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Covid-19: Economic Effect

Volume 684: debated on Wednesday 25 November 2020

What discussions she has had with the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the economic effect of the covid-19 outbreak on (a) women, (b) disabled people and (c) Black, Asian and minority ethnic people. (909384)

What discussions she has had with the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the economic effect of the covid-19 outbreak on (a) women, (b) disabled people and (c) Black, Asian and minority ethnic people. (909387)

The pandemic has affected all communities in our country. This Government have done their utmost to protect lives and livelihoods. We have targeted economic support at those who need it most. For example, rolling out unprecedented levels of economic support worth over £200 billion has provided a much needed lifeline for those working in shut-down sectors such as retail and hospitality, the workforces in which are disproportionately young, female and from a black, Asian or minority ethnic background. We have taken action to ensure that disabled people have access to disability benefits, financial support and employment support, such as the Work and Health programme, and we have extended the self-employment income support scheme, in which some ethnic minorities are disproportionately represented.

Analysis of the labour force survey by the Institute for Fiscal Studies found that the shut-down sectors worst affected by the pandemic have a higher than average proportion of workers who are women, who are disabled and who are from BAME backgrounds. In Salford, where this economic picture is stark, the number of people claiming universal credit has more than doubled since January. Will the Minister, first, commit to demanding that the Chancellor strengthens support to those struggling, as advised by the Social Security Advisory Committee, such as protecting the £20 universal credit uplift and extending it to people on legacy benefits? Secondly, will she request bespoke financial support packages for the worst hit sectors?

The hon. Lady will be aware that the Chancellor will be announcing his spending review this afternoon, and I think she will find that many of the questions she is asking will be answered at that point. With respect to the sectors that have been shut down, as I said in my first answer, we recognise that those people who are on low incomes have been disproportionately affected, and those groups are the ones who have most benefited from the interventions that the Treasury has put in place.

Nearly one in seven people in Coventry are now on universal credit. That is a 97% increase since March. Low earnings, higher rates of poverty and greater need mean that women, BAME communities and disabled people rely more on UC and the social security system. Fixing it, from scrapping the two-child limit and benefit cap to an uplift in payments, is a question of gender, racial and disability justice. What has the Minister done to push for these measures in today’s spending review, including keeping the £20 UC uplift from April 2021 and extending it to jobseeker’s allowance and employment support allowance?

I am afraid that, as I said in my earlier answer, questions about the spending review need to be asked to during the spending review, which will take place later this afternoon.

We know that we went into the pandemic with female employment at a record level and with the disability employment gap shrinking. Will my hon. Friend update the House on the work that she is undertaking with the Department for Work and Pensions to make sure that women, disabled people and BAME people are not disadvantaged when we come out of the pandemic?

As we discussed at the Women and Equalities Committee a few weeks ago, this is something that the Government Equalities Office is very much alive to. I am working with equalities Ministers across various Departments to see how the interventions that we are making are not going to impact on those groups who are most vulnerable, and I will continue to update her on that work.

Thank you, Mr Speaker.

There are over 600,000 people in work who are clinically extremely vulnerable. Current shielding guidance states that if they cannot work from home, they should not go to their usual place of work, but this does not entitle them to be furloughed. This means that many disabled people have had to ask their employer to put them on furlough in order to receive financial support. Where employers have refused to do so, an estimated 22% of disabled employees have had to choose between their lives and their livelihoods. Does the Minister think that this is fair?

As the hon. Lady will know, the pandemic has affected many different groups in very bad ways, and we have done everything we can to support them. Specifically on disabled people, we have done quite a lot in looking at the benefits that they have and providing support in many other ways, including employment support. These are the ways that we are protecting those people who are being disproportionately impacted. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work, who is also in the House today, is going to be answering more questions on our disabled strategy, and perhaps he will be able to provide more information specifically from a Department for Work and Pensions perspective.