No assessment has been made. Projecting the impact of an individual policy on poverty levels is complex and inherently speculative. It is difficult to isolate the specific impact of one policy and determine its effect on how many people fall below the poverty threshold, which itself changes over time.
That is simply not good enough. Ploughing ahead with the scheduled cut to universal credit means ignoring the advice of three Select Committees—the Scottish Affairs Committee, the Work and Pensions Committee and the Lords Economic Affairs Committee—over 100 Tory MPs, former Tory Minister Lord Freud and over 50 anti-poverty charities. In the face of that, how can the UK Government justify cutting £20 a week for millions of families already living on subsistence incomes?
Our expectation is that, as the vaccine is widely rolled out, restrictions will be lifted and our economy will reopen over the next few months. Therefore, the Government’s focus will rightly shift towards supporting people’s incomes by helping them back into work and to increase their earnings through progression as part of our comprehensive plan for jobs. We have consistently shown throughout the crisis that we will continue to assess how best to support individuals and businesses as the situation develops.
A Joseph Rowntree Foundation report stated that before the pandemic over half of working-age people receiving income-related benefits were already below the poverty line. We are at a critical juncture. This Tory Government can carry out one of the biggest cuts to benefits in decades, bringing the basic level of benefits back to early-1990s levels, or they can provide substantial long-term support to people, so which will it be?
As I said, our expectation is that as the vaccine roll-out gathers pace, as restrictions are eased, as our economy opens up and as our labour market starts to grow again over the next few months, it is absolutely right that our focus shifts towards supporting and empowering people back into work, because we know—all the evidence shows us—that work is the best route of poverty. We will do that through our £30 billion comprehensive plan for jobs.