Mr Speaker, with permission I should like to make a statement about the uprating of social security pensions and benefits for 2012-13. I shall place in the Vote Office full details of the new rates that are due to come into force from the week of 9 April 2012 for each pension and benefit, and arrange for the figures to be published in the Official Report.
As part of his autumn statement last week, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced the rates of tax credits for 2012-13, and today I am announcing the uprating of those social security pensions and benefits for which my Department is responsible. As my right hon. Friend Chancellor pointed out in his statement, uprating in 2012-13 would protect
“those who have worked hard all their lives…poorer pensioners…those who are not able to work because of their disabilities…those who, through no fault of their own have lost their jobs and are trying to find work.”—[Official Report, 29 November 2011; Vol. 536, c. 802.]
Starting with those who have worked hard all their lives, I should like to turn to one of the early actions of the coalition Government: the restoration of the earnings link for the basic state pension. This Government not only made good on the pre-election promises to restore the link with earnings, we went one step further by protecting the future value of the basic state pension with a triple guarantee—that the basic state pension will rise each year by the highest of growth in earnings, prices or 2.5%. The triple guarantee means that even in times of slow earnings growth, we will not see a repeat of small rises such as, for example, 75p in 2000.
The new rate for the basic state pension will be £107.45 for a single person, an increase of £5.30 a week. I can announce, therefore, that from April 2012, the basic state pension is forecast to be 17.1% of average earnings, a higher share of average earnings than in any year of the Labour Government since 1997.
I turn now to additional state pensions, commonly referred to as SERPS—the state earnings-related pensions scheme. In April 2010, one of the last acts of the previous Government was to freeze SERPS pensions. This was in the apparent belief that pensioners had not experienced any inflation in the preceding year. That was solely because the retail prices index was negative in the year to September 2009, with the rising cost of goods and services swamped by falling mortgage rates. However, in April 2011 we increased SERPS pensions by 3.1% and I am pleased to confirm that this year SERPS pensions will also rise by 5.2%. That means that the total state pension increase for someone with a full basic pension and average additional pension will be around £6.70 a week or £348 a year.
The standard minimum guarantee in pension credit must be increased each year at least in line with earnings. However, this would have implied an increase of just 2.8%; in other words, the poorest pensioners would have got the smallest increase. We judged that unacceptable, so instead, from April next year, the single person rate of the guarantee credit will rise by £5.35, taking their weekly income to £142.70. For couples, the increase will be £8.20, taking their new total to £217.90 a week.
To help manage expenditure, we shall be funding that above-earnings increase to the standard minimum guarantee by increasing the savings credit threshold, which means that those with higher levels of income will see less of an increase. In his autumn statement, the Chancellor told the House that we will uprate the standard minimum guarantee by £5.35 and that we would meet the cost of the over-indexation by increasing the threshold for the savings credit. That plan was correctly reflected in line 30 of table 2.1 on page 46 of the autumn statement, and it is indeed our plan. Unfortunately, the precise thresholds, which were calculated by our Department and appear at paragraphs 1.143 and 2.24, were incorrect. I apologise to the House for this error, which I am now in a position to correct. The correct thresholds for savings credit from April 2012 will be £111.80 for single pensioners and £178.35 for couples.
As many hon. Members will know, an important component of our plans for uprating pensions and benefits last year was the move to the consumer prices index— CPI. We believe that the CPI is a superior measure of inflation for benefits and pensions uprating. That is because the basket of goods on which it is based is a better match for the spending patterns of pensioners and others on a low income, and because it takes better account of the way in which lower income households respond to price changes. It is also the headline measure of inflation in the UK, the target measure of inflation used by the Bank of England, and internationally recognised. I am pleased to say that last week the High Court upheld the Government’s position that the CPI can be used for pensions and benefits uprating.
The coalition will ensure that the value of other social security benefits is maintained through a rise of 5.2%, even in these tough economic times. This means for disabled people, above and below pension age, through disability living allowance and attendance allowance, an increase of 5.2%; for people of working age who are not fit for work, through employment and support allowance, an increase of 5.2%; and for people who have lost their jobs, through no fault of their own, through jobseeker’s allowance, an increase of 5.2%.
On local housing allowance, at the emergency Budget in June 2010, the Government announced that from 2013, local housing allowance rates will be calculated annually by using the lower of the rent at the 30th percentile of local rents or the previous year’s rate uprated by reference to CPI. This will end the monthly uprating of LHA rates and bring the system into line with the uprating of other pensions and benefits.
As part of the preparation for this change, we need to fix LHA rates, to establish a baseline from which they will be uprated in future. As the new cycle for uprating LHA will be annual, we have decided that the baseline should be one year ahead of the first uprating event. Therefore, LHA rates will be fixed from April 2012. This approach means that there will be no reductions in ongoing awards as a result of this change.
So at a time when the nation’s finances are under severe pressure, this Government will be spending an extra £6.6 billion in 2012-13 to ensure that people are protected against cost of living increases: no less than £4.5 billion extra on state pensions; over £1 billion extra on disabled people and their carers; and over £1 billion extra on people who are unable to work through sickness or unemployment.
We protected the triple lock, securing the largest ever cash rise in the basic state pension. We have uprated the pension credit as well, so that the poorest pensioners benefit in full from the triple lock. We have uprated working age benefits by 5.2%, protecting the real incomes of the poorest. Through this statement, I have outlined our firm commitment to ensure that even in these difficult times, no one is left behind. I commend this statement to the House.
I thank the Minister for advance sight of his statement, and welcome some of his announcements about the uprating of pensions. I am delighted that on the issue of increasing the state pension age further, the Government have learned from some of their mistakes on the previous round and will at least give adequate notice to those affected. That is a positive move. I welcome the U-turn on the mobility component of disability living allowance. The change should never have been proposed. We, along with disability campaigners, have argued hard for a U-turn and we are pleased that the Government have taken that action.
Last year, in the wake of the autumn statement, the Minister told my predecessor that his Government had embarked on decisive action to take Britain out of the danger zone. What a difference a year makes. The Government’s economic policy has failed and is failing, and working families are paying the price. It is when a Government’s back is against the wall that their true character is revealed, because that is when the difficult choices have to be made. The failure is writ large in the Government’s revised borrowing forecasts.
We know that the Chancellor told the House that he is going to borrow £150 billion more than he planned—£150 billion more. The Government are fond of the credit card analogy, and £150 billion is an astonishing extra debt to add to the nation’s credit card bill. It is the price of failure, and this failure is nowhere more apparent than in the extra £29 billion, largely the price of rising unemployment, which the Government project they will spend on benefits. What the Minister failed to say in his statement today is that to pay for the Government’s own failure, they propose to take twice as much money from children and families as they do from bankers.
Let us look at the impact on families and women. We are left with a benefits policy that hits the poorer hardest. The Institute for Fiscal Studies, which used to employ the Minister, has said that measures in the autumn statement would
“take away from lower-income families with children.”
Even the Secretary of State had to admit to the House last week that the bottom 30% do quite badly. The Government’s benefits policy will hit women harder than men. The House of Commons Library estimates that of the £2.37 billion raised from tax credits and public sector pay changes introduced in the autumn statement, 73%—£1.73 billion—will come from women and 27% will come from men. Taking together all the changes to direct tax, benefits, pay and pensions announced by the Chancellor since the general election, of the £18.9 billion the Government are raising each year, £13.2 billion comes from women. Women are being hit twice as hard as men.
In addition, the Government’s benefits policy will increase child poverty. In its distributional analysis of the autumn statement, the Treasury has admitted that as a result of Government decisions the number of children living in households with incomes below 60% of the median will increase by 100,000 in 2012-13, which means more children living in poverty. The IFS now estimates that the number of children living in poverty will rise by 600,000 over the next period. Surely the Government and the Minister cannot be proud of that.
Let me ask the Minister some straightforward questions. Minister, you signed up to the Child Poverty Act 2010. Do you believe that under the terms and definitions of that Act child poverty is set to rise under your Government? You will have studied the IFS—
Order. I gently say to the shadow Minister that he knows that debate should be conducted through the Chair and that use of the word “you” is not encouraged in the Chamber. We would be grateful if he addressed the Minister through the Chair. We are grateful that he has some questions, but he must wrap them up pretty sharpish.
Thank you, Mr Speaker.
The Minister will have studied the IFS presentation. Will he confirm that its conclusion is that the people who will pay most will be those in the bottom 30%? Does he agree with the Secretary of State that work incentives will be diminished by the Government’s actions in the autumn statement and that the changes to tax credits and public sector pay announced in the autumn statement will hit women disproportionately?
I am grateful for the bits of the hon. Gentleman’s speech that actually responded to my statement, because he appeared to agree with us entirely. I am grateful for his support for our increase in the basic state pension, our announcement on the state pension age and our changes on the mobility component of DLA. I also agree that we see the true colour of a Government when their back is against the wall. Notwithstanding the huge pressure on the public finances, for reasons he might understand, we took the view that protecting the most vulnerable was a priority. That is the true colour of this Government.
The hon. Gentleman asked about the distributional impact of the measures we have taken. I refer him to Chart 1.C of the distribution analysis published by the Treasury last week to accompany the autumn statement, which takes account of not only the measure set out in that statement, but the cumulative impact of all that we are doing. I am sure that he will not want to be selective and will look at the whole picture. Page 4 of the analysis includes a chart ranking people by what they spend, which shows that the proportion lost rises with income. In other words, the smallest amounts lost are for the lowest households and the largest cash amounts lost are for the highest households [Interruption.] Yes, cash is what matters to people.
The hon. Gentleman asked about work incentives, and I am pleased to say that with his support the universal credit that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State wants to introduce will be the biggest boost to work incentives for many generations. Starting in 2013, we will be rewarding work instead of penalising it, and the best thing that we can do for low-income households is to enable them to work and to support them in that.
The hon. Gentleman did not mention the many things that we are doing for low-paid working households, such as the personal income tax allowance increases, the council tax freeze, the cuts in fuel duty and, above all, the low-interest-rate environment, which for households with mortgages is crucial to their living standards. I am grateful to him for the measures that he did welcome, but there was a lot more that he should have welcomed.
I am sure that the £6.6 billion that the Minister has announced today will be welcome to many families in the UK, but I am extremely concerned that the European Commission is seeking to open that benefit pot to European benefit tourists who seek to avail themselves of it. That £6.6 billion will be in no way enough if we are to encompass benefits for European benefit tourists.
Is it not true that the Minister’s partial statement today will in the next couple of years result in decreasing the incentive to work? If the Treasury believed in localism and had given the £6.6 billion to the Department to spend on uprating as it wished to, would not the Minister have made a statement today that increased work incentives rather than decreased them?
The right hon. Gentleman, for whom I have a great deal of respect, will be aware that the reward for working comes from a combination of factors, one of which is the tax burden on the low-paid, and that this Government have twice increased the personal tax allowance by about £1,500. That is worth more than £300 a year for a standard rate taxpayer and, for two members of a couple in low-paid work, is a £600 gain with more to come. That is a real reward for working which all too often they have not had in the past.
I welcome the fact that the state pension and the state earnings-related pension scheme will rise by 5.2%, and that pension credit will do so above earnings, but different levels of uprating and a complex system can make it difficult for pensioners to understand exactly what they should expect. Will the Minister do all that he can to simplify the system and bring in a flat-rate pension as soon as possible, so that pensioners are able to see clearly and easily what pension they should expect?
My hon. Friend is characteristically persuasive. It is absolutely clear that a system in which we pay a wholly inadequate basic pension—we pay a pension that, even after the uprating to £107 a week, is not enough to live on, so we will top it up—cannot be a sustainable basis for the future. We therefore continue to develop our proposals for state pension reform, precisely so that we get more money to people automatically, with less reliance on complicated means tests that mean too many people do not get what they should.
The Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, my hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Maria Miller) brought forward proposals only this week to make child maintenance more effective, because, as the hon. Lady rightly says, getting child maintenance paid is crucial. We believe that far too little is paid and the cost of collecting it is disproportionate to what we receive, so we need an efficient child maintenance system, and that is what we propose to bring forward.
My hon. Friend is quite right that we have already taken, I think, just over 1 million families or individuals out of tax. We have a long-term goal of a £10,000 tax-free allowance, which would take out millions more, but what is often not understood is that couples in which both members go out to work to make ends meet get twice as much benefit. Each benefits from the personal tax allowance increase, so it helps precisely those most hard-pressed families in which both parents work all hours to keep their family going.
People can get the uprating only if they get the benefit in the first place, and, despite what the Minister said about protecting those who have worked hard all their lives, there is a measure in the Welfare Reform Bill which time-limits contributory employment support allowance to one year, so a large number of people who work all their lives but drop out of work because of ill health will get nothing after that.
As the hon. Lady, the Chair of the Work and Pensions Committee, knows, that is a measure in the Welfare Reform Bill being considered in another place, but we have put in place two safeguards—that the most sick and the most poor are protected. In other words, those in the support group will continue on an un-time-limited basis to get ESA, and those with no other household income will continue, through income-related ESA, to be helped. So, at a time when we have to find savings, protecting the most vulnerable and the poorest seems to us to be a priority.
Pensioners in the Kettering constituency will warmly welcome the £5.30 a week increase in the basic state pension to £107.45. Can the Minister also confirm that for periods of extreme cold he is announcing a permanent increase in the cold weather payment from £8.50 to £25?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right; it was remiss of me not to trumpet that fact. Last year, we announced that we were reversing Labour’s planned cut in the cold weather payment, which was due to fall to £8.50 and will now be £25 in each year of this Parliament. Last year, we spent over £400 million to help the most vulnerable when it is freezing cold, and that is a priority for this coalition Government.
Order. I apologise for having to interrupt the hon. Gentleman. I do not know what has come over the hon. Member for South West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous). He is normally the very model of restraint, good manners and kindness to all things human and animal, and I am sure that he will recover his poise, but I want to hear the hon. Gentleman’s question; if he wants to start it again, he can.
Many of my constituents would have welcomed the increase but they cannot because they are no longer receiving their benefit, particularly as a result of the Atos assessments of disability living allowance. In addition to that, having lost, or not gained, their benefit, they are waiting long periods for their appeals. Will the Minister look at the length of time that people are waiting for their appeals and the number of appeals that have been postponed as a result of lack of staff?
The hon. Gentleman is bringing together several different issues. It is entirely the case that at the time of the election the previous Government had given Atos a contract for the work capability assessment for ESA—not DLA—and we have gone through with the Harrington process, independent reviews and recommendations for change, all implemented by the Government. Good progress is being made on making the system fit for purpose, but getting the decision right first time is better than speeding up the appeals process, and we are doing that more and more because we are reforming the system.
Further to the point made by the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr Field), how on earth can the Minister justify increasing benefits by over 5% when people who are in work are facing a pay freeze or, at best, very modest increases in their salary? Is not that another kick in the teeth to hard-working taxpayers, and does it not go against the Government’s priority to try to make work pay?
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is absolutely committed to making work pay through a combination of benefit reform, with the universal credit, with which we are pressing ahead, taking people out of tax, as well as the council tax freeze and the petrol duty cut. There is a whole range of factors about whether work pays. I believe that we have done a great deal for people in low-paid work, and there is much more to come.
The Minister made much of his belief that CPI protects the standard of living of pensioners, but on Friday an old-age pensioner came to see me and pointed out that the Department for Communities and Local Government target for rents in the social sector is linked to RPI. Does not that display the fact that the problem Ministers have is that they assume that everyone is like them and is an owner-occupier?
I know that the hon. Lady was a Minister in our Department, and she will understand that the way the housing benefit system works is that people in the social rented sector, provided that they are not over-occupying, get their full rent, whether it is increased by CPI or RPI. The fact remains that including mortgage interest in a measure of inflation for pensioners when, as she rightly says, most pensioners do not have an outstanding mortgage, is the wrong thing to do.
For someone retiring this year on a full basic state pension, the triple lock, we estimate, will benefit them to the tune of about £13,000 over the course of their retirement. That is a very significant change whose effects we are not yet seeing in full because earnings growth is depressed, but as it returns to more normal times, pensioners in Nuneaton and elsewhere will see real increases year after year.
I am glad that the hon. Gentleman has raised that point, because it is a selective quotation from the autumn statement. As well as making the changes to tax credits, we are over-indexing benefits relative to average incomes. As poverty is measured in relation to average income and we are putting up benefits according to CPI, which is about twice the rise in average income, child poverty will be reduced compared with the figure that he gave. There is more to this than meets the eye.
My hon. Friend is quite right. Not only does the pensions boost help women, but the pension credit boost helps women. Reflecting on the Opposition’s question about the combined effect of our measures, it is worth saying that the one measure excluded from that question was the VAT rise. They excluded that because men, on average, have higher incomes and higher spending. In particular, they have higher spending on VATables, so the impact of the VAT rise hits men more than women. For some reason, the Opposition did not count that measure.
May I welcome the Government’s decision on the mobility component? That is vindication of the wide campaign on this issue, which included my early-day motion and the 88-odd Members who signed it. On a slightly more incredulous note, would the Minister claim that the move to CPI and the large savings to Government expenditure are entirely coincidental?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for welcoming our decisions on the DLA mobility component. Clearly, the decision on CPI was taken in a fiscal context. However, it came after RPI was negative and CPI was positive, so the immediate context was a year in which state earnings-related pension schemes and public sector pensions had all been frozen. I certainly could not believe that there had not been any inflation, and I am yet to meet a pensioner who could.
As we all understand, with rocketing fuel and food prices these rises are not as generous as they look. Has the Department assessed the impact of the £100 cut in the winter fuel allowance, combined with the fact that those on low incomes spend a lot of money on food and fuel? People will actually be worse off, particularly those with an income that puts them just above the bracket for claiming the cold weather payment.
It was entirely right that we went ahead with Labour’s planned cut to the winter fuel payment. We reversed the cold weather payment cut to prioritise the most vulnerable when it is most cold. I make no apology for that. It was important to put the full 5.2% through for people with no wage because of the pressures on household fuel bills and other costs. That is why it was vital that we stood by the most vulnerable even though money was tight.
Will the Minister take this opportunity to admit that the policies of the coalition have led to a diminution of work incentives? If we are to believe press reports, that appears to be the opinion of the Secretary of State. Was there any consultation with the Chancellor about his autumn statement? Does this not show that the Government are in disarray over this issue?
People are still better off in work. When we have the Secretary of State’s universal credit, that will be even more the case. The hon. Gentleman is focusing on a narrow aspect of the measures that we have taken. Personal income tax allowance increases, the cuts in fuel duty compared with Labour’s escalator plan and the cuts in council tax in real terms will all help people in work and make it pay to work. We have plans to take that further.
The hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies), who is yet to reach the 19th century, attacked the unemployed. I point out to the Minister that a store in my constituency had 20 vacancies when it opened and 250 people applied. Is that not an illustration of people out of work and desperate to find employment? They should not be attacked by hon. Members in the way that I have mentioned.
I have no doubt that the vast majority of people who are unemployed are actively looking for jobs. Indeed, that is a condition of payment of jobseeker’s allowance. We would not pay people if they were not actively seeking work. The very fact that there are many unemployed people in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency—I grew up near Walsall, so I know the area well—is why we have to get the nation’s public finances on an even keel. We have seen what happens to countries that do not do so.
Further to his answers to my hon. Friend the Member for Edmonton (Mr Love) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Mr Field), who is no longer in his place, does the Minister accept that the changes to working tax credits act as a disincentive to work? Does that explain why, according to newspaper reports, the Secretary of State is so angry about that change and baffled that the Liberal Democrats pushed for it?
There is a danger of missing the central points here, which are that people are better off in work, and we want to go further; that the tax credits are part of a package of measures, and I have listed repeatedly the many things that make work pay; and that our increases in personal tax allowances, for example, will make work pay far more than in the past. The coalition is united on that.
The Minister is trumpeting the highest ever increase for pensioners, which I am sure they welcome, but is not the truth that it is so high only because inflation is so high? This is not some generous gift from the Government; it merely allows pensioners to keep up with prices. Further to that, many pensioner groups would point out that the real types of inflation faced by pensioners are actually higher than CPI.
I do not recall the previous Government ever using something other than inflation or using a different rate for pensioners because of factors such as those the hon. Lady mentions. Sometimes the pensioner rate will be higher and sometimes it will be lower, but on average it will be broadly the same. There was a lot of speculation—she may even have read some of it—that we would not provide a 5.2% increase, that we would break the triple lock, that we would average out the figures or do all sorts of things, but we stuck by our promise and provided a 5.2% increase. The real value of the pension as a share of average earnings—that is what pensions are for: to replace the earnings that people used to have—is higher than in any year under Labour, and I am proud to put my name to that.