Prime Minister’s Questions – Tax Credits & NHS

Jeremy Corbyn: I concur with the Prime Minister’s remarks concerning Remembrance Sunday and Remembrance weekend. We mourn all those who have died in all wars, and surely we also resolve to try and build a peaceful future where the next generation does not suffer from the wars of past generations.

Last week I asked the Prime Minister the same question six times and he could not answer. He has now had a week to think about it. I want to ask him one more time: can he guarantee that next April nobody will be worse off as a result of cuts to working tax credits?

The Prime Minister: Let me be absolutely clear. What I can guarantee next April is that there will be an £11,000 personal allowance, so you can earn £11,000 before paying tax. What I can guarantee is that there will be a national living wage of £7.20, giving the lowest paid in our country a £20 a week pay rise next year, compared with the situation at the election. On the issue of tax credits, we suffered the defeat in the House of Lords so we have taken the proposals away. We are looking at them and we will come forward with new proposals in the autumn statement. At that point, in exactly three weeks’ time, I will be able to answer the hon. Gentleman’s question. If he wants to spend the next five questions asking me that all over again, I am sure he will find it very entertaining and interesting, but how it fits with the new politics I am not quite sure. Over to you!

Jeremy Corbyn: This is not about entertainment—[Interruption.] This is not funny for the people who are desperately worried about what is going to happen next April. If the Prime Minister will not listen to the questions I put, and will not listen to the questions that are put by the public, perhaps he will listen to a question that was raised by his hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Goole (Andrew Percy) on tax credits last week. He said, “The changes cannot go ahead next April” and that “any mitigation should be full mitigation.” What is the Prime Minister’s answer to his Friend?

The Prime Minister: It is very much the same answer that I gave to the hon. Gentleman. In three weeks’ time, we will announce our proposals and he will be able to see what we will do to deliver the high-pay, low-tax, lower-welfare economy that we want to see. That is what we need in our country. We are cutting people’s taxes and increasing people’s pay, but we also believe it is right to reform welfare. So he will have his answer in three weeks’ time. But in the meantime, he has to think about this: if we do not reform welfare, how are we going to fund the police service that we are talking about today? How are we going to fund the health service that we could be talking about today? How are we going to pay for the defence forces that we are talking about today? The hon. Gentleman has been completely consistent: he has opposed every single reform to welfare that has ever come forward. If we listened to him, we would still have families in London getting £100,000 a year in housing benefit. So the answer to the question is: you will find out in three weeks’ time. Carry on!

Jeremy Corbyn: The reality is that the Prime Minister makes choices, and he has made a choice concerning working tax credits that has not worked very well so far. I shall give him an example. A serving soldier, a private in the Army with two children and a partner, would lose over £2,000 next April. I ask the question—[Interruption.]

Mr Speaker: Order. The questions will be heard and the answers will be heard. It is as simple as that.

Jeremy Corbyn: Thank you, Mr Speaker. Surely it is the whole point of our Parliament that we are able to put questions to those in authority.

I have a question from Kieran, a veteran of the first Gulf war. His family are set to lose out, and he writes: “It’s a worry to the family…There’s fear and trepidation about whether we’re going to be able to get by”, and he asks:

“Is that how this government treats veterans of the Armed Forces?”

The Prime Minister: Let me take the case of the serving soldier. Many soldiers—indeed, I think all soldiers—will benefit from the £11,000 personal allowance that comes in next year. That means they will be able to earn more money before they even start paying taxes. Serving soldiers that have children will benefit from the 30 hours of childcare, and of course serving soldiers and others will be able to see our proposals on tax credits in exactly three weeks’ time. What I would say to the serving soldier is that he is now dealing with an Opposition party whose leader said he could not see any use for UK forces anywhere in the world at any time. That serving soldier would not have a job if the hon. Gentleman ever got anywhere near power.

Jeremy Corbyn: May I invite the Prime Minister to cast his mind to another area of public service that is causing acute concern at the present time? I note he is trying to dig himself out of a hole with the junior doctors offer this morning, which we await the detail of, but there is a question that I want to put to him. I quote Dr Cliff Mann, the president of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, who said that “this winter will be worse than last winter, and last winter was the worst winter we’ve ever had” in the NHS. Can the Prime Minister guarantee there will be no winter crisis in the NHS this year?

The Prime Minister: First, when it comes to the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, it actually supports what we are saying about a seven-day NHS and the junior doctors contract.The hon. Gentleman says, “Wait for the detail.” I would urge everyone in the House and I would urge all junior doctors who are watching to go on to the Department of Health website and look at the pay calculator, because they will be able to see that no one working legal hours will lose out in any way at all. This is an 11% basic pay rise, and what it will deliver is a stronger and safer NHS.

As for the state of our NHS more generally, it is benefiting from the £10 billion that we are putting in—money that the Labour party at the last election said it did not support. I believe the NHS has the resources that it needs, and that is why we are seeing it treating more patients, with more treatments, more drugs being delivered and more tests being carried out. It is a much stronger NHS, and the reason is simple: because we have a strong economy supporting our strong NHS.

Jeremy Corbyn: I note that the Prime Minister has not offered any comment whatsoever about the winter crisis of last year or about what will happen this year. [Interruption.]

Mr Speaker: Order. The Leader of the Opposition is entitled to ask questions without a barrage of noise, and the Prime Minister is entitled to answer questions without a barrage of noise. That is what the public are entitled to expect.

Jeremy Corbyn: If the Prime Minister will not answer questions that I put, then I quote to him the renowned King’s Fund, which has enormous expertise in NHS funding and NHS administration. It said that the national health service “cannot continue to maintain standards of care and balance the books…a rapid and serious decline in patient care is inevitable” unless something is done. May I ask the Prime Minister which is rising faster—NHS waiting lists or NHS deficits?

The Prime Minister: Let me deal directly with the King’s Fund. What we have done on this side of the House is appoint a new chief executive to the NHS, Mr Simon Stevens, who worked under the last Labour Government and did a very good job for them. He produced the Stevens plan, which he said required at least £8 billion of Government funding. We are putting in £10 billion behind that plan. That is the plan that we are producing, and we can see the results: 1.3 million more operations, 7.8 million more out-patient appointments and 4.7 million more diagnostic tests. What is going up in the NHS is the number of treatments—the number of successful outcomes.

If the hon. Gentleman wants to know who is heading for a winter crisis, I would predict that it is the Labour party. We have seen it in a lot of his appointments: his media adviser is a Stalinist, his new policy adviser is a Trotskyist and his economic adviser is a communist. If he is trying to move the Labour party to the left, I would give him “full Marx”.

Jeremy Corbyn: The issue I raised with the Prime Minister was the national health service—in case he had forgotten. I would just like to remind him that since he took office in 2010 the English waiting list is up by a third. There are now 3.5 million people waiting for treatment in the NHS. If his party cannot match its actions by its words, I put this to him: will he just get real? The NHS is in a problem: it is in a problem of deficits in many hospitals; it is in a problem of waiting lists; and it is in a problem of the financial crisis that it faces, with so many others. Can he now address that issue and ensure that everyone in this country can rely on the NHS, which is surely the jewel in all of our crowns?

The Prime Minister: The hon. Gentleman talks about the health service since I became Prime Minister, so let me tell him what has happened in the NHS since I became Prime Minister: the number of doctors is up by 10,500; the number of nurses is up by 5,800; fewer patients are waiting more than 52 weeks to start treatment than was the case under Labour; we have introduced the cancer drugs fund; we have seen mixed-sex wards virtually abolished; and we have seen rates of MRSA and hospital-acquired infection come plummeting down. And it has happened for a reason: because we have had a strong economy, because we have some of the strongest growth anywhere in the world, because we have got unemployment coming down and because we have got inflation on the floor, we are able to fund an NHS, whereas the countries he admires all over the world, with their crazy socialist plans, cut their health service and hurt the people who need the help the most.