Prime Minister’s Questions – Education & the Economy

Jeremy Corbyn: I hope the Prime Minister will join me in mourning the death today of the fifth Beatle, George Martin, who gave us wonderful music that will last for all time.

Last week, the Prime Minister told the House that we had “a strong economy with a sound plan.”

If the economy is so strong, why this week has he forced through a £30 per week cut hitting some of the poorest disabled people in the country?

The Prime Minister: First, let me join the right hon. Gentleman in what he said about George Martin, as he was an absolutely massive figure, a giant in popular music, and responsible for some tunes that will live on for ever more.

I find it disappointing that the right hon. Gentleman cannot comment on the point that I made earlier, as it seems to me that, as party leaders, we have a responsibility for our own parties. He asked about the strength of the economy. We do face an uncertain international environment, and all the experts are warning about the dangers that we face, but, as we speak today, we have inflation at 0%, unemployment at 5%, our economy is growing, wages are growing and we are cutting the taxes that people are paying. That, combined with reforming welfare—and we are reforming welfare—is the way to get our deficit down, continue with growth and help deliver for working people in Britain.

Jeremy Corbyn: I do not believe that the majority of people in this country are content to see someone diagnosed with cancer today and unfit to work next year reduced to poverty because of the cuts that this Government are putting through.

In the summer Budget last year, the Chancellor found another £6.6 billion to reduce corporation tax for big business. That was despite the fact that our corporation tax is already lower than in any other G7 nation. Today, Action for Children, the Children’s Society and the National Children’s Bureau show that local authority spending on children and young people has been cut by £2 billion—71 %. Does that not demonstrate a wrong choice by the Prime Minister?

The Prime Minister: Let us look at what has happened to corporation tax receipts since we cut corporation tax. That is the question, because the point of setting tax rates is to raise money rather than to make a political point. The fact is corporation tax receipts are up by 20% under this Government, so we have more money to spend on children, children’s services and education, whereas if we put up tax rates, as the right hon. Gentleman seems to be suggesting, we would get less money in; that is the result. The Opposition care about making a political point; we care about raising revenue and providing good services.

Jeremy Corbyn: I ask the question: if there is more money available to be spent on children’s services, why are there another half a million children living in poverty in Britain because of the policies of the right hon. Gentleman’s Government? If we really do have the strong economy that he claims, why did the Chancellor warn last week that, “we may need to make further reductions”?

Who will those reductions fall on—the disabled, pensioners, young people or women? Will he rule out attacking those groups?

The Prime Minister: The right hon. Gentleman will hear the Budget next week, when my right hon. Friend the Chancellor, who has an excellent record in steering this nation’s economy, stands up to give it. The right hon. Gentleman just made some remarks about child poverty. Let me tell him what has actually happened since 2010. There are 680,000 fewer workless households. Let us think about what that means. It means 680,000 households where someone is bringing home a wage, putting food on the table, and, under us, paying less taxes. There are 40,000 fewer households where no member has ever worked, and there are 480,000 fewer children living in workless households. That is real change for those children. That is about tackling child poverty by having a growing economy, growing real wages, falling taxes, and increased childcare—all things never delivered by Labour.

Jeremy Corbyn: The problem is the number of households that are suffering from in-work poverty because of insecure jobs, because of zero-hours contracts and because of low wages. As the Prime Minister well knows the poorest have paid the most for the cuts, and women have paid for 81% of those cuts.

On 99 previous attempts to ask questions of the Prime Minister, I have been unclear or dissatisfied with the answers, as indeed many other people have. On this auspicious 100th occasion, may I ask the Prime Minister to help out a young man called Callum? Last week, the Prime Minister told the Engineering Employers Federation that we have a skills shortage—a good admission.

Callum, a bright young man who wants to make his way in the world, asks, “Will the Government acknowledge” [Interruption] Perhaps the Prime Minister does as well. Callum asks:

“Will the Government acknowledge the importance of Sixth Form Colleges and post-16 education services in Britain?”

The Prime Minister: First of all, let me congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on getting to 100 not out—I am sure that will be welcomed across the House.

What I would say to Callum is that we are introducing in our country a situation where we uncap university places so as many people who want to go can go, and that we will be introducing, in this Parliament, 3 million apprentices. That, combined with better funded sixth forms and better funded further education colleges, means that we have actually got a proper education system that can really drive opportunity in our country.

Let me just come back once more on child poverty. Let me give the right hon. Gentleman the figures: 800,000 fewer people in relative poverty than in 2010—300,000 fewer children in relative poverty than in 2010. That is the Labour measurement used, so when he gets to the Dispatch Box, he can tell us he was wrong about child poverty.

Jeremy Corbyn: The Prime Minister seems to be answering the last question but one, so could I kindly bring him back to the question I asked from Callum, and point out to him that there has been a 10% cut in real terms in sixth form and further education, and adult education has been cut by 35% during his time as Prime Minister?

Construction output in Britain has shrunk for two consecutive quarters now. Surely that is a matter for concern. Is this not really a bit of a sign that this economic recovery is being constructed on sand?

The Prime Minister: First of all, let me just confirm we have protected 16-to-18 education in this spending round. The right hon. Gentleman talks about construction; of course, we want to see every part of our economy growing, and our economy is growing, unlike so many in what is a difficult and dangerous world right now. But if you look at our construction plans, you will see that, because we have got a strong economy, we are able to commit to HS2, we are able to commit to the biggest road programme since the 1970s and the largest rail programme since Victorian times, together with huge infrastructure projects in energy and in other areas. Those things are only possible because we have got a strong and growing economy. We know what Labour would do: his spending plans are a risk to the nation’s finances, his tax plans are a risk to every family in the country, and we know from Scotland what he wants to do, which is to put up taxes on people earning over £20,000. That is their plan, and it would wreck the country’s finances.

Jeremy Corbyn: We have a construction industry in recession at a time that there is an acute need for new housing. Construction apprenticeships have fallen by 11% since 2010. We have the lowest rate of house building since the 1920s—almost 100 years ago. Will the Prime Minister look again at this issue, stop the cuts to skills training and cuts to investment that are holding back our country—holding back the skill ambitions of so many young people—and invest in them and in our future?

The Prime Minister: I do have to pick up the right hon. Gentleman on his statistics, because we have seen a massive boost to apprentices and apprenticeship funding under this Government—2 million in the last Parliament, 3 million in this Parliament.

On housing, let me just give him the figures: house building under Labour fell by 45%. Since then, it has increased by two-thirds. Over 700,000 new homes have been delivered since 2010. If you look at what is happening now, completions are up, housing starts are at their highest level since 2007—last year housing starts were nearly double the low point of 2009. They wrecked the economy, they created that instability; we have been building a strong economy—that is what we have got to stick with.