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Support for People on Low Incomes: Covid-19

Volume 685: debated on Tuesday 1 December 2020

The Government’s approach throughout the pandemic has been to try to support all families, but especially those on low incomes. We have announced a £30 billion plan for jobs to help people back into work, alongside wider measures including the furlough schemes, plus catch-up funding for schools and a substantial increase to the welfare safety net for this year, but it is important to say too that the Government are also supporting the lowest paid by increasing the national living wage to £8.91 and providing a minimum £250 pay increase for public sector workers earning less than £24,000 a year.

I welcome the national living wage and minimum wage rates going up in April despite the difficult economic backdrop. Does my right hon. Friend agree, however, that what happens to people on low incomes is not just about what Government do? It is also about what employers do, and we need them to provide good work with the right number of hours and the right skills and progression strategies, because that is what will help people on low incomes to earn more.

I certainly agree with my hon. Friend that it is important to focus on skills, and of course that is what the plan for jobs does. Our goal is to try to make sure that everyone, at whatever stage of life, has the opportunity and encouragement to improve their position in employment, and of course we also want employers to support them in doing that. It is well known that supportive and encouraging employers ultimately have more productive workforces because of the extra engagement they get. That is why the Department for Work and Pensions launched the in-work progression commission in order to try to understand better what those barriers to advancement might be and how they can be overcome both by the support of Government and by changes to the way in which employers develop and encourage staff.

In addition to the extra support provided during this pandemic, as my right hon. Friend has already said, the introduction of a national living wage and changes to the tax system have ensured that the lowest paid are up to £6,000 per year better off under this Government. Does he agree that protecting those people who are in work but on low incomes must remain an absolute priority for this Government when difficult decisions have to be made at the Budget?

We certainly, of course, share the view that it is important—very important—to protect the low-paid. The purpose of supporting them through the national living wage was precisely in order to raise their incomes, and that increase is worth some £345 a year for a full-time worker. However, it is also important to say that the Government remain fully committed to their longer-term target for the national living wage, which will make an enormous contribution itself towards ending low pay in the UK, and that is before, as I have mentioned, the support we are giving to 2.1 million public sector workers earning less than £24,000 a year.