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Autumn Statement

Volume 617: debated on Monday 21 November 2016

8. What discussions he has had with the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the potential effect of the autumn statement on his Department. (907338)

12. What discussions he has had with the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the potential effect of the autumn statement on his Department. (907342)

16. What discussions he has had with the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the potential effect of the autumn statement on his Department. (907346)

I am happy to confirm that I work closely with my right hon. Friend the Chancellor, and hon. Members will not be surprised to hear that I will not be pre-empting what he will be saying in his statement to the House on Wednesday.

That is a shame. The Resolution Foundation has suggested that the best way to help the 6 million just-managing households would be to scrap the planned cuts to universal credit, including the reduction in work allowances that could see losses of up £2,800 for a working single parent. Does the Secretary of State agree that, on Wednesday, the Government need to move beyond the soundbites and reverse these cuts before low-income families pay the price?

No, I do not agree. The hon. Gentleman will be aware of the tremendous successes we have achieved in getting people into work. We have employment at historic high rates. Very specifically, because of the introduction of the living wage, the latest Office for National Statistics data show that the group whose pay is going up the most—more than 6% last year—are the lowest-paid workers. I think that that is the system working exactly as it should.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies has shown that with the fall in the pound since the Brexit vote, prices are being pushed up by about 2.6%. This means that there could be a rise in inflation that would coincide with this Government’s benefit freeze, adding even more pressure on low-income families. Does not the Minister agree that in view of that situation, we should get rid of the benefit freeze in the autumn statement?

I am sure that we shall receive a list of bids from members of the Scottish National party. I repeat that it is not for me to pre-empt my right hon. Friend the Chancellor’s autumn statement but, as I said to the hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North (Gavin Newlands), the purpose of the various benefit changes—and, indeed, the whole benefits system—is to enable people to get into work so that they can not only earn more money, but take more control over their lives. In that respect, the system is working historically well. We have more people in work, more women in work, and fewer children growing up in workless households than ever before, and that is a huge achievement.

Despite assurances from the Government that there would be no more austerity-driven benefit cuts, any family whose third or subsequent child is born after April 2017 will not qualify for child tax credit, which could mean a loss of more than £2,000 per child. Does the Secretary of State agree that to protect just-managing families, this repugnant measure must be abandoned on Wednesday?

As my right hon. Friend the Chancellor said at the weekend, the House has already voted for certain benefit cuts. We do not intend to make any new cuts in benefits during the current Parliament, but Parliament has decided on various measures, including the one to which the hon. Gentleman has referred, and we shall be implementing those measures.

A great many families who struggle to get by each month do not receive universal credit; indeed, they do not receive any welfare payments at all. We should not fall into the trap of defining this issue solely by the benefits system, and we should therefore not commit ourselves to reversing those cuts. Does my right hon. Friend agree, however, that there is a strong case for sitting down with the Chancellor and looking into what more we can do to help people on low incomes, and to support families who struggle to get by month after month?

My right hon. Friend is right to say that this is not purely about the payment of benefits; it is about a system that enables and helps people to get into work, or back into work, and to make progress once they are in work. As I am sure my right hon. Friend will have observed, that is the thrust of the work and health Green Paper, which is specifically designed for people with a disability or long-term health problem who have often have found it particularly difficult to find work in the past. We want to find new, innovative ways of helping those people so that they can enjoy the wider success of the modern labour market.

Unemployment in Corby, in east Northamptonshire, has fallen by more than 50% since 2010. We have seen falls in youth unemployment, and record private investments that are coming on stream will bring thousands of new jobs. As well as ensuring that all the right support is being provided, will my right hon. Friend call on the Chancellor for more of the same when it comes to job opportunities?

I certainly will. I am delighted to hear that my hon. Friend’s constituency is sharing so fully in the wider benefits of the more flexible, dynamic and innovative labour market that we have created over the past few years. I am sure he has found that for many of his constituents—along with other people throughout the country—work is absolutely the best route out of poverty, and they are benefiting from what has been done in the past. I assure him that we will continue to take such action.

22. The Resolution Foundation has estimated that a single parent with one child under the age of four, working full time on a minimum wage, will be up to £3,600 a year worse off by 2020. Does the Secretary of State think that the changes in welfare policy are fair, or will he be urging the Chancellor to reverse the cuts in universal credit in this week’s autumn statement? (907353)

I do think that the changes are fair. I also think that much of the problem with the various pieces of analysis that have been produced by a number of think-tanks is that they do not assess the effects of getting more people into work, or—I mentioned this earlier—ensuring that they make progress when they are in work. Both those actions help people’s family incomes, which is, I think, the way to give them more long-term security and to ensure that they do not just get out of poverty, but stay out of poverty.

The Government’s flagship universal credit programme has been in trouble almost since day one, which has undermined the important principle of always making work pay more than social security. Two and a half million people in low-paid work will be, on average, more than £2,000 a year worse off as a result of the Government’s cuts in universal credit work allowances. How can the Secretary of State justify his mantra that work is the route out of poverty when, under this Government, there are 7 million working families in poverty and the cut in their support will make the position worse? Why will he not honour his pledge to make work pay and ensure that the cut is reversed in the autumn statement?

I do not agree with the hon. Lady’s analysis of universal credit. The great thing about it is precisely that it does make work pay. We all remember the cliff edges that people were faced with: once they started to work more than 16 or 30 hours a week, they had to decide whether they would be better off in work or on benefits. That is a terrible choice to put before someone. The whole point of universal credit, which we are steadily rolling out, is that work always pays. People know that if they go into work, or if they work extra hours, they will always benefit from that. If she does not accept that, I am afraid that she and I fundamentally disagree about the fact that work is the best route out of poverty. She appears to be denying that fact.