Prime Minister’s Questions – The Budget & Support for People with Disabilities

Jeremy Corbyn: I support the words that have just been said by the hon. Member for Worthing West (Sir Peter Bottomley) and the Prime Minister, in solidarity with the people of Belgium and the victims of the horrific attacks that have taken place in Brussels, and also in Ankara, in the last few days. We pay respect and tribute to all their families and friends, and we pay enormous respect to the emergency services of all denominations for the huge amount of work that they have done to try to save life. We must defend our security and values in the face of such terrorist outrages, and refuse to be drawn into a cycle of violence and hatred. We take pride in our societies of diverse faiths, races and creeds, and will not allow those who seek to divide us to succeed.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham) will respond, on behalf of the Labour party, to the statement that the Home Secretary will make at 12.30 pm.

I also join the Prime Minister in sending my deepest condolences to Mr Ismay’s wife, Sharon, and his three daughters. The people of Northern Ireland made a profound choice to follow the path of peace when they widely adopted the Good Friday agreement. The actions of an unrepresentative few should not be allowed to change a course that is supported by the overwhelming majority of people in Northern Ireland.

Let me now raise a different subject altogether. Last week, I received a letter from Adrian. He wrote:

“I’m disabled and I live in constant fear of my benefits being reassessed and stopped…and being forced onto the streets”.

Will the Prime Minister do what the Chancellor failed to do yesterday, and apologise to those who went through such anguish and upset while there was a threat of cuts to their personal independence payments?

The Prime Minister: Let me first thank the right hon. Gentleman for what he said about the terrorist attacks in Belgium, and about Northern Ireland and the fact that we have achieved so much peace and progress in that valuable part of our United Kingdom.

Turning to the issue of disability benefits, as I said in this House on Monday, when you are faced with having to take very many very difficult decisions—including many spending reductions—as we were after becoming the Government in 2010, you do not always get every decision right. I am the first to accept and admit that, and on every occasion that that happens it is very important that you learn the lessons, but as we do so, we will continue to increase spending on disability benefits, which will be more than £46 billion a year by the end of this Parliament, compared with £42 billion when I became Prime Minister.

Jeremy Corbyn: Government figures published only this morning show that the number of people with disabilities and who are homeless is now up by 39% since 2010, and that 300,000 more disabled people are living in absolute poverty. That is why people like Adrian are very worried. There has been big disarray in the Cabinet over the last few days, so can the Prime Minister now absolutely and categorically rule out any further cuts to welfare spending in the lifetime of this Parliament? Simply: yes or no?

The Prime Minister: Let me respond to all the points that the right hon. Gentleman has just made. First, he talked about the number of people in poverty. We have actually seen poverty fall during this Parliament. The second thing he referred to was the regrettable rise in homelessness, with figures out today, but homelessness is still 58% below the peak that it reached under Labour. That is important. He talked about the number of disabled people. This is a Government committed to supporting the disabled, but it is worth making the point that in the last two years, an extra 293,000 disabled people have got into work. We want to continue to close the disability gap, as we have set out in our manifesto.

As for the question about further welfare reductions, let me repeat the statement that the new Welfare Secretary made on Monday and that the Chancellor made on Tuesday. I am happy to make it again. I dealt with these issues on Monday. I turned up and gave the answers even though the Leader of the Opposition had not asked the questions. We are very clear that we are not planning additional welfare savings other than the ones that we set out in our manifesto and that are in train.

Jeremy Corbyn: My question was actually about the poverty of people with disabilities, which the Prime Minister did not answer. In his failure to explain how he would fill the hole in his Budget left by the change of heart on personal independence payments, the Chancellor said:

“We can afford to absorb such changes”.—[Official Report, 22 March 2016; Vol. 607, c. 1394.]

If it is so easy to absorb changes of this nature, why did the Chancellor and the Prime Minister ever announce them in the first place? Will the Prime Minister now listen and learn, and withdraw the £30 per week cut to disabled employment and support allowance claimants that his Government are pursuing?

The Prime Minister: The changes to employment and support allowance have been through both Houses of Parliament. It is important to note that employment and support allowance for the most disabled—that is, those in the support group—is up by almost £650 a year under this Government. We have increased the higher rate of attendance allowance, we have increased carers allowance, and we have increased the enhanced rate of PIP because we believe that a strong economy should support the most disabled people in our country, and that is exactly what we have legislated to do.

If the right hon. Gentleman wants to get on to discussing black holes, I say bring on the argument. We inherited an 11% budget deficit from the Labour party, and under this team of Ministers and this Chancellor of the Exchequer, we have cut that deficit by two thirds since we became the Government. From Labour, all we have had is more proposals for more spending, more welfare, more taxes and more debt—all the things that got us into the biggest mess with the biggest black hole in the first place.

Jeremy Corbyn: If it is all so fine and dandy, the question has to be asked: why did the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr Duncan Smith) feel it necessary to resign as Work and Pensions Secretary, complaining that the cuts being announced were to fit arbitrary fiscal targets? He said that they were “distinctly political rather than in the national economic interest”.

In the initial announcement, he proposed cuts to PIPs then changed his mind. Is not the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green right when he says that this was a political decision rather than one made in the interests of people in this country?

The Prime Minister: I believe that after seven or eight years of economic growth it is right to be targeting a surplus, because a responsible Government put aside money for a rainy day. I do not want to be part of a Government that do not have the courage to pay off our debts and leave them instead to our children and grandchildren. That is the truth. What is dressed up as compassion from the party opposite just means putting off difficult decisions and asking our children to pay the debts that we were not prepared to pay ourselves. [Interruption.] I do not know why the shadow Leader of the House, the hon. Member for Wallasey (Ms Eagle), is shouting at me. We have a very interesting document today: the spreadsheet showing which Labour MPs are on which side. The hon. Lady is shouting, but it says here— [Interruption.]

No, no, it says she is “neutral but not hostile”. On the other hand, the Opposition Chief Whip is being a bit quiet. There are five categories. We have “core” support— [Interruption.]

I’ve got all day, Mr Speaker. We have “core” support—I think you can include me in that lot very strongly. We have “core plus”. The Opposition Chief Whip is being a bit quiet because she is in “hostile”. And I thought I had problems!

Jeremy Corbyn: Let me invite the Prime Minister to leave the theatre and return to reality. The reality is that he has presided over a Budget that unravelled in two days and now contains a £4.4 billion black hole. He may wish to consult the Chancellor on yet another change of heart on this matter. Will he now consult the Chancellor and tell the country who is going to pay for the black hole? Will it be through cuts or tax rises? Where will the cuts fall? Where will the tax rises take place, as £4.4 billion has to be found from somewhere?

The Prime Minister: Suddenly the king of fiscal rectitude speaks. The right hon. Gentleman may have noticed that the Budget passed last night. It is a Budget that cuts the deficit in every year of this Parliament. It is a Budget that delivers a surplus by the end of this Parliament. None of that is going to change. He talks about this Budget—[Interruption.] The “hostile” shout, but the “neutral but not hostile” have to be quiet, I think. I want to know: hands up, who is “core plus”?

I will tell you what this Budget did. It took a million people out of income tax. It saw more money for our schools. It helped the poorest people in our country to save. It cut taxes for small businesses. It cut taxes for the self-employed. It made our economy stronger. It made our country fairer. It is a Budget that will help this country do better.

Jeremy Corbyn: The truth is that it was a Budget that fell apart in two days. The truth is that many people with disabilities went through the most unbelievable levels of stress and trauma after the PIP announcement was made. There are many people who are still going through stress and trauma in our society. There are still—[Interruption.] I am not sure that the Government Members who are shouting so loudly have any idea what it is like to try to balance a budget at home when you do not have enough money coming in, the rent is going up and the children need clothes.

Mr Speaker: Order. There is too much shouting on both sides of the House. Stop it. The public are bored stiff by it. The right hon. Gentleman will finish his question and we will have an answer. There will be no shouting from Members of any grouping. That is the message.

Jeremy Corbyn: The Budget has to mean something for everybody in our society, however poor and however precarious their lives are. This Budget downgraded growth, downgraded wage growth and downgraded investment. The Chancellor has failed on debt targets and failed on deficit targets, as the official figures have shown. The fiscal rule is quite simply failing. The Treasury Committee scrutinised the Government’s fiscal rule and could not find any credible economist who backed it. Can the Prime Minister find anybody who backs a policy and a Budget with a big hole in it which downgrades every single forecast the Government set themselves before the Budget was made?

The Prime Minister: The right hon. Gentleman is just a bit late, because the Budget passed through this House with large majorities on every single vote. Let me remind him: this Government are spending more on the disabled than in any year under the last Labour Government. We are spending more on the most disabled, including the most disabled children in our country. We have got more disabled people into work than ever happened under Labour. What we see with this Budget is the background of an economy that is growing, where employment is at a record high, investment is rising and businesses are creating jobs in Britain, which is the envy of other European economies. It is because we have a strong economy that we are able to provide this support. That is what we see: Britain getting stronger and the Labour party a threat to the economic security of every family in our country.