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In-work Poverty

Volume 654: debated on Monday 11 February 2019

There is clear evidence that work offers people the best opportunity to get out of poverty. A working-age adult living in a household where every adult is working is about six times less likely to be in relative poverty than one living in a household where nobody works.

Research by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation shows that the real-terms cut in social security is the single biggest driver of in-work poverty, leaving those struggling to make ends meet on poverty pay losing hundreds of pounds a year. If the Secretary of State is looking forward to the benefits cut not being extended, as she told Sky News, why do the Government not end it now, rather than wait to review it in 2020?

This Government are not only delivering record employment in all regions of the UK—it is accepted that work is the best route out of poverty—but targeting support at the most vulnerable in society, with increases in the national living wage, which will see the fastest pay rise in the last 20 years, changes to the income tax threshold and a doubling of free childcare.[Official Report, 14 February 2019, Vol. 654, c. 9MC.]

Crash-era debt was owed to commercial lenders and stemmed from lifestyle desires, but Turn2us reports that the bulk of its 9,000 users in Ealing are in-work adults who are struggling to meet the bare basics—their debts are to council housing departments, energy providers and water companies. If the Government will not unfreeze the benefits cap now and end the scandal of zero-hours contracts, what are they doing about that worrying trend, noted by the London School of Economics, the National Audit Office and Citizens Advice?

As we know, there are 1 million fewer people and 300,000 fewer children in absolute poverty. The hon. Lady raised that theme at the last DWP oral questions, when she set out the distressing case of a claimant who she claimed was left with just £10 over Christmas because her payment was due on Christmas day. We looked into that case and I took a personal interest in it. The claimant actually received their full entitlement before Christmas, as well as interim support for childcare because they had been able to secure work. I know that the hon. Lady would want everybody in the House to be aware of that.

That is a testament to the effectiveness of repetition. As I have often had cause to observe—I say this as much for the benefit of those observing our proceedings as for Members—repetition is not a novel phenomenon in the House of Commons.

That more are in work is welcome. That one in eight are the working poor, with working parents struggling to clothe and feed their children, is shameful. Does the Secretary of State recognise that working poverty consigns millions to a hand-to-mouth existence and, because people fall beneath the threshold for auto-enrolment, working poverty is all too often followed by a retirement in poverty? That cannot be right.

Auto-enrolment is a success, with 10 million new savers, and we intend to lower the starting age from 22 to 18 and remove the lower earnings limit.