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Work and Pensions

Volume 695: debated on Monday 17 May 2021

The Secretary of State was asked—

PIP Application Process

We are currently reviewing the application process for all personal independence payment claimants. Building on our covid response PIP 2 online service, whereby claimants can receive and submit their PIP 2 online, we are in the early stages of developing a new end-to-end application process and plan to test it later this year.

As we return to normality, what steps are being taken to ensure that PIP claimants are assessed promptly, so that those in need of support can access it as quickly as possible?

I am conscious that my hon. Friend has raised some specific cases directly with me. As we return to normality, we have received more claims than normal. We are working hard to get through those as quickly as possible, with average clearance times slightly up from 16 to 19 weeks. As face-to-face assessments start to return, those unable to be assessed through paper-based reviews, telephone or video assessments will be prioritised.

Support for Tenants with Rent Arrears

What steps her Department is taking to ensure that the welfare system helps support tenants with rent arrears to sustain their tenancies. (900001)

At the start of the pandemic, we invested almost £1 billion in local housing allowance rates, and we have made £140 million available in discretionary housing payment funding for local authorities in England and Wales, to support those struggling with housing costs. We continue to work closely with the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government to support people to sustain their tenancies.

I thank the Minister for that answer. Would he accept, however, that there are many tenants who, through no fault of their own, will be in significant rent arrears and therefore facing eviction in the next few months, and will he therefore work on a cross-Government basis to find a solution that means those arrears can be cleared over a sensible period and those tenancies secured?

I thank my hon. Friend for his question. We continue to work very closely with the MHCLG to find long-term solutions to housing challenges. Work coaches are trained to identify people with potential housing issues and to provide tailored support, including referrals to homelessness services or debt advice. Discretionary housing payments are available, and the Government will make available a £310 million homelessness prevention grant for local authorities. However, I would of course be very happy to meet my hon. Friend to discuss what further measures we may be able to take.

With the end of the eviction ban imminent, more than half of claimants needing help with housing costs face a shortfall between the help available and their actual rent—£100 a month in the case of universal credit claimants. The Government always say that discretionary housing payments are the answer to these shortfalls, so can the Minister explain to us why discretionary housing payments have suffered a real-terms cut and will be lower this year than they were before the pandemic?

I thank the hon. Lady for that question. We take this issue incredibly seriously. That is why we pumped an additional nearly £1 billion into the local housing allowance and have frozen it in cash terms for a further year, and why we have the two-week run-on of housing benefit, direct payments to landlords available, £140 million in DHPs, the homelessness prevention grant, work coach support and, of course, Money and Pensions Service support. We stand ready to support any tenant who needs that support to sustain their tenancy and prevent homelessness.

Covid-19: Support with Essential Living Costs

What steps her Department is taking to support people with essential living costs during the covid-19 outbreak. (900002)

The Government are delivering an unprecedented package of support, injecting billions into the welfare system. This includes a £20 uplift to universal credit and a one-off payment of £500 to working tax credit recipients, as well as rolling out our covid local support grant scheme, worth over £260 million to local authorities.

As a good Conservative, I believe in devolution, and I think local government is far better placed than national Government to provide emergency support. Does my hon. Friend the Minister agree with me, and if not, why not?

I thank my hon. Friend for his question, and I do agree with him that the Government do not always know best. Actually, very often local authorities are best placed to decide how to allocate local funding to meet local need. That is why we moved quickly to implement innovative schemes during the pandemic, including the covid winter grant scheme and the local welfare assistance scheme. I have to say that, in his own constituency, Staffordshire County Council has spent the £3 million it was awarded on some really innovative projects, including oil heaters, warmth packs and, of course, food to support vulnerable families during the school holidays, meeting our objective of ensuring that vulnerable families would stay warm and well fed over the winter.

Hard-working, law-abiding families without indefinite leave to remain have not had as much support as others during the covid-19 outbreak because of the effect of the no recourse to public funds condition. Some of those families have been able to benefit from the job retention scheme, so how will they be supported after that scheme closes in September?

The right hon. Member knows that we are restricted, as per legislation, in what we can do in relation to the benefits system and those with no recourse to public funds. I know this is an issue that he cares very passionately about and has raised numerous times. I would certainly be very happy to raise this issue with the Immigration Minister—the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Torbay (Kevin Foster)—and if we have a meeting, I will certainly invite the right hon. Member along.

Universal Credit Uplift

What recent assessment she has made of the potential effect of removing the £20 uplift to universal credit on recipients of that benefit. (900003)

What recent assessment she has made of the potential effect of removing the £20 uplift to universal credit on recipients of that benefit. (900010)

Since the start of the pandemic, the Government’s priority has been to protect lives and people’s livelihoods. In March, the Government announced that we were extending the temporary £20-a-week increase in universal credit for a further six months. It is right that the Government should now shift our focus to supporting people back into work, and we have a comprehensive plan for jobs to help us to achieve this.

This Tory Government chose to cut the lifeline of the £20 universal credit uplift in October, at the worst possible time, clashing with the withdrawal of the furlough scheme which the Office for Budget Responsibility warned will lead to UK unemployment levels peaking, hitting young people particularly hard. Will the Minister apologise to those whom his Government have pushed into further poverty and ask the Chancellor to do the decent thing and keep £20 uplift and extend it to legacy benefits?

The Government have always been clear that the £20 increase was a temporary measure to support households affected by the economic shock of covid-19. I am pleased to say that there have been significant positive developments in the public health situation since the increase was first announced, including the hugely successful vaccine roll-out. I have to repeat that it is therefore right that the Government should now shift focus to supporting people back into work and to progress in work, and we have a comprehensive plan via our £30 billion plan for jobs that will help us achieve this.

The Trussell Trust reports that hunger in the United Kingdom is not about access to food, but about low incomes from the social security safety net, revealing that 95% of people referred to food banks in early 2020 were living in destitution, with just £248 a month on average to survive on after housing costs. Does the Minister recognise that removing the £20 uplift to universal credit later this year will only push more families into hardship and deprivation across the United Kingdom?

No one in this House wants to see anyone in this country reliant on a food bank, and the Secretary of State and I are working across Government to identify and tackle the root causes of food insecurity and poverty. In the meantime, we continue to spend over £100 billion a year on benefits for working-age people, and during the pandemic we have pumped an additional £7.4 billion into our welfare system to support those facing the most financial disruption. But I hope the hon. Gentleman will agree that it is right that we now shift our focus to supporting people back into work, because all evidence suggests that work is the best route out of poverty, and we have a comprehensive plan to do this via our £30 billion plan for jobs.

Since 2010 poverty has risen significantly in all parts of the UK, so much so that, despite having a job, one in eight workers are living in poverty under this Conservative Government. Given that the Government are adamant that they will make this cut to universal credit, which will affect people in work, should we understand that despite the Prime Minister’s levelling-up agenda, in-work poverty will continue to rise?

We take this issue incredibly seriously, which is why we have the In-Work Progression Commission, which is due to report back soon, and why we spend over £100 billion a year supporting people of working age through the benefit system and put an £7.4 billion into the welfare system over the course of the pandemic to support those facing the most financial disruption. But I have to say to the hon. Gentleman that he knows that the best route out of poverty is work. All the evidence suggests that that is the case; that is why all the efforts of this Government will be about, yes, ensuring that we have a strong, robust welfare safety net but also that the focus is on jobs, jobs, jobs—and through our £30 billion plan for jobs we will achieve that.

I say to the Minister that work is the best route out of poverty but it has not been working for the last 11 years, and the evidence is there for all to see.

Many disabled people are worse off on universal credit than under the old legacy systems. Ministers know this because they were forced to introduce transitional protections and, when speaking in this Chamber, always urge people to use a benefits calculator when applying in case moving to universal credit would cost them money. Keeping the universal credit uplift would go some of the way, although not all the way, towards mitigating this unfairness, so if the universal credit cut goes ahead what is the Government’s proposed solution for these disabled people—or is this yet another area where the Government actually plan to level down?

The opposite is in fact the case. Many of those with a disability will be better off on universal credit, and it is important, as the hon. Gentleman suggests, that they go on a benefits calculator—one of the independent benefits calculators on—and check their eligibility. Labour Members—and the hon. Gentleman is no exception —regularly come to this House and ask for many billions of pounds more to be spent on benefits after the pandemic. Let us be clear: that is exactly what the hon. Gentleman is asking for when he refers to the universal credit uplift. I have to say that we fundamentally disagree with Labour’s approach. It is an approach that under the last Labour Government left a generation trapped on benefits and in poverty, incentivised not to work, and left children growing up in workless households, and we know what that meant for their life chances. Work is the best route out of poverty, and that is why we have put jobs and supporting people into work at the heart of everything we do. The difference could not be clearer: Labour’s focus is on billions of pounds more on benefits and the Government’s focus is on jobs, jobs, jobs.

It is not just the SNP, the Work and Pensions Committee and a range of stakeholders who are urging the UK Government to make the £20 uplift permanent, but 100 Conservative MPs in the Tory Reform Group and the one nation caucus. Is the Minister really saying that he disagrees with 100 of his own MPs who say it would be wrong to slash £1,000 a year from household budgets just as we are coming out of the teeth of this pandemic?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question and welcome him to his place. Throughout this pandemic, this Government have consistently stepped up to support the lowest-paid, poorest and most vulnerable in our society. During the pandemic, the focus has rightly been on ensuring that people facing the most financial disruption got the support that they needed as quickly as possible, but all evidence suggests that work is the best route out of poverty. We had a jobs miracle before the pandemic, and with the help of our £30 billion plan for jobs, the support of business and creating the right environment, we will do so again. That is exactly why we shift our focus to supporting people back into work and to progress in work. We are doing that with the extra 13,500 work coaches in our jobcentres up and down the country and our £30 billion comprehensive plan for jobs.

Prison Leavers: Support into Employment

We are committed to cross-Government working to help prison leavers into work and to reduce reoffending. In support of the Prime Minister’s crime and justice taskforce, we are funding an additional 30 prison work coaches, bringing the total up to 200, to go into prisons after covid restrictions are lifted with a focus on both gaining employment and accessing benefits promptly, to remove excuses for prison leavers to return immediately to crime.

Northern College in my constituency is a resident education college that gives disadvantaged adults a second chance at adult education. Many students are former prisoners, but thanks to the college’s outstanding tuition and pastoral support, they go on to achieve educational success and secure well-paid employment. Sadly, the funding for such colleges is under threat, so will my right hon. Friend work with colleagues in the Department for Education to secure the future of Northern College and ensure that former prisoners continue to have access to this amazing opportunity to turn their lives around?

I thank my hon. Friend for raising this important issue. I will absolutely share her concerns on the specific college to which she refers, Northern College. As I say, the Government are committed to helping ex-offenders to re-establish themselves back into the community and into work. As part of the Government taskforce, though, I am very keen to help prisoners get the right job skills while they are still in prison so they can walk straight out of prison into the world of work. However, the elements to which she refers will continue to be important in ensuring that people stay in jobs and succeed in jobs.

In-work Poverty

Analysis shows that prior to the pandemic, the poorest 20% of households saw their incomes increase by over 6% in 2019-20, even after taking account of inflation. Since the pandemic hit, we have strengthened the welfare system, spending £7.4 billion on measures such as the universal credit uplift, on top of additional support such as the coronavirus job retention scheme and the self-employment income support scheme. Her Majesty’s Treasury analysis has shown that the Government’s unprecedented support package means that working working-age households in the bottom 10% of the income distribution have seen no income reduction.

I am not at all surprised that the Minister’s answer bears little resemblance to the reality. Even pre-pandemic, 75% of children living in poverty lived in a household where at least one person worked. A recent NHS England-funded report found that around 700 child deaths could be avoided each year by reducing deprivation rates. Under this Government, work is no longer a route out of poverty. Why is that?

I thank the hon. Lady for her question, and I know the passion with which she raises the issue. We have measures in place to tackle in-work poverty, and we intend to go further: whether it is our 13,500 additional work coaches in Jobcentre Plus up and down our country, kickstart or restart, or our £30 billion plan for jobs, it will help tackle in-work poverty through progression in work. In addition, we have the In-Work Progression Commission, which will report in the coming months on the barriers to progression for those in persistent low pay and, importantly, set out a strategy for overcoming them.

I have lost count of the number of times the Minister said all the evidence suggests that work is the best route out of poverty. We agree, in that the last Labour Government showed how it could be done, but under this Government it is simply not true, is it? As we have just heard from my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mrs Lewell-Buck), 75% of children living in poverty are in a family where at least one parent is at work. Getting a low-paid and insecure job is not a route out of poverty if parents cannot afford childcare and housing, and if their universal credit will be cut. What is the Government’s strategy for making sure that work does pay?

I thank the hon. Lady for her question, but the statistics show that full-time work substantially reduces the chance of poverty. The absolute poverty rate of a child where both parents work full time is 3% compared with 47% where one or more parents are in part-time work. That is why we are supporting people into full-time work wherever possible, for example through our comprehensive childcare offer. As I said, we had a jobs miracle before the pandemic, and, through our £30 billion plan for jobs and with the help of businesses up and down our country, we will again. Part of that is having a welfare system that encourages and incentivises work. With universal credit, that is exactly what we have.

In my Rochdale constituency, no ward has fewer than one in five children living in poverty. Some wards have over half of all children living in poverty, and the bulk of those have parents who are working. That is a scandal. What is also a scandal is that the Minister insists that work always pays and keeps people out of poverty. It does not. What can he say to my constituents to assure them that they will be part of a genuine levelling-up process, with money in their pockets and their children not living in poverty?

When the opportunity allows, I would be delighted to visit the hon. Gentleman’s constituency. I would say to him, however, that a child growing up in a home where all the adults are working is around five times less likely to be in poverty than a child in a household where nobody works. That is why our relentless focus is on supporting and empowering people into work, and progressing in work. As I said, we have a benefits system with universal credit, unlike the system proposed by Labour, that incentivises and encourages work—that is the key.

Over the years, Ministers have parroted the same lines over and over again on poverty, which is that work is the route out of it. Elements of the right-wing media have been trying to unscrupulously label hard-working people as scroungers from the welfare state, yet the true legacy of a decade of Tory Government is that the number of households in poverty where at least one adult is working increased by almost 2 million people. What are the Government going to do to rectify that unacceptable situation and ensure that hard-working Brits get a decent wage?

I have been absolutely clear. The evidence suggests that work is the best route out of poverty and that is why, through our £30 billion plan for jobs, we plan to make that happen. We increased the national living wage and have taken millions of people out of income tax all together. We continue to take action on the cost of living and the Secretary of State is looking at further measures we can take in that regard, such as, for example, our childcare offer. As I said, our plan for jobs will be game-changing and I hope the hon. Gentleman will get behind it. I will of course be very happy to meet him and businesses in Slough to see how we can make it happen.

Kickstart: Youth Unemployment

What recent assessment she has made of the effect of the kickstart scheme on levels of employment among young people. (900020)

Youth unemployment is down compared with 2010, currently standing at 575,000 young people, and we have the second-highest youth employment rate in the G7, second only to Canada. We are conscious of the scarring effects of long-term unemployment, which is why we developed kickstart as the flagship of our plan for jobs. Since its launch in September, over 200,000 jobs have been approved and over 20,000 young people have started their jobs. As our recovery continues, we expect to see many more starts in the next few weeks and months ahead.

I am afraid it is more damp squib than kickstart. An IT support and services company in my constituency started the much vaunted kickstart process on 15 September last year, with the expectation that it could recruit after 30 days. Eight months on, it still does not have anyone. Its conclusion: the scheme is pretty much a waste of everyone’s time and resources. Put simply, does this explain the fact that for every 25 young people who have lost their jobs over the past 12 months, kickstart has helped just one back into work?

It is fair to say that 20,000 people now have a salary coming in every week that they did not have before. I am sure that the employment Minister—the Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Sussex (Mims Davies)—will be happy to look into the specific circumstances of the role to which the hon. Gentleman refers. Young people are not compelled to apply for kickstart if they are already applying for other jobs as well as part of their conditionality, but I am sure that my hon. Friend the Minister will look further into the matter if the hon. Gentleman provides the details.

Suffolk’s gateway partnership has been very successful in promoting and rolling out the kickstart scheme, but to ensure that this initiative realises its full potential in supporting young people into work, it needs to be extended well beyond the end of this year. I would be most grateful if my right hon. Friend and Suffolk colleague confirmed whether she agrees with that conclusion and whether she is making representations to my right hon. Friend the Chancellor for funding to be provided at the forthcoming comprehensive spending review.

I thank my hon. Friend and neighbour, and, indeed, I commend Suffolk’s gateway partnership and have seen its success in my role as MP for Suffolk Coastal. There are no current plans to extend the kickstart scheme. We want to focus on delivering jobs for young people as soon as we can, and eligible young people will be able to start new kickstart jobs until the end of this year—December 2021. Like him, I am very keen to make sure that we fill the vacancies we have. We are starting to see our first graduates who are getting permanent roles and we need to evaluate what the best route is for beyond, in 2022.

May I say that this is going to be my last DWP questions in this role and thank the Minister for the constructive way that she has developed the relationship? I will be handing—

I am sorry, Mr Speaker, but I will be handing over to my hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough (Andy McDonald), on whose behalf I ask this question.

Last month’s data shows kickstart helping less than 4% of 16 to 24-year- olds who have lost their jobs over the last year. The scheme is nowhere near matching the scale of the challenge and, even worse, the Department, as has just been confirmed, still plans to end the scheme just as unemployment is set to peak. Employers speak of delays of weeks for vacancies to be approved and then advertised. It is almost a year since the Chancellor announced kickstart. There is no excuse for long-term unemployment becoming a legacy of the pandemic, so when are things going to change, and will the Secretary of State now urgently review the December kickstart end date in line with calls by Labour, the Confederation of British Industry and the Youth Employment Group, so that employers can also plan ahead?

First, I congratulate the hon. Lady on her new role; I understand that she is moving into the shadow Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy team and I am sure that she will be a huge success there, too.

In terms of kickstart, in the last four weeks, we have achieved, on average, 400 starts a day. This is in line with what we are seeing with the opening up of the economy. Today, we are on the first element of step 3, and we expect the starts under kickstart to get going. On the plan for jobs, we want to make sure that we properly evaluate all the measures to make sure that they achieve the ultimate goal of ensuring that as many people as possible are in work by the end of this year.

Kickstart: Thames Valley

What recent estimate she has made of the number of (a) successful and (b) total applications to the kickstart scheme in the Thames Valley region. (900008)

I can confirm that, as of 6 May, around 12,300 kickstart jobs had been made available for young people to apply for in the south-east of England region, and around 2,300 young people had already started in their new kickstart roles. Delivering the kickstart scheme at pace means that the DWP deal is still developing the tools to further break down the data on a more local level.

I thank the Minister for her answer. I agree that helping young people to get into work through this crisis is of paramount importance, but I was deeply concerned to hear, in a business roundtable organised by our local enterprise partnership, that that data is being gathered only at a regional level by the DWP. This means that the LEP and the councils cannot assess how well Oxfordshire is doing or measure the efficiency of any interventions that we might put in place to do even better. I thank her for her explanation, but can she give us any timeline on when we can have this data broken down to at least upper-tier council level? And can she meet me and officials so that we can understand how to ensure that young people make the most of this scheme?

I thank the hon. Lady for raising the issue of getting young people into work. As we heard from the Secretary of State, approximately 400 young people, on average, have been going into work per day for the past four weeks. I urge her to meet the Rose Hill youth hub, the newly launched DWP youth hub that covers her constituency and has been working with Oxford Jobcentre Plus from April, as well as Aspire, Activate and Oxford City Council. That will give her the insight that she needs about what is happening on the ground. She can also meet the local youth employability work coaches. We are breaking down the data as far as we can, but our priority right now is to get young people into those new roles.

Special Rules for Terminal Illness

The Department is committed to delivering an improved benefits system for claimants who are nearing the end of their lives, and is working across Government to bring forward proposals following the evaluation. I remain committed to implementing the key areas identified as soon as possible.

I have a constituent with incurable mantle cell lymphoma who does not meet the definition of terminal illness. She has been refused the personal independence payment, she is one year off her state pension, and because she owns a property that her disabled son lives in, she cannot claim means-tested benefits. She is in a dire financial situation. How much longer will she have to wait for the rules on terminal illness to be changed?

I thank the hon. Member for highlighting this. I do not know all the details, but if she is willing to share them, I would be very happy to look into that specific case. It highlights why we have carried out this vital evaluation, supported by stakeholders. The key three principles of improving awareness, consistency and scrapping the six-month rule remain a priority for our Department.

Employment: Young People

The new enhanced DWP youth offer has provided wraparound support for young people since September 2020, delivering employment and skills support and training through our youth employment programme, new youth hubs and additional youth employability work coaches. We currently have more than 110 new youth hubs operating digitally or physically, with at least one in every JCP district. We will have more than 140 physical youth hubs delivering face-to-face support as the covid restrictions are lifted further.

How is the Department encouraging businesses and other employers to sign up to these schemes so that we can create those vital jobs for 16 to 24-year-olds who might otherwise be long-term unemployed?

We are doing it non-stop, as my hon. Friend will be pleased to know. The DWP Lords Minister —my noble Friend Baroness Stedman-Scott—and I regularly attend stakeholder and outreach events to promote kickstart to employers. Last week, I spoke to more than 90 employers at an event partnering with MyKindaFuture, a mentoring platform. The team in my hon. Friend’s local jobcentre are working with local employers to support those most at risk of long-term unemployment through the new opportunities they need. I am pleased to share with my hon. Friend that they recently helped a young man who was struggling with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder to find a new kickstart job as a green keeper.

I have recently received correspondence from the learning and skills lead for automotive engineering at Lincoln College in my constituency, which is shortly due to hold Autoinform 14-19, a practical taster event that aims to allow young people to spend time in workshops with local employers and industry specialists looking at electric cars, acoustic vehicle alerting systems, diagnostic methods and the MOT test. One difficulty is securing schools’ buy-in with the scheme. How does my hon. Friend believe the Government can support organisations such as Lincoln College to ensure that we help as many young people into employment as possible?

The DWP’s partnerships on the ground with local labour markets are key to these new employment opportunities. I am pleased that Lincoln JCP is working in partnership with the Network, a charity that aims to prevent young people from becoming NEET—not in education, employment or training—and engages with and connects to wider support. Customers will also benefit from a key partnership locally with the DWP, Lincolnshire Chamber of Commerce and the Lincoln College Group, which have created many new opportunities for our young people within the new kickstart scheme.

The Government have brought in some brilliant measures to get young people into employment and I witnessed that at first hand on a visit to NORI HR. We are also hosting an education summit locally, and I welcome the support from our local training providers such as North Lancs Training Group, but can the Minister set out what measures are in place to help jobcentres and training providers to work together so that people are fully aware of all the opportunities available to them?

I thank my hon. Friend for raising that point, and I thank NORI HR for all its work. All MPs in this Chamber should take the opportunity to work with their local Jobcentre Plus team to support and promote kickstart. Locally, the DWP is working with employers such as NORI HR and also the Accrington Stanley community trust, which Members might have seen on “Football Focus” recently. The first cohort of employees started in March this year in a variety of kickstart roles including admin, sports coaching, youth work, site maintenance and leisure attendants. We are also working in partnership with the Hyndburn DWP youth hub to support our young people to be ready for these new kickstart roles.

Across Keighley and Ilkley, businesses care passionately about giving young people the skills they need for a successful career, and these include Byworth Boilers, an excellent business that offers apprenticeships to help local residents to take their first step on the career ladder. The desire from local businesses is there, but they often need Government help to turn this into a reality, so will my hon. Friend confirm how her Department is helping to give companies such as Byworth Boilers the chance to deliver for young people?

I am more than happy to support Byworth Boilers and all the local employers, and to extend my thanks to the businesses in my hon. Friend’s constituency and up and down the land that are putting forward opportunities to work with young people. I know that my hon. Friend works closely with the team at the Keighley jobcentre, who are in touch with many local employers including the Spoons Tearoom, Ideabean Software Technology and Superdrug, who are working together with the DWP to help to create new opportunities and progression for local jobseekers.

I thank my hon. Friend for her response. Young people have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic, given the high rates of unemployment in hospitality. Today I visited one of our local hotels, the Hilton Cobham, which has now fully reopened and is looking forward to welcoming the guests who enjoy Runnymede and Weybridge’s local attractions such as Thorpe Park, the Brooklands Museum and, of course, the birthplace of Magna Carta. Will my hon. Friend join me in welcoming the next step in lifting the restrictions and invite people to visit and stay in Runnymede and Weybridge, to go to our fantastic pubs and restaurants to eat, drink and be merry and to support—[Inaudible.]— economy and jobs?

I think I got the point; we all love a bit of Thorpe Park. I join my hon. Friend in welcoming the wider return of hospitality in the travel and hotel sectors. This will be a vital boost to our economy and local jobs. In my hon. Friend’s jobcentre, we have new kickstart roles advertised in various hospitality areas including golf at Foxhills Country Club and Resort, sports and leisure through the RunThrough events team and social media opportunities with Little Olive Consulting, as well as vital local roles with Woking Borough Council and Surrey County Council.

I appreciate all that my hon. Friend is doing to help young people, many of whom will bounce back into work quickly and easily, but what dedicated support is available to help those who face more complex barriers to employment?

My right hon. Friend is right. That is why we have our new youth hubs with work coaches dedicated to youth employability to support young people with complex needs. They are able to remove barriers and support young people into employment and, crucially, to continue that support for the next six weeks after they have moved into work. In my right hon. Friend’s area, the jobcentres are running crucial sector-based work academy programmes in social care, construction and security, as well as offering new kickstart roles to young people and working with the London Borough of Bexley, which is also a vital kickstart gateway.

Support for Families Living in Poverty

This Government have been clear that supporting people back into work and empowering them to progress in their role is the best approach to tackling poverty. Evidence shows that households where all the adults work are six times less likely to be in absolute poverty than households where nobody works. To help to fulfil our commitment to get people back into work, we are investing over £30 billion through—you guessed it, Mr Speaker—our ambitious plan for jobs, which is already delivering for people right across our country.

Are this Government determined to be known as the most heartless Government since the end of the last world war? If these Ministers look at this morning’s report from Save the Children, they will see that 4 million children in our country are in poverty, going to bed at night with no food in their tummy. What are the Government going to do about that? It is a disgraceful state of affairs, and it is particularly hitting the north of England and people in the towns of West Yorkshire. Is it not about time we secured good, well-paid jobs and affordable childcare for these people, and tackled the problem, which has got worse and worse since 2010?

I am disappointed in that question, and I certainly do not recognise the picture painted by the hon. Gentleman. This Government have stepped up to support people facing financial disruption throughout this pandemic, pouring billions of pounds more into our welfare system to support those facing the most financial disruption. Those were short-term, temporary measures—we know that—to support people during the pandemic. I hope he will agree that it is right that our focus should shift to supporting people back into work and to progress into work, because we know that the evidence suggests that work is the best route of poverty. We will achieve this with our £30 billion plan for jobs.

Covid-19: Support for People on Legacy Benefits

We have introduced a substantial package of temporary welfare measures to support those on low incomes throughout the pandemic. We have paid out more than £100 billion in welfare support for people of working age this year and have consistently supported the lowest-paid families by increasing the living wage. This includes an investment of almost £1 billion into the local housing allowance rates, benefiting housing benefit and universal credit claimants alike. In addition, we have made sure that benefits retained their value against prices by raising benefits by a further £100 million from April 2021 in line with the consumer prices index.

The Trussell Trust reports that 62% of the working-age population referred to food banks were disabled, yet the Tories’ decision to deny people on legacy benefits the same £20 uplift as those on universal credit, which will be challenged in the High Court, continues to exclude 2 million disabled people, despite the extra costs they have faced during the pandemic. Will the UK Government finally provide the support that disabled people need, or will they continue trying to force people on to UC?

It is the policy of the Department not to comment on live litigation, so I will not comment on that aspect. I gently point out to the hon. Lady that we spend more than £57 billion a year on benefits to support disabled people. [Interruption.] My hon. Friend the Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work reminds me that that is an extra £4 billion in real terms. That is support for people with disabilities and health conditions, and this is about 2.6% of our GDP.

Ministers have been asked many times about the lack of uplift to legacy benefits, and every response has been woeful. The Government are now being taken to court to correct this discrimination. Do Ministers not see that they are discriminating against millions of disabled people on these benefits? This needs to be sorted. Does the Minister agree that it should not take a judicial review to tackle this injustice?

I have a lot of time for the shadow Minister, but however many times she asks the same question she is going to get the same response. The Government have focused support on UC and working tax credit claimants because they are more likely to be affected by the sudden economic shock of covid-19 than other legacy benefit claimants. I am not going to comment on the live litigation, but I would say that legacy claimants can make a new UC claim and benefit from the £20 a week increase; the Government encourage anybody to go on and use one of the independent benefit calculators to check carefully their eligibility before they apply.

Topical Questions

The nation is today uniting to toast an important milestone in the Prime Minister’s road map to recovery, with the long-awaited full reopening of the hospitality sector—thank God for that, given the rain we are suffering. The British public have stood up to the challenge of the pandemic and, while still being cautious, we need to get out there and spend our dosh. Let’s do our bit to support our communities, businesses and jobs, including more than 1 million workers who were furloughed and whom I hope we will now see back at work. As hospitality booms, I am sure that many more new kickstarters will be out there, able to hit the ground running.

Before the introduction of universal credit, single parents under the age of 25 received a higher rate of benefit payment in recognition of the increased costs of raising a child as a single parent, but that support has sadly not been extended to young single parents who are in receipt of universal credit. Does the Secretary of State agree with me and the assessment of One Parent Families Scotland that the omission amounts to a “young parent penalty”?

No; we took a sensible approach in having a differential rate for universal credit. Of course, if any of the hon. Lady’s constituents would like support to secure extra income via the child’s other parent, the Child Maintenance Service is there to help parents in such situations.

We have heard a lot about youth unemployment this afternoon. The House of Commons Library tells me that it has increased by 10%, with a 110% increase in the number of young people claiming unemployment benefits. Those statistics are concerning, especially for the Clacton constituency, where historically we have struggled with youth unemployment. We must get these young people back to work. The new lifetime skills guarantee will help, but what discussions has the Secretary of State had with the Treasury about the introduction of national insurance contribution relief for employers who hire young people, as we have done for those that hire veterans? If discussions have not taken place, will they soon? (900062)

I have regular discussions with a range of Ministers across the Government about how best to get young people into work and thriving. We are already incentivising employers to hire young people through the kickstart scheme, through which we pay wages and the associated national insurance contributions for six months. It is a job creation scheme for the young people who are most at risk of long-term unemployment, building vital experience throughout the pandemic and giving them the confidence and skills needed to thrive in their future workplace.

The kickstart scheme was launched with much fanfare but it has been a bit of a flop, not to mention a headache for many businesses such as METERology in my constituency, which has been given a total runaround by the Secretary of State’s Department. Recent figures suggest that if the UK Government maintain a rate of 400 new employees starting each day, they should hit their target of 250,000 new jobs in 625 days—that is two years—so what more are they going to do to ensure that kickstart can really live up to its hype rather than just be a slogan for the Chancellor’s naff hoodie?

The hon. Gentleman is being ungracious. We are still at step 3 of the road map to recovery. Dare I say that the Scottish Government are putting up a roadblock to recovery by pursuing the whole independence agenda when they should be focused on the economic recovery? If the hon. Gentleman has specific constituency matters to raise, he is welcome to do so. As we go through the steps, we will see even more kickstarters taking full advantage of the generous support, which will help them and employers alike.

As the Pensions Minister knows from when we visited Airedale Springs together last September, climate change is a major concern for many constituents of mine across Keighley and Ilkley. With COP26 now less than six months away, will my hon. Friend update the House on the progress the Government are making to ensure that pensions play their part in tackling climate change so that we can build back greener from the pandemic? (900063)

We are the first G7 country to legislate for net zero and lead the world in sustainable environmental investment, with the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures and more, all of which address climate change. It was a pleasure to visit Airedale Springs, which is a great company that is doing good business but with due regard to climate change. That is our approach to UK pensions as we build back greener.

Some 200,000 women who worked hard and paid their taxes all their lives have been underpaid their state pensions. It is an absolute scandal. I welcome the announcement that the DWP is trying to repay the money owed to these women, who have been so badly let down, but the repayments are being made far too slowly. Will the Minister confirm how many repayments were made last month and when the Department will finally speed up the process?

It is good to see that the hon. Gentleman survived the deputy leadership reshuffle.

The simple point is that the DWP formally commenced correction activity on 11 January this year, and I published a written ministerial statement on 4 February this year. We are clearing up a mess, the responsibility for much of which goes back to the changes made under the Labour Government in 2008, as the hon. Gentleman will be aware. Where underpayments are identified, the Department will contact the individual to inform them of the changes to their state pension amount and of any arrears payments that they will receive in accordance with the law.

My constituent Martin Burnell is living with motor neurone disease, which is a progressive terminal illness for which there is no effective treatment or cure. Earlier this year, he was told to reapply for his benefits or risk having them stopped. Will my hon. Friend commit to removing the burdensome and unacceptable requirement under the special rules that people with a terminal illness have to reapply for their benefits after three years? (900065)

As part of the Green Paper, we will be going further than the special rules for terminal illness evaluation to look at the principles of extending the severe health condition criteria to remove unnecessary assessments and reviews.

Youth unemployment is rising and one route out of this is through apprenticeships. One of the problems with apprenticeships can be apprenticeship pay, often described as apprenticeship poverty, where it costs more to attend work than the young apprentices earn. What is the Minister doing across Departments to address that injustice? (900061)

I thank the hon. Lady for pointing out the great opportunities of apprenticeships. The kickstart scheme can lead to such an opportunity, and we will be explaining to young people the opportunities that exist through our youth hubs. On supporting people, we have our flexible support fund for people to get into work and to thrive in work. Our in-work progression report will be reporting soon and we will look at it closely to see whether it covers any of these matters.

As society leaves lockdown restrictions and recovery accelerates, will my right hon. Friend confirm that universal credit is designed not only for people who are unemployed, but to support people into work and to continue to support them while they are in employment? (900070)

My hon. Friend is right. The design of universal credit means that people will always be better off working than not working. It is important that people take advantage of extra hours that they may be offered in order to get that benefit, and we will continue to help people get into that type of job.

According to research by the Resolution Foundation, we are facing a U-shaped unemployment crisis, which will hit the youngest and the eldest workers the hardest. For women who are already being forced to work beyond their expected retirement age, this only adds to their financial hardship and many fear that they will never find work again. Do the Government have any plans to help, or will they continue to let down these hard-working women, many of whom started in the labour market when they were just 15 or 16 years old? (900066)

Older workers can get help from their work coach if they need further qualifications or modern certifications. The DWP works with the Government’s business champion for older workers, providing outreach and advice for employers. We encourage all employers to reap the many benefits of recruiting workers who can bring a wealth of skills and experience to any workplace. I advise people to head to the JobHelp website, to look at the Department for Education’s digital toolkit, or to speak to their work coach about any support so that they can perhaps have the best part of their career in the final years of their career.

This Government are focused on getting more people into work through an ambitious plan for jobs. However, last week I was contacted by a constituent in Redcar and Cleveland who is a qualified primary teaching assistant looking for work. She told me that, every time she declares her autism and epilepsy, employers sadly decide not to pursue her applications further. What more can the Government do to encourage employers to give differently abled people such as my constituent the equal opportunity of work? (900073)

My hon. Friend highlights a vital issue, which is why we have developed a disability confident toolkit with stakeholders to provide comprehensive information and guidance for employers on autism and hidden impairments. I hope that his constituent’s undoubted talents will be unlocked shortly.

Govanhill Housing Association has told me that, each time there is a rent increase, some tenants inadvertently go into arrears as they do not realise that they have to notify the DWP. Will Ministers make a common-sense change to this bureaucracy to allow housing providers to report any rent increases directly for all their tenants rather than as a fallback? (900067)

I have explored this issue, which is a little bit more complicated than the hon. Lady makes out. We have been working with housing associations. I would be very happy to sit down with her and have a briefing on the matter with officials.

I welcome the DWP’s commitment to delivering an improved welfare system for people with a terminal illness, and I hope that it can be delivered very soon. Can my hon. Friend confirm that the proposals to change the special rules will not be included in the upcoming Green Paper, which would result in further delay and would be unnecessary, as the DWP has already consulted stakeholders? (900074)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The SRTI—special rules for terminal illness—evaluation has been completed and will not need to be rerun through the forthcoming Green Paper.

Will the Minister recommend that his colleagues purchase and read the recently released e-book, “The Brown Envelope Book”, which contains more than 200 poems, pieces of prose and short plays about disabled people who say they have been“brutalised by the bureaucracy of the Department for Work and Pensions”? (900069)

The Government are rightly proud of providing record amounts of support for people with disabilities and long-term health conditions. Through our forthcoming health and disability Green Paper, we will work with stakeholders and those with real lived experience to make sure that we improve the services and support we provide.

Tomorrow, I will be hosting a workshop between local disability support groups and the DWP in my constituency to discuss the Green Paper. Ahead of that meeting, will the Minister update the House on what steps are being taken to increase access to benefits and support for the most vulnerable people during the pandemic? (900075)

I thank my hon. Friend for being so proactive, along with about 50 other MPs who have already agreed to host health and disability Green Paper events to look at the key themes of advocacy, getting supportive evidence, the assessment process and the appeals process. It is the Government’s absolute priority to support those with disabilities and long-term health conditions.

I have a constituent who, after having her jab recently, had a nasty reaction and could not go to work the following day. She then found that she had lost 10 hours’ pay—half her week’s wages. That is the world of precarious work, and it certainly does not encourage people to have a jab, so what can the Government do to rectify the situation? (900072)

I thank the hon. Member for raising that point. We have been improving guidance and sharing best practice with employers. We have also made changes to statutory sick pay for those who are either self-isolating or sick to remove the four-day wait. It is disappointing to hear how that specific employer has treated their hard-working employee.

What support is the Department for Work and Pensions providing to those who have unfortunately been made unemployed in aviation communities, which have of course been particularly negatively impacted by the covid-19 pandemic? (900079)

My hon. Friend knows the pain of the impact on the aviation sector, as do I in my nearby constituency. The DWP has a range of support for individuals who have been employed in this sector and are affected. The DWP rapid response service provides key help and advice for employers and their employees if they are facing redundancy. Our work coaches provide claimants with individual personalised support, utilising our plan for jobs, which includes SWAP—the sector-based work academy programme—for those currently displaced by the impact on the aviation sector. That can help to build confidence and transfer their very wide-ranging skills into other opportunities for the short or the longer term. I am pleased that many of them are working locally, vaccinating—

Every day, 7.6 million people go without sufficient nutritious food, according to the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, so will the Secretary of State look carefully at the Welsh Government’s pilot for a universal basic income, and will she provide an estimate for the cost of a UK roll-out of a universal basic income? (900076)

Ah, my favourite question on UBI. The answer is no. If the Welsh Government wish to use the extra money they receive through the Barnett formula to undertake other aspects, the question is whether it is within their legal powers to do so. I am conscious that we all want to make sure that food insecurity comes to an end, and that is why we are working across Government to tackle it.

I will now suspend the House to enable the necessary arrangements to be made for the next business.

Sitting suspended.