Abena Oppong-Asare (Erith and Thamesmead) (Lab)
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Mr Sharma. I thank everybody who has spoken in today’s debate; I found all their insights informative, and they spoke passionately on behalf of individuals and their constituencies about subjects that are important to millions of people up and down the country. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Elliot Colburn) for his contribution, which provided an overview of the issue.
The petition we are here to discuss was signed by over 40,000 members of the public. It asks the Government to increase the HMRC mileage rate from 45p a mile to 60p a mile. Approved mileage allowance payments are used by employers to reimburse employees’ expenses for business mileage in their private vehicles. The Government set the rate. The AMAP rate aims to reflect running costs, including fuel, servicing and depreciation. Ministers have previously stated:
“Depreciation is estimated to constitute the most significant proportion of the AMAPs.”
The HMRC mileage rate is essential for millions across the country. For those working hard for their families, businesses and communities, it is a vital measure to ensure that they are not out of pocket for the extra miles that they do in their private vehicles. That has been reflected in Members’ contributions today.
As a country, we are proud of our volunteers, who spend their spare time helping others and saving lives. The mileage rate is a critical support system that provides not only reimbursement for those actions but an incentive for volunteers to do more where and when they can, no matter their financial status. As the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington highlighted, and my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham East (Janet Daby) echoed, it is important to feel valued. However, we are all aware of the cost of living crisis that British people are facing, which comes after 13 years of Tory Government. It is clear that families are struggling through no fault of their own, but as a result of the policies of this Government. In the last year, Britain has been rocked by the worst cost of living crisis in a generation. It has been driven particularly by spiralling energy bills, which have fuelled inflation, thrown 3 million people in England into fuel poverty and forced businesses to close.
This country needs a Government who can get a grip and show some leadership. We need a Government who focus on the things that really matter and provide hope and optimism about the future. The reality is that the mileage rates have not changed in over a decade—to be exact, the approved mileage rate for cars, which is set by the Treasury, has not changed since 2011-12. It stands at 45p for the first 10,000 miles and 25p for every additional mile in a tax year. As Members have already mentioned, the cost of petrol and oil rose by 45% last year. In addition, overall motoring costs, including petrol, oil and vehicle maintenance, have soared since 2011. Fuel prices have settled somewhat since last year, but this country is still burdened by a high rate of inflation—8.7%. That is higher than in European nations and America, and proves that the Government have left our economy exposed. With higher interest rates, we are now facing a Tory mortgage bombshell for millions of people across the country. The Government are failing across the spectrum. Labour wants to make the changes that will help to fix that. I am talking about energy security, creating good jobs across the country, and making, doing and selling more in Britain.
With the increases in motoring costs and the overall cost of living crisis, it is reasonable to ask the Minister what impact the current mileage rate is having on the living standards of those affected. I also want to share a survey that was conducted by Unison last year and whose findings have been echoed by a number of hon. Members. It highlights how staff in our NHS and the healthcare industry are deeply reliant on their own vehicles to do their jobs. As we all know, that means that if they are not reimbursed, our healthcare workers are out of pocket for the life-saving work they do day by day. Unison’s findings are based on 550 staff. They show that the vast majority—91%—of those who drive a car at work use their own vehicle. More than two in five—44%—of them travel more than 4,000 miles a year for work, including some who clock up more than 10,000 miles. An overwhelming number—95%—of staff who drive for work are required to do so as part of their contract. More than a fifth—24%—say that they are unable to use public transport to do their jobs, either because none is available or because it does not run at suitable times, and about one in six—18%—say that they need to carry heavy or dangerous equipment when they drive for work.
We all know and have heard personal stories from those in our constituencies who are struggling to put food on the table, pay their bills and keep their children warm over weekends and over the winter. Workers and volunteers across the country work long and hard hours, and they deserve a Government who listen and make fair and practical decisions in response. I therefore urge the Government to get around the table and listen on the issues affecting millions of drivers across the country. I would be grateful if the Minister could confirm whether that is taking place or whether the Government will be carrying out that work in due course.
That brings up another important issue—transport infrastructure across our country. I know personally how tough it is for families and communities who struggle without the necessary transport infrastructure to get to work. In my constituency, we have a large community in Thamesmead who have no station, which makes them one of the only communities in Greater London left off the public transport map. On a positive note, I was pleased to see Transport for London submit a proposal for a docklands light railway extension to Thamesmead. However, we know that this is not an isolated problem but one seen across the country, and that other places have seen a decline in the transportation system. I think that that is one reason why so many people have signed this petition: it shows that our local communities severely lack the real transport infrastructure that they need and deserve.
Labour has committed to giving our communities control over their own destiny by unlocking the pride, potential and purpose of our towns and cities and putting power directly in the hands of people, whether that is in England, Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland. We feel that the UK is the most centralised country in Europe and the most geographically unequal large country in the developed world. That is no coincidence. Too much power is hoarded in Westminster, and that is holding our country back. The Government need to listen to communities that rely on cars because there is no adequate public transportation, and explain the level of support they are providing.
I thank everyone who signed the petition. As other Members mentioned, those who did so do not want to earn more money or to be greedy; they just seek a fairer system for all.
I have some questions for the Minister about the issues that I have raised. First, does he expect there to be any change in the mileage rates in the near future? Can he confirm what thresholds he and the Treasury are looking at when deciding how to set the mileage rates? He has said that the economic outlook is one factor that they consider when assessing mileage rates. Given that things are really difficult for people at the moment, has the continuing failure to get bills down had an impact on the Government’s decision on mileage rates this year?
I thank the Minister for responding to the debate, but I echo that what is needed is for him to get around the table with working families and those representing all those affected, and provide full answers to their questions and a full explanation on this critical issue. The Government are facing this issue and many more because of an inability to deal with their failure to manage our economy over the last 13 years. We need urgent action to address the significant issues that many people face. Labour has a serious plan to get the economy growing. I urge him to reassure worried constituents who may be watching the debate, having signed the petition, that the Government are listening and will take action on this issue.