Mary Kelly Foy contributions to the Finance Act 2020


Thu 2nd July 2020 Finance Bill (Commons Chamber)
Report: 2nd sitting: House of Commons
3 interactions (749 words)
Wed 1st July 2020 Finance Bill (Commons Chamber)
Report stage: House of Commons
Report: 1st sitting: House of Commons
3 interactions (560 words)

Finance Bill Debate

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Department: HM Treasury
Legislation Page: Finance Act 2020

Finance Bill

(Report: 2nd sitting: House of Commons)
Mary Kelly Foy Excerpts
Thursday 2nd July 2020

(6 months, 2 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber

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Workington was a cornerstone of the industrial revolution. As we look to our future, I am sure that the Workington constituency will be at the core of the low-carbon energy revolution to come, and I am delighted to be able to be here to play my part.

Mary Kelly Foy Portrait Mary Kelly Foy (City of Durham) (Lab)
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1 Jan 2000, midnight

I congratulate the hon. Member for Workington (Mark Jenkinson) on his maiden speech, and I hope that he—a newbie like me—enjoys his time in this place and is a strong voice for the people of Workington. Yesterday, I spoke in the Finance Bill debate about job creation and the importance of creating not only jobs, but secure jobs that put the needs of workers at the heart of the economy, rather than profit. It seems rather appropriate that I have the opportunity to speak in the child poverty debate today, because as we all know, the Government’s shameful record on employment and workers’ rights is one of the main drivers behind child poverty.

To be honest, I have absolutely no faith that the Government understand the issue of child poverty in any meaningful way. In the space of a month, I had the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care telling me that this Government were committed to levelling up the north-east, yet I also witnessed an equalities Minister admitting from the Dispatch Box that they had not heard of the Marmot report—essential reading when looking to tackle health inequalities. As one popular actor said in response, it is like a vicar not having heard of the Bible.

Over the last decade, Conservative Governments have systematically dismantled the progress that the last Labour Government made on child poverty. Currently, 4 million children are living in poverty, with 3 million of those living in a household where at least one person is in work. In addition to that, the Government’s Social Mobility Commission reports that there are 600,000 more children living in relative poverty than in 2012. The commission referenced the Government’s welfare changes as a key cause of this and have predicted that those changes, along with the impact of covid-19, will only increase child poverty. While the Prime Minister might be confused as to whether the Government have caused more child poverty, I am not. It is there in black and white in those appalling figures and, quite frankly, it is an utter disgrace.

In recent weeks, we have also seen the Government being forced into a U-turn on free school meals after a campaign by a leading footballer—one of the people the Health Secretary was telling to do their bit at the start of the crisis. Is it not shameful that we have a Government who have to be embarrassed into feeding hungry children? To top it all off, the Government have reintroduced benefit sanctions in the midst of a global pandemic and economic disaster. Welfare support from the Government will be essential during the coming recession, yet the Government seem more concerned with taking support away than supporting people in dire financial straits. How on earth does this help child poverty? I wish that the Government were as quick to sanction Dominic Cummings or the Secretary of State for Housing as they are to sanction vulnerable people. What is clear from these decisions is that the Government either fundamentally misunderstand the issue of child poverty or simply do not care. I would ask the Minister which it is, but I suspect it is both.

Unfortunately, this country now faces one of the biggest crises in living memory. There is a combined threat to public health and the economy, which must be tackled together. However, the Government’s tendency to view poverty as an issue with individual causes, and their ignorance of health inequalities, show that they are poorly equipped to deal with this problem. When confronted with the rise in child poverty by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, the Prime Minister denied the extent of the issue. To bluster and deflect would be one thing, but to deny that the issue exists is deeply worrying. How can the Government be trusted to tackle the issue if they refuse to confront it and deny its existence?

Successive Conservative Governments have made the problem worse; that is not my opinion but a fact. What they must do now is admit that they were wrong and change course. A starting point would be to accept the Social Mobility Commission’s recommendation that the Treasury give the Office for Budget Responsibility the role of assessing the impact of the Government’s fiscal policies on poverty. Sadly, I fear that under this Government, child poverty will continue to rise, as they simply do not recognise that the problem exists or know how to solve it. I can only hope that they prove me wrong.

Aaron Bell Portrait Aaron Bell (Newcastle-under-Lyme) (Con)
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2 Jul 2020, 12:07 a.m.

It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for City of Durham (Mary Kelly Foy). It is also a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mark Jenkinson) and to congratulate him on a truly excellent maiden speech. It was warm, it was witty and it was thoughtful, and I know that he will serve the people of Workington very well in this place. He, like me, represents a red wall seat. The hon. Member for Ilford North (Wes Streeting), the Labour Front-Bench spokesman, spoke nostalgically and warmly about the Blair Government. Under the Blair Government, both his seat and mine had 10,000 Labour majorities or more, and perhaps the Opposition might reflect on why those voters have lost faith with Labour to solve their problems. There is poverty in my constituency; there is poverty in my hon. Friend’s constituency, but those people put their faith in the Conservative party to make their lives and their futures better.

I turn to the Bill and the amendments. It is clear that an ambitious and decisive response was demanded of the Government by the serious economic situation that we as a nation and the whole world face. The Budget debate in which I spoke back in March already feels a very long time ago for all of us, I am sure. In many ways, the world has changed a great deal since the day when my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer delivered his excellent first Budget to the House. I welcome these Government new clauses, which provide both relief and certainty in a number of affected areas, and I will speak a little more specifically about new clause 20 later.

In other ways, however, it is even clearer now than it was then that my right hon. Friend was ahead of the curve in the response to the challenges that we face. The Treasury has been at the forefront of the national response to the coronavirus and a leading example to the rest of the world, with its focus on protecting jobs and maintaining the capacity of our economy, while also looking after the most vulnerable in our society in all the measures taken to respond to the virus.

The extraordinary success of the coronavirus job retention schemes means that we have been paying the wages of more than 9 million people who would otherwise have been laid off or made redundant and therefore we have protected their jobs, their livelihoods and their families through this most difficult time. The Government have, in my view, risen to the challenge of protecting our economy thoughtfully, responsibly and with ambition. In my constituency of Newcastle-under-Lyme, that has meant 10,200 jobs supported through the furlough scheme and 2,600 self-employed workers supported with grants of more than £7 million. The local borough council has also supported our local businesses by distributing more than £21 million of business grants. I have received many emails from constituents asking me to pass on their thanks to the Government for the grants, the furlough scheme and all the other measures that have helped to keep them, their businesses and their families afloat through this period.

Finance Bill Debate

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Department: HM Treasury
Legislation Page: Finance Act 2020

Finance Bill

(Report stage: House of Commons)
(Report: 1st sitting: House of Commons)
Mary Kelly Foy Excerpts
Wednesday 1st July 2020

(6 months, 2 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber

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HM Treasury
Edward Leigh Portrait Sir Edward Leigh
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We have learned to expect that sort of behaviour. As Ronald Reagan said—we have heard about Roosevelt, so why can we not hear from Ronald Reagan, who was a better sort of Conservative as far as I am concerned?—when we tax something, we get less of it, and when we subsidise something, we get more of it. Research from the European Central Bank shows that when the tax burden is raised by 1%, economic growth is reduced by 0.13%. We have heard a lot about job creation, but that change means many fewer jobs. Every time we create taxes, we destroy jobs.

The Office for Budget Responsibility forecasts that the UK tax burden will grow to 34.6% of GDP by 2024, which is the highest tax burden for this country in more than half a century. We think of ourselves as a seafaring, deal-doing, trading nation, but how can we compete when the trend of tax burden is going the wrong way? That is how we will stifle job creation. We must look at a comprehensive reform of our economy, not the usual tinkering under the hood, and we can do some of that through regulatory reform. That is not aiming for deregulation—instead, the Government should ensure that the UK’s regulatory structure is simple, clear, and appropriate. That is the genesis of this entire debate: our tax system is not simple, not clear, and not straightforward.

If we radically simplify the tax system we will spur more activity, so it is a virtuous circle of benefit to the whole of our society. Imagine if all the money spent on corporate or personal tax avoidance—tax avoidance is perfectly legal, I say to the Minister—could be invested in productive activity instead. Imagine all those thousands of accountants going off and taking up machine tools—I know it is unlikely, but at least it is a thought. That would also be fairer, as it would no longer mean that the richer someone is, or the bigger their company, the more they are capable of exploiting complicated tax loopholes.

We know it is simplistic to base our economy on Singapore or Hong Kong—we are a larger country with more complex needs—but on tax policy, the example they have set is applicable. Let us consider per capita GDP of the UK, Singapore and Hong Kong. They were all more or less at a parity in 1989, about five years after I came to this House, with each at around $25,000 a year. All three countries have improved their GDP per capita, but the scale of the difference is notable. By 2016, six years into a Conservative Government, the UK, with its complex tax code, had a per capita GDP of $37,000. Low tax, simple tax Hong Kong was at more than $48,000, and Singapore at $65,000 to our $37,000. We neglect at our peril that opportunity for a huge growth in numbers of jobs, for our per capita GDP and for income for the Treasury. My simple point to the Minister is this: when he sums up, will he say something about tax simplification and tax reduction?

Mary Kelly Foy Portrait Mary Kelly Foy (City of Durham) (Lab)
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We are facing an employment crisis unlike anything we have seen in a decade. The impact of coronavirus will undoubtedly weaken much of our infrastructure, leaving many workers unemployed, and businesses on the brink of collapse. Unfortunately, when lockdown ends, the Government seem intent on a return to normality and business as usual, stuck in the past when they should be learning lessons and looking to the future. The Government’s slow reaction cost us as we entered this pandemic, and they cannot repeat that mistake as we emerge from lockdown.

In contrast, my hon. Friend the Member for Oxford East (Anneliese Dodds) has proposed a back-to-work Budget that places jobs at the heart of the economic recovery. That does not mean a sticking plaster solution, however, or jobs with little or no protection for workers. The damage to our economy caused by this awful virus has been severe, but the economic structuring of society was already broken—skewed in favour of the wealthy rather than workers.

Over the last decade of Tory austerity, the Government have launched attack after attack on the rights and protections afforded to working people. Through the promotion of zero-hours contracts, ambiguity in employment status, low pay and lack of protection in the workplace, the Government have encouraged irresponsible employers and abandoned the country’s workers. Before lockdown, 9 million people living below the poverty line—3 million of them children—were in households with at least one person in work. The Government boast of record levels of employment, but they should be ashamed of the amount of in-work poverty. This economic model needs to end.

If this pandemic has shown us anything, it is that the people on whom society relies the most are those least rewarded in pay and respect. Whether it is the poorly paid nurse, the carer on a zero-hours contract or the retail and hospitality staff working shifts so long that they would not be out of place in Victorian society, the people of Britain deserve better. This pandemic has been devastating, but it provides us with an opportunity to shape the economy and society in a way that prioritises the environment and protects workers. That means better pay, shorter and more consistent working hours and job security. Workers need to be able to look ahead into the week knowing that they have work, that their wages will provide a decent standard of living and that their working hours will leave them the time and energy to live their life. The better the conditions and protection for workers, the better their quality of life and the greater their health, wellbeing and sense of worth—it really is that simple.

The pandemic has also exposed the lack of protections for staff in the workplace and how fragile health and safety standards are. The Government must begin to see employment law as a red line, rather than being advisory, and they must properly fund the Health and Safety Executive, so that safety in the workplace is properly enforced. When the Government finally begin to plan for our post-coronavirus society, they must accept that the status quo has not worked, and any attempt to return to business as usual will fail the public. The 33 million workers of Britain deserve more. When society needed them most during this pandemic, they delivered. It is time for the Government to do the same for them.

Ben Everitt Portrait Ben Everitt (Milton Keynes North) (Con)
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I draw the House’s attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.

In this part of our debate, we are talking about jobs. Today the Government launched the flexible furlough scheme, and flexibility needs to be the watchword of our response and how we consider the economy. We are emerging, blinking in the sunlight from lockdown, and our businesses are blinking too, in the light of the new economic reality. Things will never be the same. Things have changed irrevocably, and we have learned a lot about our society, volunteering and our communities. We have learned a lot too about how business will need to change and adapt.

The drivers of that change—the adapters—are the consultants and contractors in our professional services sector, which provides such immense value to our economy and also revenue to the Exchequer. These are the people who bring the sparkle of innovation. They are the lubricant of the cogs of capitalism. They are the critical friend to beleaguered boards and exhausted executives. These are the people who are caught up in the IR35 reforms. I welcome the decision of my right hon. Friend the Financial Secretary to the Treasury to postpone the introduction of those reforms until next spring. I am sure that, in the short term, that decision will have reassured many who face huge challenges in retooling our economy, reorganising the businesses that provide those jobs and repositioning and repurposing our private sector.