“I join the Prime Minister in thanking all the staff of this House for all the work they do all the year round. They are fantastic, supportive and inclusive, and they are great with the public who come here. I want to thank them for everything they do.
I also join the Prime Minister in thanking all our emergency services for the way they coped with all the terrible emergencies we have had over the past few months in this country, and I thank those communities, such as my own in Finsbury Park, that have come together to oppose those who try to divide us as a community and as a people. The emergency services were in action again yesterday, protecting the people of Coverack from the flood they suffered. We should always remember that we rely on those services.
The Chancellor said this week that some public servants are “overpaid”. Given that the Prime Minister has had to administer a slapdown to her squabbling Cabinet, does she think the Chancellor was actually talking about her own Ministers?
I thank the Prime Minister for what she said about my own community; I am obliged to her for that. However, my question was about whether the Chancellor had said that public service workers are overpaid or not. The reality in this country is simply this: a nurse on a median salary starts on £23,000; police officers start on £22,800; and jobcentre clerks start on £15,000. I had a letter from Sarah who wrote to me this week about her sister-in-law, who is a nurse. Sarah said:
“she has sacrificed her health for the caring of others. She has had a pay freeze for the last five years. Only her dedication and passion for her vocation keeps her going. Why is this happening”.
What does the Prime Minister say to Sarah and those others working in our NHS?
The Prime Minister does not seem to have had any problem finding money to pay for the Democratic Unionist party’s support. The Conservatives have been in office for 84 months, and 52 of those months have seen a real fall in wages and income in our country. In the last Prime Minister’s Question Time before the general election, the Prime Minister said:
“every vote for me is a vote for a strong economy with the benefits felt by everyone across the country.”—[Official Report, 26 April 2017; Vol. 624, c. 1104.]
Does she agree you cannot have a strong economy when 6 million people are earning less than the living wage?
May I invite the Prime Minister to take a check with reality on this? One in eight workers in the United Kingdom—that is 3.8 million people in work—are now living in poverty. Some 55% of people in poverty are in working households. The Prime Minister’s lack of touch with reality goes like this. Low pay in Britain is holding people back at a time of rising housing costs, rising food prices and rising transport costs; it threatens people’s living standards, and rising consumer debt and falling savings threaten our economic stability. Why does the Prime Minister not understand that low pay is a threat to an already weakening economy?
It was Labour that first introduced the minimum wage—with opposition from the Conservative party.
Wages are lower than they were 10 years ago. The Prime Minister has been in office for just one year, and during that time disposable income has fallen by 2%. The economic consequences of austerity are very clear, and so are the social consequences: life expectancy stalling for the first time in 100 years. Today, the Institute for Fiscal Studies forecasts that income inequality is going to get worse and that child poverty will rise to 5 million by 2022.
Does the Prime Minister not realise that her talk of a strong economy does not remotely match the reality that millions of people face, with low wages and poverty at home?
What we want is a country where there are not 4 million children living in poverty and where homelessness does not rise every year. I look along the Front Bench opposite and I see a Cabinet bickering and backbiting while the economy gets weaker and people are pushed further into debt. [Interruption.] Well, they can try talking to each other.
The reality is that wages are falling, the economy is slowing, the construction sector is in recession, the trade deficit is widening, and we face crucial Brexit negotiations. Is not the truth that this divided Government are unable to give this country the leadership it so desperately needs now to deal with these issues?