HC Deb 12 February 1998 vol 306 cc549-50
14. Mr. McCabe

What plans he has for merging the systems of personal taxation and welfare benefits. [27214]

Mr. Gordon Brown

As I stated in the pre-Budget report, we plan to build on our £4 billion welfare-to-work programme, and unveil in the Budget the second stage of our plan to modernise the welfare state. To encourage work and to help low-paid families, we are now considering in detail the introduction of a working families tax credit, paid through the tax system. That would also allow us to do more to help with the cost of child care.

Mr. McCabe

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that reply. Can he confirm that the working families tax credit will be of significant benefit to a great many women already in work and those who want to work? Will he further confirm that allegations that there will be a compulsory transfer of resources from women to men, or that there is a threat to independent taxation, are completely untrue?

Mr. Brown

I can reassure my hon. Friend. As I made clear in the pre-Budget statement, the Budget will include the next stage of the modernisation of the welfare state—reform of tax and benefits to make work pay, which will be of particular benefit to women. There is no threat to independent taxation from the working families tax credit, nor would there be a compulsory transfer of resources from women to men. If the working families tax credit replaced family credit, families would have the right to elect to whom the tax credit was paid, the man or the woman.

Mrs. Lait

I offer my commiserations at the fact that Treasury Question Time this afternoon has been a woman-free zone.

I appreciate hearing that independent married women's tax will not be affected after the heavy leaking that there has been of the Budget plans, but will the Chancellor please assure us that every married woman, whatever her level of earnings, will not lose by the changes that he is promising?

Mr. Brown

The compulsory transfer of resources from women to men is not proposed in any of the detail that has been examined by the Treasury. The existing system of family credit, for which the Conservative party was responsible, has only a 69 per cent. take-up; 645,000 people have a marginal tax rate above 70 per cent.; 500,000 people are paying tax as they receive benefit; and only 31,000 have been able to receive the child care disregard. That is not a system that is working in favour of women or children, and we shall reform it and make it better.

Mrs. Anne Campbell

Will my right hon. Friend ensure that in the forthcoming Budget he does whatever possible to remove the poverty trap for lone parents, and thus give a welcome boost to the new deal for lone parents which has helped so many women in my constituency and elsewhere in the United Kingdom?

Mr. Brown

It is a symbol of what the Conservative party was about in government that it took care to deal with the disincentives for people on high tax rates, but left people with high marginal tax rates if they were low paid. As a result of Conservative policy, 360,000 families have an 80 per cent. marginal tax rate and more than 100,000 have a 90 per cent. marginal tax rate. That is unacceptable. It is a disincentive to work, it is unfair to mothers and their children, and Britain can do better. That is why we are modernising the British welfare state.

Mr. Fallon

Will the Chancellor confirm the Financial Secretary's apologies for bunking off this afternoon to discuss more of the Budget with the sisters of the Fawcett Society following her Budget leak to The Daily Telegraph this morning? Could not women still be pressurised by their husbands into not applying for direct payment of the working families tax credit and, even if they do apply, will not their husbands still know what they earn?

Mr. Brown

Under the present system, the woman and the man have to sign the family credit form. The hon. Gentleman should consider that before he makes such allegations. The hon. Gentleman has to face up to the fact that thousands of women—even in work—and children are left in poverty as a result of the policies that we have inherited from the previous Government. That is why we must begin to reform the welfare state.

The Financial Secretary is addressing a conference this afternoon, the Economic Secretary is ill, and both have sent their apologies to the House.

Forward to