HC Deb 28 January 1999 vol 324 cc459-61
3. Dr. Stephen Ladyman (South Thanet)

If he will make a statement on progress with his plans to help working families on low incomes. [66516]

13. Caroline Flint (Don Valley)

What measures he is taking to increase the net income of those in low-paid work. [66529]

The Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr. Gordon Brown)

The Government have introduced a number of measures to increase the net income of low-income families. Measures include the introduction of the national minimum wage, reform of national insurance contributions and the introduction of the working families tax credit.

Together, those reforms will provide a guaranteed income for families in full-time work of £190 a week, or £10,000 a year. More than a million people will benefit from the working families tax credit.

Dr. Ladyman

I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. His measures to help low-income families will help hundreds of families in my constituency and throughout east Kent. Those people will have been astounded and horrified that the Tories and Liberals opposed the working families tax credit on Monday. Will he promise to examine each year his minimum income guarantee and increase it when he can afford to? Does he agree that what the Tories mean by putting clear blue water between our two parties is that, because they intend to scrap the working families tax credit, they mean to become, even more than now, the party of the rich, and use their clear blue water to trap low-income families in poverty?

Mr. Brown

My hon. Friend is right, but even rich people are against the Conservative party now. On his constituency point, 100,000 men and women in the south-east of England will benefit from the working families tax credit. Throughout the country, more than 1 million people will benefit. For the first time, this country will have a minimum family income of £190 a week, or £10,000 a year, and income tax bills will not be sent until £220 a week, or £11,000 a year, is being earned. That is a major advance. The country will want to know why the Conservatives oppose the new deal, the minimum wage and now the working families tax credit. Even Sir Winston Churchill supported minimum wages. Why is the Conservative party now against fairness for people in work?

Caroline Flint

The one in nine families in Don Valley who will benefit from the working families tax credit will welcome the opportunity to earn £10,000 a year. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is nothing short of scandalous that the Opposition opposed the minimum wage, the working families tax credit and the new deal, which has halved youth employment in my constituency? I hope that the next time that he is in South Yorkshire, he will take the opportunity to hammer home the message that the Conservatives are the party of poverty and mass unemployment, and that we are the party fighting social injustice.

Mr. Brown

Most people will agree that the behaviour of the Conservative Opposition in opposing the working families tax credit does no credit to their traditions. In Yorkshire and Humberside, 125,000 families will benefit from its introduction next October. When people understand that there is a minimum family income of £10,000 a year for all who can work and that work pays more than benefits, they will see that we have made a big advance in employment, social security and tax legislation.

Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate)

Does the Chancellor of the Exchequer agree with the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field) that the working families tax credit offers huge bonuses for dishonesty? Why does he think that the United Kingdom will succeed where Canada failed? A similar system had to be withdrawn there because of massive fraud.

Mr. Brown

If the hon. Gentleman is an expert on north America, perhaps he will consider the experience of the United States economy, where people have benefited from the earned income tax credit after its introduction by a Republican Administration and its extension under a Democratic one. Our people will want to know why something supported by Ronald Reagan is unacceptable to the hon. Gentleman. That is a lurch to the right even for this Conservative party.

Mr. Dafydd Wigley (Caernarfon)

Does the Chancellor accept that in the areas with the lowest average incomes in these islands, such as South Yorkshire, Merseyside, Cornwall and Wales, people look to objective 1 funding from the European Union to boost local economies? Will he confirm that up to now, the UK has taken only one third of the money available from those funds and will he categorically assert that matching funds will be available, over and above current expenditure, to ensure that those areas maximise the benefit of European funding?

Mr. Brown

I hope that the right hon. Gentleman welcomes the fact that when I was in Wales on Monday, I was able to announce that modern apprenticeships, which will help the industrial economy of Wales, will be extended from 9,000 to 15,000 people there. Thus apprenticeships, which were dying out under the previous Government, are not only back but modern, and a 50 per cent. increase will be achieved.

In all the European negotiations, we shall protect the position of the regions and argue their case. Some 65,000 families in Wales stand to benefit from the working families tax credit and from the minimum wage, which will be introduced in April.

Mr. Peter L. Pike (Burnley)

Low-paid people in my constituency welcome the national minimum wage and the working families tax credit. They also welcome the Government's measures to keep inflation low, to increase child benefit and to reduce VAT on fuel. Their message to my right hon. Friend is that he has done an excellent job. Will he assure them that he will continue to do so?

Mr. Brown

I am glad that the working families tax credit is welcomed in the north-west, but it is not welcomed by the Conservative party. On the "Today" programme, the shadow Chancellor said: The first thing that should be done is to abandon these crazy plans to increase costs on business. The minimum wage is one of them". The 2 million people who will benefit from the minimum wage in April will never vote Conservative again.