Liam Byrne's letter saying there is no money in 2010
Labour Chief Secretary to the Treasury Liam Byrne’s letter saying to his successor there is no money in 2010

6 May 2010

Dear Chief Secretary,

I’m afraid there is no money.

With regards – and good luck!

Labour Chief Secretary to the Treasury Liam Byrne’s note to his Conservative successor.

That was Labour’s legacy to the Conservative-led coalition government of 2010: “I’m afraid there is no money.

It’s always the same: Labour promise great things for the poor, then fail, wreck the economy and leave unemployment higher than they inherited. To explore their recent record of failure, even in boom times, check out the 2006 report Breakdown Britain from the Centre for Social Justice.

What have we done with that legacy of Labour failure? Labour tell a dreadful story but below are some facts they won’t tell you. Poverty has fallen since 2010. The proportion of jobs that are low paid is at a 20-year low. The percentage of working-age adults with a relative low income is lower than under Labour. Inequality is down. See below for more.

One person in poverty is one too many. One person struggling with life and the benefits system is one too many. There is always more to be done to help people into prosperity: Conservatives will do that work.

The record of the Labour Party and Socialism is that their promises turn to dust as their grand ideas produce deeper poverty and greater misery: their methods never produce the ends they aim at. The history of socialism keeps repeating for a reason.

Conservative ideas work. If you care about lifting people into prosperity, please vote Conservative.


Poverty has fallen since 2010. The number of people in absolute poverty has fallen by 400,000 since 2010. The number of children in poverty has not risen since 2010. (DWP, Households Below Average Income: 1994/95 to 2017/18link).

Some of the vital changes we have recently made will support the lowest earners (HMT, Budget 2018, 29 October 2018, link):

  • Injected almost £10 billion into welfare since 2016 to increase support.
  • Increased the National Living Wage in April – giving 2.1 million of the UK’s lowest earners a pay rise – and we will increase this to £10.50 by 2024.
  • Raised work allowances by £1,000 in April, so 2.4 million Universal Credit claimants keep more of what they earn.
  • Increased the personal allowance to £12,500, cutting income tax for 32 million people.

The proportion of jobs that are low paid stands at the lowest level for 20 years as a result of our National Living Wage. In 2019, 16.2 per cent of all employee jobs were low-paid, when considered in terms of hourly earnings – the lowest proportion of low-paid employee jobs by hourly pay since the series began in 1997 (ONS, Low and high pay in the UK, 30 October 2019, link).

The percentage of working-age adults with relative low income is lower now than under Labour. The proportion of working-age adults with relative low income, before and after housing costs, is 15 per cent and 20 per cent respectively. This is lower than it was under Labour. In 2009-10 these proportions were 16 per cent and 22 per cent respectively (ONS, Households below average income: 1994-95 to 2017-18, Summary Table 5a, 28 March 2019, link).

The number and percentage of children falling below thresholds of ‘low income and material deprivation’ is lower now than under Labour. There are 1.6 million children, or 12 per cent of children, falling below this threshold. In 2009-10, 2.2 million children, or 16 per cent of children, were below this threshold (ONS, Households below average income: 1994-95 to 2017-18, Summary Table 4c, 28 March 2019, link).

Universal Credit

We support those on low incomes, spending £95 billion a year on working-age benefits – more than what we spend on public order, safety and defence combined. And our welfare reforms have led to record levels of employment (DWP, Benefit expenditure and caseload, 24 April 2019, link).

No one has to wait 5 weeks for their first payment. Everyone can get up to 100 per cent of their first month’s payment upfront through an advance. To ensure people have access to money on time to ensure that applicants can receive advance payments from day one (Hansard, 11 February 2019, Col.594link).

We are taking a test and learn approach to Universal Credit as we roll it out, with a managed migration pilot protecting claimants’ income as they transition to Universal Credit. The pilot in Harrogate will move legacy claimants onto Universal Credit without a change in circumstances. Up to 10,000 people will move, with their income protected as they move. 

According to a latest government survey of 6,000 claimants, 80 per cent of Universal Credit claimants are satisfied. In 2017-18, four-fifths of Universal Credit recipients reported that they were satisfied with the system, including a third of recipients who said they were ‘very satisfied’ (DWP, Claimant Service and Experience Survey, 31 January 2019, link).


The richest are paying a greater share of taxes under the Conservatives. The top 1 per cent are paying a larger share of income tax (29.1 per cent) than at any time under the last Labour government (26.5 per cent in 2009-10) (HMRC, Table 2.4 shares of total income, 28 June 2019, link).

Income inequality is lower than it was in 2010 and employment has risen by 3.6 million. All measures of inequality (original; gross; disposable) were lower in 2017-18 than in 2009-10 (ONS, The effects of taxes and benefits on household income, disposable income estimate: 2018, 26 February 2019, link).

The incomes of the poorest fifth of people has risen faster than the richest fifth under the Conservatives. In the decade to 2017-18, the average income, before housing costs, of the poorest fifth has risen much faster than the richest fifth – up 7.0% – over 5 times faster than the average income of the richest fifth. (DWP, Households Below Average Income: 2994/95 to 2017/18link).

Disability benefits

We are continuing to support those with disabilities through our welfare system, helping those with the greatest need the most. We are spending over £55.5 billion on benefits to support people with disabilities and health conditions this year – a real term rise of £10 billion since 2009-10 (DWP, Benefit expenditure and caseload statistics, 24 April 2019, link).

We are reforming disability benefits so those who need help most get more. PIP is a more modern and dynamic benefit to help cover the extra costs faced by disabled people. Our new PIP benefit focuses support on those with the greatest need and it is working – 31 per cent of claimants are receiving the highest level of support compared to 15 per cent under the DLA (Hansard, 8 May 2019, WQ249834, link; Hansard, 23 April 2019, WQ244174, link).

We are combining the Employment Support Allowance, PIP and Universal Credit assessment services into one, which will simplify the process for millions of people claiming health related benefits. From 2021, we will combine the separate assessment processes for these benefits. This will reduce the need to submit information multiple times and, for some people, reduce the number of face-to-face assessments (DWP, Press Release, 5 March 2019, link).

Since 2010, I have increased the capacity for Parliamentary casework in Wycombe from one person working half time to two people, one of whom works four days out of five. If I am re-elected, I will maintain this increased capacity to help local people where it is necessary beyond the main systems in place.

Food banks

The reasons behind the use of foodbanks are wide and complex – and this has historically been the case. The Trussell Trust network of foodbanks was founded in 1997, with a foodbank in Salisbury opened in 2000. Food bank use increased ten-fold under Labour and they are also not uncommon internationally.

In Wycombe, I am told just over 4 out of 5 people using our food bank take five parcels or fewer, suggesting an important cause of food bank use here is short-term financial crisis in people’s lives. Fewer than one in ten of local food bank users are dependent long-term on One Can Trust and they clearly need more help. Recent rises in local food bank use came before Universal Credit was rolled out here: it was not the cause.

Conservatives are working with foodbanks to ensure that people get the right support when they need it. Jobcentre managers have discretion to work with food banks in their local area. We are also exploring whether, building on existing good practice, working more closely with Food Banks can help us to identify and better support people may, for a variety of reasons, not be receiving the full formal support that they are entitled to.

I do not want anyone to need a food bank. If I am re-elected, I will work to understand the causes of food bank use and represent what I learn to government.


Our £100 million Rough Sleeping Strategy aims to end rough sleeping completely by 2027 by offering rapid and specialist support to help people to find a new home quickly and rebuild their lives. The cross-Government Strategy, developed with charities and experts, will provide timely support to those at risk of rough sleeping, intervening to help people already on the streets get the support they need, and helping people recover and rebuild their lives (MHCLG, News Story, 13 August 2018link).

We have announced a further £422 million to tackle homelessness and rough sleeping in the Spending Round. This funding for 2020-21 is up £54 million from £368 million in 2019 to 2020 (MHCLG, Press Release, 12 September 2019, link; HMT, Spending Round 2019, 4 September 2019, link).

We are investing a total of £1.2 billion to tackle homelessness, because everyone should have the dignity of a roof over their heads. This includes £316 million of local authority prevention and £617 million in flexible homelessness support grant funding for local authorities. This funding is giving local authorities the flexibility to tackle homelessness strategically in their local area (MHCLG, Press Release, 9 June 2018, link).

I have been a volunteer for Wycombe Homeless Connection for as long as the charity has been operating, since before I became a candidate. I will continue to work in my public and private capacities to help end rough sleeping.

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