§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Chapman.]10.16 pm
§ Mr. Alfred Morris (Manchester, Wythenshawe)
This is a deeply important debate about the living conditions of the most needful of those whom we on these Benches tonight, as hon. and right hon. Members for Manchester constituencies, have the responsibility and the honour to represent here. The way they now live—and all too often prematurely die—is spelt out with force and eloquence in two recent reports.
The first of these two major social documents is Professor Peter Townsend's report "Inner City Deprivation and Premature Death in Greater Manchester" which demonstrates that, in some of the most deprived parts of the city, the death rate is 63 per cent. above the national average. The second is "Poverty in Manchester—Third Investigation Report" recently published by Manchester city council which, at a time when the Prime Minister sloganises about the importance of keeping families together, shows that some families in the city are now so poor that there are days when they cannot afford to eat.
For that among other reasons, we feel that the Prime Minister herself ought to reply to this debate. She has the two reports and, if she has read them, will know that their implications go beyond the responsibilities of any one Department of State. Their message has to be fully understood by the Government as a whole and we want urgent ministerial initiatives to reduce deprivation in Manchester, especially in the inner city, but also very importantly in the poorer wards of my own Wythenshawe constituency in south Manchester, where poverty matches that in the central areas.
Following precedents the Prime Minister must honour, we want urgently to see her about the two reports and to be accompanied by constituents who are personally affected by the grim facts of life on the poverty line for huge numbers of Manchester families. It is the Prime Minister who is ultimately responsible for having created Britain's growing underclass or jumble-sale clad "girocracy" of people, most of whom, as the two reports show, have to eke out an existence that is becoming ever more nasty, brutish and preventably short.
There is not enough time for me to relate in this debate all of the most disturbing facts revealed in the reports, but some I must give the House. Taking "Poverty in Manchester" first, the survey for which was undertaken by an independent fieldwork agency, the report shows that 32 per cent. of the city's population, some 144,000 people, are living in poverty in Manchester today. The groups in which poverty is disproportionately high include one-parent families, of whom 65 per cent. live in poverty; black and Asian households, 50 per cent.; council tenants, 48 per cent.; and families with someone who is long-term sick or disabled, 40 per cent. Some 55 per cent. of the city's poor are also in debt.
The report analyses the official statistics on unemployment—Manchester has over twice the national rate—low pay, taxation and benefits. It explodes many of the Government's myths. The report also deals with the impact on Manchester's poor of the huge loss in Government grants to the city over the past ten years, the 582 effect of last April's social security changes, the DSS's deliberate underspending on community care grants and the way in which the poll tax, when it comes into operation, will further increase the living costs of people on low incomes in areas of low rateable value, a high proportion of whom are pensioners who already cannot make ends meet.
To give more details of the report's findings on poverty, which it defines as inability to afford what everyone else sees as the necessities of life, over 30,000 people in Manchester live in homes without essential heating. About 20,000 homes are affected by damp and a further 20,000 include at least one person who lacks a warm waterproof coat, while half the city's population cannot afford to pay for a week's holiday away from home and many thousands do not own more than one pair of shoes.
Over half the households in receipt of social security benefits live in poverty and more than 40 per cent. of them include a long-term sick or disabled person. Among families with children, three quarters go without three necessities. Over 50,000 people in Manchester are worse off because of the change from supplementary benefit to income support and the replacement of grants as of right by the social fund.
Professor Townsend's report spotlights the close correlation which exists between material deprivation and premature death. He shows that the four most deprived wards in the city have the worst health records, judged by, among other factors, the percentage of children of low birth weight. Three of the four wards also have the highest proportion of premature deaths in the city and the highest post-perinatal mortality rates.
In the space of two years, there were nearly 1,500 "excess deaths" in the city due to higher mortality rates in materially deprived wards. In my constituency, the number of people who died in the poorer wards was 169 above the national average last year. They died one by one and publicly unseen, but taken together their deaths total nearly four times the toll in the recent Boeing 737 disaster at Kegworth. By contrast, the death rate in Britain's most affluent communities has fallen in a decade by 26 per cent.
There has been a shifty and puerile attempt to divert attention from the two reports by blaming the local council, which has lost £570 million in grants under the present Government, for poverty in the city. That immense loss, so gravely damaging to the council's ability to help local people, not least the poorest, is itself a major factor in the growth of poverty in Manchester.
§ Mr. Keith Bradley (Manchester, Withington)
Will my right hon. Friend agree that the loss of that grant throughout Manchester—and, as I believe he is about to say, the spread of poverty—now means that we have pockets of abject poverty even in the most affluent parts of Manchester, traditionally seen in my area of Withington? Many people in that area are now suffering in the way that poverty was previously seen only as an inner-city phenomenon.
§ Mr. Morris
I entirely agree with my hon. Friend and warmly admire the persistence with which he has argued that important point to the House month after month. I am sure that he will agree with me that to blame the council for poverty in Manchester, while it may satisfy the politically illiterate, is like blaming the victim for a crime.
583 In Manchester, 17,483 tenants and ratepayers have now lost all their housing benefit under the Government's revised scheme; 100,000 now receive less housing benefit; 44,581 no longer receive help with their water rates; 109,000 of Manchester's children lost a total of £1.98 million by the freezing of child benefit in the last year and 7,000 have been deprived by the Government of free school meals; 50,000 people in the city are worse off due to the replacement of supplementary benefit by income support; and 2,000 16 and 17-year-olds have lost income support.
All of them are victims of this Government's warped social priorities. One of them is Thomas Cook, who is aged 73, a retired engine driver in Manchester whose income is £42.79 a week, and woe betide anyone who tries to tell him that the local council is responsible for his poverty. Christian Wolmas said of him in The Independent:What makes a visit to Mr. Cook's home so poignant is the spartan tidiness: the little decaying rectangles of carpet placed neatly around the room, but barely covering a third of the grey lino. One can almost feel Mrs. Thatcher's approval of his efforts to make the best of a difficult job, but her name is not one to mention in his little flat unless you want to be shown the door.Mr. Cook's wife died of cancer, he has had an operation for cancer, but now has to try to exist on a weekly sum that would not have bought a meal for two at many a table in the Carlton club tonight. Nor would it pay for the week-end diversions of many a lager lout in the more prosperous communities where they wreak their havoc.
Giving more help to the elderly poor, or others in poverty, is not a problem of resources but one of priorities. In last year's Budget alone, £1.9 billion went in tax cuts to the richest 1 per cent. of taxpayers, while many of Manchester's pensioners now complain in the winter months of having to choose between eating and heating, and ministerial advice to them is that salvation lies in the jumble sale.
The grievous severity of job losses over recent years in Manchester, which once made Britain the workshop of the world, has won national attention. Now an independent study of regional economic prospects for the United Kingdom, to which Lord Dean cogently referred in another place last Monday, shows that the outlook is extremely bleak for the north-west. Further huge job losses are forecast and the report of the study says:The outlook for the North West is almost wholly depressive. It is forecast to fare worse than any other UK region, suffering the biggest fall in employment, and output growth barely half the national average.That is the message from Cambridge Econometrics, and we want tonight a statement, which I hope will not be as obtuse as the one given to Lord Dean last Monday, about the daunting further challenge it presents to the people that my hon. Friends the Members for Manchester, Blackley (Mr. Eastham) and for Manchester, Central (Mr. Litherland), my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman), and my hon. Friends the Members for Manchester, Withington (Mr. Bradley), for Stretford (Mr. Lloyd) and I represent. We are especially glad to see our hon. Friends the Members for Oldham, Central and Royton (Mr. Lamond) and for Heywood and Middleton (Mr. Callaghan) among others who are here with us tonight.
584 I repeat that the resources are there urgently to improve the conditions of life of Manchester's poor and to improve the economic prospects of the conurbation. The Chancellor boasts of the surplus available to him and can well afford the £4 billion cash injection that the TUC is requesting for, among other purposes, help for poorer families and the low-paid; increased child benefits and adequately funded hospitals in areas which know all too well the cost of ward closures; and both better provision for children at school and more housing investment in the public sector.
He most certainly has the funds to alleviate the stark poverty revealed by the two reports about Manchester. The cost to the Chancellor would be trivial of restoring the £4.1 million lost by Manchester's poorest people, compared with 1985–86, by the substitution of the social fund for single payments to meet urgent needs. He can also well afford to close the gap between Manchester's bid for £209 million under the housing investment programme and our allocation of only £17 million.
Ministers must know of the reports that to put right the defects in Manchester's private sector housing would cost £250 million and that to remedy faults in its council properties would cost at least £750 million, which makes the city's HIP allocation of £17 million a calculated insult to those whose homes are in need of renovation or refurbishment or who are homeless in Manchester today. Again, the Government must know that urgent repairs and maintenance to elderly persons' homes and even fire precaution work in children's homes have to be deferred.
As Minister for the Disabled I was always ready to go with any Member of Parliament to see at first hand any local problems of concern to him or her. More to the point, I recall going as a Minister, at his request, with the present Secretary of State for Social Security to his Croydon constituency. That entitles me to ask him now to come with me and my parliamentary colleagues to Manchester to see at first hand the preventable suffering among the poorest of our constituents. I ask him to spend a day or so with the city's social work service so that he can visit and talk to the people it is now seeking to help in circumstances of intimidating difficulty. The Prime Minister said here last May that "everyone" had benefited from increased prosperity. She emphasised the word "everyone".
The Secretary of State will learn in Manchester the reaction to that statement of the poorest of our pensioners, one-parent families and other deprived groups. Hopefully, he will meet Thomas Cook.
§ Mr. Tony Lloyd (Stretford)
My right hon. Friend made a valid point about his role as a Minister and about how he cared enough to go to the areas that mattered. In his experience of Governments of both complexions, has my right hon. Friend ever seen, on the face of the Prime Minister or the Chancellor of the Exchequer, anything that leads him to believe that they care about the issues we are raising? It is only if they care and want to make the issues their priority that our constituents will benefit from the change in policy.
§ Mr. Morris
My hon. Friend was extremely kind to refer to my practice as a Minister of going to constituencies to meet needful people at the request of the Members of Parliament concerned if they wished me to do so. We have to judge people by their actions. We must make our assessment of them by the effect of what they do to people 585 who are the most in need. What I have said is that by that test the Government have a geat deal for which to answer. That is not just my view; it is the view also of the Bishop of Manchester who, in his new year's message, made it pikestaff-plain that poverty and inequalities have increased, are increasing and ought to be diminished.
The message of this debate is that poverty in Manchester has increased, as the Bishop said, is increasing and will go on increasing if the Government refuse to take purposeful action. We demand that such action be taken and insist on urgency. If they refuse, the people of Manchester will draw their own conclusions about the Government's attitude to the widespread deprivation in their city.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Social Security (Mr. Peter Lloyd)
I congratulate the right hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris) on securing this debate. I listened with interest to his speech and to the contributions made by his hon. Friends the Members for Manchester, Withington (Mr. Bradley) and for Stretford (Mr. Lloyd). I understand that there are people in Manchester and other parts of the country who are facing real and persistent problems. That is recognised by the Government, contrary to the points made by the right hon. Member for Wythenshawe, and long-term policies are developed accordingly.
The right hon. Member for Wythenshawe and the hon. Members who intervened have, understandably, concentrated on the darker side of the picture. We should look at the problems they raise in context. I should like to say something about the more encouraging aspects of what is happening in one of our major cities.
§ Mr. Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton)
Will the Minister give way?
§ Mr. Lloyd
I have little time because the right hon. Member for Wythenshawe took more than 15 minutes. However, I will give way.
§ Mr. Kaufman
Will the Minister say what encouragement he can offer to my constituent, Mrs. Jenkins, who wrote to tell me today that, as a result of the Government's changes in social security, she and her husband, who have struggled all their lives to buy their house, are likely to have to give up that house and be homeless because they cannot afford to keep up their payments?
§ Mr. Lloyd
I should not have given way because, as the right hon. Gentleman knew before he made his intervention, I cannot comment on a particular case without looking at all the facts first. If he really wants to raise that matter with me, he will, perhaps, write to me with the full details. I would appreciate that and I would then look into the matter and answer him.
I shall now look at the more encouraging aspects of the scene in Manchester. The level of unemployment in the Manchester authority district, to which the right hon. Member for Wythenshawe referred, has fallen by more than 17 per cent. between November 1987 and November 1988. Overall, unemployment in Greater Manchester has dropped from 13.2 per cent. to 10.6 per cent. in a year and is still dropping. That is good news for Manchester—
§ Mr. Tony Lloyd
What about Manchester itself?
§ Mr. Lloyd
I also referred to the local district authority. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will allow me to finish.
§ Mr. Ken Eastham (Manchester, Blackley)
My hon. Friend the Member for Stretford (Mr. Lloyd) may be able to assist the Minister.
§ Mr. Lloyd
No, I do not think that he will assist me. I have allowed one intervention—which is more than enough—and it was not a help to the central argument. If the hon. Gentleman has a point, I hope that he will write to me and I shall reply. It is not worth taking up time now on it.
The fall in unemployment is good news. The graph in the city council report, in which I was very interested, shows clearly that the increase in numbers of those on supplementary benefit between 1979 and 1987 was due mainly to the rise in unemployment and unemployment is now falling. There are also 9,500 vacancies on the youth training scheme and 9,000 places on the new employment training scheme to help to ensure that skills are available to continue that expansion.
There have been significant improvements in the health service in the Manchester area. Salford district health authority, for example, has seen a growth in spending of 11.5 per cent.
§ Mr. Eastham
Salford is not the same as Manchester.
§ Mr. Lloyd
The corresponding increase for central Manchester is 10.4 per cent. and other health authorities in the area have also shown increases.
However, it is not just the policies of central Government that have an impact on the poor people in Manchester. Manchester city council also has a role to play. I welcome the fact that the council is participating in the Government's Estates Action initiative aimed at improving housing conditions in—and the management of—unpopular housing estates. However, I understand that Manchester city council has been slow in submitting schemes that would take advantage of Estates Action resources. In 1988–89, the council received £2.7 million for two new schemes and it has been told that there is a further £1.2 million available, mostly to refurbish empty dwellings for the homeless. The council has so far not taken advantage of those resources even though it owns some 5,000 empty houses and flats. I hope that it will soon.
There have been references to particular cases. The right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) mentioned one in an intervention. I shall not attempt to comment on them here because it would be wrong to do so without studying the full facts. If any hon. Gentleman wishes to write to me about any particular case that he would have used to illustrate this debate, or which has been used already, I shall, of course, look into it as closely as I can. However, I shall comment now on the charge that the social security system is not meeting the needs of the poorest in the city.
First, I must repeat what I have said many times, which is that there is no absolute poverty line. To use the supplementary benefit or income support levels is clearly not tenable. That would mean that when the Government raise benefit levels, there would be more poor people. The approach adopted in the city council's report is not much 587 better. Measuring deprivation inevitably involves subjective judgments and that is what has happened there. However, there is not enough time to enter into a technical debate about how we define poverty.
§ Mr. Eastham
Will the Minister give way?
§ Mr. Lloyd
No, because I have little time and I have some important points to make.
The main point that I want to make is that, inevitably, the report is out of date. It covers the situation in 1987, before the social security reforms were introduced last April. The report acknowledges that, and goes on to speculate about how the changes affect Mancunians on income support and family credit. We shall not have the definitive figures for income support until next summer. Under this Government pensioners have experienced a rise in average income of 23 per cent., and it was plain from the table in the city council's report that the number of elderly people on supplementary benefit was not increasing. Under income support—the benefit paid to the poorest—pensioners receive an age-related premium and we have already announced that those premiums will be restructured.
From this October we are to introduce enhanced premiums for those of 75 or over and for disabled pensioners. In a full year, that will cost almost £200 million and benefit 2.6 million pensioners who get income support or housing benefit. It will help those categories of people who have had the least opportunity to make extra provision for themselves.
Hon. Members have mentioned the difficulties facing families. Their criticisms take no account of the increased generosity of the family credit scheme, which means that a couple with two children can receive benefit if they have gross earnings of £142 a week, which will increase to £154 from April.
§ Mr. Eastham
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. We thought that this debate would deal with poverty in Manchester. Would you, Sir, ask the Minister at least to attempt to reply to my right hon. Friend—
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. That is not a point of order for me. As the hon. Gentleman has just said, he wants the Minister to answer the questions, so it is a matter for the Minister.
§ Mr. Lloyd
The increasing number of jobs in Manchester means that that innovation by the Government will help a substantial number of families in the city. Those who are still looking for work and rely on income support will get extra help this April from the 50p additions to the allowances for children, at a cost of £70 million to the taxpayer.
We should remember, too, that the city centre in Manchester is now recognised to be the country's second largest financial centre. There are branches and regional offices of all the major clearing banks, eight merchant banks and 30 overseas or international banks. It was of Manchester city centre that the Financial Times said:in the last two years a major transformation has been taking place in Manchester's financial and professional community.588 The area also has the largest campus in western Europe, covering the university of Manchester, UMIST—the university of Manchester institute of science and technology—Manchester business school, Manchester polytechnic and the university of Salford. All these bring jobs, resources and investment into Manchester, thus benefiting the entire community. It is a shame that Opposition Members do not understand that. It shows that they do not understand the long-term solutions to the problems of which they rightly complain and with which I sympathise.
What is more, Manchester has impressed the rest of the country so much that it will be the British representative challenging to hold the 1996 Olympic games. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport was happy to approve the expenditure of £10 million to start a second international terminal at Manchester airport, which will also have a new rail link. All those factors contribute to the expansion of the local economy.
I repeat that right hon. and hon. Members have drawn attention to real problems in Manchester and I do not want to minimise their importance. However, they may also inadvertently have suggested that there have been no improvements in the circumstances of the people in that city and that the future is grim. I hope that I have shown that the Government's policies are proving effective and that there is a brighter side to the coin. I am sure that the House will recognise that Manchester is an increasingly thriving city, showing again the enterprise and industry for which the north-west is famous.
§ Mr. Eastham
As I understand it, this is a 30-minute debate and two minutes remain, so I shall take up one or two points in the Minister's reply. We are absolutely appalled at his response. We do not feel that he has responded in any way to the charges made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris) on the issue of poverty. My right hon. Friend referred to people going without food. That has nothing to do with the airport. We are talking about human beings and about misery and suffering.
I should like to underline one of the points made by my right hon. Friend. My daughter is a teacher in an inner-city school. In April she had the agonising job of having to tell children living in deep poverty that they no longer qualified for free school meals when 7,000 children ceased to qualify for school meals as a result of the Government's legislation. Those are the issues to which we should be addressing ourselves tonight. We are talking about hardship and suffering—about people going without food and fuel.
§ Mr. Lloyd
The hon. Gentleman has referred to free school meals, and I would be grateful to him if he would write to me and make the point more clearly than he has here. My reason for that is that free school meals are available for those families on income support. For those who are not on income support, but earn low wages, there is family credit, which contains an amount to cover the free school meals that used to be available on family income supplement.
§ Mr. Eastham
Seven thousand fewer.
§ Mr. Lloyd
There may be 7,000 fewer, but there are other reasons for that. They may be above the level of income support, because the number on income support has declined and the number in employment has increased.
§ The Motion having been made after Ten o'clock and the debate having continued for half an hour, MR. SPEAKER adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.
§ Adjourned at fourteen minutes to Eleven o'clock