It has been less than two weeks since the Government launched the kickstart scheme, which will help thousands of young people on to a vital step on the jobs ladder. Thousands of employers have already expressed an interest and I am pleased that several have already had funding approved. Smaller organisations that do not expect to take on more than 30 kickstarters during the scheme will gain access to funding through an intermediary. I know that several organisations are applying to that gateway, for example Suffolk County Council and Suffolk chamber of commerce. We are having productive discussions with the Federation of Small Businesses, which very much wants to be part of the solution for small businesses and young people.
This is a Great Britain-wide £30 billion plan for jobs. I know that the Scottish Government are undertaking their own initiatives, but I am sure that my hon. Friend will want to ensure that we put the full efforts of the UK Government into helping people in Scotland get back into work.
I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. What steps is the Department taking to ensure that young people in Scotland are not disproportionately affected by the economic fall-out from covid-19, given that we were suffering from a higher rate of unemployment when the pandemic hit?
My hon. Friend is right to point out that Scotland was already starting to struggle with unemployment rates compared with other parts of the United Kingdom, but I want to assure him that we will not only work with kickstart, but ensure that we have a Scotland-specific job entry: targeted support—JETS—programme so that we can tackle people who perhaps need either support to pivot into different sectors, or intense support which recognises that they may have been unemployed for some time. We will ensure that the people of Scotland get the full support of the UK Government.
It is a tragic consequence of the pandemic that some families of NHS key workers have lost their loved ones to covid-19 after they contracted the virus while serving on the frontline. It is absolutely right that they receive compensation for that. May I ask the Secretary of State to justify the news that low-paid relatives who receive the compensation payment are to be stripped of their benefits? That is not the case with comparable payments such as the Grenfell and Windrush compensation schemes, so why are NHS families being treated in that way?
The hon. Gentleman will know that when people have a substantial amount of money—and I recognise the route he indicated on how they have received that—it usually takes them over the £16,000 threshold for support through the welfare system. He specifically referred to some other programmes, where it is absolutely acknowledged that there has been a complete failure within Government in that regard. I suggest to the hon. Gentleman that that is not the case regarding the NHS, but I am sure, as the NHS is a separate employer from the Government, it will continue to work with its employees and the relatives of people who have sadly died.
I find that answer lacking in reason and compassion. There was news this morning that the country’s largest food bank network has warned that UK destitution rates are set to double by Christmas. We know that the Government believe they deserve praise for the fact that universal credit has not collapsed like the test and trace system, but the real test of a social security system is whether it gives people the support they need. The food bank statistics prove that this is just not happening at the moment. Clearly that will get worse as the furlough scheme ends. We have set out our further suggestions on how to prevent the looming disaster. What are the Government’s plans to prevent it?
We have set out the unprecedented steps we took to ensure that vulnerable people would not go hungry as a result of the pandemic, focusing especially on children. While schools were closed to most children, free school meal vouchers were still in operation if schools could not provide a meal. Further support was given through the summer food fund, money was provided to food charities to help get food to people who were struggling, and 4.5 million food boxes were given to vulnerable people who were shielding. Together with the extra £9.3 billion in welfare support that has been given to households across the country, we believe that this is a strong way to have supported people in these difficult times.
First, no one will get away with giving false information. Those who are found to have been abusing the system are subject to the full extent of our enforcement powers. The Child Maintenance Service will pursue those people where appropriate. Parents were asked to report any changes via the self-service portal to ensure that receiving parents did not lose out in the long run. Cases will be updated and people will be notified of any changes. Where payments have been missed, the service will take action to re-establish compliance and collect any unpaid amounts that have accrued.
The National Audit Office told the Work and Pensions Committee two weeks ago that the “sophisticated” analysis of the Trussell Trust has established an association between universal credit roll-out on the one hand and rising food bank demand on the other. Association is not the same as causation, so what plans do the Government have to commission research, as the National Audit Office recommends, into the impact of universal credit on food bank demand?
I thank the Chairman of the Select Committee for his question. As he knows, I gave evidence to the Committee recently on this very matter. I have worked closely with food bank providers—the Trussell Trust and others—over the course of the pandemic to ensure that our support has got to those who need it quickly. We continue to better understand the reasons for food insecurity. That is why we have put additional questions in the family resources survey. We keep all policies under review, and of course we listen to the findings of reports such as that of the Trussell Trust.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We are investing £10 million of European social fund support to get 20,000 disadvantaged people across England who are without access to the internet online. People who receive ESF support will be loaned devices, such as a tablet or a laptop, and be provided with three months’ data allowance. That will enable them to access the increasing range of online services to support their job search and, importantly, their journey towards securing employment.
First, let us remind ourselves of where we were in January. We entered the pandemic with employment at a record high of 33 million.
It is on my list to visit: we will be up there to see what the local jobcentre is doing. We have an ambitious plan for jobs—£30 billion in the next phase of our recovery—to ensure we build back better, greener and stronger. Extending the furlough scheme will just keep people in suspended animation. I am absolutely determined to use my role to get back to where we were in January.
I could not be more excited about what we are doing near my hon. Friend’s constituency, which is a key local example of cross-Government and local partnership. We have an innovative and unique scheme, with the DWP, the Department for Transport and the Department for Education. Where people are being made redundant from the aviation industry or its supply chain, they will be able to pivot across to the film industry, bringing their skills to a growing and booming industry. That will be facilitated by our flexible support fund grant and involves key local partners, including Pinewood Studios, ScreenSkills, and the excellent Buckinghamshire local enterprise partnership and the M3 enterprise LEP.
We have had unprecedented Government intervention since we headed into the coronavirus crisis. Last week, I met G20 Ministers looking to learn from what we have done in the UK and, above all, learn about our next stage, which is our plan for jobs and the forthcoming £2 billion kickstart scheme. This is about moving forward, not holding people back or in suspended animation.
My hon. Friend asks an important question about our work with the business community and across the Government. The DWP has been an integral player in the development of the plan for jobs. Together with my right hon. Friends the Secretaries of State for BEIS and for Education, we have had several roundtables with the business community and others to ensure that people who are looking to enter employment can develop skills and have additional funding, going down the apprenticeship or traineeship route, as well as kickstart. I am also in regular discussions with other Cabinet colleagues on the creation of new opportunities wherever possible.
I thank the hon. Lady for her question. The Department has an ongoing positive relationship with a range of food bank providers. It has regularly engaged with them throughout the coronavirus pandemic and will continue to do so. We quickly introduced welfare changes worth an additional £9.3 billion, and worked closely with other Government Departments on the cross-Government taskforce on food and other essential supplies. Further to my earlier answer, the hon. Lady will have to wait for future fiscal events where benefit rates are set.
My hon. Friend rightly pays tribute to the incredible team at Harrogate Jobcentre Plus. As he knows, we have seen a surge of over 3 million claims since mid-March, and I agree that UC has stood up to the challenge, with payment timeliness remaining high at over 90%. We will continue to closely monitor our services across the country and will continue to keep staff numbers under review. As he also knows, we have committed to doubling the number of work coaches.
As a Government, we absolutely recognise the support that carers provide. We have made a number of changes during covid-19 to maintain that support, including allowing emotional support and allowing for breaks due to covid. By 2024-25, we expect to be spending £3.6 billion supporting carers, which will be more than double that spent when we first came to office.
I thank my hon. Friend for raising kickstart. This is a huge programme for young people, providing 25 hours a week and an opportunity to get their first foot on the employment ladder. We do not want our young people to be left behind because of the impact of the pandemic—we know that the scarring can affect them most. Kickstart will change that, and I ask all employers to get involved and be part of it.
We rightly took a decision to suspend face-to-face assessments following Public Health England’s guidance. We continue to keep this under review, but wherever possible, we are either doing a paper-based review or a telephone assessment, and we are automatically renewing reassessments that are due within three months by six months, and we review that on a regular basis.
I go back to our £30 billion plan for jobs. We have to move forward, absolutely understanding what we learned coming into this pandemic—that we have the highest employment rate going. Going back to square one for some of these people is a real challenge. That is why we have stopped the minimum income floor for people who are self-employed and we are supporting people to get back into work. I understand what the hon. Gentleman is asking, but we need to focus on the plan for jobs —a £30 billion scheme, with interventions coming down the line. We need to move forward and give people hope.