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Benefits Cap

Volume 621: debated on Monday 20 February 2017

Work is the best route out of poverty, and the benefit cap has been successful in encouraging people into work. Since its introduction, almost 62% of households in Scotland have found work, reduced their housing benefit claim or no longer claim housing benefit at all after having their benefits capped.

Does the Minister agree with paragraph 90 of the fiscal framework, which states:

“The Governments have also agreed that the UK government’s Benefit Cap will be adjusted to accommodate any additional benefit payments introduced by the Scottish Government.”?

Of course we agree with the fiscal framework—the Government drew it up, in conjunction with the Scottish Government. The Scottish Government already have extensive benefits powers if they wish to introduce them, but the fact that they do not is a matter for the hon. Gentleman to take up with his colleagues in that Government.

Writing in today’s Daily Record, Scotland’s First Minister has commented that the Scottish Government have yet to receive “confirmation” from the UK Government that when we abolish the bedroom tax the benefit cap will not be applied. Will the Secretary of State take this opportunity to guarantee that there will be no clawback of social security funding when Scotland abolishes the hated bedroom tax?

I can only refer the hon. Gentleman to the answer I gave the hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Martyn Day), because it is for the Scottish Government to take these decisions. They have the power to give benefits, increase benefits and make supplementary payments beyond the benefits available throughout the UK. It is noteworthy that they fail to exercise those powers and Scottish National party Members come to this House to complain about benefits in Scotland, despite having the power to do something about it themselves.

I support the Government’s strategy in this area, but does the Secretary of State accept that those who support it have concerns about what might be happening, certainly in the short run, to families so affected? What research is he carrying out to make sure that those who can move into work do so and that those who cannot do so are looked at sympathetically?

The right hon. Gentleman makes a characteristically reasonable point, to which I make two responses. The first is that those who are put into hardship have available to them discretionary housing payments, which have been extensively used by local authorities throughout the country precisely to avoid the problem that he suggests. Secondly, on the other point he makes, some of the research we have done shows that households that have been capped are 41% more likely to go into work than similar, uncapped households. So the policy is very successful in encouraging people to get back to work, which of course is the best thing for them in the long run.

During the passage of the Scotland Bill, UK Ministers gave me and others clear assurances that any income derived from new benefits or top-ups introduced by the Scottish Government using new powers would not simply be clawed back from claimants through the benefit cap or other forms of means-testing, and those commitments were reflected in the fiscal framework. Will the Secretary of State therefore give a cast-iron assurance that that is still the UK Government’s position?

The UK Government’s position has not changed at all and nor, so far, has the Scottish Government’s, which is that they are not prepared to take or exercise the powers that they have.

With respect, that is just nonsense; the Scottish Government are working towards the already-published timetable. But there should be absolutely no ambiguity here, so will the Secretary of State now commit that he, his Ministers and his officials will engage positively with Scottish Ministers as they use those new powers to abolish the bedroom tax in Scotland?

I, along with both my Ministers and my officials, engage positively with the Scottish Government all the time. I know that because I go to the meetings, and I have engaged positively with them on this and all the other important issues that we have to discuss in this field.