I thank Members who have contributed to today’s debate. We have heard excellent and very thoughtful speeches from Members in all parts of the House, but particularly from those on the Labour Benches.
This debate is not about whether taxes should go up to fund services; it is about the fairness of clobbering working people with tax rises after a global economic crisis and at a time when living standards are being squeezed because prices are going up. We have heard moving stories from my hon. Friends the Members for Swansea East (Carolyn Harris), for Islwyn (Chris Evans), for Blaydon (Liz Twist), for Newport East (Jessica Morden), for Liverpool, Wavertree (Paula Barker), for Aberavon (Stephen Kinnock), for Manchester, Gorton (Afzal Khan), for Slough (Mr Dhesi), for Warwick and Leamington (Matt Western) and for Hornsey and Wood Green (Catherine West) about how hard life is becoming for working people in their constituencies.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Houghton and Sunderland South (Bridget Phillipson) said in her opening comments, this is a debate about the choices the Government have made over the decade they have been in power: the choices they made during the pandemic and the choices they are making now as life slowly returns to normal. It was the Conservatives’ choice last year to force a 5% council tax rise after their costly mistakes and their delay in locking down led our country into the worst recession of any major economy. It was the Conservatives’ choice to cut universal credit, an absolute lifeline for so many working people while prices are on the rise, tipping many working families over the edge into debt and leaving them fearful about the future, as we heard so eloquently from many hon. and right hon. Members.
It is the Conservatives’ choice to clobber working families with a national insurance tax hike rather than ask those with the broadest shoulders to pay their fair share. How can it be right that a landlord who rents out a portfolio of properties does not pay a single penny more while their working tenants get clobbered with tax rises? How can it be fair that the care workers we all clapped last year are this year rewarded with a cut in their take-home pay—no rise in pay, just a Tory rise in their taxes? That is not what the country expected. It is certainly not what those heroes on the frontline deserve. The national insurance tax rise breaks the manifesto pledge that every single Conservative Member was elected on less than two years ago: a pledge so important that the Prime Minister highlighted it in his personal foreword to the manifesto that every single Conservative MP was elected on. Every one of them has broken their promises and has broken trust with the voters who sent them here.
So what will working families get in return for these manifesto-busting Tory tax hikes? What is the gain for all the pain? The Prime Minister told us that this tax increase would pay for his plan for social care—except, of course, the Conservatives’ social care plan does not fix the social care crisis. The Prime Minister told us on his very first day in Downing Street that he had a plan to fix social care. Strangely, he kept that plan hidden for three years. We waited all that time without seeing a dot or a comma of the plan that he supposedly already had ready. When he finally unveiled it, he rushed through a vote on it within 24 hours in a desperate bid to avoid scrutiny. As we read in The Times, he bludgeoned those brave few Conservative MPs who still think keeping their tax promises matters with threats to cut off investment and punish their constituents—the people that voted to send them here in the first place.
The Prime Minister railroaded such an important policy through with such desperate haste because he wanted to push it through before anyone noticed that there is nothing extra for social care for at least three years. In fact, there will not be any extra money ever unless the Government plan to cut the NHS again at some point in the future. Astonishingly, this back-of-an-envelope plan could actually lead to cuts in social care. If councils have to pay increased employers’ national insurance contributions, they will have to cut services or put up council tax even more to pay for it, and care homes are reporting that if the Government do not fund the lost cross-subsidies from private purchasers, they will go bust. The Prime Minister cannot even guarantee that older people will not have to sell their home to pay for social care. That is another election promise smashed to smithereens. The cap on costs does not include accommodation, so people in care will still face charges totalling hundreds of pounds a week even after they have reached the cap.
Where will people living in a town in the north of England in a house worth £180,000 find the £85,000 plus the tens of thousands in accommodation costs that the Government expect them to pay without selling their home? Are the Conservatives so out of touch that they think most people have that kind of money stashed away in savings accounts? They do not. What kind of plan for social care ends up costing working families more while cutting the services they are paying for and closing down the care homes they need to use while still forcing older people to sell their homes? Only a totally botched plan from these tax-hiking, pledge-busting Conservatives.
The Government’s failure on social care means that councils have been left with a £2.7 billion black hole in their social care budgets. Since the national insurance tax hike will not plug that gap because not a penny is going on social care, what do the Government expect councils to do next April, faced with that dilemma? We need not wonder, because it is all right there in black and white in the social care plan—it could not be clearer. It says:
“We expect demographic and unit cost pressures will be met through council tax”.
That is why the Health and Social Care Secretary could not rule out tax rises last week and why I strongly suspect that the Minister will not rule them out in her contribution.
The Prime Minister has primed a council tax bombshell ready to go off next April. The Conservatives will clobber working families with a triple tax whammy, with yet another Conservative council tax hike next year on top of the Conservative council tax hike this year. That is on top of the Conservative national insurance tax hike, and that is on top of the Conservative cut to universal credit. They just cannot help themselves—they are Tory taxaholics.
Earlier this year, the Government’s inflation-busting council tax rise hit working families in the pocket, with the economy struggling to recover after the worst crisis of any major economy. Their council tax hike next year will land on people’s doormats after a winter of rising inflation and rising energy prices. The average band D council tax rate looks set to top £2,000 a year by 2024. Let me tell them here and now that working families simply cannot afford it.
The pain does not end there. As my hon. Friend the Member for Houghton and Sunderland South said in her opening remarks, when social care costs outstrip the funding that councils have available, they are forced to cut other services—even after the Conservatives’ council tax hikes. Just count the cost to communities of these Conservative choices: libraries cut; youth services cut; children’s centres cut; and even public toilets cut. Thanks to the Conservatives, councils are cutting everything except the grass. The message to the public is loud and clear: pay more but get less under the Conservatives.
The headwinds facing working people this year are reaching gale force. Prices are up. Energy costs are up. Taxes are up. Rents are up. Childcare costs are up. Rail fares are up. The only thing going down is wages, which are still lower than under the last Labour Government.
The supermarkets are running out of fresh fruit and vegetables thanks to the Government’s incompetence, but, because household incomes are under so much pressure, many people could not afford to buy them anyway. What a state they have left our country in. Put simply, the country faces a Tory winter of discontent. Working families are facing a squeeze in their living standards that they simply cannot afford, all because of the bad choices, broken promises and sheer crass incompetence of this failing Conservative Government.
Does the Minister agree that the best way to help people, especially those changing jobs, is to do everything we can through jobcentres? I thank the Consett, Stanley and Crook jobcentres for attending my recent “jobs, jobs, jobs” fair at Derwentside College in North West Durham, which the Pensions Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham (Guy Opperman), also kindly came along to. Does the Minister also agree that it is incumbent on all Members to do everything they can to help all their constituents get into new jobs given the record numbers of vacancies across the country?
It has been two and a half years since my last contribution, and I am delighted to have been re-elected to my seat. I am also delighted to see you re-elected to the Chair, Madam Deputy Speaker.
I am pleased to follow the hon. Member for Battersea (Marsha De Cordova), not least because I will try later in my mini-maiden that is now a maxi-maiden to do justice to some of the excellent work in constituencies the length and breadth of the land to support those with disabilities to move into the workplace. I was very proud in my first term to be a Disability Confident champion and to promote, at every level and every opportunity, those who were opening doors so that people of all talents, regardless of disability, had the opportunity to be everything they could be. We need them.
I am particularly pleased and privileged to follow in the footsteps of genuinely new friends and particularly my new neighbour, my hon. Friend the Member for Dover (Mrs Elphicke), who is of course a fellow coastal community champion. I would also like, without causing offence by not singling out more people, to commend my hon. Friend the Member for Kensington (Felicity Buchan), who spoke movingly earlier in the debate.
This debate about the economy is particularly important, because it is the economy that powers our public services. I speak with feeling on that, because it powers our schools and I am a teacher. It also powers our NHS, and I stand before the House today not just as a teacher, but as a very grateful mum. What brought me to Parliament in my first term was a potentially shattering experience, when my then five-year-old son was diagnosed with a brain tumour. We fell into the embrace of the NHS, and thanks to the surgeons of Great Ormond Street and King’s College, his life was saved. That stopped me in my tracks; I was moving towards being a headteacher, and I was overwhelmed with such a need to give something back, having experienced that incredible support and affirmation from the NHS. Ultimately, I found my way here, and the same sense of service that brought me here the first time has brought me back.
I would like to thank the good people of Eastbourne and Willingdon for bringing me back. I would also like to thank one or two hon. Friends for helping me on my way and for campaigning with me in the dark and the rain in my beautiful coastal town. I would particularly like to mention my parliamentary neighbour, my hon. Friend the Member for Bexhill and Battle (Huw Merriman). So confident was he in my success that he said to a member of the media that if I did not win, he would jump off Eastbourne pier naked. Now, there was joy in my campaign centre in the early hours of election night on the back of my win, but there was some disappointment in other quarters that that jump was not to take place, although I am not sure the world is any poorer for that missed opportunity.
I also thank my predecessor, Stephen Lloyd, who, in victory and defeat, brought back and supported the Eastbourne carnival, which is a really important showcase for local community groups and a powerful fundraiser for local charities.
In the context of today’s debate, I stood on a platform of inspiring new prosperity in my home town and, critically, new prosperity that left no one behind. For that reason, I wish to highlight two particular groups in Eastbourne whose important work I will be supporting. One is called Project SEARCH. I am sure that other Members will have similar programmes in their constituencies. Project SEARCH seeks to provide supported internships for young adults with learning disabilities. Such internships are to be found at the local hospital, which hosts the programme and which has genuinely opened the door of opportunity to these young people who come and add to that organisation. Their work is of inestimable value. It is hugely important, and I want to see that work grow and develop.
A second group relates to another cohort of people who must not be left behind. They are under the auspices of Reformed East Sussex, which looks to build bridges for ex-offenders who can find it incredibly challenging to find their way back to employment. What an incredibly powerful thing it is to be able to reach out and to provide that first step back into work. It does tremendous work not only for ex-offenders, but for those who are recovering from addictions. I look forward to working with both those organisations for those particularly hard-to-reach groups and to seeing those jobs open up for them.
What do Members know of Eastbourne other than the fact that it is, of course, the sunshine capital of the south, with the highest number of sunshine hours anywhere in the kingdom? Sometimes that is disputed by neighbours, but not tonight, so I will rush on. It is also known for its heritage coastline—incredible vistas are beamed across the world when we host our international tennis tournaments. We are also the gateway town to the South Downs national park, which is, as my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Sussex (Mims Davies) reminds me, the home of the very famous challenging, but inspiring, Beachy Head half marathon, which she herself ran. I waited on the finish line to welcome her in.
Yes, in the rain. That is a partnership that I am very happy to continue with.
Members will not be surprised to know that tourism and conferencing are critically important to my home town, blessed as it is. Just last year, a brand new conference centre opened up, which is really going to put Eastbourne on the map. In part, that conferencing centre has been powered by Government investment. The Government recognise that coastal communities such as mine have not just challenges, but opportunities, and those opportunities are being unlocked now thanks to that Government investment. Importantly, in the context of a debate in which we are looking to establish and inspire that greener more sustainable future, I was very pleased, just last weekend, to be part of a launch event—Eastbourne Carbon Neutral 2030—at that very conference centre. It brought together different groups to harness the power of our community to achieve that really important aim of living more sustainably and powering forward in a much greener way.
Language schools are also hugely important to Eastbourne’s economy, and we have a cluster of high-performing schools. I look forward to working with Ministers and with my local schools to ensure that we continue to be that open and attractive destination for young people from across the globe.
The fisheries Bill is another really important and welcome Bill in this Queen’s Speech, and it will provide that springboard to the future. For my 30 to 40-boat strong fishing community, which includes many families, jobs are really important. There will be a new quayside development at the waterfront. These are really exciting times, and I look forward to see how we are going to support that industry.
The digital and creative industries—perhaps not the traditional, conventional industries that hon. Members might expect in my seaside town—are emerging with more and more strength, creating a whole new vibe in town. There is a strong future there, and I am really pleased that I am going to be a part of it.
I welcome the Chancellor’s opening comments, particularly about levelling up. I need to see levelling up, across the nation of course, but also in my hometown. I need to see investment in the north—the north of Eastbourne. We need to open up new opportunities and level up there, because the sorry story is that life expectancy varies even across my small seaside town, and to the tune of six or seven years. We need to bring about far greater equalities in that respect.
There are references to investment in infrastructure in Her Majesty’s Gracious Speech, and that will be critical to unleashing potential in Eastbourne. The A27 in particular is a very dangerous and unreliable stretch of road that is strangling the local economy, so I am looking forward to working with Ministers on such issues. The most important point is that global Britain is such a powerful way forward. Global Britain; global Eastbourne.