Finance Bill: Equality Impact

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Click here to watch the Parliament Live video.

Bim Afolami: I rise to respond to some of the points that have been made by Opposition Members. I shall start with what Laura Pidcock said about the Government, or the Conservative party, talking about how work is the best route out of poverty. Do correct me if I have misquoted you, but you went on to say that the work in our economy at the moment exacerbates poverty. You felt that it is currently not the best route out of poverty. Is that correct?

…a short time later…

Laura Pidcock: In my speech I was talking about precarious work. In debates on universal credit, Government Members talk about it getting people into work faster, but we know that the system is for people who are in work and that they receive a top-up payment because their pay is low. I meet many people in my constituency, including social care workers who do not get paid for their mileage. They are working, say, 14 hours a day and getting paid for six hours. That entrenches their poverty because they do not have a proper contract and they are not being paid a fair rate, but they have all the outgoings that they would have if they were not receiving state help.

Bim Afolami: Whether it is in respect of the Bill, the new clause or what we are discussing now, the important thing is that it is of course the Government’s intention to create more better-paying jobs. That is what the Treasury team and everybody across Government strives to do every single day. That is not to say that every single person in this country is currently at the level of prosperity we would like, but that is the aim of all the activity that is coming out of the Bill and out of the Treasury.

Stella Creasy: If that is the aim, what data are the Government collecting to be sure that they are achieving it and to find out whether there are any variations? That is what we are talking about. The issue is not the policy, but whether it is having an impact and whether we can understand that impact. Does the hon. Gentleman understand that?

Bim Afolami: I do indeed understand that. There is currently so much data, much of which has already been talked about by Opposition Members, on regional disparities, and on disparities of race and age and between urban and rural areas. There is so much data, so Government policy must aim to bear it all in mind, which is what Ministers do.

Sarah Champion: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his generosity in taking interventions. We need to hear a few facts. The data that he is talking about, which we are citing as evidence of why this is so important, is being collected by charities and the House of Commons Library. With respect to both the duty of care and the provisions of the Equality Act 2010, this work should be done by the Government. That is what we are asking for.

Bim Afolami: If the hon. Lady will permit me, I will make a bit of progress and then I will respond to her remarks in the fullness of my speech.

It is important to make my next point in relation to new clause 6 clear. We have heard Opposition Members say that women, or certain members of ethnic minorities, are more likely to be lower paid than other members of society. By taking the lowest paid people out of tax and increasing the national living wage, we are benefiting those groups of people who might suffer from low earnings. In addition—

Ian Mearns: When Government Members talk about, and celebrate, the fact that people are being taken out of income tax altogether, what they are doing is celebrating an economy of low pay. They are celebrating an economy where people are being paid so little that they are just above, or just at, the income tax threshold. For me, that underlines what it is actually like out there in constituencies such as mine in Gateshead.

Bim Afolami: I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman is mistaken. It is not celebrating low pay to say that people who are currently earning lower amounts should take home more of their money. That is not a celebration; it is about making their lives, every day and every week, that bit easier. It is worth saying that taking the lowest paid people out of tax and raising the national living wage is having significant benefits for many of the people—

Stella Creasy: The hon. Gentleman is being very generous with his time. I think he may have missed one of the points that we are making. For example, when the Government raise the tax threshold, 66% of the people who do not benefit—because they do not earn enough—are women. Seventy three per cent of the people who benefit from a rise in the higher income rate threshold are men. What he is talking about and what we are talking about are two different things. We are talking about the differential impact of policy, and asking the Government to do the sums that are currently being done in the charitable sector, so that we can make better policy. Surely he wants those sorts of policies to have an equal benefit, but at the moment they do not, because we do not have equal pay.

Bim Afolami: I believe that all policy in this area, or, frankly, in any area, should be set to make sure that we are trying to generate as innovative, dynamic and successful an economy as possible. Stella Creasy mentioned cutting corporation tax in her speech. She thought that that effectively benefited more men than women because men are more likely to be shareholders than women. The way we should deal with that, in my view, is to encourage more women to be entrepreneurs. We should work to make sure that women have access to being shareholders and that women have more ability to reap the benefits of that—

Jim McMahon: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Bim Afolami: If I may, I would like to make a bit of progress.

As the evidence has shown, cutting corporation tax increases, rather than decreases, the tax take going to the Exchequer. If that shows this country to be a better and more dynamic place in which to set up and start a business, that will benefit all people in this country. That is the approach that the Government should take. If we want to improve the performance of the British economy and if there happen to be more men than women who are shareholders, it is no answer to say that we should therefore not take action to improve the activity of the British economy.

Stella Creasy: I have a very simple question for the hon. Gentleman, although I appreciate that he is getting some assistance from Kwasi Kwarteng: can he produce the data to prove that men and women will benefit equally from the changes to corporation tax?

Bim Afolami: I do not have the data now to be able to respond to the hon. Lady. What I do know is that Conservative Members will never take lectures from the Labour party; we have our second female Prime Minister, the gender pay gap is the lowest on record, and this Government have done more for childcare and support for families than the Labour Government ever did. The idea that this Government should take lectures on this issue from Labour Members is disgraceful.

Laura Pidcock: The hon. Gentleman is celebrating two female Prime Ministers somehow drastically pulling every single woman out of poverty. That is not the answer. We need structural change and the evidence to tell us whether women are equal, not the tokenism of two female leaders. Margaret Thatcher did not do much to pull women in my community out of poverty.

…a short time later…

Dawn Butler: I am sure that the hon. Members around the hon. Gentleman are trying to get him to stop talking, but Labour Members do not mind. It is actually nice to see you go through your journey of trying to put the pieces together and understand the problems we are talking about. You cannot justify any of your statements because you have no data.

…a short time later…

Bim Afolami: I will conclude my remarks by saying that it is important when we talk about these issues—in this House or outside—always to remember that improving the performance of the health service, the economy or anything relating to Government policy will benefit everybody in this country, if we make the right judgments and the right policy.

Jim McMahon: Well, well, well. When it comes to naivety, there is a very fine line; it can often be endearing before it eventually becomes quite offensive. And I did find the speech of Bim Afolami offensive. It began in the spirit of naivety. I could see that he was nervous at the beginning of his contribution—quite rightly, it turned out, towards the end—because he did not have the data that was being presented.

The debate went on and Labour Members presented the data, but rather than actually taking account of it, the hon. Gentleman continued, in a very odd way, to try to defend what most reasonable people would say is a quite indefensible position. He was essentially saying, “Listen—if men are doing okay, surely women will eventually do okay too.” I am not sure whether the solution he came up with to the shareholder conundrum is for women to find wealthy husbands who are shareholders, as if that might somehow lift them out of poverty and allow them to be the beneficiaries of the cuts in corporation tax.

…a short time later…

Bim Afolami: Would the hon. Gentleman welcome anything at all in the Government’s recently announced industrial strategy, which was, in many respects, targeted towards some of the poorer communities in this country?

Jim McMahon: I am going to give the hon. Gentleman a real answer on this point and not just grandstand, because it is important. I will explain the problem with the industrial strategy as it stands. For a town like Oldham, it is absolutely critical that the UK has an industrial strategy that holds water—that is forward thinking, ambitious, and has a framework of funding to support growth. I would welcome an industrial strategy that did that, and I think that when it started, that is what it tried to do. The problem is that something fairly dramatic has happened in the meantime, and that is Brexit. What I would have expected the Government to do in the context of the referendum result is not just to dominate Parliament’s time with the transitional and transactional relationships with Europe now and when we leave. I would have expected the Government of the day to produce a real, compelling vision of what type of Britain there is going to be when we leave the European Union. That has not taken place. The domestic legislation coming through this place is non-existent. Money is being taken out of vital public services that would be the foundation for the type of industrial strategy that is being talked about. Money is being taken away from our education and skills system, which would be the starting point for any investment strategy in our economy, particularly in manufacturing and engineering.

So would I welcome anything in the industrial strategy? I would simply welcome the principle of an industrial strategy, but it cannot be done on the cheap. We have seen—let us be honest about this; it transcends different Governments—a complete turning away from UK manufacturing and engineering, at the cost of the communities that people in this place represent. In order to replace that with a forward-thinking industrial strategy, the resources then have to follow, and we have not seen that—we have seen the opposite. Money has been taken away from our Sure Start centres and from our schools. Our colleges are chronically underfunded, with many on estates that are crumbling, struggling to keep up even with basic maintenance. Our apprenticeship system is in tatters since the introduction of the apprenticeship levy. All these things matter if we have a forward view about what type of country Britain can be.

The new clauses are important in that context because if we want to create, after Brexit, an inclusive and fair Britain that allows everybody to benefit, we have to make an honest assessment of where Britain is today. We are not in a good place. Our economy is shot. Our job market has been hollowed out, and the good, well-paid jobs in the middle have been taken away. Our housing stock is not fit for purpose and we are investing £9 billion a year into the pockets of private landlords, although we know that 40% of that stock does not even meet the decent homes standard. Those are the really important issues that Members need to think about. If they do not take proper account of what the information tells us, how on earth can we collectively make informed decisions that send us in a different direction?

In this Parliament—people keep saying that it is the mother of all Parliaments, and surely because of that we ought to set the bar higher—Members passing through the voting Lobbies ought to be informed. We ought to know absolutely everything about what we are voting on. Let us be honest, on Brexit, the Government are deliberately denying us key information that is critical to the country’s future—whether it is the sectoral analysis or information about a range of other issues—and would inform our votes in this House. We are being denied quite an important foundation of our democracy.

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