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Low-paid Workers: Wages Increase

Volume 674: debated on Tuesday 24 March 2020

Low-paid workers will continue to benefit from above-average pay rises, with the national living wage set to reach two thirds of median earnings and to be extended to workers aged 21 and over by 2024, providing economic conditions allow. That is projected to benefit nearly 4 million low-paid workers.

I thank the Minister for that response and for everything he is doing to protect jobs in Peterborough and across the country. I was proud to stand on our manifesto in December and, in particular, on our commitment to protect the low paid. The Government have taken vital steps in the short term to protect jobs. Will he confirm that this Budget is also providing a £200 tax cut for the typical family in Peterborough?

Absolutely. I can confirm to my hon. Friend that a typical employee will be about £104 better off next year through the cut in national insurance and the freeze in fuel and alcohol duties, and the abolition of other taxes, such as the tampon tax, will also be of benefit to many of his constituents, for whom he has been fighting hard since he came to this place.

Many low-paid workers are self-employed. When I raised this matter with the Leader of the House yesterday, he said:

“The Government are inevitably conscious that when we close places by order and that has an effect on people’s livelihoods, there is a societal responsibility.”—[Official Report, 23 March 2020; Vol. 674, c. 27.]

Many of these low-paid self-employed people work in the music industry. I know that we have an urgent question coming up, but I say to the Minister that they will be looking for more reassurance than we have heard so far this morning that the Government are going to introduce a scheme and do it soon.

My right hon. Friend the Chancellor has set out clearly not only the range of measures that we have taken but our determination to come up with an enduring solution that addresses the range of challenges. The whole Treasury team is fully aware of how distressing and challenging people are finding it out there and we are working as fast as we can to come up with a solution that works for everyone.

If the current coronavirus and financial crisis has taught us one thing, it is that we need to look again at zero-hours contracts and the difficulty that they put many of our constituents in. I very much welcome the measures that have been brought forward on support for businesses and employees, and I very much hope that we will hear about support for the self-employed in the response to the urgent question this afternoon, but there is a lot of concern among zero-hours workers. Will the Minister outline what support the Government are going to bring forward for zero-hours workers in Glasgow East?

If they are on pay-as-you-earn, they are eligible for the job-retention scheme, but the hon. Gentleman makes a fair point about the range of concerns that exist, and we continue to look carefully at what we can do to enhance the measures that have already been announced. He will be aware of the enhancements to the welfare package—my right hon. Friend the Chancellor has announced that an additional £6.5 billion has been put in so far—and we will continue to look at what more can be done.

I encourage the Minister not to make the perfect the enemy of the good in the design of the scheme. Many self-employed workers are worrying about their inability to put food on the table this week. They are finding the universal credit system completely overwhelmed, so I encourage Ministers to announce the scheme and make sure that the cash gets through. It has to be soon; otherwise, people are going to be in real hardship.

The hon. Gentleman makes a reasonable point. That issue is why we have tried to move forward on interventions that could be done quickly and have done them as quickly as we can. In respect of universal credit, we have increased the UC standard allowance from £317.82 to £409.89 per month for single claimants. We have increased the local housing allowance, we have relaxed the earnings rules for self-employed UC claimants, and we will continue to look at every measure that we can to make an impact in the lives of those people who are suffering as the hon. Gentleman describes.

The Minister talks about looking at every measure that we can, but the Chancellor just appeared to rule out a universal minimum basic income. Is that not quite disappointing? The way to answer these questions—the way to avoid thousands of people being laid off, ending up on universal credit and potentially getting trapped in the benefits system—is to provide a minimum income guarantee for everyone. That would also help to provide a fiscal stimulus in the economy once we start to get through this crisis.

My right hon. Friend the Chancellor set out clearly the reasons why we have some concerns about, and indeed would not want to have, that universal guarantee. We want to make sure that the interventions we make are targeted at those who are most in need at this time, and not giving money unnecessarily to people who are wealthy.