David Cameron is guilty of limiting the life chances of hundreds of thousands of children from low- and middle-income families by cutting child tax credits as part of the government’s £12bn of welfare cuts, Jeremy Corbyn has said.
In their second encounter at prime minister’s questions, the Labour leader quoted from a single mother with a disabled child who will lose £1,800 a year as he contrasted the Tories’ tax credit cuts with their introduction of tax breaks for the wealthy.
Corbyn, who said that the single mother, Kelly, was one of 2,000 people who had emailed him with questions about the cuts, asked: “Isn’t the truth of the matter that this government is taking away the opportunities and limiting the life chances of hundreds of thousands of children from poorer or middle-income families in this society? Should he not be aware of that in the decisions he makes?”
The Labour leader challenged Cameron over the impact of the cuts to tax credits as he repeated his tactic of asking the prime minister questions from emails submitted to his office.
In a noticeably more assured performance, in which he joked that the prime minister was seeking to do his best, Corbyn limited himself to three subject areas, which forced Cameron to answer in detail. The areas were tax credits, housing and secondary breast cancer.
The prime minister, who has said that he will respect the “new politics” championed by Corbyn, was forced to defend government policy on the cuts to tax credits and the challenge faced by low- and middle-income earners in buying a house.
Cameron had to wait until Corbyn had finished his questions to roll out his main pre-prepared joke about the decision of the shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, to change tack and to instruct Labour MPs to vote against George Osborne’s fiscal charter, which will oblige the government to run an overall budget surplus from 2019-20 in “normal times”.
He said: “Where we find a good Labour policy we implement it. Funnily enough do you know what we are doing tonight? We’re implementing what was a week ago the Labour policy.”
The three areas raised by the Labour leader were:
Corbyn raised the case of Kelly, who wrote in her email: “I’m a single mum to a disabled child. I work 40.5 hours each week in a job that I trained for. I get paid £7.20 per hour. So in April the prime minister is not putting my wage up but he will be taking tax credits off me.”
Corbyn asked the prime minister to say how much worse off. This prompted Cameron to give a generalised answer about the new national living wage, which will mark a £20 a week pay rise next year; the rise in the personal tax free allowance to £11,000 from next April; the 30 hours of free childcare; and the cut in rents for council and housing association tenants.
The Labour leader said: “I thank the prime minister for that. Can I tell him, in case he is not aware of it, that she is going to £1,800 a year worse off next April and that there are another 3 million families in this country who will also be worse off next April. After housing costs 500,000 more children are now in poverty compared with five years ago in 2010. On top of that his new tax credit policy will put another 200,000 children into poverty.
Corbyn cited an email from Matthew, one of 3,500 people who have submitted questions on housing in recent days, who wrote: “I live in a private rented house in London with three other people. Despite earning a salary well over the median wage buying even the cheapest of properties is well beyond my reach for years to come.”
He asked the prime minister whether it is fair that £450,000 – the upper limit for the government’s help to buy mortgage subsidy system – should an affordable price for a new home for someone on an average income. Cameron said £450,00 should be the limit for starter homes in London as he spoke of how he wanted to encourage the building of houses worth £150,000 to £200,000 to help people like Matthew.
The Labour leader replied with a joke as he said: “Could I bring the prime minister back to reality? The last five years have seen a low level of housebuilding, less than half the new buildings that are actually needed, it has seen rapidly rising rents, rising homelessness therefore also a higher housing benefit bill.
“Will he now address the problem that local authorities face in accessing funds in order to undertake the necessary and essential building of council housing rather than what appears to be a growing obsession in the government to selling off publicly owned properties rather than building homes for people that desperately need them so that children can grow up in a safe, secure environment?”
Secondary Breast Cancer Awareness Day
Corbyn spoke of a meeting he held during the Labour conference in Brighton with Frances and Emma, who are both suffering from terminal breast cancer. He asked the prime minister to write to him about their concerns about the collection of data in all hospitals on the instance of secondary breast cancer.
Silence fell in the chamber as the prime minister thanked him for asking the question as he said he had met Frances and Emma at his own conference. Cameron said: “We all know people who have had the tragedy of having breast cancer. One can only imagine what it must be like to recover and survive breast cancer in a primary sense but then to find out that you have a secondary cancer, often a secondary cancer that is completely incurable.”
This article was written by Nicholas Watt Chief political correspondent, for theguardian.com on Wednesday 14th October 2015 14.14 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010