Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for calling me to speak in this important debate.

Like the constituents of all Members of this House, my constituents are experiencing a cost of living crisis, but for many in Easington, this is not a new or a temporary crisis. We need only look at food poverty and the normalisation of the use of food banks, many of which have been overwhelmed after a decade of Tory policies. In 2010, the Trussell Trust distributed around 40,000 emergency food parcels; last year, more than 2.5 million parcels were delivered. Shocking though those figures are, they do not even count independent food banks, such as those that operate in my constituency, including the much-valued service run by the East Durham Trust and the Dawdon Community Centre. Those figures, which show the exponential increase in food bank usage, are a sign of economic failure. People should be angry at a growing, Government-imposed cost of living crisis in which millions of families are experiencing hardship, as some of them have for more than a decade now.

There is no doubt about it: the Conservative party is making life harder for ordinary families. As many Opposition Members have said, poverty and policies that lead to increased poverty and inequality are a political choice—a political choice that the Government party has made in this case. Prices are rising: food, energy, fuel, diesel, petrol and housing costs are rising. Government Members were all elected on a promise not to increase taxes, and that includes national insurance contributions, which I understand the Prime Minister himself personally signed off.

We know that the Prime Minister’s political promises, whether made at the Dispatch Box or in an election manifesto, are ephemeral. An average worker’s income will be cut by more than £250 a year due to this national insurance hike. It will wipe out the council tax rebate that Ministers have referred to, as well as half of the Government’s mandatory energy loan.

The majority of my constituents will not see the benefit of capping social care costs because of the relatively low value of their properties. The Government’s policies make the poorest pay to protect the assets of the wealthy and the inheritance of the richest in society; I will come back to that in a moment. They will entrench poverty and economic inequality for generations to come.

This is a bad policy and a bad tax for the communities I represent, who face a social care tax double whammy next month. My constituents suffer not only from the policies of the national Conservative Government, but locally from the Tory-led coalition and alliance on Durham County Council. I quote the Tory leader of the Conservative group, who holds the finance portfolio on the council:

“There is no crisis in adult social care in County Durham. Members must take their information from our council reports and not from primary school level BBC National news reports.”

We have all been put firmly in our places.

Councillor Bell, I am sad to say, is being supported and facilitated by the Liberal Democrats, the Green party and the independents. They will be raising the council tax adult social care precept by 3% in Durham, despite having been elected on a manifesto promise that there would be zero increase in council tax. My constituents are being hit by two Tory taxes to pay for the cost of social care. Of the national insurance contribution we are discussing, I am not sure any of it will go to social care, but we shall see.

I will pick up on a point made by my hon. Friend Mr Betts about the inherent unfairness of council tax. That tax disproportionately hits the poorest living in low-value properties. In my Easington constituency, of more than 40,000 hereditaments or properties, 75% are in band A. A home in band A in Easington, valued at £80,000, is paying around £29.75 a week in council tax. In contrast, a Russian oligarch’s band H home in Kensington, valued at £125 million, pays just £50.52 a week in council tax. It is a disgrace.

The Government have the wrong priorities, and last night’s votes on the Economic Crime (Transparency and Enforcement) Bill showed that. We do not need more tax—we need fairer tax. They should scrap the national insurance tax hike, work with me and others and with the Fairer Share campaign to scrap council tax, and support a proportional property tax to counter the cost of living crisis.

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