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Couple Penalty

Volume 529: debated on Monday 13 June 2011

The Government are committed to reducing disincentives in the benefit system. The universal credit provides an enhanced earnings disregard for couples which, along with the taper, will help low-income couples to keep more of their earnings in work. Obviously, over time, it is our intention to work further to reduce the penalty.

A widow and a widower each with two children who form a new couple relationship and decide to live together could be £9,000 worse off as a result of the proposed benefits cap. Given reports over the weekend of confusion among Ministers on the fate of the benefits cap, will the Secretary of State assure us that such a couple would not face a couple penalty?

Clearly, we do not, as the hon. Lady makes out, want to make anybody face any further induced couple penalties. Our plan is to ensure—over a period of time, but particularly in this Parliament—that we work to erode the couple penalty. However, it is worth reminding her specifically what happened under the previous Government, because the baseline that we have accepted is important. The OECD pointed out that a couple needed about 75% of the income of two single people, but the previous Government left them only 60% of those earnings. In other words, the previous Government took far more from couples than most other countries did. That is why we are in difficulty. She should reflect on that when she asks such questions.