Peter Aldous calls for phasing in of withdrawal of working tax credits

29th October 2015

Peter Aldous backs the Government’s strategy of supporting working families through the tax system and by encouraging earnings growth. He welcomes current transitional arrantements but calls for more support for those hit by the withdrawal of working tax credits; as the way the policy was going to be implemented would leave many poor and vulnerable families harshly exposed. He calls on the Government to consider the withdrawal of working tax credits to be phased in, raising the National Insurance threshold, and offering tax breaks to companies who pay the living wage.

Peter Aldous (Waveney) (Con): Although the Government are pursuing the right strategic course of supporting working families through the tax system and by encouraging earnings growth, it has become clear over the past few weeks that the way in which the policy was being implemented would leave many poor and vulnerable families harshly exposed. Today, as a result of the efforts of my right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Frank Field) in securing this debate, we can properly consider what other transitional measures can be bought in to support those families.
 
The current arrangements are in need of reform. The Government’s proposed transition measures are welcome. The increase in the personal tax threshold will enable working taxpayers to keep more of the money they earn. The introduction of the national living wage is a bold and radical move for which my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer should be applauded. The Government have rightly prioritised working families through the offer of 30 hours’ free childcare. However, it is clear that those initiatives alone do not go far enough and more transitional support is needed.
 
In my Waveney constituency, there are many people on low wages, often working part-time. They would like to work longer hours and earn more, and through hard work and training they would like to climb up a ladder of workplace progression. The problem is that that option is not currently available to them. There has been an economic decline for 40 years: traditional industries have gone, the factory gates have closed and the fishing industry is a very poor shadow of its former self. That scene is repeated in many places around the country.
 
To their credit, the coalition Government and this current Government have recognised that fundamental flaw in the country’s economy, and they are putting in place policies that will reverse that decline and bring new jobs to many areas. Such policies will ensure that, in the long term, we will have a balanced economy where growth is not concentrated in a few places and opportunities are available across the country. Policies such as devolution and investment in infrastructure and in education and skills will work, but they will not do so overnight. They will need time and they may well need to be refocused, redesigned and rebooted.
 
In the short term, there is a need for support to ensure that the removal of working tax credits does not punitively hit those on low wages. There is no silver bullet and there may well be a need for more than one initiative. The Treasury will need to weigh up very carefully what alternative tax raising measures may be necessary in order to produce a balanced budget and to remain on course to eliminate the deficit. It is very important that any tax increases are progressive and do not hit unfairly the poorest members of society.
 
On additional mitigating measures, I make four suggestions. First, full consideration should be given to phasing in the withdrawal of working tax credit. Spreading it out would be fairer and rising wages would help to reduce the impact. Secondly, increasing the point at which employees start to pay national insurance should be considered. That would be more effective than a further increase in the personal tax threshold, as people will pay national insurance from £8,164 compared to £11,000 for income tax. Thirdly, the offer of tax breaks for businesses that voluntarily and more quickly move to paying the national living wage should be looked at.
 
Finally, we need to review the design of universal credit. It is in many respects bizarre that the introduction of universal credit and the withdrawal of working tax credits are being carried out at the same time by different Departments. That might explain why the Government are in the position that they find themselves in today, with policies that are not properly co-ordinated. Working tax credits were introduced by Gordon Brown when he was at the Treasury, with apparently limited consultation with the Department for Work and Pensions. That is a fatal flaw at the heart of Government that should have been addressed a long time ago.
 
The great advantage of universal credit is its simplicity. It will boost employment and make it easier for people to understand why they are better off in work. However, it should be made more flexible. Much of the current emphasis is on getting one person in a household into work. There should be more focus on boosting employment within the household as a whole. There is a need to rebalance the incentives that universal credit creates to better support single parents, second earners in families with children and the disabled. Universal credit should be made easier to use. It should not penalise families whose earnings and outgoings do not fit into a neat monthly pattern.
 
The 800,000 self-employed households that will move on to universal credit have a particular problem in having to start reporting their income on a monthly basis, rather than annually through the HMRC self-assessment. That will create a huge bureaucratic burden that could hit low earners hard.
 
Martin Vickers (Cleethorpes) (Con): I agree with my hon. Friend. Like me, he represents a coastal community with low pay. Does he acknowledge that, as well as the help that needs to be given to those who are in receipt of tax credits, we must consider the spending power that will be taken out of the local economy if we proceed with the proposals that were outlined by the Government, which will be very detrimental to our areas?
 
Peter Aldous: My hon. Friend is quite right. There are some very clever people in the Treasury, but they often look at the country as a whole. They need to realise that things are very different in different places.
 
I have two final points on universal credit. The requirement to provide childcare bills on a monthly basis could mean that parents whose childcare costs are higher at certain times of the year will be financially worse off than they are under the current system. For those who receive help with their rent, the option for payments to go straight to the landlord should be more easily accessible.
 
In the longer term, the Government need to take stock of their approach to welfare reform. They have been right to rise to the challenge and most of their policies have been successful. How they move forward needs careful thought and reflection. Perhaps alongside the benefit cap there should be a benefit ceiling. In the short term—in the next four weeks—there is a lot to be done to get this policy right: to ensure that it is fair, that it does not penalise the working poor and that it provides them with a ladder of workplace progression.
 
3.9 pm
 

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Peter holds regular surgeries at various locations in the constituency. Please call 01502 586568 to make an appointment.

 

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