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Child Care (Universal Credit)

Volume 531: debated on Monday 18 July 2011

I made a commitment to provide more detail during the passage of the Welfare Reform Bill and am still on track to do so in time for its scrutiny in the Lords. We are considering the advice and suggestions raised in productive discussions held with MPs, peers and lobby groups, along with recent written responses submitted by attendees. It is going very well and we are learning a lot from those responses.

Will the Minister guarantee that the Government’s stated aim that universal credit will always pay will be in place for all families where child care costs are taken into account?

That is absolutely our intention. That is why we are listening carefully to what people have proposed. The whole point about child care is that it should be there to support particularly women going into work who have caring responsibilities. We are reviewing this to make sure that that continues to be the case under universal credit. That is the whole point about the consultation. In other words, where we may be wrong, we can get that corrected and make sure that we come forward with a really good package in time for the debates in the other place.

What is now the Government’s policy on the benefit cap in universal credit? The Secretary of State has told us that the policy is not changing, but press reports from Liberal Democrat sources contradict that by saying that the issue is far from settled and that the cap might not apply to existing benefit recipients. Then, last week, the Minister with responsibility for employment confirmed in a letter to me that “easements” are indeed being considered for existing recipients. So was the Secretary of State mistaken, and is the policy changing or not?

The policy is not changing. The right hon. Gentleman should have written to me and my colleague at the same time, and we would both have given exactly the same answer. We have always said that in the course of the cap, we will look at any difficult cases. [Hon. Members: “Ah!”] We have always said that. One would always do that in a transition, just as we are doing with housing benefit. I remind the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues that the cap will come in at a gross level of £35,000 a year. I would very much like to know what their position is on the cap, because so far we have heard absolutely nothing about whether they support it or are opposed to it. Perhaps they will tell us now. Most people out there are in favour of it.