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Written Statements

Volume 684: debated on Wednesday 25 November 2020

Written Statements

Wednesday 25 November 2020

Cabinet Office

Covid-19: UK-Wide Christmas Arrangements

On 24 November 2020, agreement was reached between the UK Government and the devolved Administrations in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland on a time-limited change to social contact restrictions over the Christmas period.

Christmas is an important time of year for many people in the UK. Regardless of faith, the Christmas period is a time spent with family and friends while schools and offices are closed. Covid-19 continues, however, to pose a very real and ongoing threat. It will not be possible to take full advantage of the winter holiday season and to celebrate Christmas in the normal way. There will be some hard choices for families and friends, and there will be situations where it is not possible to gather in the way many usually would.

In this context, the UK Government and the devolved Administrations have reached agreement on a single set of UK-wide measures to help people come together with their loved ones in a way that is as safe as possible.

Between 23 and 27 December, up to three households will be able to join together to form an exclusive Christmas “bubble”.

Everyone can be in one bubble only, and cannot change bubble during this time period (the only exemption to this being children (aged under 18) of separated parents).

People (e.g. nannies, cleaners, tradespeople) can continue to work in someone’s home where necessary during this period. To reduce risk, they should observe social distancing wherever possible, and where it can be avoided should not go into homes that are hosting Christmas bubbles.

A Christmas bubble will be able to spend time together in private homes, attend places of worship, or meet in a public outdoor place.

Travel restrictions across the UK will be lifted to allow people to travel to form their bubble. Beyond this, people should follow local restrictions in the area they are staying.

Students who move home from university for the holidays will count as part of their family’s household, and in England an existing support bubble will count as one household.

Even where it is within the rules, meeting with friends and family over Christmas will be a matter of personal judgement for individuals, mindful of the risks to themselves and others. People should reduce unnecessary contact socially with people they do not live with as much as possible in the two weeks before they form their Christmas bubble. Everyone should think carefully about what they do during this period, balancing some increased social contact with the need to keep the risk of increased transmission of the virus as low as possible. This is particularly important when considering those who are vulnerable and elderly.

The clinically extremely vulnerable can form a Christmas bubble, but it is a personal choice and should be balanced against the increased risk of infection for those people. Given the additional risks, visits out of care homes should only be considered for care home residents of working age, where the home is in agreement, and when an individual risk assessment has been completed.

Parents should continue to send their children to school, and students should continue to attend college, in line with local guidance. The UK’s four chief medical officers continue to advise that the best place for children and young people is in education. There is no need for children to be taken out of school early.

It is essential that everyone follows the rules applicable to where they are in the UK. In England, that means continuing to follow the local tiers that will apply from 2 December. It will be particularly important for everyone to follow the social distancing guidelines in the new year and the start of January 2021. Historically, this period is when the NHS sees the greatest pressure on services such as accident and emergency, and the highest rates of bed occupancy, and this year the NHS is dealing with covid-19 as well.

While it will not be a normal Christmas, this UK-wide agreement should offer hope for families and friends who have made many sacrifices over this difficult year.

Guidance on the UK-wide Christmas arrangements and how they apply in England can be found on gov.uk; the devolved Administrations will similarly be updating their guidance—at gov.scot, gov.wales, and nidirect.gov.uk.

[HCWS601]

Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

Contingencies Fund Advance: Covid-19 Business Support

I hereby give notice of the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy having drawn an advance from the Contingencies Fund totalling £2,262,587,000 to enable expenditure on covid-19 support packages for business to be spent ahead of the passage of the Supply and Appropriation Bill in March 2021. The schemes are:

Local Restrictions Support Grant (LRSG) (closed) and (open) schemes

Additional Restrictions Grant (ARG) scheme.

Local Restrictions Support Grant (closed) scheme

Local Restrictions Support Grant (open) scheme

Additional Restrictions Grant scheme

RDEL

Total

£m

1,005.4

126.3

1,130.9

2,262.6

The funding is urgently required to support businesses during the coronavirus pandemic.

Parliamentary approval for additional resources of £2,262,587,000 will be sought in a supplementary estimate for the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. Pending that approval, urgent expenditure estimated at £2,262,587,000 has been met by repayable cash advances from the Contingencies Fund.

The cash advance will be repaid upon receiving Royal Assent on the Supply and Appropriation Bill.

[HCWS604]

Treasury

Contingencies Fund Advance

HM Revenue and Customs will incur new expenditure in connection with the Government’s response to the covid-19 pandemic in 2020-21.

Parliamentary approval for additional resources of £21,715,000,000 will be sought in a supplementary estimate for HM Revenue and Customs. Pending that approval, urgent expenditure estimated at £21,715,000,000 will be met by repayable cash advances from the Contingencies Fund.

In line with the latest OBR forecasts, further requests to the Contingencies Fund may be made as necessary to fund covid-19 activity delivered by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs.

[HCWS603]

Tax Credits, Child Benefit and Guardian's Allowance

The Government will bring forward regulations that will increase most tax credits rates and thresholds and will increase the Child Benefit and Guardian’s Allowance rates in line with the general rise in prices as measured by the September 2020 Consumer Price Index (CPI). CPI has been the default inflation measure for the Government’s statutory annual review of benefits since 2011.

The annual uprating of benefits will take place for tax credits from the start of the new tax year and for Child Benefit and Guardian’s Allowance in the first full week of the 2021-22 tax year. In 2021, this will be 6 April for tax credits and 12 April for Child Benefit and Guardian’s Allowance.

The Government are committed to supporting those who need it most. The annual up-rating process takes into account a variety of measures:

The majority of elements and thresholds in Working Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit will be increased by September’s CPI figure (0.5%) from April 2021. In line with established practice and the Office for Budget Responsibility’s expectations in their welfare forecast, the maximum rate of the childcare element, the family element, the withdrawal rate and the income disregards will remain unchanged.

The 0.5% increase will be applied to the rate of the Working Tax Credit basic element announced by written ministerial statement on 4 November 2019 (£1,995). The statutory annual review of benefits is separate from the temporary £20 per week uplift to the Working Tax Credit basic element and the Universal Credit standard allowance, which was announced as a temporary measure in March 2020, and enacted for one year under different legislation in response to the public health emergency. As we have done throughout this crisis, we will continue to assess how best to support low-income families, which is why we will look at the economic and health context in the new year.

Child Benefit will be increased in line with CPI (0.5%) from April 2021.

As set out in legislation, Guardian’s Allowance will be uprated in line with prices, measured by CPI (0.5%).

The full list of proposed benefit and credit rates will be placed in the Libraries of the House in due course.

[HCWS599]

Retail Prices Index Methodology: Government and UK Statistics Authority Joint Consultation Response

Today, the Government and UK Statistics Authority have published the response to their joint consultation on the reform to Retail Prices Index (RPI) methodology. The consultation response document can be found at the following address: https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/aconsultation-on-the-reform-to-retail-prices-index-rpi-methodology.

A copy of the consultation response has been deposited in the Library of the House.

[HCWS602]

Work and Pensions

Social Security Benefit and Pension Up-rating 2021-22

I have concluded my statutory annual review of benefit and state pension rates. The new rates will apply in the tax year 2021-22, and come into effect on 12 April 2021. The Social Security (Uprating of Benefits) Act 2020 enables me to increase the basic and new state pensions and the standard minimum guarantee in pension credit by providing a discretion to increase them for one year even though there has been no growth in earnings.

State pensions will be increased by 2.5%, in line with the Government’s manifesto commitment. The full rate of the new state pension will now be worth £179.60 per week. The standard minimum guarantee in pension credit will also increase by the same cash amount as the basic state pension, rising by 1.9%.

All other benefits will be increased in line with CPI —which was 0.5% in the relevant reference period. This includes working-age benefits, benefits to help with additional needs arising from disability, carers’ benefits, pensioner premiums in income-related benefits, statutory payments, and additional state pension.

Separate to the uprating review, I can confirm that the increase to local housing allowance rates in April this year will be maintained in cash terms in 2021-22. The assumption in the forecast is that rates will remain at these levels in future years, subject to the Secretary of State reviewing annually in the usual way.

All of these pensions and benefits are transferred to Northern Ireland, and corresponding provision will be made there. Some of these benefits are devolved to Scotland; in respect of these, the Scottish Government will bring forward corresponding legislation in the Scottish Parliament.

The statutory annual review is separate from the temporary £20 per week uplift to universal credit and working tax credit, which was announced by the Chancellor as a temporary measure in March 2020, and enacted for one year under different legislation to support those facing the most financial disruption as a result of the public health emergency. As the Government have done throughout this crisis, they will continue to assess how best to support low-income families, which is why we will look at the economic and health context in the new year.

I will place the full list of proposed benefit and pension rates for 2021-22 in the Library of the House.

[HCWS600]