This morning on BBC Tees, I debated the issue of tax credits with a Conservative councillor who stood unsuccessfully at the general election. He used an expression that summed up the total lack of understanding among Government Members of how people can be in work but in need of some state support.
He referred to people as being “exposed” to the process, as if it was some kind of risk. I understand that that expression might be used by a city person in relation to investments, or by a chief executive about a project that his company plans to undertake. In both cases, I am sure that they would develop a plan to mitigate the risk of failure.
The millions of people who will be affected by the tax credit cuts are not exposed to a risk that they have the power to mitigate. Rather, they are having cuts to their income imposed on them and there is little, if anything, that most of them can do about it.
Take, for example, the case of my constituent, Linda Harper, whose medical needs mean that she requires help and support in some areas of her life.
Despite needing the unpaid care of her husband, who also has a job, Linda’s determination recently saw her battle against her condition to open her own craft store in the local town centre. Although the business does not yet turn a profit, she is succeeding in building a customer base and is contributing to the community by running classes, teaching others the skills of her craft and hosting social groups that add value to the lives of those who participate.
Linda represents the attitudes that the Conservative Government claim they want to promote. She is hard working, persevering and enterprising. Let us not forget that the Conservative manifesto at the general election promised to improve the lives of “the millions who work hard, raise their families, care for those who need help, who do the right thing”.
Yet, when the Government’s changes come into effect, Linda estimates that she stands to lose £2,000 a year. Paying her mortgage and putting food on the table will become significantly harder and the viability of her businesses will be severely challenged.
The Government say that their demand for employers to pay people more and their tax cuts will help to restore the money that people lose from their tax credits. That is absolute nonsense.
I put the following questions to the Minister:
- What will happen to public sector workers and self-employed people on low incomes?
- How can the employees of local authorities, health trusts and other public sector employers make up their income by increasing pay when the Government have said that they cannot give increases beyond one per cent?
- How will a person who relies on tax credits and who earns less than £10,000 a year benefit from an increase in the tax threshold?
- How will a self-employed person with earnings of £6,000 a year give themselves a pay rise to fill the gap in their income caused by the loss of tax credits?
- How will a small business fulfil the Government’s promise of higher wages when it is already struggling to survive?
The answers are simple: public sector workers will continue to see drastic cuts to their incomes and standard of living; self-employed individuals will be left to their own devices; and small businesses will pay people off because they cannot afford to keep them.
I am alarmed to hear that, despite the reservations of many Conservative Members, the Prime Minister and the Chancellor have no intention of halting these cuts. Perhaps the 70 or so Conservative Members whose majorities are smaller than the number of people in their constituencies who claim tax credits will have more to say about that in future. Several million people hope so.