged by the behaviour of some banks, the closing of local branches and the cutting off of so many of our vulnerable and rural communities.

The Scottish Government are committed to ensuring that credit unions continue to be able to carry out their vital role in supporting communities across Scotland. In 2020, the Scottish Government established the credit union resilience loan fund and the third sector resilience fund, which provided grants and loans totalling more than £20 million, made available to be shared with over 100 credit unions across the country. The Scottish Government also actively ran a “People, Not Profit” campaign in 2018, encouraging people to consider joining a credit union—those are examples of what we can do with the limited powers we currently have in Scotland.

In stark contrast, the UK Government have been slow to respond to the cost of living crisis, and many households are desperately struggling. Many low-income households still do not meet the affordability criteria for many lenders. I was struck by the comments of one of my colleagues in Prime Minister’s Questions the other day, when she spoke powerfully about her experience, when her income dropped, of not being able to access funding. That shows the scale of what people face. Respectfully, credit unions will never be able to plug the gap, and the UK Government need to take urgent action to address the cost of living crisis. There is an increasing need for these services, and the Government must recognise that the increased demand for credit unions has also been driven by the closure of banks and post offices, especially in rural areas.

The UK Government urgently need to support credit unions further and look at ways in which they can better support them. In particular, the UK Government should consider funding specific outcomes—for example, promoting financial education classes for schoolchildren more compared with what is already available and supporting individual credit union projects where they have a clear community focus. The Government should continue to fund and expand initiatives that increase access to affordable credit, such as the no-interest loan scheme being led by Fair4All Finance—not an easy one to say—empowering local communities to develop and deliver affordable and responsible finance.

My constituency team and I have seen the tragedy of financial ruin time and again, from our casework to the constituency advice surgeries we hold. I know that much work has been done by many people in this place and, indeed, the Government on irresponsible lending, but it is incumbent on us to ensure that credit unions can not only survive, but thrive. I hope that the Minister will say a few words about how his Government will do that.

Earlier this year, when he was responding in the Chamber about his position, the Minister said:

“There are exactly 650 constituencies; would it not be wonderful if every one of them had a thriving credit union?”—[Official Report, 24 February 2023; Vol. 728, c. 426.]

I completely agree. I hope that Members present and all across this place continue to work towards achieving that goal by providing credit unions with the support they need to better empower our local communities and to help address the many inequalities that our constituents face.

Once again, I pay tribute to Nancy MacGillivray and her team at West Lothian Credit Union for all they do to support our Livingston and West Lothian communities, and I look forward to continuing to support them and the work that they do.

Andrew Griffith Portrait The Economic Secretary to the Treasury (Andrew Griffith)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Dr Huq. I congratulate the hon. Member for Livingston (Hannah Bardell) on a thorough and thoughtful contribution to this subject. She said that one of her objectives was to raise awareness, and she should feel that she has fully achieved that. I also congratulate the West Lothian Credit Union, which I understand will be celebrating a quarter of a century since its establishment this year. All my colleagues in the Treasury and I send our congratulations to that very important institution, which does great work.

As the Economic Secretary, I am committed to supporting the credit union sector. From helping people to set aside savings—the hon. Member talked about the work done with employers as well as in schools to help to promote the savings habit—to probably its most vital role of offering credit at affordable rates, the Government really value the unique role played by credit unions for all their members, and particularly the financial inclusion agenda. The reach of credit unions is significant. There are 385 of them—not quite enough for one for every constituency, but would that not be lovely? I share the hon. Lady’s goal of having more credit unions, seeing those we have being even more successful and wanting to grow the number of users. There are 83 in Scotland, which, in this respect, is punching above its weight. Together, credit unions represent more than 2 million members and have assets of more than £4.5 billion.

The hon. Lady is right that recent cost of living challenges have proven that the trust placed in the credit union sector by their members, the Government and regulators is well deserved. That trust will be vital as people across the country continue to face cost of living pressures and must stretch every pound as far as possible. People’s money needs to work hard for them.

We know that there are global challenges, and we are not alone in facing challenging levels of inflation: in May, core inflation was higher in more than half of the countries in the EU than in the UK. Inflation erodes living standards for households, and particularly for the most vulnerable in society. That is why it is right that the Government continue to make it one of our priorities—this is one of the Prime Minister’s priorities—to halve inflation by the end of the year, and we will not hesitate to do what it takes to achieve that. Access to affordable, inclusive credit, such as that provided by credit unions, can make a real difference.

Hannah Bardell Portrait Hannah Bardell
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Does the Minister agree that when the chips were down during the financial crisis of 2008, the Government had no choice but to step in and save the banks, but that it is now time for the banks to step up and help people who need to borrow and those who need help?

Approved Mileage Allowance Payment Rate

Hannah Bardell Excerpts
Monday 3rd July 2023

(10 months, 3 weeks ago)

Westminster Hall
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Kenny MacAskill Portrait Kenny MacAskill
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Absolutely. I am sitting with a copy of the report myself and the hon. Member is correct; there were people from a variety of parties at the meeting. The RAC Foundation was not there in a political capacity. I think Unison did the right thing to hold the meeting with the RAC Foundation. It gave the meeting ballast and legitimacy because the RAC, along with the AA, is a specialist in motoring matters and has come to the conclusion that 63p, together with some form of system, is what is necessary.

Locally, I face all the difficulties that the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington ably pointed out. East Lothian is not the biggest constituency—it is not the size of some of those in the highlands of Scotland—but it is still significant. It runs along the A1 for in excess of 60 miles, from Musselburgh all the way to the villages before the Scottish Borders. Although the principal town tends to be Haddington, with the community hospital hub and the council based there, people are unable to work without going into the other towns, which are equally jealous of their independence and seek to retain their own facilities, whether it is those on the coast such as Dunbar, where I live, and North Berwick, or inland at Tranent or elsewhere, never mind the small villages. Whether someone is doing voluntary work, working for the council or carrying out a trade, they cannot do their job without running up significant mileage.

We are not only talking about those working in fields such as care. There are people in senior positions and health visitors who are struggling financially because, as with others, they have seen their mortgage go up while they have to keep a roof above their head, yet it costs them to work because they are not recompensed for the daily mileage that they rack up. They need a car to carry out their work on behalf of their employer, and they have to pay additional costs to do that. That is why the issue has to be taken on board.

The hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington correctly pointed out that we should not just seek to remedy the mileage allowance once and then have to look at it again; it could be worthwhile to make it index linked. As the hon. Member for Darlington (Peter Gibson) will be aware from the meeting I mentioned, we also have to bear in mind that when the allowance is paid by employers, it is meant to recompense workers not simply for the cost of fuel—the £1.45 that the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington mentioned resonates with what Asda is currently charging in Dunbar—but for the wear and tear on their cars and for insurance.

One of the most significant things that I learned from the RAC Foundation was that fuel costs had increased at the lowest rate; insurance, as I recall, had increased at the highest rate, but other things had increased too. Not only do people have to pay for their petrol or diesel, but they have to pay the car costs that are necessary for their work and that their employer expects them to pay, because otherwise they cannot do their job. That is certainly true in my area, but it is the same in others, whether they are urban or rural. That is why the mileage allowance should be increased.

There is, as I say, political buy-in from across the Chamber. There is a recognition, not just from trade unions but from motoring organisations, that the rate is long past its sell-by date. It is clear from what others have said that this is not simply about people struggling to do their work, but about getting people into the labour market—a statement is being made elsewhere in this building on that very subject. People must be recompensed for their work and not pay out of their own pocket to do their job.

Hannah Bardell Portrait Hannah Bardell (Livingston) (SNP)
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The hon. Gentleman is making a brilliant and eloquent speech. Many of my Livingston constituents signed the petition, but one of my constituents, who is a housing officer, was struggling to get by on the mileage allowance before the cost of living crisis. Does the hon. Gentleman share my concern that if staff, whether they are NHS staff or other public sector staff, cannot get by on the mileage rate that is being offered, they will go elsewhere? We are already struggling to keep people in those vital roles.

Kenny MacAskill Portrait Kenny MacAskill
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Absolutely. The issue was first raised with me by the chief executive of East Lothian Council, because it is struggling to retain staff, and staff are necessary.

I will finish there, Mr Sharma. It seems that we have buy-in from across the Chamber and, I think, in the community, as shown by Unison and the RAC Foundation. This is about remedying a wrong: 2011 was a long time ago politically, never mind in terms of costs, and on that basis I hope that the Minister can come around not simply to addressing the rate, but to ensuring that we do not have this issue recurring and that we sort out some annualised system.

Oral Answers to Questions

Hannah Bardell Excerpts
Tuesday 9th May 2023

(1 year ago)

Commons Chamber
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John Glen Portrait John Glen
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I believe that the Minister for the Cabinet Office updated the House on this matter a couple of weeks ago, and I am sure that he will be keen to do so again when those conversations have taken place.

Hannah Bardell Portrait Hannah Bardell (Livingston) (SNP)
- View Speech - Hansard - -

This morning, before I left my constituency, I attended a rally organised by “Hands off Howden Park” and “Save our Pools”, which are two incredible campaigns in my constituency trying to protect our arts venues and pools from closing. Unfortunately, they have been mismanaged by the Labour and Conservative administration, and those results are the reality to be faced after a decade and a half of austerity has decimated public funding. When will the Government stop wasting money on things like Brexit and nuclear weapons and properly fund our pools and arts venues?

John Glen Portrait John Glen
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

We do not typically make specific decisions on local authorities from Whitehall, but we have committed to significant additional funds for local authorities and funding for the Scottish Government through the Barnett formula. I will leave the hon. Member to continue to lobby and campaign with her constituents to get those decisions made on the ground.

Draft Insider Dealing (Securities and Regulated Markets) Order 2023

Hannah Bardell Excerpts
Tuesday 9th May 2023

(1 year ago)

General Committees
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Andrew Griffith Portrait Andrew Griffith
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It is always a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Hampstead and Kilburn; I thank her and her colleagues for their support. She makes a fair point about the period between publication of the FEMR in 2015 and the Committee’s consideration of the draft order today. I do not have the figures on—indeed, I do not even know—whether there has been a lack of prosecutions as a result. As the hon. Lady knows, there is both a civil and a criminal regime. It is only the civil regime that we are updating today; we are maintaining the criminal regime.

Hannah Bardell Portrait Hannah Bardell (Livingston) (SNP)
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Like our Labour party colleagues, the Scottish National party supports the draft order. However, the reality is that the National Crime Agency has faced a 4.5% decrease in its budget in recent years. Is the Minister willing to say anything about the funding of the resources to pursue the criminals? What more will be done in line with updating the legislation?

Andrew Griffith Portrait Andrew Griffith
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

These are important matters. The funding of the police is out of scope, but I am sure I share the Committee’s desire to see any criminals in this space prosecuted and to see as many investigations as possible. The FCA has operational independence in dealing with those matters, and it is our job to provide it with the tools, which is what we are doing. I am grateful for the support of the hon. Lady and her party.

There have been a number of interludes since the original FEMR in 2015, including the unprecedented period during the pandemic and some of the other financial measures that we have had to pursue as part of Brexit. I hope we have consensus about how we move forward now. In all the important work that we are doing across the financial services sector, I have a zeal to proceed at the fastest possible pace. We do not have the ability to travel back in time, but we can put the draft order on the statute book now.

Cash Acceptance

Hannah Bardell Excerpts
Monday 20th March 2023

(1 year, 2 months ago)

Westminster Hall
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Hannah Bardell Portrait Hannah Bardell (in the Chair)
- Hansard - -

Before we begin, I want to put on the record that we are delighted to see so many members of the public in the Public Gallery for this important debate. I ask that everybody’s phones are turned off and that we keep noise to a minimum to allow Members to enjoy the flow of debate and for those watching at home.

Martyn Day Portrait Martyn Day (Linlithgow and East Falkirk) (SNP)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I beg to move,

That this House has considered e-petitions 605030 and 622284, relating to the acceptance of cash.

It is genuinely a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Bardell. The petitions before us attracted more than 58,500 signatures between them, having closed on 5 July 2022 and 10 March this year respectively. I thank the creators and signatories of the two petitions. Their actions have meant we are here today to debate an issue that is clearly of interest and concern to many people across the UK.

The petitioners call on the Government to:

“Make it illegal for retailers and services to decline cash payments”,

and to:

“Require all businesses and public services to accept cash payments”,

with the exception of internet-based businesses. They argue:

“Not everyone wants a digital trail and others simply cannot pay by card.”

The petitioners expressed concern about cashless payments creating an “enforced dependency on banks” and a

“threat to privacy as people cannot make anonymous payments.”

They stated:

“If we wish to uphold freedom of choice and the right to privacy, it is imperative that we protect the use of cash.”

--- Later in debate ---
Paul Maynard Portrait Paul Maynard
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I take the right hon. Gentleman’s point, but I am not lecturing the banks on the basis of being a politician. I apologise if my approach today is technocratic, but I am not seeking to be political. The Minister can explain what the Government are actually doing on this front.

We have all had substantial lobbying on this issue. My inbox has been full of press clippings, videos of the hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk and so on. I am a little troubled by the emphasis on the compulsory acceptance of cash, and particularly by the suggestion that we should adopt something like the Spanish legislation that limits card payments to a €30 minimum. If someone wants to spend less than €30, they cannot use a card. That seems to be the very opposite of payment choice, and the cost would be passed on to consumers through higher prices. The cost to retailers comes in the form of driving further to deposit the takings at the end of the day. If they have to drive a long distance, they might have to close earlier to get to the post office or bank before it closes. That means they forgo income, so they might have to raise their prices.

In my constituency, the signs in shops saying “No card payments under £3” or, “No card payments under £5” have disappeared since the pandemic. That is progress; it gives people more choice. New technology, such as handheld card readers, has made payments both easier and cheaper, although I recognise that the hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey (Drew Hendry) might intervene to say that broadband is still not good enough in many rural areas to make such things reliable, particularly in the tourism sector.

Before people out there start to shout at me, let me say that I certainly do not believe that cash should be killed off and that the future is entirely digital—far from it. People will always need cash, particularly the financially vulnerable and marginalised in society. My constituency of Blackpool North and Cleveleys has eight of the 10 poorest neighbourhoods in the country, and I know that some people rely on cash to manage their income. Some are nervous about using technology; they may struggle to remember their PIN or manage their personal finances. They may be among the 1.8 million people who are still unbanked, relying on a jam-jar approach and monitoring pots of money for bills, which cannot be done with a card.

I was troubled by some of the proposals briefed out ahead of this debate. One suggestion was that in return for requiring businesses to accept cash, certain denominations of coin would be done away with—giving with one hand while taking with the other. That fills me with dread. Another suggestion was requiring “exact-amount services”, which is a euphemism for “rounding up”—something priced at 33p would be priced at 35p, for example. That would make no sense in the midst of a cost of living crisis. There is no mandate for it from the public, and it has no legitimacy in the eyes of consumers or, indeed, retailers.

The Minister is here to tell us what the Government have done, but I will make brief reference to the legislation on access to cash, which is entirely welcome. I would love him to talk about free access to cash, but I bet he will not—he has been disappointing me on that front for some time, so I will not hold my breath. I am also a bit frustrated that the policy statement explaining how we will guarantee access to cash will not come out until we pass the legislation, so we cannot judge how spot on it is, but he may be listening to me on that.

I have not heard many people talk about the notion of cashback without purchase, something for which the Government have legislated. It solved a long-term problem known as the £3.22 issue. Someone may want to take out a precise amount of money—they might not want £10 or £20 because they are managing their finances. They cannot take £3.22 out of an ATM, but they can now take out that amount from their local PayPoint in the newsagent without having to make a purchase. It is life changing for many people in areas such as the one I represent, but all the vested interests in this debate hate talking about cashback without purchase. They do not want people to know about it. They would far rather that the most vulnerable people in my constituency went down to a pay-to-use ATM.

The banks have produced some fascinating research into why people in the most deprived parts of this country often go to a pay-to-use ATM, which may charge £2 or £2.50 to take out small amounts of money, when they are actually very near to a free-to-use ATM. Understanding that strange behaviour is a real challenge for the financial services sector, and it is something that I find frustrating about this entire debate.

I commend the work of the access to cash review and Natalie Ceeney, who has done so much on access in recent years. Like her and the group, I believe that banking hubs are the way forward, but I also know from Link’s work scrutinising the impact of bank closures that the introduction of a banking hub is not the only remedy to bank closures. I think of post offices, ATMs, and deposit-taking “reverse” ATMs. I was doing my own private secretary work, as a sort-of pretend Minister, by checking on my phone what happened in Holt when Barclays closed; I understand that an ATM is now going to be installed. When I checked Axminster, I found that its residents are getting a banking hub—I am not sure when, but congratulations on that. I am sure they have heard how good it was in Cambuslang.

Many campaigners ask, “Is this enough? Are we going far enough and fast enough? Why aren’t they all open now? Why doesn’t a banking hub open the moment the bank shuts its doors?” but 38 banking hubs and 38 more deposit-taking ATMs have been announced so far, which is a pretty good first step. I would love things to move faster—that might stop the Daily Mail campaigning against banking hubs—but they are a rather new concept and certain legalities need sorting out. Indeed, in one case, they are still trying to remove asbestos from the preferred location. People who thought that the moment a branch shut a banking hub would pop up as a like-for-like replacement misunderstood the situation.

Campaigners set the bar so high that I think they will not be satisfied until they have a maternity unit included in the hub, as well as everything else—they almost seem not to want to win this battle that they have been fighting for so long. We need to keep the pressure on those introducing the banking hubs; we need to ensure that the pace of their introduction accelerates and that these initial hurdles are overcome, but I do not think we should talk down the idea of banking hubs because somehow they are not perfect.

I wonder if the aspirations are too high. I listened carefully to the House of Lords debate on the Financial Services and Markets Bill, in the special way that the House of Lords does it. Their lordships suggested in one amendment an obligation on banking hubs to have a representative from every single bank. That just is not feasible. Digital-only banks, such as Monzo and First Direct, offer a better service to customers because they do not have the overheads of a physical network. We would wholly undermine their business model if we were to insist that banks like Monzo suddenly have to recruit someone to physically exist in a banking hub. That makes no sense at all.

What the banking hubs should be used for is digital training and addressing financial exclusion. Someone mentioned decimalisation—I think it was the hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk. To me, a more pertinent example is the switch from analogue to digital television and the emphasis, training and preparation that went into that process, so that no one was left unserved when analogue was switched off. People knew it was coming and were helped through that process. I am not saying that cash will ever be switched off, nor do I want it to be, but we could learn from that process how we walk and talk people through it.

I want to make two final points. One is around deposit-taking ATMs. This may sound like a rather anodyne and technocratic point—I suppose it is—but not all ATMs are equal. Members may have heard me refer earlier to the challenges retailers face in having to go much further to deposit their takings at the end of the day. A deposit-taking ATM is fundamental to solving that problem.

The post office is not always the solution. My post office in Cleveleys is tiny, despite it being a town of 16,000; people queue out the door even when there are no financial services activities, let alone every time a bank branch closes and they have to start using the post office again. I was speaking to the postmaster of the nearest post office to where I live. I have been hearing worrying tales that local businesses are struggling to deposit cash because the banks are putting limits on the amount a business can deposit in any one calendar year, to the point that some businesses are having to shut down, simply because they cannot deposit the cash takings at the end of the day. I tell the financial services sector and all those banks that normally monitor what I say in this place that I am not happy. I expect an email tomorrow morning from at least one of those banks that are obsessed with everything I say. This policy is a real deterrent.

I end on a note of agreement, though, with the UK Cash Supply Alliance. I know I have been giving them a bit of a hard time in the debate. This is the most technocratic issue imaginable, but it is the cost of the hardwiring of our cash system. The wholesale distribution of cash remains far too costly—£5 billion to the economy overall—and there is far too much duplication. We have not seen the radical reform I believe was needed when the Bank of England set up the wholesale distribution steering group to try to find an alternative model. I fear that some in the cash distribution sector are defending their commercial turf under the guise of protecting customer interests. That is simply not good enough.

I had a fascinating trip to Vaultex near Warrington several years ago. Vaultex is one of the cash-handling and cash-distribution centres that covers the north of England. All our bank notes come in and come out of the centre. I have never stood near so much money in my life. There is absolutely no chance of getting in or out with it—it even has a special roof that a helicopter cannot be landed on just to avoid any shenanigans—but what I saw there was duplication after duplication. Every bank required their bank notes to be counted, stored and separated in a specific way; there was no attempt to rationalise the process. I sat there thinking, “If only more banks could agree to handle their money in the same way, it would start to reduce this £5 billion cost.” I do not know how that is going. I gather there were proposals for a public utility model that would help to bring it all together to reduce the costs, but it is such an opaque process. The Bank of England does not update the minutes on its website for this wholesale distribution steering group, so I know very little about what is going on, which is frustrating.

Reducing that £5 billion cost is the answer to what we have been discussing today, making it cheaper and more affordable for small businesses to keep taking cash. If that does not happen, we will have a problem. The best way to protect the acceptance of cash is not by penalising consumers with higher costs or penalising retailers by forcing them to raise costs, but by addressing the reason why retailers choose not to accept cash in the first place, which is about cost and convenience. We should reduce the cost of wholesale distribution, and make depositing cash easier with more deposit-taking ATMs. If we do that, we will start to tackle the vested interests which have hovered ghoulishly over this debate for far too long.

Hannah Bardell Portrait Hannah Bardell (in the Chair)
- Hansard - -

I call the SNP spokesperson.

--- Later in debate ---
Patricia Gibson Portrait Patricia Gibson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Yes, and we expect gambling companies to step up and take greater responsibility for the harm that gambling outlets can cause. Of course, we know that there are more ways to gamble on high streets in socioeconomically deprived communities than in better-off communities, which is another scandal that we really should debate another day.

People actually handling cash and seeing in real time what money they are spending is critical to helping them budget—even more so when budgets are under so much pressure and are so much more precarious during this cost of living crisis, when everything costs more each time we go to the supermarket.

There is, of course, another side to this. Electronic payments incur a cost for firms, especially those making many small transactions. The UK Government should seek to address that to help to support our overall cash infrastructure. It is not right that businesses should have to pay those fees. While the provisions of the Financial Services and Markets Bill, which grants new powers to the Financial Conduct Authority over the UK’s largest banks and building societies to ensure that cash withdrawal and deposit facilities are available in communities across the country, were welcome, as many people have said in this debate, we need more detail. We need to know how that will work in practice. Again, I am hoping that the Minister will tell us more about that when he responds.

However, it is and has been clear for a long, long time—it was made even clearer as we tried to get back to normal after the pandemic—for a range of reasons that have been well rehearsed today and previously that consumers want and need the choice to pay for goods and services in cash. Consumers must not be forced down a cashless road which they do not want or are simply unable to go down. The Government should uphold that right and protect our cash infrastructure for all the sound reasons debated today. They should enshrine that right in legislation, which is becoming increasingly necessary.

Fundamental to all this is protecting free access to cash in all our communities. Financial inclusion matters, and the Government have a moral duty to uphold that in principle as well as in practice.

Hannah Bardell Portrait Hannah Bardell (in the Chair)
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I call the Opposition spokesperson.

Economic Responsibility and a Plan for Growth

Hannah Bardell Excerpts
Wednesday 19th October 2022

(1 year, 7 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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James Cartlidge Portrait James Cartlidge (South Suffolk) (Con)
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It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Weaver Vale (Mike Amesbury) and his little shop of horrors, and it is a pleasure to be called to speak on this Labour motion. There is one thing missing from it, because the Labour party normally wants an impact assessment. One thing I have concluded about politics is that we always miss out one impact assessment: the impact of our measures on those who have least of all. When I say least of all, I mean those who have literally nothing—no money, no assets and above all no voice—because they have not been born yet. I am talking about the impact of the decisions we take in government today on those who are to come. In other words, I am talking about the national debt. For me, as a Conservative, it goes to the core of everything I believe in that, as with the environment, we should leave the public finances in a better condition for our grandchildren.

It is fair to say that I warned in the summer that the unfunded measures that were proposed constituted a high-risk strategy. I was dismayed when they were announced and not surprised at their impact. I was, however, delighted by the new appointment to the Treasury of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, my right hon. Friend the Member for South West Surrey (Jeremy Hunt)—I had the privilege of being his Parliamentary Private Secretary when he was Health Secretary and Foreign Secretary—and of the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, my right hon. Friend the Member for Charnwood (Edward Argar), who is an excellent appointment.

I want to reflect on the wider idea of unfunded tax cuts or spending. There are those in the Opposition who have called it libertarianism. It is certainly not conservatism, in my view. Neither is it libertarianism, because the unfunded measures were not matched by spending reductions—in other words, a smaller state—but the money was simply to be borrowed. There is an argument for saying that it is socialism, and it is certainly what we would have expected from the right hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn). But really, when people promise stuff without saying how they would pay for it or making any difficult decisions, it is populism. This is not new. Where we are with the economy has implications for all of us, from all parts of the House. Whatever steps we now take and whatever measures we announce, we will have to say how they will be paid for. We will have to level with the British people.

I had the great privilege of being PPS to the right hon. Member for Richmond (Yorks) (Rishi Sunak) when he was Chancellor. Throughout the pandemic, I never got a single email from a single colleague, no matter how left-wing or right-wing they were, calling for less support. There were only calls for more spending, more tax cuts, more generous support, more debt.

Many, including some Conservative Members, argue that we can borrow because it creates growth. The beauty of that position is that they do not have to say who loses out. That is the hard thing in politics, and we now have to face up to the reality of our position. It will have massive implications for parties on both sides of the House. Even the SNP, in relation to the Women Against State Pension Inequality Campaign, announced a policy to be paid for from the surplus in the national insurance fund, which, though an accounting reality, does not exist as surplus money in the Government accounts that can be committed for years to come. We have all heard such commitments.

Hannah Bardell Portrait Hannah Bardell (Livingston) (SNP)
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The hon. Gentleman is talking about accounting and balancing the books. Perhaps he and his colleagues would like to come up to Scotland and take lessons from our Government, who are having to fill the black holes that his Government have created, because we actually have to balance the books in Scotland. Forget trickle-down economics; it is trickle-down tragedy that I am seeing in my constituents in Livingston being pushed under by the absolute chaos at the heart of this Tory Government.

James Cartlidge Portrait James Cartlidge
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The hon. Lady was not here when I intervened on the SNP Front-Bench spokesman, the hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey (Drew Hendry). I asked if it was true that were Scotland to be independent, its policy would be to have a currency with no lender of last resort, and he did not deny it. It is the most extraordinary proposition, exceeded in its stupidity only by the old idea of a no-fly zone over Ukraine, to be enforced at the same time as unilateral nuclear disarmament—in other words, making nuclear conflict more likely while denuding ourselves of the ability to deter it.

I turn to social care, which I care about passionately. The social care workforce do one of the toughest jobs in the country, and I never take them for granted. They care for the most vulnerable, particularly those with dementia. We all know that they are facing a difficult period, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer certainly knows that.

Last week, I was one of only two speakers on the Conservative Benches who spoke in the debate on the Bill to repeal the health and social care levy. I say to my right hon. Friend the Member for Charnwood (Edward Argar) that his predecessor as Chief Secretary to the Treasury, our right hon. Friend the Member for Croydon South (Chris Philp), said several times that, despite the repeal, there would be not a penny less for health and social care. We now know that the social care cap may be delayed, or may even not happen—I sincerely hope that that is not the case. Had I known that last week, would I have changed the way I would have voted had a Division been called? My right hon. Friend the Member for Charnwood has been a Health Minister and knows the importance of social care. He needs to reflect on the commitment given last week. I can tell him right now that I would have been sorely tempted to vote against the Bill had I known then what I know now.

The whole point of the levy was to deliver a solution to social care and to help to fund the NHS through these difficult times. It was one of the great achievements of the previous Prime Minister that, after all these years of social care Green Papers and White Papers, not taking decisions, and yes, commitments to spend with no explanation of where the money will come from—perhaps a wealth tax, although that would not get the revenue—we got a policy, and one that was credibly funded. The method of funding it was arguably not perfect, but it would have delivered a cap for those who otherwise face no limit on the costs they can incur if, for example, a loved one in their senior years has dementia. I think that our policy priority must be ensuring the dignity of our most senior citizens at the toughest time of their and their dependants’ lives.

It gives me no satisfaction to make these points about the importance of sound fiscal policy, balancing the books and having regard to future generations. That has been the core of every Conservative Government I have served in, and I know it is back at the core with our new Chancellor, who I am sure will deliver market confidence. But we all need to understand that the era of making unfunded pledges is over. That will have implications for all parties, as we will all face greater accountability, but for my grandchildren—if I ever get them—it is a good thing.

Oral Answers to Questions

Hannah Bardell Excerpts
Tuesday 17th May 2022

(2 years ago)

Commons Chamber
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Helen Whately Portrait Helen Whately
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My hon. Friend tempts me with a visit to a vineyard in her constituency. She has already made the argument very strongly—when I recently met the wine and spirits all-party group. Representing a wine-producing constituency, she will appreciate, I am sure, our announcement of the reduction in the duty rate for sparkling wine. As I said to my right hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow (Philip Dunne) earlier, I am speaking to businesses in the sector to make sure that we get right the practicalities of introducing these reforms.

Hannah Bardell Portrait Hannah Bardell (Livingston) (SNP)
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T2. Speaking of broad shoulders, I am interested to know what makes the Chancellor, one of the richest men in the Commons and, indeed, in the UK, in any way qualified to make policy or to help the poorest people in my constituency who, as a result of the Tory cost of living crisis, have to choose between heating and eating, which he and others like him will never have to face?

Rishi Sunak Portrait Rishi Sunak
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I urge the British people to judge me by my actions. Over the past two years, the record of this Conservative Government stands for itself. We were there to help this country through the crisis and we are there to help them today.

Cost of Living Increases

Hannah Bardell Excerpts
Monday 24th January 2022

(2 years, 3 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Douglas Ross Portrait Douglas Ross
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They are all excited now. I will give way to the hon. Member for Livingston (Hannah Bardell) in a moment, but we are speaking about the cost of living crisis and the SNP leader in Scotland wants to start the campaign to separate Scotland all over again. If Scotland were to separate from the rest of the United Kingdom—which I hope never, ever happens—surely the SNP can tell us what an independent Scotland’s currency would be.

Hannah Bardell Portrait Hannah Bardell
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I am sure the hon. Gentleman will be pleased to know that in the run-up to the independence referendum in 2014, we offered the public in Scotland more information about the currency alone than his party offered voters across the UK on the whole Brexit debate.

Douglas Ross Portrait Douglas Ross
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I note, having asked the hon. Lady to tell me what currency an independent Scotland would have, that she failed to do so. She did, however, mention the White Paper, which was very detailed. It said that oil would be worth $114 a barrel. I am not sure that oil ever achieved that figure; it is certainly not worth that much at the moment. I really do not think that the White Paper is a strong argument for the SNP to focus on, but—

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Tommy Sheppard Portrait Tommy Sheppard
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If the hon. Member does not mind, I would like to continue.

What the Government ought to be doing is recognising that we are coming towards a crisis in the cost of living, particularly with the fuel bills coming in April. They ought to make sure that the energy cap remains in place and does not rise. They ought to provide support for energy supply companies to be able to deliver that. They ought to make sure that the people who have already faced an increase in their bills are given a one-off payment to enable them to get through the rest of this year. But instead of doing that, they do nothing. Tax is another example of where the Government go out of their way, it seems, to make things worse.

When I talk about tax, it is worth bearing in mind that benefits are also part of the tax system. If the Government choose to withdraw benefits from people, the effect is exactly the same as if they were to increase taxes on their wage bill. That is why the cut of £20 a week to the 6 million poorest households in Britain is so iniquitous and so immoral. It would be at any time, but to do it in the middle of a cost of living crisis is beyond imagination. Of course that ought to be reversed, and of course the Government ought to do more to try to help those who are on fixed and low incomes, particularly those living on meagre state benefits. The fact is that, if the Government do not uprate in the next 12 months the level of benefits paid to those people who desperately need them, with rampant inflation, the real value of those incomes is going to go down even further, and the people who can least afford it are going to be the ones who will pay the most.

Of course, the increase in tax that the Government are proposing—the national insurance increase—is a tax increase that everyone will pay, and the proportion they will pay is exactly the same, no matter how rich or how poor they are. I have heard Ministers on the radio talk about this as a progressive tax. It is the farthest we can get from a progressive tax. It is fundamentally regressive. The reason it is being brought in is that this Government, who have to increase revenues because of the economic crisis, do not want to ask the very richest or the very wealthiest in our society to pay a bit more. If they had any morality to them, in a situation where they knew they needed to raise income through taxation, they would first consider taxing those who have the most and taxing accumulated wealth, before they levied a tax on people on poor and fixed incomes.

I think there are many Government Members who can see that this is not a good situation and that the Government’s response is quite abysmal. By the way, I do not know how much of this is by design, or how much of it is turbocharged by the fact that the current Administration are in complete inertia and paralysis; they are unable to do something because they are so scandal-ridden at this point in time. I accept that the lockdown crisis the Government have makes it harder for them to govern, but either way this Government’s honeymoon is long over—the veneer is disappearing. Those people in the red wall seats in the north of England who were conned into believing that this Government—this Tory Government—would stand up for their interests are going to see over the next 12 months things laid out very clearly for them. That is why, of course, there are a lot of nervous people on the Government Back Benches, and there are going to be a lot of problems for the Government in the 12 months ahead.

Let me turn, in my final remarks, to the situation in Scotland. I was going to congratulate the hon. Member for Moray (Douglas Ross), but he is no longer in his place. He brought into the debate the question of Scottish independence. He introduced it—it is not an SNP obsession. If we look at the text of the motion, the words “referendum” and “independence” do not appear in it. That is not just because we are capable of talking about many other things: it is because this debate, by itself, makes the case for independence. We do not need to write it down—it is self-evident.

If people want to see how things might be done differently or a different set of instincts, aspirations, attitudes and character at work, they can look north of the border and at what the Scottish Government have tried to do within the competence that they have available. The discretionary housing payment is ameliorating the bedroom tax. The child payments, already introduced and doubling in April, will mitigate some of the attacks on the very poorest in our community. Income tax increases for those who can afford to pay more, which the Conservatives claim make Scotland the most taxed part of the United Kingdom, in fact make Scotland the fairest taxed part of the United Kingdom.

Hannah Bardell Portrait Hannah Bardell
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My hon. Friend is making a very powerful point about independence. Does he agree that the real fear on the Government Benches and in the establishment at the heart of Westminster is that when Scotland becomes independent the other nations of the UK will look north, see what we do with the full powers of independence and will want change for themselves, away from the corrupt, scandalous bunch running things here?

Tommy Sheppard Portrait Tommy Sheppard
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Indeed I do, but in closing I want to point to the monstrous deceit in this argument. It is a fact of life that no matter what the Scottish Government try to do in terms of the Scottish economy, they live with the reality that it is a regional economy of the United Kingdom, not the economy of an independent country. Therefore, for example, the decisions that we make on income taxation are very limited, because the Scottish Government have no authority or power over the movement of capital or labour within our borders. If it was an independent country, those things would be very different. I am afraid to say that that is compounded by Labour party Front Benchers. When they criticise the SNP Scottish Government, they basically think of a number and double it, without any regard to the actual powers, authority or legal status of that Government to deliver on the cost of living crisis.

The Scottish Government are doing some very good things, but those are only an illustration of what could be done if we had the full powers of a normal independent country. That argument has already become much more attractive to people in Scotland. Opinion is divided about whether we should have another referendum. I know that Conservative Members say that should never happen—

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Alison Thewliss Portrait Alison Thewliss (Glasgow Central) (SNP)
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We have heard in this debate heartbreaking stories of constituents who are facing real and enduring hardship; of the choices that people are already making in the face of the poverty that they endure; and of the impact of the cost of living crisis on those we represent. The crisis is the direct result of political choices made by the UK Tory Government and their predecessors over the past decade. Many of our constituents face grinding poverty, whether in or out of work. The Covid Realities report that came out today states:

“Our social security system is currently ill-suited to protect people from poverty”.

That should be the system’s very function.

The Tories have cut the £20-a-week uplift to universal credit and to working tax credits, which made such a difference to low-income families during the pandemic, and shamefully they completely forgot about the 2.5 million people on legacy benefits, including many people with disabilities, who depend on their heating so much more. To make matters worse, we have the upcoming Tory tax on jobs—the national insurance hike, which is coming in April. Laden on top of that, we have Brexit chaos, spiralling fuel prices and inflation seemingly running out of control at a 30-year high.

This is a perfect storm for the poorest in society. Already buffeted by the ill wind of austerity, a growing number of people have no savings, and debt which is becoming increasingly unmanageable. Last week’s Joseph Rowntree Foundation report on poverty in 2022 highlights the two-child limit, which I have fought since 2015 but which remains on the Government’s statute book, driving up child poverty with every passing day; the benefit cap—in Scotland, 67.8% of capped households are single-parent households; the five-week wait for the first universal credit payment; unaffordable debt deductions from benefits; and the freezing of local housing allowance rates since April 2020. All those things have increased the levels of poverty in the UK.

People are increasingly trapped in situations that are not their fault, unable to take on more hours, and unable to change their circumstances. Many of them, as my hon. Friend the Member for Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock (Allan Dorans) mentioned, are WASPI women, whose pension plans were cut short by the Government. I want to pay particular tribute to June Miller, part of the WASPI Glasgow and Lanarkshire group, who was buried today. She was 64 and never saw her pension—shame on this Government.

The impact on those facing the hostile environment is even sharper. Asylum seekers and people with no recourse to public funds are regularly left destitute, dependent on charitable support and help from local churches, gurdwaras and mosques to survive. If we know this, if people out there know this, then Tory ministers must know all this, and it makes it all the more utterly despicable that they have chosen not to act.

Ministers, of course, will talk up the changes to the taper rate, which are welcome, but they only help those lucky enough to be in work. The Office for Budget Responsibility has said that real wages will be lower in 2026 than they were in 2008. What kind of future is that for people in work? Ministers will laud their pretendy living wage, which is not even set at the real living wage rate, and has age discrimination baked in. They will praise food banks, calling them “rather uplifting”, instead of their proliferation being a mark of shame. My former caseworker, Ellenor Hutson, has reflected that food banks were a rarity when she began advice work in 2005. Yet in 2020-21, the Trussell Trust distributed over 2.5 million food parcels across the UK, which is up 128% in the past five years.

Hannah Bardell Portrait Hannah Bardell
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On food banks, does my hon. Friend agree it is disgusting that there are now more food banks in the UK than McDonald’s restaurants, that almost 25% of folk in the UK are in poverty and that the Office for National Statistics calculated that the richest 10% of households hold 44% of the wealth while the poorest 50% own 9%—all under this Government’s watch?

Alison Thewliss Portrait Alison Thewliss
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I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. While we know that those who work in food banks and support them do incredible work, they should not have to.

Away from the realm of boozy lockdown parties at No. 10 and birthday dumps for the Prime Minister while the rest of us were locked down, in the real world, people are experiencing a shocking rise in the price of the most basic necessities, as highlighted so powerfully by Jack Monroe. Average prices do not take into account the distribution of those prices across product lines. Increasing prices and the reduction in what is on offer is far more concentrated at the lower end, the cheaper end, of the food market, disproportionately impacting on those low-income families who depend on them. The reality of inflation is that it is much more than points on a chart to families who are already struggling. For many, it will be the difference between putting food on the table or not.

Energy prices mean that families cannot afford to heat or even light their homes, making them more vulnerable to health issues, particularly those who already experience health conditions and disabilities. Macmillan points out that about one in six people with cancer see their household fuel bills rise because of their diagnosis, with the average cost for those affected reaching £100 a month. The UK Government must act now on energy prices. Instead of a rising price cap, the UK Government must introduce an emergency financial package to support the most vulnerable and help families to cope with this growing Tory cost of living crisis.

The New Economics Foundation found that lone parents, pensioners and families caring for disabled relatives will be hit the hardest by increasing bills, and that the poorest will lose the largest proportion of their incomes to fuel bills. National Energy Action estimates that 6 million—6 million—UK households will be living in fuel poverty by April, a 50% increase from 2021. Resolution Foundation research shows that on average families will be £1,200 worse off in April and that fuel stress will dramatically increase from April due the higher energy price cap. New Joseph Rowntree Foundation analysis also warns that the energy price cap will have a harsher impact on the poorest families, who will spend on average 18% of their income after housing costs on energy bills after April. Minister, people cannot cope with those increases. The Government must act.

The reality is that poverty kills people: quickly and slowly, painfully and miserably. It stunts life chances and its effects endure. It is clearer every day that this UK Government, this Prime Minister, this Chancellor and this Minister in front of us today have the powers to tackle this, but not the will. They have the resources and the wealth, should they choose to use them. We can only conclude by their inaction that they have no interest in ending poverty—none whatsoever. Lord Agnew showed some courage—more courage than anybody on the Government Benches here—by resigning over the fraudulent misuse of bounce back loans: further billions to the amount they have allowed fraudsters to walk out the door with, including £4.3 billion from the covid support schemes alone, while so many were completely excluded from UK Government support. That incompetence is not new. According to Best for Britain, a total of £19.3 billion has been wasted by the Prime Minister since he came to power—all that while the Tories play their political games, shifting the blame for tax rises, filling suitcases full of booze, and ducking questions about lies and parties.

People are freezing and people are starving, not in some Dickensian dystopia but right now, on these islands. Tackling the Tory cost of living crisis is a matter of urgency and lives depend on it. The UK already has the worst levels of poverty of any polity in north-west Europe and the highest levels of in-work poverty this century. Only independence will allow us to recalibrate our economy to support and invest in those who have the least, rather than to reward those who already have the most. I urge all Members with sense and compassion to support our motion today.