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Households Below Average Income Statistics

Volume 657: debated on Thursday 28 March 2019

Mr Speaker, with your permission I would like to make a statement on the poverty statistics published today. These statistics cover a range of poverty indicators. In a year when inflation was relatively high, average incomes were flat but still remain at a record high. These numbers show that between 2016-17 and 2017-18 relative poverty after housing costs has decreased by one percentage point; absolute poverty after housing costs is unchanged in percentage terms; and absolute poverty and relative poverty before housing costs have increased by one percentage point.

Since we entered government in 2010, income inequality has fallen, and we have lifted a total of 400,000 people out of absolute poverty, but of course no one in Government wants to see poverty rise. After all, we all came into politics to help people plot a path to a better life. That has driven me since I entered this place in 2010 in the midst of a national economic crisis, because I know it is vital that the Government support their citizens and provide them with the opportunities they need to succeed. I sit in a Department that has huge power to do that. I have seen what a force for good universal credit can and will continue to be when we roll it out further. I know how committed my Jobcentre colleagues up and down the country are; I have had the privilege to visit many of them over recent months. They truly do change lives for the better—no matter what the Labour party sometimes says.

Colleagues in this House are rightly proud that this Government have cleared up Labour’s economic mess and helped over 3.5 million people into work since 2010. Behind every employment statistic is a person or family whose mental health, wellbeing and life chances are improved by being in the workplace and having the security of a regular pay packet. It means that 665,000 fewer children will grow up in workless households, providing them with the support of an income, meaning that they are less likely to grow up in poverty, and giving them a role model in work. It means that there are now nearly 1 million more disabled people in work than in 2013, and I want to be more ambitious to ensure that even more disabled people are in work. It also means that millions more people receive a much earned pay increase, with wages now growing at the fastest rate in a decade.

That is the record of a Conservative Government who provide opportunities for all, rather than trapping people on welfare. Remember that every Labour Government left office with unemployment higher than they inherited. Under the previous Labour Government, 1.4 million people spent most of the previous decade trapped on out-of-work benefits, meaning that spending spiralled out of control with benefits increasing by 65% in real terms. Trapping people who can work on benefits does not help them; it holds them back. Every household paid an extra £3,000 a year to cover that splurge, and that included the lowest earners who were paying income tax. It was vital in such circumstances that the Government brought spending under control.

Colleagues know that our careful management of the economy means that we continue to improve our support for the poorest and the lowest paid. Today’s statistics capture household incomes up to April 2018. Since then, we have had nearly a year of real wage growth. The Government have also made significant changes to increase the incomes of the poorest since then, injecting an additional £1.7 billion per annum into universal credit alone at the 2018 autumn Budget. Those changes begin to take effect next month, when we will also give the country’s lowest earners a pay rise, introducing the highest-ever minimum wage. From April, we will be increasing work allowances by £1,000 for families with children and disabled people, which will enable 2.4 million households to keep more of what they earn, increasing the national living wage, which will rise to £8.21 an hour from next week, and increasing the personal allowance to £12,500, taking millions of the lowest paid out of paying income tax altogether. But I know we can do even more, and I want to do more.

Since coming into post, I have been determined to deliver a compassionate welfare system that supports the most vulnerable. In January, I announced that we will no longer be extending the two-child policy to apply to children born before 6 April 2017 and that we would trail support for up-front childcare costs with the flexible support fund, allowing parents to start work before paying for childcare through universal credit. We have also committed to building an online system to enable private landlords to request that a tenant on universal credit’s rent is paid directly to them, supporting the most vulnerable to manage their money. We are also looking at how to ensure that the main carer in a household—usually a woman—receives the UC payment.

This month, I further pledged to scrap personal independence payment reassessments for 287,000 disabled pensioners, to introduce a personalised and streamlined assessment service to improve the experience for people claiming health-related benefits, to pilot a single assessment for UC and PIP, and to consider how we can best reduce the number of claimants who appeal decisions on PIP and work capability assessments by ensuring that we do more to make the right decision the first time around. In addition, the Chancellor has already announced our aspiration to end low pay, starting with a new review into the future of the national living wage.

I will continue to work with colleagues across the House to further improve our support for those on the lowest incomes, because I know that no one in Britain should have their future determined by the circumstances into which they are born. Every single boy and girl born in this country should be able to reach their maximum potential, escape any societal constraints, dream big and reach the highest heights. Every single man and woman should be able to go into the workplace knowing that a better future awaits them and their family—that endless possibilities and ambitions are within their grasp. Every town and city in this country needs to know that this Government are on their side, that we match their aspirations, and that by working together we will make every community a better one to live in. These are ideals that are at the heart of this Government—at the heart of the work that I do every day—and we will not stop until we have completed this mission.

I am determined to tackle poverty, in particular child poverty, and as I look at the next steps on welfare policy and at the DWP budget, including at the spending review, I will of course look at what more can be done to address poverty. This is what it means to be a compassionate Government: one that supports work, lets dreams become reality and helps those in need. We will work tirelessly to deliver that. I commend this statement to the House.

I thank the Secretary of State for advance sight of her statement.

The figures published today are truly shocking. They highlight the devastating impact of austerity on families throughout the country. It is a national scandal that 14 million people, including 4.1 million children, are living in poverty in one of the richest countries in the world; yet the statement was marked by complacency and denial. As universal credit has been rolled out throughout the country, we have witnessed a sharp increase in food bank use. We are one of the richest countries in the world, and that increase is a source of national shame. We see families unable to feed their children. As a former schoolteacher, I know what it is like when children are hungry in school: they cannot learn, they are unhappy and worried, and they do not want their parents to know how worried they are. It is a scandal that has to be addressed.

In the face of such human misery, we hear the Secretary of State attempt to justify austerity and the Government’s clear political decision to balance the books on the back of the poor and disabled. It is a disgrace. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation estimates that continuing the benefits freeze for a fourth year will mean families will be on average £560 worse off. On 10 January, the Secretary of State said that the freeze was

“the right policy at the time.”

If it is not the right policy now, why is it being continued until April 2020? And why was there nothing in the statement to address that?

In the past, the Government have responded to our criticism of the rises in relative child poverty by saying that it is absolute poverty that matters. Well, we all know that we have to look at all measures of poverty, so what is the Secretary of State’s response to the figures released by her Department today, which show that in 2017-18 the number of children living in absolute poverty before housing costs increased by 300,000, and after housing costs by 200,000? It is truly shocking that the number of people in absolute poverty before housing costs increased by 600,000 in that same year.

Evidence of the crisis in poverty in our country is clear, yet last year the Secretary of State criticised what she said was the political nature of the report by the UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, when he delivered it last November. That was a shocking statement—as if somehow poverty has nothing to do with politics. After her own Department’s figures have shown a 600,000 increase in the number of people in absolute poverty in 2017-18, will she now accept that he was simply telling the truth about poverty in this country?

The number of pensioners living in poverty rose by 100,000 in 2017-18, which means it has increased by 400,000 since 2010, under the Conservatives. Will the Government therefore reconsider their plans to force mixed-aged couples to claim universal credit rather than pension credit when one partner has reached state pension age but the other has not? Or are they determined to go ahead and break the Conservative party manifesto promise on that?

The Secretary of State claims that health and wellbeing are being improved. I ask her to think about those on zero-hours contracts. There are individuals with three zero-hours contracts who cannot secure a pension because the different contracts do not meet the threshold. She talks of universal credit as a force for good. That is laughable to those who have studied universal credit and those who are experiencing the misery of it. We have seen delays, five-week waits and an inability to deal with fluctuating incomes, meaning that people on the same income are getting very different levels of benefit from the social security system. When will the Government wake up to the poverty crisis besetting our country and deliver to people the security they need?

It is because we care so much about the changes in poverty that I have come here to make a statement about today’s statistics and to answer questions.

It is because of the Government’s commitment to the triple lock that pensioner poverty is at a near-record low. I gently point out to the hon. Lady that the only reason we are able to fund the triple lock is that this Conservative Government are running a strong economy. A focus on how we deliver benefits, whether to pensioners or working-age people, is absolutely key to being able to deliver those important contributions.

The hon. Lady mentioned the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, but its analysis shows that universal credit will reduce the number of people in working poverty by 300,000. That she continues to attack universal credit shows a fundamental misunderstanding of the changes it brings to people’s lives. I urge her to engage with her jobcentre and speak more to the work coaches and clients. If she does, she will find, as I have, how positive the response to universal credit is. Many people I know are still concerned about it, but in my experience, and that of many other MPs from across the House, once people have engaged with universal credit—once they are on it—they realise it is a much more positive source of income than the previous benefits.

There are many different sources of poverty. One area we have particularly made sure we put more money into is the lowest-income children in schools, because that is a way to bridge the gap between people born into different households. Under this Government, the education attainment gap between disadvantaged pupils and all other pupils at key stage 4 has narrowed by 9.5% since 2011. The pupil premium, which most colleagues will be aware of, is incredibly important for focusing additional funds on pupils on the lowest incomes. This combination of initiatives, funded by this Government, will help to reduce the poverty gap.

I would invite my right hon. Friend to come to my Department and find out a bit more about how universal credit works and how the taper rate has changed the benefits system—how people who start a job and earn more receive less from their benefits but only on a very gentle trajectory. The taper ensures there is not the sort of trade-off he is hinting at from the previous system of tax credits.

I thank the Secretary of State for advance sight of her statement. There has long been a debate in this place about whether we should measure absolute or relative poverty—in that regard, I wish she would look at the work of the Social Metrics Commission—but, regardless of the measure, the Government are presiding over a trend of rising impoverishment. The relative child poverty rate, before housing costs, is up 400,000, and the absolute rate is up 300,000 in a year. This takes the rate before housing costs to its highest level in almost 20 years. After housing costs, we see a stagnation in relative terms and a 200,000 rise in absolute terms, while severe poverty and material deprivation are both up 4% to 5% for all children.

The Secretary of State must know the impact that policy, particularly social security policy, has on poverty levels—she spoke about the power of her Department in this regard. When there is investment, poverty levels drop, and when there are cuts to individuals, levels rise. That is why ending the benefit freeze this year would have been the best place to begin to stop—and, in some cases, to reverse—the rising poverty trend. She could also have lifted the two-child cap, which is a cut directed at children that is impoverishing them. Why has she not done the right thing in these areas?

The Secretary of State has taken some welcome steps, and she has moved further than any of her five predecessors I have dealt with, but I know that she understands that she must go further. These figures should put a rocket under the discussions that she is having with the Chancellor ahead of the spending review. Work should be a route out of poverty, but it currently is not. What does the Secretary of State see as her key anti-poverty policy, and what is her anti-poverty target for the next year, given that whatever type of Brexit occurs will harm family budgets and affect living standards?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his partially constructive comments. We are looking at the Social Metrics Commission’s assessment of poverty. It is an interesting approach, because it puts the measure of poverty back towards what people spend their money on, as well as what they actually get in. It is a fair point for the hon. Gentleman to raise with me, and I will come back to him when we have some further conclusions.

The hon. Gentleman highlighted difficulties for families with moving into full-time work. We have made a commitment to make the process more straightforward by providing more free childcare. We have ensured that more money per year is invested in childcare; that has gone up from £4 billion to £6 billion, providing 30 hours of free childcare for people with three and four-year-olds. That is an important change to ensure that people can go into full-time work. The hon. Gentleman also highlighted the difficulty for people on low incomes in part-time work, and we recognise that. We are trying to make it easier for people to go into full-time work, because there are much lower instances of poverty when two parents are in full-time work, and that must be people’s goal.

Does the Secretary of State agree that growing up in a workless household is one of the most damaging factors for a child’s life chances? Consequently, will she commit to investing more in universal support to help people with difficulties to overcome them and move into long-term employment?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Households with nobody in work are much more likely to be in poverty, and they are a bad role model for everybody else. It is important to ensure that we engage successfully with households so that everybody has the opportunity of getting a job. There are now 665,000 fewer children in workless households since 2010.

Is not the most horrifying omission from the Secretary of State’s statement that we live in a country where people are cold, hungry and pushed into destitution? When does she expect to be able to come to the House and report on the numbers of people in destitution? As claimants have contributed so much to the revival of public finances by having cuts to their living standards, will the Secretary of State allow herself to be judged by how much she gets when the Chancellor starts allocating funds, and ensure that those moneys first go to the poor, who contributed most?

The right hon. Gentleman is more aware than many people that the Chancellor has put a lot more money into the welfare system. When it is fully rolled out, the system will be £2 billion more generous than it was previously. The right hon. Gentleman knows more than anybody else that, important though welfare contributions are and as committed as I am to ensuring that universal credit works for everyone, the causes of poverty are not allayed by benefits alone. That is why we have made such a commitment to invest in the poorest children through the pupil premium and to invest an additional £33 billion a year into the health service by 2023. All these additional investments will help people on the lowest incomes to have a better quality of life.

Does the Secretary of State agree that it is right that we look at the pressures on people’s incomes in the round? That means that we should look at the cost of childcare, which the Government are addressing, and at taking people out of tax, which the Government are addressing. We should also look at putting up wages for the poorest people on the lowest wages, so will my right hon. Friend confirm that the national living wage is rising, which will benefit a lot of people on low incomes?

My hon. Friend is right. Next week the national minimum wage will go up to £8.21, which is the highest it has ever been. Furthermore, the level at which people start to pay tax is rising to £12,500. It was not very long ago that people on very low incomes—as low as £6,500—could be paying tax, and that has changed under this and the previous Government.

It is welcome to see the Secretary of State gradually repairing the damage that has been done by her predecessors as a result of caps, cuts and freezes, but she will accept, I am sure, that she has a long way to go to match Labour’s excellent record of taking 1 million children out of relative poverty. Will she pay particular attention to the high risk of poverty among larger families? I welcome the first step she has taken in relation to the two-child policy, but she will know that larger families face a particular risk of poverty, so will she look at removing the two-child limit altogether?

Since entering government in 2010, we have removed 400,000 people from absolute poverty. I have acknowledged—this is why I am here today—that today’s statistics are disappointing. I am highlighting that there is more to be done both in terms of other services around benefits and in terms of my engagement with the Chancellor. The hon. Lady raises the important point that it is often people with the largest families who have difficulties, and I will be looking at that area ahead of the spending review. However, we will not be changing the two-child policy, which is still an important part of having fairness in the benefits system for the people who pay the tax as well.

One of the regular challenges that those in poverty face is in finding suitable accommodation, as the Secretary of State referred to in her statement. What work is she doing in talking to the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government to ensure that we deliver the quality homes that people need, at an affordable price, across the country?

That is such a good point from my hon. Friend. He is right that we need to constantly address poor-quality accommodation, as well as making sure that that accommodation is affordable. I am engaged in conversations with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government to ensure that we address this together.

Recognising the direct link between this Government’s punitive welfare reform agenda and rising levels of absolute, grinding poverty, over seven months ago leaked documents showed that the Department began a study of factors driving the use of food banks. It is due to be concluded in October—what are the interim findings?

The hon. Lady is right—we are looking at the factors to do with food banks. I want to take a very open approach to finding out what is going on and what the drivers are, because sometimes there are quite a lot of conclusions. I want to make sure that there is an opportunity to do some myth-busting and find out what we can do to allay this.

I have been listening carefully—have I got this correct? Since 2010, 400,000 people have been taken out of absolute poverty, 665,000 fewer children are in workless households, 1.7 million people are no longer paying income tax because of the increase in the personal allowance, and the national minimum wage is now at record levels.

I thank my hon. Friend for so succinctly summing up the good news for us. I would add that income inequality has also fallen.

No child in modern Britain should grow up in poverty, and frankly it should be a source of shame for Ministers that today we are seeing child poverty rising, even by their own preferred measures. We are constantly told that work should be the best route out of poverty, yet for too many children that is simply not the case. Even today we have seen the percentage of children in poverty with working parents rising again. Will the Secretary of State not acknowledge this and change course?

It is because I have acknowledged that these figures are disappointing and because I want to address this that I have come here to set out what we are doing, what we have already done, and what are going to be the important changes to make to the welfare system to ensure that we do address it. I am committed to making sure that we reduce poverty, and I will be putting in place the levers whereby we can do so. However, these figures are now nearly two years out of date. I have made sure that we are starting immediately to invest the money that the Chancellor put aside for us—£1.7 billion a year—to reduce the taper rate, increase the work allowance, and make sure that we address some of these issues.

I welcome the Secretary of State’s new commitment to tackling child poverty, which these figures show is getting significantly worse. Will she look at the option of universal credit claimants forgoing their final benefit payment after they have got into a job, in exchange for an up-front payment to fill the five-week gap before entitlement to benefit, which is forcing so many families to use food banks at the moment?

The right hon. Gentleman has raised that with me before. I am always looking at ways to improve the way we deliver universal credit. I have said that I will look at that, and I will continue to engage with everybody across the House to find ways of improving the delivery of universal credit. I feel that the advances that are available to people on day one when they apply for universal credit are the way to ensure that people have access to money as soon as they need it. That is working well, with over 60% of claimants now taking advantage of it.

But the problem with that answer is that, as the Chair of the Work and Pensions Committee said when he visited the Glasgow South West food bank a couple of weeks ago, people are not taking the advance payment because it is a loan, and they do not want to be in more debt. How much does it cost to administer advance payments, and would it not be better if they were the first payment for all claimants?

The hon. Gentleman can call it a loan; I can call it an advance. The fact is that it is a way of getting money that will be paid to the claimant to them in advance of the date they would receive it. I do not see it as a loan in the same way. I am looking at ways to ensure that work coaches in jobcentres can position it in the right way, so that claimants do not face it with fear, as he described. I want people to have confidence. This is the money that they will be receiving. If they want to effectively receive 13 payments over 12 months, that is a choice they can make.

In the light of these figures, it is no surprise that StepChange reports that over 20% of its clients have no disposable income to pay off their debts, and they are borrowing for essentials such as food and heating. What is being done to assist the increasing number of people in that situation?

I know that the hon. Lady is quite an expert in this area. My colleague the Pensions Minister met StepChange this week. We are committed to ensuring that sufficient advice is available to people who need it, to help them budget. A lot of people come on to universal credit with quite significant debts. One of the issues we have addressed is reducing the debts that people have to repay out of their universal credit from 40% to 30%. We have also set up the Single Financial Guidance Body. We are very aware that people often arrive with debts, and we want to help them manage those debts, so that they have sufficient income to manage on the universal credit they receive.

Successive Chancellors have been lobbied by me and my colleagues to raise the personal allowance, which the Secretary of State alluded to, and that is welcome and good news. The problem now is that it is totally irrelevant to those in part-time employment and on very low pay, because they earn less than the personal allowance. What is she doing to raise the skills level and ensure that small and medium-sized enterprises offer training, to grow the skills base, so that people are not welfare-dependent at all?

That is a very good question. As the hon. Gentleman said, we have raised the personal allowance, which has been very successful, but I would like us to do more to help people move on in work from a small number of hours or to a higher skills level. I will be looking at that over the next few months. Some provision is available, and some jobcentres do a fantastic job of engaging, to help people into better jobs or more hours, but I would like to look at that, to see what else we can do.

The Government always say that being in work is better, but in-work poverty and food bank use are rising. The Secretary of State says that she will look at the minimum wage. Will she make it £10 an hour?

I want more people to be able to have the security of full-time jobs and better-paid jobs. That is why I said earlier that we would be working on what else we can do about in-work progression to ensure that people do not stay on low wages but can progress and that we can get the advantage of a growing economy. This Government are committed to making sure that we have better jobs and more jobs, and we are proud of the employment record we have created.

The Secretary of State has the audacity to claim that

“no one in Britain should have their future determined by the circumstances into which they are born”.

That is simply not the case, because a third child born on 5 April 2017 will be entitled to benefits, but a baby on 6 April 2017 will not. Religious faith families and ethnic minorities are disproportionately affected by the two-child limit. She has set up an unacceptable, unjustifiable two-tier system for families in this country, and women will still have to prove if they have had their third child as the result of rape. Why does she think that is acceptable?

The hon. Lady has raised this with me many times, and I repeat to her that I do think the system is right. She also has to think about the people on low wages, who pay taxes, who will say to us—as an MP, I have had people say this to me, and I expect people have said it to others as well—that they have to plan for their third child or fourth child, and have to work out whether they have the funds to do so. I think it is right that people who are on benefits have to make the same assessment for their families.

In 1998, child poverty was at 3 million. By 2010, that was reduced to 1.6 million, but now it is 3.7 million. That was an historic achievement under Labour; now this Government have not only reversed it, but made it even worse. The Secretary of State calls it “disappointing”, but I call it a disastrous—an absolutely disastrous—failure by this Government. The reality is that that reduction was not achieved by accident; it was done by massive, sustained, above-inflation increases in social security support. The Government have broken that link with their welfare cap policy and their arbitrary restrictions on welfare spending. Will the Secretary of State accept that that is the simple reality of the situation? Until they reverse that idea and return to a welfare system based on automatic stabilisers and an inherent right to support per person, that will not be changed at all.

I am sorry, but I am going to disappoint the hon. Gentleman. I think we have the right welfare system. It protects the most vulnerable, provides the safety net we need and helps people into work. Under the Labour system, people were abandoned on out-of-work benefits and were not helped. Under this Government, we ensure that they engage with jobcentres and work coaches to make sure that they have the opportunity of a job.

Sums of £23 a week, £25 a week and £20 a week are all amounts that the Government have told my Lewisham West and Penge constituents on universal credit they should be able to live on after rent and basic utilities. With over 72,000 emergency food supplies given to Londoners over a six-month period, will the Secretary of State take responsibility for the shambles of universal credit and stop the roll-out?

I remind the hon. Lady that, under Labour, unemployment rose every time. Under this Government, we are ensuring that there are jobs available, with more people in work than ever before. I would hope that the work coaches at her jobcentre are able to help people into work, because there are jobs available, and that, ultimately, is what will help her constituents and her families have a better quality of life.

The Secretary of State and I were in this House when the Conservatives repealed the Child Poverty Act 2010 and when George Osborne announced £12 billion of welfare cuts, which have not been restored, so she can be “disappointed”, but she cannot be surprised that child poverty is up by 200,000, with 65% of children in single-parent families in poverty. Is it not time that she came to the Dispatch Box and confirmed that no child in a single-parent family will be worse off under her system?

We have still lifted 400,000 people out of absolute poverty since 2010, but I acknowledge that there is more to do. Over the past two Budgets, the Chancellor has put in substantial additional sums: £1.7 billion a year is now coming in for the next three years. I hope that these changes will make a significant difference to improving the delivery of our welfare directly to people in the hon. Lady’s constituency.

Previous Labour Governments had a commitment to eradicate child poverty by 2020. Will the Secretary of State say by what date her Government plan to eradicate child poverty in this country?

I am committed to making sure that we reduce poverty and focus particularly on child poverty. We must also remember that the issue is not entirely about welfare benefits; it is also about having a strong economy, in which wages grow and better quality jobs are available for everybody. I reassure the hon. Lady that I am focused on making sure that we reduce poverty.

It is disappointing that any child should be born in poverty, but the situation is not evenly spread. There is 42% child poverty in the Flint Castle and Holywell Central wards in my constituency; three other wards are in the high 30s. What strategies does the Secretary of State have particularly to tackle areas with high levels of deprivation and child poverty?

I would hope that personalised attainment support from work coaches will help provide what the right hon. Gentleman is looking for. Furthermore, the pupil premium in schools should help to focus on children from the most deprived areas, so that they get the extra funds at school to give them the additional support that they need.

Does the Secretary of State realise that the majority of households affected by the two-child benefit limit are in work? She is pushing them into poverty. Why?

The best way for poverty to be solved for families is for parents to be able to access full-time work. I know that the hon. Lady is referring to the fact that some of the people have access to work, but it is more important that they are also able to get into full-time work, which will help them reduce the poverty in their families.

The Secretary of State may talk of her compassion, but the facts are brutal, with rising poverty levels and the experience of children who live in poverty. Does she find it awkward that last week a report commissioned by the Government on the causes of homelessness found that among the key drivers were “reduced welfare and benefits” and “rising levels of poverty”? If she does find that awkward, what is she going to do about it?

As the hon. Lady will be aware, we have now seen a plateauing in the number of homeless people. We have a successful homelessness reduction strategy. I acknowledge that the number had gone up, but we are now seeing it come down, which shows that the homelessness strategy is working. We are committed to making sure that we continue it so that there are fewer homeless people across the country.

The Secretary of State has to get real about the impact of her Government’s policies on real people’s lives. Since April 2016, the price of butter has gone up by 23%; of sugar by 17%; and of bread by 11%. Benefits, however, have been frozen at 2015-16 prices. Why will she not take action to lift this punitive benefit freeze for its final year?

The hon. Lady has focused on an important driver of these statistics: the surprising rise of inflation. In the year in question, inflation was 2.8% when it was not expected to be. That was one of the factors contributing to the rise in the number of people in poverty in that year. However, I believe that the changes that we have made since then will help to address that, so that people can have higher levels of consumer purchasing power at home.

I thank the Secretary of State for prior sight of her statement, for the sentiment in it and for her commitment to reducing child poverty.

My family was once relatively comfortable: we were three children, and my father was working. But that changed. Overnight, we became a single-parent family with three children, and the two-child cap could have driven my mother and the three of us into poverty. Will the Secretary of State look at how the cap can be modified to allow for the fact that people are not always aware of what the future holds when they have their children?

I recognise that for single parents it can be hard to manage on funds, and to manage childcare and being able to access work. That is why I am pleased that one of the things that the Government have done is to increase the amount of free childcare that is available. I hope that a single mother in that situation would be able to access more work than she would otherwise have been able to do.

The statistics show that pensioner poverty by all measures is up by 100,000. The Government are trying to cut thousands of pounds each from disadvantaged older people through the pension credit changes. Will the Secretary of State give the House a vote on those changes, and can she explain why the Government consistently attack and abandon older people, not least women born in the 1950s?

Because of the triple lock, we have protected pensioners’ income. Over the past three decades, pensioner poverty has halved. They are most respected by the Government and we know that we must always look after pensioners.

I say to Members on both sides of the House that universal credit is helping people to get into jobs, with work coaches having a personal approach to individuals. If they have not had the opportunity to engage with their work coaches in jobcentres, I urge them to do so. We know that that work is being successful: Joseph Rowntree recently said to us that 300,000 people are likely to come out of poverty as a result of universal credit. That is good progress, and we will continue to build on that.