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Social Security

Volume 524: debated on Monday 7 March 2011

The following is the response given by the Minister of State, the hon. Member for Thornbury and Yate (Steve Webb) relating to a question from the hon. Member for Edinburgh East (Sheila Gilmore) during the debate on the Draft Social Security Benefits Uprating Order 2011 on 17 February 2011.

Will the Government give the House a time scale in which it will consider these matters to do with CPI? Obviously, council tax also has to be taken into account.

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for raising that point. We are, of course, driven by the Office for National Statistics, so we are not cobbling together our own index. It is undertaking careful work over the next two years. We will then look at its findings and consider whether it is appropriate to use a CPIH-type measure. We are governed by the ONS’s time scales.

I will comment briefly on benefits for people of working age. Unfortunately, last year the Government got themselves into a bit of a mess over uprating. As I have said, RPI was showing negative inflation, mainly as a result of falling mortgage interest. As a result, benefits such as additional state pensions did not increase at all. They would have done under CPI. Other benefits, mainly the disability and carers’ benefits, were the subject of what my notes call a bewildering fudge—I think that roughly sums it up. In the end, disability and carers’ benefits last year were increased by 1.5%, but on the proviso that the pre-election—sorry, that word slipped out again—increase in 2010 would be clawed back in 2011. In other words, that would have happened this year in this order. [Interruption.] The Secretary of State says that we had to decide whether to pick up the ticking time bomb of that 1.5% clawback as well.

Members will be pleased to know that the 2011 uprating order before the House today contains no such sleight of hand. It is based on the straightforward proposition that, aside from increases in the basic pension and pension credit that have already been explained, the other mainstream social security benefits and statutory payments will increase by 3.1%, in line with the annual growth in RPI. There will be no attempt to recoup the value of the 1.5% fudge that we inherited from the previous Government.

[Official Report, 17 February 2011, Vol. 523, c. 1178.]

Letter of correction from Mr Steve Webb:

An error has been identified in the answer given on 17 February 2011. In the third paragraph of my response I meant to say CPI not RPI.

The correct answer should have been:

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for raising that point. We are, of course, driven by the Office for National Statistics, so we are not cobbling together our own index. It is undertaking careful work over the next two years. We will then look at its findings and consider whether it is appropriate to use a CPIH-type measure. We are governed by the ONS’s time scales.

I will comment briefly on benefits for people of working age. Unfortunately, last year the Government got themselves into a bit of a mess over uprating. As I have said, RPI was showing negative inflation, mainly as a result of falling mortgage interest. As a result, benefits such as additional state pensions did not increase at all. They would have done under CPI. Other benefits, mainly the disability and carers’ benefits, were the subject of what my notes call a bewildering fudge—I think that roughly sums it up. In the end, disability and carers’ benefits last year were increased by 1.5%, but on the proviso that the pre-election—sorry, that word slipped out again—increase in 2010 would be clawed back in 2011. In other words, that would have happened this year in this order. [Interruption.] The Secretary of State says that we had to decide whether to pick up the ticking time bomb of that 1.5% clawback as well.

Members will be pleased to know that the 2011 uprating order before the House today contains no such sleight of hand. It is based on the straightforward proposition that, aside from increases in the basic pension and pension credit that have already been explained, the other mainstream social security benefits and statutory payments will increase by 3.1%, in line with the annual growth in CPI. There will be no attempt to recoup the value of the 1.5% fudge that we inherited from the previous Government.