Mr John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con): I am glad that the hon. Lady is highlighting this issue. She is right that in the last couple of years under Labour there was a huge reduction in living standards, and the coalition Government have not yet reversed it. Does she now think that her party was wrong to implement policies of very high and rising energy and fuel prices, which are one of the main reasons people are in this bind?
Rachel Reeves (Leeds West) (Lab): I thank the right hon. Gentleman for that intervention. We have said that we would abolish Ofgem and create a new energy watchdog with real teeth to force energy companies to pass on price cuts when the cost of wholesale energy falls. Meanwhile, under this Prime Minister’s watch, energy giants are enjoying a £3.3 billion windfall. That shows the warped priorities of this out-of-touch Government. Rail fares are another example, increasing by up to 9% a year. We would apply strict caps. We have said that we would introduce a new legal right for passengers to be entitled to the cheapest ticket for their journey; this Government are giving powers back to train operating companies to increase some fares by up to another 5% beyond the cap. Again, that shows the warped priorities of this out-of-touch Government.
On housing, there are now 3.8 million households in the private rented sector, including more than 1 million with children. Research shows that many are being ripped off through hidden fees and charges costing tenants £76 million a year.
Mr Redwood: I am glad that the Minister has said that we share Labour’s ambition for more people to have better paid jobs. Of course we want people to be better paid, but is not the best way for people to get a better paid job to start with a low-paid job and work their way up and get mentored and trained in the workplace?
The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Greg Clark): My right hon. Friend makes a powerful point. Opposition Members should not be so disparaging about the chances that are being given to millions of people to find work, make progress, learn skills and acquire the necessary experience.
Mr Redwood: Does the Minister agree that President Obama’s economic policy, which has been much misrepresented and much praised by the Labour party, has included a far bigger budget deficit reduction, through spending cuts and tax rises, than anything done here, and that the American economy is growing faster for longer?
Greg Clark: My right hon. Friend is right that there is a global consensus, if I could put it that way, that responsibility in fiscal matters is the necessary condition to revive the economy. The only exception to that consensus continues to be Opposition Front Benchers.
We have cut our structural deficit by more than any G7 country. The deficit is forecast to fall this year, next year and the year after that. We have record low interest rates. We are investing more in infrastructure during this Parliament than the previous Parliament.
It is still a world of economic turbulence—let us be clear about that—but the evidence throughout the past few months is that Britain is on the mend. National income has grown for two successive quarters.