Mortgage and Rental Costs

Paula Barker Excerpts
Tuesday 27th June 2023

(11 months, 4 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
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John Glen Portrait John Glen
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I wish to make some more progress and then I will take some interventions in a moment.

At that meeting on Friday, the Chancellor secured agreement from lenders to a new mortgage charter, which we published yesterday. It sets out what support customers will receive. We are proud to say that, over the weekend, more lenders signed up to the charter, and we encourage further lenders to join that 85% of mortgage market providers.

The charter provides support for two groups of people in particular. The first group is those who are worried about their mortgage repayments. If they want to switch to an interest-only mortgage or extend their mortgage term to reduce their monthly payments, they will be able to do so with the option of switching back to their original mortgage deal within six months without a new affordability check or affecting their credit score.

For most people, the right course of action will be to continue to make payments on their current mortgage. Keeping up full repayments means that they will pay less interest overall. But this new measure means that people will be able to opt for a lower-cost approach for six months with full reversibility, giving them the peace of mind of knowing that they can try out a new approach and still change their mind later on.

Paula Barker Portrait Paula Barker (Liverpool, Wavertree) (Lab)
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I thank the Minister for giving way. He is being very generous with his time.

With not all the mortgage market covered by the charter, there is a worry that around 1 million households could miss out on the support. Can the Minister guarantee that the measures that were outlined will be available to everyone struggling with their mortgage payments, not just those who happen to have a mortgage with one of the banks that is on the list of those that have cosy chats with the Chancellor?

John Glen Portrait John Glen
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I hope that more and more lenders will be added to those 85% of providers. The details will be known in the next few weeks. This comes on top of the FCA’s rules around lenders having to take an individual approach to the circumstances of their customers, especially those trying to find a way through when they fall into difficulty.

Mortgage Charter

Paula Barker Excerpts
Monday 26th June 2023

(11 months, 4 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
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Jeremy Hunt Portrait Jeremy Hunt
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We continue to have conversations with everyone who is involved in relieving families who are in distress because of debt arrears, whatever they may be, but I think the most important help we can give people is cost of living support. The extension of the energy price guarantee has reduced people’s electricity bills, and means overall that we have paid about half people’s electricity bills over the last year.

Paula Barker Portrait Paula Barker (Liverpool, Wavertree) (Lab)
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Last week the Bank of England confirmed that the rise in interest rates has been worst here in the UK, with overnight swaps—the key driver of mortgage rates—rising by twice as much in the UK as in the United States. What assessment have the Chancellor and his Department made of the reasons why the UK has been so much worse hit than other countries, and will he finally admit that that is the case? Will he also indulge me by explaining the difference between poverty and his new catchphrase, “absolute poverty”?

Jeremy Hunt Portrait Jeremy Hunt
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The hon. Lady may want to belittle the fact that 400,000 more children and 200,000 more pensioners have been taken out of absolute poverty, but I think that that is an important achievement, and I am proud of it. I also think the hon. Lady should recognise that the primary causes of the inflation we are seeing are international factors that are affecting many other countries, which is why we are also seeing interest rates rise across the world.

Silicon Valley Bank

Paula Barker Excerpts
Monday 13th March 2023

(1 year, 3 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Andrew Griffith Portrait Andrew Griffith
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My hon. Friend knows a great deal about the sector, and it is due to past reforms that we were able to take this decisive action. Parliament has given—in extremis, and with the agreement of the Bank of England, the PRA, the FCA and the Treasury—sweeping powers to enable this sort of transaction to happen at great pace. Let me be clear that it is the shareholders and creditors of the bank, not depositors or the taxpayer, who have lost. In the system that we have, that is the right outcome, and I am pleased we were able to achieve it.

The Edinburgh reforms are designed to give this country the ability to continue to grow and to be internationally competitive with other markets, while adhering to the highest quality regulatory standards, and with the UK at the absolute cornerstone of organisations such as the Financial Stability Board. They will not put any more jeopardy into the financial system. Indeed, having good healthy businesses that grow and are profitable is the best way to avoid jeopardy.

Paula Barker Portrait Paula Barker (Liverpool, Wavertree) (Lab)
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First pension funds and liability driven investments, now the collapse of SVB UK. Is it not time for a systematic review of the risks that sharply rising interest rates pose to the UK financial sector?

Andrew Griffith Portrait Andrew Griffith
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With the greatest of respect to the hon. Lady, the issue here was a subsidiary of a US bank, and I will not be commenting on US policy, interest rates or anything else from this Dispatch Box. The important fact is that we were able to restore the bank to viability and, over a small number of hours and days, to find a successful buyer. We did that because of the strength of the UK regulatory system, and because of the conviction of this Prime Minister and this Chancellor that this is a critical sector, and one of the ways that we will continue to grow the UK economy.

Energy (oil and gas) profits levy

Paula Barker Excerpts
Tuesday 22nd November 2022

(1 year, 7 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Tulip Siddiq Portrait Tulip Siddiq
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The hon. Gentleman has had plenty of opportunities—no more giving way.

The Government’s failure to make fair choices and grow the economy has seen our public services starved of the resources they need. Not only have Conservative policies been bad for people who rely on public services; they are also economically illiterate. Weaker public services mean a weaker economy. As the OBR has set out, rising long-term sickness and a backlog of 7 million people waiting for NHS treatments is a toxic combination. It all adds up to a labour market that is more dysfunctional than at any time in recent history, with hundreds of people out of work because of long-term sickness under this Conservative Government.

Paula Barker Portrait Paula Barker (Liverpool, Wavertree) (Lab)
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My hon. Friend is making an excellent speech. The role of Prime Minister requires transparency. It may be a matter of personal choice for people not to use our national health service that others so desperately rely on, but does my hon. Friend agree that, for many, it is particularly galling that we have a Prime Minister who does not use the national health service that his party broke?

Tulip Siddiq Portrait Tulip Siddiq
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I thank my hon. Friend for her intervention.

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Paula Barker Portrait Paula Barker (Liverpool, Wavertree) (Lab)
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For all the talk of bringing back “compassionate conservatism”—an oxymoron—the British people have been left with more of the same: a Government whose priorities are so skewed that, after 12years, they continue to reaffirm their unwavering commitment to looking after those at the top to the detriment of everybody else. Last week, there were fairer choices to be made; there were better choices to be made; and, frankly, there were choices that would have protected all our people against an economic onslaught that the Government have played no small part in making.

Call me naive, but I had assumed that the first rule of politics was to make life easier for people, helping them get on in life so that they can provide for their loved ones and families. The OBR is predicting that, on the Government’s watch, my Liverpool, Wavertree constituents will endure a 7% hit to their household income over the next two years—that is unprecedented in modern times. I know that the Government like to deflect the blame entirely on to the situation in eastern Europe, which is undoubtedly playing its part, but the last time I checked, the Conservative party has been in power since 2010, and it should be a mark of deep shame for Conservative Members that real wages are lower than when they entered power.

Twelve years of wage stagnation, low growth and a failed austerity programme have left our towns and cities crying out for investment and support. Communities are now on the brink and poverty is rife, while those on moderate incomes also face money anxieties that they may never have experienced before. People who do all the hours God sends—the nurse, the self-employed worker at a start-up, the pub owner, the call centre worker—now all face a bleak future because of the choices this Government have made during their time in office.

The Conservative party should have its own feature on the BBC show “Rogue Traders”. Twelve years and six Chancellors ago by my count, the former Chancellor promised to fix the roof when the sun was shining. Well, they did not fix the roof when the sun was shining, nor when it was raining. Now, the hailstones are raining down and millions of people have awoken to the con. The British people have been ripped off and left with a bill for unfinished work—a botched job—and still the company is unwilling to take any responsibility. It does not matter whether it was David the joiner, Theresa the labourer, Boris the apprentice or Liz the plasterer; the whole company is responsible, and the sooner they are replaced with an organisation that can do the job, the better. In all seriousness, the Conservative party cannot pride itself on economic competency when it represents, in every facet, the precise opposite.

The human cost is grave. The people I represent cannot endure more of the same. Last week’s autumn statement reaffirmed more of the same at a time when our people deserve better.

Autumn Statement

Paula Barker Excerpts
Thursday 17th November 2022

(1 year, 7 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Jeremy Hunt Portrait Jeremy Hunt
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The renewable energy companies and people in the traditional energy sector are paying a windfall tax, and as a result, we can have more money for doctors, nurses and people in social care up and down the country. That means that we are investing in the NHS in a way that was not possible when we were in coalition with the Liberal Democrats in 2010.

Paula Barker Portrait Paula Barker (Liverpool, Wavertree) (Lab)
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Will the Chancellor confirm how the living standards of UK households have been forecast to change between this year and next by the Office for Budget Responsibility? Does he think it is acceptable that real household average incomes are set to fall on his watch?

Jeremy Hunt Portrait Jeremy Hunt
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A fall in household incomes because of the international headwinds will be extremely challenging, and today’s statement is designed to address that. The OBR has said that we will help to mitigate the fall in living standards by the actions we are taking today.

Economic Responsibility and a Plan for Growth

Paula Barker Excerpts
Wednesday 19th October 2022

(1 year, 8 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Paula Barker Portrait Paula Barker (Liverpool, Wavertree) (Lab)
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Government Members should not think for one second that the Opposition will relent from holding them to account for this dog’s dinner, which is entirely of their own making. Like a broken record, the lame duck Prime Minister cites global economic headwinds, refusing to take any responsibility for the decisions that brought the British economy to the edge of disaster.

We have a Prime Minister in office but not in power, humiliated and bereft of ideas. Her manifesto drawn up by the libertarian right and the Institute of Economic Affairs has been cut to ribbons. The dogma espoused in “Britannia Unchained” must never again be allowed to reign supreme in Whitehall. In fact, the ideas must be consigned to the dustbin of history.

Now the Prime Minister has brought back an old foe, who underfunded our NHS for years, to implement austerity 2.0, and once again it will be communities like mine in Liverpool, Wavertree who suffer. This is a Tory crisis, and the damage has been done: an estimated 14,344 people in Liverpool will be paying higher mortgage bills next year as a result of this Government’s irresponsible actions. The Prime Minister and the Chancellor now admit that the mini-Budget caused mortgage rates to go up and borrowing costs to surge—a Tory cost we will be living with for years.

Working people have gone through enough. Now they are told that, to re-establish market stability, the responsibility is being shifted from the Government on to households, communities and working people. It all feels very 2011. Some are even saying that a previous Chancellor, the former Member for Tatton, is pulling the strings. The new Chancellor embodies a very different type of dogma from the Prime Minister’s, but it is dogma nevertheless—a school of economics that saw us enter the coronavirus pandemic with public services under-resourced and under-prepared.

Feryal Clark Portrait Feryal Clark
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Does my hon. Friend agree that it is not just public services, but local councils such as mine in Enfield, which faces a £100 million budget gap due to spiralling inflation, that are paying the price for this Government’s mismanagement of the economy?

Paula Barker Portrait Paula Barker
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My hon. Friend makes a pivotal point. Local authorities have been cut to the bone. They provide valuable resources and frontline services out in our communities, but they are being decimated yet again by this Government. Our public sector workforce is demoralised after a decade of pay restraint and cuts to frontline services.

If this Government think for one moment that our people will now put up with more of the same while bankers’ bonuses remain uncapped and millionaire bosses continue to rake in profits and dividends, they are sadly mistaken. The British people have woken up to the con. No longer does the promise ring true that each succeeding generation will have it better than the last. That promise, forged in the fire of the post-war consensus, is now in ruins after decades of short-termism and the dominance of capital over labour. We are not all in this together. Not once since 2010 have we all been in this together. Despite the empty rhetoric of a strong economy and levelling up, the Conservative party has always sought to look after its own class interests at the expense of the rest of us.

Young people in my Liverpool, Wavertree constituency now face their lives being put on hold because of this Government’s incompetence. They have done the right thing: they have gone out, worked hard and saved, only to be cheated and denied the opportunity of home ownership. Working people are up against real-terms cuts to their pay and our elderly are anxious about heating their homes in the run-up to winter. There is even more uncertainty for small businesses and charities, such as the amazing Love Wavertree in my constituency, which does incredible work. It announced today that the increase in its energy bills means it must consider whether it can continue to run its community shop, a lifeline for many people in my constituency.

History will not be kind to this Government, nor to anyone who has participated over the past 12 years. The Conservative party is lost. Thankfully, change is coming. As the Leader of the Opposition said so eloquently at Prime Minister’s questions today, we are the Government in waiting; the Conservative party are the Opposition in waiting. Frankly, that cannot come quickly enough.

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Toby Perkins Portrait Mr Perkins
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I could not agree more. The right hon. Member for Spelthorne (Kwasi Kwarteng) is the first politician in history to have had to resign for doing what he said he was going to do, which was precisely what the Prime Minister said she was going to do. The mini-Budget was born of the recklessness of the previous Prime Minister having pursued so much, so confidently, with so little evidence.

Make no mistake: I will spend every day between now and a general election making sure that the people of Chesterfield know that the higher interest rates, the tax rises, the cuts to our threadbare services and even, shamefully, the prospect of disabled people on benefits and impoverished pensioners suffering further cuts to their real-terms income, are all the result of this arrogant recklessness. This did not need to happen. Yes, there are global issues, but the central banks in America and Germany did not have to bail out the pension funds. Of course we welcome the fact that the Government have undone some of the measures, although it was bizarre to hear the Chancellor say on Monday how pleased he was that Labour were supporting his plans. They were our plans a few weeks ago! Now, the Tory Government see it as a success that they are trying to put out the fire that they lit in the first place, but the damage has already been done.

The logical call for a windfall tax made by my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds West (Rachel Reeves) continues to be rejected. What objection do the Government have to asking the energy generators to contribute some of their vast excess profits to help to fund the cost of ensuring that people can stay warm this winter and enabling businesses to keep their doors open?

Paula Barker Portrait Paula Barker
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Does my hon. Friend agree that when even the CEO of Shell is advocating a windfall tax—we truly have gone through the looking glass—it is time the Tories did the right thing?

Toby Perkins Portrait Mr Perkins
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It absolutely is. I suspect that, ultimately, they will. I am a great student of history and I can remember all the way back to January this year, when the Labour party called for a windfall tax. I remember the then Prime Minister standing at the Dispatch Box mocking us and saying that Labour always wants to raise taxes, and the then Chancellor saying the same thing. A few months later, reluctantly they had to announce precisely that. The right hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson) used to stand at the Dispatch Box criticising the policy—our policy—that he later adopted. That is how bizarre this Government’s behaviour has been. Now we have to go through the same damaging charade again. It is clear that ultimately the Government will adopt Labour’s policy of a windfall tax, but in the meantime their resistance will cost our country and our people dear.

Just a week ago, the Prime Minister was boasting that she was guaranteeing people’s energy bills for the next two years, so why were Labour only going to guarantee them for six months? Then on Monday the Chancellor comes here and says, “All right—six months.” That is how this Government are running our economy. You would not run a whelk stall like that.

Government policies change at a bewildering rate, but they do not seem to understand that it is not just that the policies are wrong; it is the clear demonstration that they do not have a clue what they are doing that is unsettling the markets. In Chesterfield, 3,352 households face a hike in their mortgage payments next year. It is quite unforgiveable. My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Paula Barker) said that this is 2011 all over again, but that is not so. In 2011 we were coming off the back of 13 years of Labour investment in our public services, so there was a chance that our health services, our schools and our Sure Starts could withstand the cuts. Not now. Our public services cannot tolerate the sort of cuts that the Chancellor has warned might be coming our way.

The idea that this Government can restore confidence in our nation’s finances by having two more years to demonstrate the ineptitude that in the past 12 years has brought us to our present state would be laughable if it were not so serious. There is no mandate for the approach that they are now pursuing. If the Tories think that they can quietly euthanise the career of the latest Prime Minister and have another go, they are further removed from reality than even I believe they are.

We need a Government who are truly committed to growth, to a green recovery and to rebuilding our public services. We need a Government whose policies last beyond the ink drying on the growth document they have just printed. We need a Government whose plans are robust and whose leader is strong. We need a Government who are willing to lead in the national interest, and not just in the narrow interest of their party. That means we need a Labour Government led by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer). We need that general election now.

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Paul Bristow Portrait Paul Bristow (Peterborough) (Con)
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I want to bring us back to the macro side of what we are talking about here—the big picture—because I think very few hon. Members would disagree that economic growth in itself is a good thing. Economic growth is what any Government should be looking to pursue. Economic growth creates jobs, increases livelihoods and makes us a wealthier country, so having a growth plan is in itself a good thing. However, I want to highlight three challenges that I think we will face in future.

The first challenge is low pay. This country unfortunately has too many low-productive, low-paid, low-skilled jobs and too few highly skilled, highly productive, highly paid jobs. Peterborough is really symbolic of that, and I think the Government have been trying very much to address that with the levelling-up agenda, which was the focus of the previous Prime Minister. For places such as Peterborough, levelling up will involve significant investment in R&D and in retraining. That is what this Government were trying to do that.

In Peterborough we have just built ourselves a brand-new university, and it is not just any old university; it focuses on manufacturing and engineering, really creating the environment for all those highly paid jobs of the future. Thanks to the £25 million that Peterborough has received from the levelling-up fund, we are going to build ourselves a living lab next to that university, to act as a magnet for future investment and future companies, leading to those highly paid jobs of the future. It is decisions like that that will increase the health, wealth and happiness of my city.

The second challenge we face, both as a country and as an economy, is tax. Quite frankly, I do not think tax is going to come down. Hopefully, bringing tax down is an ambition, and I confidently predict that we will be able to do so in the medium term. However, we will continue to have big spending commitments in future. We have an ageing population, and they are going to rely more on public services. I think we will also find ourselves exposed to challenges such as the cost of fuel. It is absolutely right that this Government have invested, have brought out the package and are going to reduce significantly the fuel bills that my constituents face. Fuel bills that could have been £6,500, for a typical household, will now be only £2,500. That was absolutely the right thing to do.

Paula Barker Portrait Paula Barker
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Does the hon. Member agree with me that the £2,500 that his constituents will now be paying is not a cap? That is a sort of misnomer.

Paul Bristow Portrait Paul Bristow
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What I agree with is the fact that, were it not for this Government’s intervention, we would have seen prices of up to £6,000 for a typical household. Surely the hon. Lady welcomes the fact that in her constituency, as in mine, because of the actions of this Government, families will save themselves a great deal of money.

This Government have a strong track record on taking people out of tax. Remember that the personal allowance was of such a level in 2010, and it is now over £12,000. That is hundreds of thousands of people taken out of tax altogether, and millions of families supported. That is a good thing. The universal credit taper, reduced from 63% to 55%, has been a lifeline for constituents and families in my constituency. It makes work pay, which should be the focus when it comes to jobs and work. We want to reward those who take on extra hours, work hard and put in the effort.

The solution to tax that is higher than we would like is economic growth, because we can only make those spending commitments in the long term if we grow the economy. It is absolutely right that we have a growth strategy and that we follow it in the way that we are.

The third challenge is about positivity. Sometimes, especially when we are away from this place or when we are in our offices, we get this temptation to glance at our phones or at Twitter, and it is all doom and gloom. There is a real worry that sometimes people can scare themselves into economic difficulties. I think we need to be more positive as a country, and more positive about the long-term prospects for the UK economy.

Only last week I took the Peterborough heroes—I call them my heroes—to a reception I organised in Westminster. Many of those who came were charity workers, or people who have worked for particular businesses, charities or causes for a number of years. However, I very deliberately did not take only those people who had volunteered for their communities, as welcome and heroic as their efforts are. I also took entrepreneurs, because entrepreneurs create jobs, pay people and grow our economy, and I think it is just as worth while saying thank you and well done to them as it is to anybody else.

As has been repeated by Opposition Members, business is not the enemy. In fact, entrepreneurs and businesses are our friends in creating economic growth. I meet so many people in Peterborough, by virtue of being its Member of Parliament, who are truly heroic for taking a risk, truly heroic for having an idea, and truly heroic for employing people and doing the right thing. They are my heroes just as much as any charity worker in my constituency.

Those are the three challenges that I put to Ministers. First, we need to solve the problem of having a low-skill, low-paid economy and turn that into a high-skill, high-paid economy. Secondly, on tax, I do not think public spending is going to decrease in the near future, and we have a challenge there, but the Government have a strong track record. Thirdly, we need to be more positive and to recognise the efforts made by businessmen and women—by entrepreneurs. The foundations of the British economy are strong and we have hard-working, talented people in this country. That should all feature in a growth plan, and that is why I support this Government.

Public Service Pensions and Judicial Offices Bill [Lords]

Paula Barker Excerpts
Simon Clarke Portrait Mr Clarke
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I will ensure that it is on the record.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Newark (Robert Jenrick) raised the important issue of guidance for the local government pension scheme which will, in effect, prevent bodies from engaging in boycotts, divestment and sanctions activities. In our manifesto, we committed ourselves to stopping public bodies running their own direct or indirect boycotts, and the wider BDS movement. I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for the all the hard work that he has done to draw the House’s attention to this important issue. I also pay tribute to Lord Pickles for his work.

Paula Barker Portrait Paula Barker (Liverpool, Wavertree) (Lab)
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Will the Minister give way?

Simon Clarke Portrait Mr Clarke
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I am sorry, but I must make progress.

The Government have been paying particular attention to the arguments that my right hon. Friend has put forward, and I assure him that we take this issue very seriously.

The BDS movement has nothing to do with pensions and everything to do with politics. It has had the chilling effect of legitimising antisemitism among the hard left, leading to kosher food being taken from supermarket shelves, Jewish films being censored, and the disgusting spectacle of Jewish university student societies being threatened with bans.

Paula Barker Portrait Paula Barker
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Will the Minister give way?

Simon Clarke Portrait Mr Clarke
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I will give way.

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Paula Barker Portrait Paula Barker
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I thank the Minister. He has been very generous. Can he confirm that new clause 1 has nothing to do with BDS, a point to which you alluded, Madam Deputy Speaker?

Simon Clarke Portrait Mr Clarke
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On the contrary, it has everything to do with BDS, because, rather than promoting co-existence, debate and dialogue, it sows hatred and alienation. There is evidence of divisive BDS campaigns in public bodies, including too many Labour-led local authorities attempting to declare boycotts. Only this week we saw concerning, but sadly unsurprising, reports of a councillor in Wirral leading demands for Wirral’s pension committee to pass a BDS motion. Even under the leadership of the new Leader of the Opposition, Labour politicians continue to endorse the Palestine Solidarity Campaign and call for boycotts of Israel.

Tackling Fraud and Preventing Government Waste

Paula Barker Excerpts
Tuesday 1st February 2022

(2 years, 4 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Paula Barker Portrait Paula Barker (Liverpool, Wavertree) (Lab)
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Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, and many happy returns of the day.

Notwithstanding what the Paymaster General suggested earlier, this debate called by my party is absolutely the right one. It is easy to forget, given the plethora of scandals afflicting this Government, that when it comes to actual good governance they fall short of that marker. Perhaps it is as a result of the cumulative effect of those scandals— certainly on the back of the Owen Paterson debacle—that these issues are starting to pick up traction. The issues of waste, fraud, fast-track procurement processes and contracts that did not deliver are all interconnected. They did not begin with Owen Paterson and end with Lord Agnew’s resignation.

Ever since the pandemic began, Members on the Opposition side of the House have raised questions, as any good Opposition should; but we were derided and ignored, accused of playing party politics throughout a national crisis. These days the Chancellor is conspicuous by his absence. That is in stark contrast to the dizzying heights of his popularity early in the pandemic, but it also means that he cannot continue to evade accountability and run from the truth.

It is not as if the Government were not warned. I attended a Westminster Hall debate called by my good and hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Dan Carden) on 8 December 2020, on the back of the National Audit Office report that was critical of the Government in respect of transparency about the use of public funds for covid contracts. Companies with no track record or experience of delivering comprehensive outcomes on anything, let alone specialist services, were awarded contracts to the tune of hundreds of millions of pounds of taxpayer cash, and the only criterion, as far as we can tell, was their personal connections with the Conservative party and Conservative Ministers—a bit like the pub landlord, for example. It is absolutely shameful. At about that time, Conservative Ministers such as Lord Bethell were refusing to publish a list of the companies awarded contracts to provide PPE because of the “commercial sensitivity” associated with the high-priority VIP lane; others might call it the Tory gravy train.

Then there is the abject failure in terms of outcomes, most famously that of track and trace, at an eye-watering £37 billion. Consultants were on £7,000 a day; there were jobs for mates such as Baroness Harding, who was completely out of her depth, and money was being funnelled to companies like Serco which cannot even deliver decent asylum accommodation in my own constituency. When this Government claim that they got the big calls right during the pandemic, they are so far off the mark that one must wonder whether the booze consumed during recent Downing Street parties has killed off considerable numbers of brain cells.



We know that these are difficult times for a Conservative Government when the Telegraph runs with the headline “Government waste is an insult to taxpayers”. Now the latest reveal is that £4.3 billion has been lost to fraud in the covid support schemes—written off, never to be seen again—while £3.5 billion in public contracts has gone to Conservative pals in the private sector. The Government’s so-called levelling-up fund alone could have been three times as large if No. 11 had not been so flagrant with public money. Who knows? We could have afforded Northern Powerhouse Rail, not the cheap and nasty integrated rail plan that we have received.

I have to mention the 3 million excluded self-employed taxpayers who continue to be ignored by this Government and who have not had one penny in support, because the Government say that could be open to fraud. The hypocrisy is astounding. When all is said and done after the pandemic, history will not be kind to this Government. They are economical with the truth—and that is putting it kindly—but less so with the public finances. They have been nothing short of an abject failure.

Working People’s Finances: Government Policy

Paula Barker Excerpts
Tuesday 21st September 2021

(2 years, 9 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Simon Clarke Portrait Mr Clarke
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This Government have frozen fuel duty for 11 years, so we do not need to take any lessons on that.

It is vital that we keep bearing down on the skills crunch we have been talking about. Our employment strategy is supporting people through a variety of means to gain the knowledge, attributes and qualifications to find work in high-value sectors. Insofar as we achieve that, we will be achieving a much more sustainable, robust economy for the future. Our employment strategy is supporting the finances of people up and down the country, helping them back into work, and helping them earn more and succeed in the jobs of tomorrow.

Meanwhile, Labour offers absolutely no plan to tackle the challenges that the country faces. There is no plan to take the tough decisions on covid; the amounts of money to be raised that are talked about are a fraction of those required to support the demands they are making of the Exchequer. There is no plan to create the high-skilled, high-wage economy, no plan—they voted against it last week—to tackle the NHS backlogs. While we wait for the Opposition to reveal how they would do this, we are taking action.

In April we took definitive action, increasing the national living wage by 2.2% to £8.91 an hour, an increase worth more than £345 a year to a full-time worker on the NLW, and at the same time we extended the NLW to those aged 23 and over. Last year we took action to tackle rent costs by boosting the local housing allowance to the 30th percentile of market rates, and we are keeping cash levels at those higher rates going forward. That will cost more than £950 million this year and has meant that more than 1.5 million households benefited from an additional £600 last year compared with before the crisis. We have protected people from excessive council tax increases and given councils £670 million this year to provide families with help with their bills.

Paula Barker Portrait Paula Barker (Liverpool, Wavertree) (Lab)
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Does the right hon. Gentleman not agree that the Government plans for social care reform will force local authorities to increase council tax?

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Paula Barker Portrait Paula Barker (Liverpool, Wavertree) (Lab)
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This debate has made me feel like I am living in a parallel universe. Listening to Conservative Members—if they were still here—we would think everything in the garden is rosy, but Opposition Members know only too well that the cost of living crisis serves as a stark reminder that this Government are not serious about supporting ordinary working people. It confirms to us that they lack ambition when it comes to affording our people a life of dignity in which they can support themselves and their family and comfortably grow old with the assurance that they can support their children and grandchildren.

The economic settlement of the past four decades has smashed the unwritten guarantee that each successive generation will have it better than their parents. If this pandemic has taught us anything, it is that life is precious and that it is for living. Yes, those who can should contribute to society but, crucially, people should get something back and be able to enjoy their time with family and friends, rather than having to receive state support while in work. They should not have to rely on food banks or have to work three jobs just to make ends meet.

The system is not on the side of our people. Indeed, most callous of all, retirement itself is fast becoming a distant dream for so many in areas like mine in the north-west who fear that they will not be able to afford it. If only I had £1 for every time I heard someone say, “I will have to work until I drop.”

As the Scottish trade unionist Jimmy Reid put it:

“A rat race is for rats. We’re not rats. We’re human beings.”

In my constituency of Liverpool, Wavertree, I regularly come across people who do the right thing, work hard and pay their taxes. They are honest, decent, salt-of-the-earth people who operate in the real economy across all sectors—care workers, hospitality workers, call centre workers and those who run small and medium-sized businesses—and too many now tell me that they feel the system has failed them. After all, our people, working-class people, picked up the tab after the last economic crisis in the form of austerity, the biggest squeeze on wages and living standards since the Napoleonic wars and so much besides, and now they will do so again.

Conservative Members will no doubt trot out the same lines about their inadequate increases in the living wage and the personal tax allowance, which ironically they are now freezing—they even cite rising wages in certain sectors. Some might say that their intentions are good. Ultimately, success is measured by outcomes, and on every metric this Government are failing. If they were serious about supporting our people, their priorities would be wholly different.

Alex Cunningham Portrait Alex Cunningham
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My hon. Friend mentions the salt of the earth. For me, the real salt of the earth are kinship carers, the grandparents who take on their grandchildren because their parents can no longer look after them, yet they get a very raw deal. Does she agree it is time the Government recognised the value of kinship carers and the money that is saved because of the burden they take on? Does she also agree that kinship carers can do without this cut to universal credit?

Paula Barker Portrait Paula Barker
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I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention. The points he raised are completely pertinent and I agree with all of them.

As I was saying, if the Government were serious about supporting our people, their priorities would be wholly different. We would not see a hike in national insurance. We would not see the scrapping of the £20 UC uplift. We would see a proper funding settlement for local government, rather than backing our cash-strapped local councils into a corner over regressive tax increases. We would see action to tackle rising energy costs—that infamous Marxist idea, according to David Cameron. It is an idea once proposed by my former leader, my right hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband).

Finally, something often missed in debates such as this: we would see recognition of the role of the trade unions in reducing inequalities in the workplace and across society. In the coming weeks, Members from across this Chamber, including on the Government Benches, will have the opportunity to support the private Member’s Bill on fire and rehire introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Brent North (Barry Gardiner). I can say with certainty than an effective system of collective bargaining across sectors of the economy will not cost the Chancellor a penny—he may even save a few pounds.

Research from the New Economics Foundation shows that modelling produced for one of its reports indicates that by the end of the year, without a change in Government policy, 32% of the UK population, or 21.4 million people, will be living below a socially acceptable living standard, as measured by the minimum income standard. That is a third of people in this country, and it is absolutely shameful. Numbers like that tell us that the time for tinkering around the edges is over. Inequality is not some vague concept; it has real consequences for communities such as mine. What is economics if not the allocation of wealth, power and resources? Opposition Members believe in a fairer, more equal and democratic distribution of all three.

Better Jobs and a Fair Deal at Work

Paula Barker Excerpts
Wednesday 12th May 2021

(3 years, 1 month ago)

Commons Chamber
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Paula Barker Portrait Paula Barker (Liverpool, Wavertree) (Lab) [V]
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Earlier this year, I engaged proactively with the Government on the plight of domiciliary care workers who are so often and routinely not paid for travel time between home visits. Ministers said that they recognised the scale of underpayment of the national minimum wage across sectors such as social care and childcare. They underlined their opposition to my Bill on the very basis that these issues would be tackled head-on by their own legislation, not mine, in the form of an employment Bill. So I must ask: where is the Bill?

The basis of my private Member’s Bill that never was was to secure beyond doubt that the lowest-paid would receive their full entitlement under the law. That was it—nothing more, nothing less. It was hardly a sweeping change. However, this small but significant change, which would have made a difference to hundreds of thousands of care workers across the country, was rejected on partisan lines.

This type of issue is one of the many that could have been addressed by the Government’s employment Bill—one that many Opposition Members expected to be on the parliamentary calendar during the coming autumn. So too could it have been an opportunity to address the many other inequalities that exist among the modern workforce. Young workers, for example, often find themselves at the mercy of low pay and precarious employment in sectors such as hospitality, the service sector and the wider gig economy.

As with many things, this is yet another example of the Government talking a big game, but when it comes to the crunch leaving our people wanting. Furlough will soon end, and HR departments will be pumping out redundancy notices. While the pandemic has ripped through our communities, with the economic shock waves to be felt for some time to come, too many bosses have used this moment in time—a moment of unrelenting human misery—as a smokescreen to mount an outright assault on their workers. So too could the Government have brought forward a commitment to end the practice of fire and rehire, the likes of which we saw most recently with British Gas, at the heart of any employment Bill.

Above all else, the Government talk their biggest game on levelling up, particularly for the regions of this country that have for far too long been left behind by the politics of austerity, deindustrialisation and the rampant privatisation of our public services. How can they look my constituents in the face, asking them to take their levelling-up agenda seriously, when too many in our great northern towns and cities remain at the sharp end of the labour market? Without a genuine and meaningful offer to workers, there will be no levelling up, only words and empty slogans, and it is my people—my constituents—who will pay the price.