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Work and Pensions

Volume 700: debated on Monday 13 September 2021

The Secretary of State was asked—

Support for Vulnerable Children

1. What recent discussions she has had with the Secretary of State for Education on support for vulnerable children. (903370)

Ministers are meeting this week to discuss the success of the holiday activity fund, and good progress has been made on the digitalisation of Healthy Start vouchers. We will continue the ministerial meetings on developing support for families and family hubs.

I thank my right hon. Friend for her remarkable work on universal credit during the pandemic. With the forthcoming changes to UC, will my right hon. Friend continue to target financial support on families who need it most, and will she work with the Department for Education to use existing funds from the sugar levy to expand breakfast clubs for disadvantaged children? We know that breakfast provision significantly increases educational attainment. Children with free breakfast provision achieved an additional two months’ progress in educational attainment.

I am conscious, especially with my right hon. Friend’s leadership of the Select Committee on Education, of how passionately he feels about this particular area. My Department is supporting the Department for Education’s family hubs work, which includes investing up to £24 million to continue our national school breakfast programme over the next two years, and that includes the recently announced additional £20 million investment from the Treasury’s shared outcomes fund.

Kickstart Scheme

Kickstart provides exciting opportunities for young people most at risk of long-term unemployment and with the greatest barriers to progress. Young people are commencing roles daily and thousands are starting each week. New Department for Work and Pensions data released to Parliament today confirms that as of 8 September, we have reached more than 69,000 starts, pleasingly, with more than 188,000 roles remaining for work coaches to refer young people to.

While kickstart has been well received by many, there have been frustrations for some. My constituent, Francesca Harding, who runs Butterwick Kennels in Sedgefield, has been particularly disappointed by the performance of Adecco as a gateway provider and the working relationship with Jobcentre Plus. The rules around advertising positions, citing potential age discrimination and all of that, have frustrated the process of getting young people in. It concerns me whether that is a local misunderstanding or whether we need to look at the rules to get even more young people engaged in these schemes.

DWP has worked closely with Adecco Working Ventures to help support young people via kickstart. As a gateway-plus, it plays an important role in allowing sole traders and other small employers to access the scheme. Employers in gateways can promote involvement, including advertising any approved roles, once they have a grant agreement in place. However, referrals of young people to kickstart jobs must be made by work coaches to ensure that candidates are eligible and suitable, but I am happy to look at the case.

My constituent Deb Barrow runs a recruitment agency, and she focuses on employing local young people. Unfortunately, the system of kickstart has let her and the local young people of Gower down. It takes, from the point that she gets the job given to her, nearly four to five months for that person to be recruited. That job has by then gone.

I am sorry to hear about the hon. Lady’s challenges in Gower. We have got 69,000 young people into work, and it is not as simple as getting any young person into any job. We have to work with local people to get the right roles and the right opportunities, so that we get the right outcomes, and I am delighted that her local employer is taking part.

On Friday, in the youth hub in Darwen and Blackburn, we launched the first kickstart programme in that sort of venue. We look forward to sharing our experience with the Department, because as you know, Mr Speaker, where Lancashire leads, many others will follow.

I am delighted about that additional youth hub. We have around 150 youth hubs open. Most of them are now physical, with a few working virtually. The hub will really make the difference in that community, and I was delighted to join the opening. It will make that change locally for young people.

Universal Credit: Removal of Uplift

3. If she will reverse her Department’s planned removal of the £20 uplift to the standard allowance of universal credit. [R] (903372)

14. If she will reverse her Department’s planned removal of the £20 uplift to the standard allowance of universal credit. (903384)

15. If she will reverse her Department’s planned removal of the £20 uplift to the standard allowance of universal credit. (903385)

Time and again, the Government have promised investment into areas such as east Hull, but the Minister knows full well that this savage cut to universal credit will pull £35 million from our local economy and leave families worrying about putting food on the table to feed their kids. Is it not time that the Government matched their rhetoric with actions and cancelled the cut for decent, hard-working people?

As the hon. Gentleman will know, at the time of the Budget the uplift was always advocated to be temporary, recognising that the pandemic’s lockdown elements were not over. We did extend it for a further six months, as we did other covid-related support for people. I remind him that when we had Labour’s crisis in the late noughties, that Government did not make any changes to benefits. We are proud that we did so in that temporary time.

Last month, I wrote to the Prime Minister with three local food banks, three housing providers and my local citizens advice bureau to highlight the considerable damage that the removal of the £20 uplift would cause. Those organisations and many others in Wales and across the UK are at the forefront of supporting the most vulnerable people in our communities. Does the Secretary of State agree that those organisations are best placed to know the impact of cancelling the uplift? May I ask her to remove the proposal?

The hon. Gentleman may not be aware that we have been funding Citizens Advice to assist people in making potential claims for universal credit. To that end, we estimate that about half the people still on legacy benefits would be better off with universal credit and we want to encourage people to consider carefully how they go about that. However, we believe that people progressing in work, as well as getting back into work, is the best way to tackle poverty.

The circumstances of this cut are very different from those to which the Secretary of State alluded. In Bristol South, people are not happy about the cut and businesses, which will lose £11 million from the local economy, are not happy with it, either. The Secretary of State should not be happy with the situation. There is time for her to change her mind. Will she do so?

The hon. Lady may be aware that more than £400 billion of support has been given more broadly to the UK economy and to people. We are conscious that more than £7 billion was invested in the welfare system to help people during this difficult time. However, as the economy is recovering and employment is growing, we will do more with our work coaches—we have doubled their numbers since a year ago—to ensure that people can get back into work and progress in work.

The Secretary of State and indeed the whole Government should take credit for the amount of support they have provided to people on low incomes in the past year during the pandemic. Will she take a further look at the housing element of universal credit? In my constituency, rising rental costs and high house prices have made the private rental sector difficult for people on low incomes. Will she look at how the universal credit housing element operates in areas such as mine, just outside London, which are particularly affected by property and rental prices, and whether changes are needed?

I am conscious of my right hon. Friend’s concerns. When we made the uplifts just over a year ago, we put an extra £900 million a year into support for housing costs through the changes we made to the local housing allowance rate. He will know that rental areas go beyond constituency boundaries, but the Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester (Will Quince), who is responsible for welfare delivery, will be happy to discuss what is happening in regard to geographic locations.

As much as politicians on both sides of this place obsess about the headline rate of universal credit, will the Secretary of State also look at whether universal credit is going as far as it can in meeting rising pressures on the cost of living? In particular, there is the interaction between the energy cap for those with general electricity bills and that for those on prepayment meters, for whom the cap works in a different fashion, which means that people who are often on the lowest incomes pay far more.

My hon. Friend is right to raise that issue. The warm home discount is administered through the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy in conjunction with the energy companies, although the DWP does, in effect, facilitate the automatic claiming of that for a number of benefit claimants. I will share his concerns about the potential mismatch with prepayment customers with the relevant Minister, who I hope will respond to him directly.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that our economy is beginning to show signs of recovery, with unemployment down and record high job vacancies? In Stoke-on-Trent North, Kidsgrove and Talke, Steelite International, a global ceramics manufacturer, has a jobs fair for more than 100 vacancies. Does she agree that that is the way to help people on universal credit into work and get them out of poverty?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Today, the Government have announced the infrastructure programme, with a mixture of public and private sector investment of £650 billion over the next 10 years. We believe that will generate 425,000 jobs in the next four years, and these will be well-paid jobs. Between my Department and the Department for Education, we will be trying to make sure that as many people are as upskilled as possible to take advantage of the higher wages of the jobs being created.

Research by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation indicates that nearly four out of every five families with children are receiving universal credit or working tax credit, rising to 45% or more of families with children in the north-east, Yorkshire and the Humber, and the west midlands. Can the Secretary of State share her Department’s assessment, which we heard about at the end of last week, of how these families are expected to manage the income shock of losing £1,000 a year due to the impending cut?

It may surprise the hon. Lady to know that more than half of recipients of universal credit are actually households without children. We are conscious that this support had a widespread impact when we had the impact of the pandemic. However, what the hon. Lady will know about is that in the last year, collectively across Government, we have injected several hundred million pounds specifically to help people with children with the difficulties of some of the financial challenges they have. However, now that the jobs market is well and truly open, we will be doing whatever we can to help people get into work, and get into better-paid work as well.

It is not clear from that answer whether the Secretary of State has actually undertaken any form of assessment of the income shock. However, it is not only about the impact on individuals’ and families’ incomes; it is also about the wider economic consequences. According to the Resolution Foundation, a quarter of all households in the north-east will lose £1,000 a year from the cut, which will strip millions of pounds from the economies of some of the poorest communities in the country. Has her Department carried out an assessment of what the economic impact will be of the cut coming into effect in just a few weeks’ time?

My understanding is that, as we always knew the uplift was going to be temporary, an impact assessment was not undertaken because we knew it would be for a limited time.

People were already struggling to get by after an eye-watering £37 billion of Tory cuts to social security between 2010 and 2019, and they now face the biggest overnight cut to the basic rate of social security since the foundation of the modern welfare state 70 years ago. Given that the Secretary of State is her Department’s voice around the Cabinet table, can she confirm with a simple yes or no whether she is and has been lobbying the Treasury to stop these cuts?

As the Chancellor set out in the Budget, when we had the discussion of what we are doing, it was about continuing to extend the support beyond the time of the lockdown that happened in step 4. I am conscious that we have increased the number of work coaches in jobcentres in Scotland to help people back into work, and into better-paid work as well.

Can the Secretary of State outline how much extending the temporary uplift would cost and what measures she could think of to pay for it?

The estimated cost for a year of the extension of universal credit is about £5 billion. As my right hon. Friend the Chancellor has set out, and we have updated the plan for jobs today, we want to invest in people to make sure that they can not only get into work, but get into better-paid work as well. That is why with a variety of levers, such as the lifetime skills guarantee, and all the work we are doing for people out of work at the moment, including the sector-based work academy programme, alongside some of our other programmes, we have a really good record of getting people into well-paid work, and that is where our focus has to be.

Single parents who are in work told the Work and Pensions Committee last week how hard they are going to find it to sustain the £87 a month fall in their income that this cut will deliver. One witness told us that he is going to have to skip meals to make sure that his children do not have to. Surely social security must be better than that.

I hope the right hon. Gentleman will direct that person to go and have a chat with the work coach. I do not know the status of that individual, exactly what paid employment they are in right now or their situation with childcare, but I remind him that 85% of the cost of childcare can be claimed by people on universal credit. One of the directions we want to encourage individuals to go in is to go and talk to their work coaches so that we can help them get on in life and be more prosperous.

Support for Older Jobseekers

4. What support her Department provides to older jobseekers looking to reskill or change careers. (903373)

9. What support her Department provides to older jobseekers looking to reskill or change careers. (903379)

The Department’s focus on 50 PLUS: Choices, alongside our plan for jobs, provides funding to ensure that more people of all ages get tailored support. That includes programmes such as the job finding support service, job entry targeted support and the restart scheme, to help them find work. That is in addition to the Department’s train and progress and sector-based work academy programmes, to help people gain confidence, skills and job-specific qualifications, and to progress into employment.

Bosworth and the east midlands have a fine tradition of automotive logistics. One of the biggest problems is that that is the area changing most rapidly in keeping up to date with skills, which puts pressures on employers to have those skills. What are the Government doing to ensure we are equipped to move into the green era and deal with the automotive nature of the logistics sector, as we go forward over the next 10 years?

A green recovery presents a significant opportunity for UK workers of all ages to benefit from increasing employment opportunities, including those clean growth sectors. The DWP is supporting people into green jobs as the sector grows, through work coach interventions that will ensure that jobseekers are able to develop skills to match the changing needs of the local labour market and their own aspirations.

One thing that concerns me is how we can boost the technical skills that older people learn. What is the Department doing in that respect?

I am pleased to share with my hon. Friend and the House the fact that in May, a littler earlier in the year, I launched a key partnership with Google offering free IT training for jobseekers. That opportunity gives 9,000 jobseekers the chance to obtain a Google career certificate, which is a level 3 qualification and recognised by the industry. As of 3 September, our jobcentres have referred more than 3,800 people to that life-changing employment scheme.

Disabled people face huge challenges when changing careers, partly due to the fact that they often wait for three months to be approved for access to work, even before they receive their first payment. Will the Minister meet me, the Hull-based charity Choices and Rights Disability Coalition, and Disability Rights UK to discuss how together we can look at improving access to work?

I understand that we are working towards 20 days and a transitional programme, but the Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work is keen to meet the hon. Lady and ensure that she understands that fully. This is a priority for us.

For years I have tried to point out that one reason for HGV driver shortages is that people cannot afford the cost of £3,000 to £4,000 to do the training and sit the tests. Is it time for the Government to consider some sort of grant scheme, so that people get their training paid for them, leading to a welfare saving in the long run? It is win-win, so when will the Government step up and do it?

The hon. Gentleman will be pleased to know that the Department has been working on that challenge for some time. On 4 October a new sector-based work academy will commence on that in Truro, in the midlands a pilot scheme has been working directly with Eddie Stobart, and our flexible support fund helps people to go into that sector. Cross-Government work is going on, and we are key to that. We have the people who are keen to be part of this issue, and the programmes to match.

Universal Credit Uplift

5. What recent assessment she has made of the effect of the uplift to the standard allowance of universal credit on supporting people into work. (903374)

Throughout the pandemic our jobcentres have remained open to support the most vulnerable claimants, as well as those who have been impacted. No assessment has been made of the temporary measure due to the pandemic. Our plan for jobs continues to ensure that people receive tailored Jobcentre Plus support to help them find the work they need and, crucially, to develop their skills.

I thank my hon. Friend for her response. I pay tribute to the local team in Barrow and South Lakes for their hard work in helping people into jobs, and giving them the skills and experiences they need to get into the job market. Indeed, I am looking forward to opening Barrow youth hub on 30 September. That said, many of my constituents are concerned about the changes to universal credit and the potential cliff edge. Will the Minister explain what mitigations are in place to protect those who have concerns about their future?

Youth hubs are crucial; we have heard about one in Darwen and one in Barrow. My hon. Friend will be aware that the DWP is focused on the multibillion-pound intervention that is our plan for jobs, which, crucially, will support people of all ages, with support for new skills and help to increase their hours, understand what their barriers are, and find that crucial new work. That includes youth hubs. My goal is to have 150 open by the end of the year, and the crucial new one in his constituency is part of that.

Universal Credit: Wales

I do worry about this cut to universal credit of £20 a week. In a constituency such as mine, that is taking £6.5 million out of the local economy. That is going to make it more difficult for local businesses to afford extra staff and more difficult for people to find jobs, so it is a completely counterproductive measure, leaving aside the cruelty of making families struggle on even less money. As I understand it, the Secretary of State said this morning to people who are going to lose the £20 a week, “Well, you just either need to get a better job or work more hours.” Can the Minister explain to us, and to the 2,543 people in the Rhondda who are in employment and on universal credit, how many extra hours at the national minimum living wage they would have to work to get that £20?

That of course would depend on their individual circumstances, but to answer the hon. Gentleman’s question, 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. There have been significant positive developments in the public health situation since the uplift was introduced, with the success of the vaccine roll-out, restrictions being lifted and our economy opening up, and now there are more than 1 million live vacancies in our jobs market. I will take one issue with what the hon. Gentleman said: he referred to a cut. A cut would represent savings. There are no savings. What he is proposing is an extra £6 billion to £9 billion, which would need to be raised by taxes.

Pensioners Living in Poverty

Thank you, Mr Speaker—diolch. There are now 200,000 fewer pensioners in poverty compared with 2010. Rates of material deprivation among pensioners are at a record low, falling from 10% to 6% in the last 10 years. Pension credit also provides financial support for the most vulnerable pensioners and a passport to many other benefits.

Diolch yn fawr iawn, Mr Speaker. Older women in particular find themselves in relative poverty because 30% completely rely on the state pension for their income. That makes the recent findings by the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman about maladministration by the Department and its failure to inform 1950s-born women about changes to their state pension allowance particularly galling. What is the Department’s response to the findings of the ombudsman and, more importantly, what will be done to rectify the situation that WASPI women in my constituency find themselves in?

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that we have never spent as much as we do now on pensions. The triple lock has seen a £2,050-a-year increase in cash terms. The Government decided the changes 26 years ago, and that policy was continued by successive Governments, including during the 13 years of the Labour Government. In respect of all matters on an ongoing basis, we consider the PHSO, but clearly, it is a three-stage process and we are only at stage 1.

People across this country work hard and contribute all their lives; they are right to expect the state pension to be there for them when they retire. Given that the Government have failed to pay the state pension on time and have broken three manifesto promises so far, Ministers can surely accept that pensioners and the public cannot simply take them at their word. Ahead of our consideration of the Social Security (Up-rating of Benefits) Bill next Monday, will the Government publish their evidence for breaking the link with earnings in this way?

I am not sure that I am going to take any lessons from the hon. Gentleman. Before 2010, when the coalition came into power, the state pension was under £100. The new state pension is now £179. We have raised it by £2,000 in the last 10 years. We have enhanced the state pension massively through the triple lock. We did not even need to do anything last year, but we raised the state pension by 2.5%, and we will be increasing it by the double lock if the Bill passes next week.

Levelling-up Agenda

Recruitment, retention and career progression are key to levelling up, so the successful delivery of the Government’s plan for jobs is vital. Through both the national disability strategy and the health and disability Green Paper, we also explore levelling up opportunities for disabled people specifically.

The point is that the Minister’s Department is required to address poverty and to make work pay, but the minimum wage is simply too low. Otherwise, why is it that 2.3 million working families are on universal credit? Now there is a triple whammy coming to those poorly paid people: withdrawing the furlough, raising national insurance payments and cuts to universal credit. The underlying causes of poverty are greedy bosses and rapacious landlords, but does the Minister accept that the cuts they are now imposing will drive up already shameful levels of poverty? Will he say to his colleagues that it is time to cancel the cuts?

Tackling poverty is a key priority for this Government, as seen with the £650 billion infrastructure investment that will deliver 425,000 more jobs a year. While the temporary increase to universal credit is coming to an end, the national living wage and income tax threshold increases, worth over £4,000 to people in full-time work, will continue, as will the universal credit work allowance changes worth up to £630 and the local housing allowance worth £600. Our excellent work coaches, who have doubled in number over the last 12 months, will be doing everything in their power to support people to take advantage of the record job opportunities.

Universal Credit: Removal of Uplift

11. What assessment she has made of the impact on levels of poverty of ending the £20 uplift to the standard allowance of universal credit. [R] (903381)

It is not possible to produce a robust estimate of the impact of removing the £20 uplift on poverty. That is particularly the case at the moment, given the uncertainty around the speed of the economic recovery and how it will be distributed across the population.

Cutting universal credit will cause misery for millions of people, including my constituent in Birkenhead, Jess, who says that the extra £20 a week means she no longer has to choose between a hot meal and a hot shower. On Wednesday, Unite the Union and Community members who, like Jess, rely on the uplift to stay afloat will be visiting Parliament. Will the Secretary of State commit to meet them, so she can hear for herself why the Government must cancel the cut?

The hon. Gentleman references cancelling the cut. As I said before, there is no cut because there is no financial saving. If this measure were to continue, the Treasury would need to find an extra £6 billion to £9 billion to fund the temporary uplift. It was always a temporary uplift to universal credit. As a result, the temporary uplift will continue as planned.

Disabled People: Employment Opportunities

12. What steps she is taking to help ensure that disabled people can take up employment opportunities during the economic recovery from the covid-19 outbreak. (903382)

We are committed to seeing 1 million more disabled people in work, supporting that through initiatives including the work and health programme, access to work, disability confident and increasing the number of disability employment advisers to over 1,000. We want to help more disabled people to prepare for, start, stay and succeed in work where it is right for them.

The Minister and the Secretary of State have a proud record of putting in place programmes that increase opportunities for everyone to access high-quality employment and training. Further to his earlier answer, can the Minister confirm what specific steps he is taking to ensure that the bespoke needs of people on the autistic spectrum are no barrier to accessing employment or training opportunities? Will he join me in thanking local organisations in Bury, such as the Met theatre which runs confidence-building sessions for children on the autistic spectrum, for the role they play in developing the skills that each child needs to thrive in the job market?

My hon. Friend highlights the absolute importance of supporting people with autism into work, highlighting the supported internships, traineeships, local supported employment pilots, intensive personalised employment support and disability apprenticeships, in addition to the broader options across the work and health programme and plan for jobs. We are currently consulting through the Department for Work and Pensions Green Paper on other ways to improve disability employment opportunities. Best practice, as seen in places such as the Met theatre, is exactly the sort of thing we want to learn lessons from.

Universal Credit: Removal of Uplift

13. What discussions she has had with the Welsh Government on the impact of ending the £20 uplift to the standard allowance of universal credit on people in Newport West constituency. (903383)

There is a well-established working relationship between my Department and the Welsh Government, ensuring we work together on devolved and reserved areas effectively. However, universal credit is a policy reserved to the UK Government.

In Newport West, these cruel cuts to universal credit will hit about 9,000 families, including almost 6,000 children. That is unforgiveable and I will keep fighting these Tory cuts to universal credit. In a written parliamentary question to the Secretary of State, I asked whether she would meet me to address the impact of the cuts on the people of Newport West. The Minister replied to me but ignored my request to meet, so let us try again. Will the Minister please meet me to discuss the impact the cuts will have on the people of Newport West?

We have always been clear: the uplift for universal credit was a temporary measure responding to the extraordinary circumstances. Our focus now is rightly on our plan for jobs, with tailored programmes to build skills, move towards employment, increase hours, get back into work or climb the career ladder, because we know that work is the best route to a brighter future.

Removal of Universal Credit Uplift: Food Bank Usage

16. What steps her Department plans to take to measure the potential effect of the removal of the £20 uplift to the standard allowance of universal credit from 6 October 2021 on levels of food bank usage. (903386)

Food banks are independent charitable organisations and the Department for Work and Pensions does not have any role in their operation. There is no consistent and accurate measure of food bank usage at a constituency or, indeed, national level.

Since 2010, there has been an explosion in the number of people unable to put food on the table. Conservatives such as the hon. Member for Hertford and Stortford (Julie Marson) admit that taking £20 a week off universal credit current payments, to use the Minister’s vernacular, will result in another dramatic rise in food bank demand. The Trussell Trust predicts that 900,000 more people will need support. Will the Minister or the Secretary of State meet the all-party group on ending the need for food banks and organisations working on this issue to ensure that there is capacity to meet Government-driven demand?

Of course, I am always happy to meet the hon. Gentleman, as I have always sought to do. I remind the House that there have been significant improvements in the public health situation, the vaccine roll-out is a huge success, our economy is opening up, restrictions are lifted, and we have a record number of vacancies in our labour market. Universal credit provides a safety net but it is not designed to trap people on welfare. Work is the best route out of poverty and to prosperity, but I am very happy to meet him to discuss this further.

Universal Credit: Adequacy

17. What recent assessment she has made of the adequacy of the level of universal credit received by claimants. (903387)

23. What recent assessment she has made of the adequacy of the level of universal credit received by claimants. (903394)

The Secretary of State is legally required to conduct an annual review of benefits and pension rates to determine whether they have retained their value in relation to the general level of prices and earnings. The uprating process for working-age benefits has traditionally relied on the September consumer prices index figure and, in April 2021, universal credit was increased by CPI of 0.5%.

If the UK Government plough ahead with their planned cut to universal credit, it will result in one in three families with children in Scotland losing over £1,000 overnight and plunge 20,000 children into poverty. Does the Minister understand why so many people in Scotland think that it is the uplift that should stay and the Government snatching away that financial lifeline that should go instead?

There is no objective way of deciding what an adequate level of benefit should be, as everyone has different requirements. Income-related benefit rates are not made up of separate amounts of specific items of expenditure, such as food or fuel charges. The Government have always been clear that this uplift was a temporary measure, and I gently remind the hon. Gentleman that we spend over £110 billion on benefits for working-age people.

I wonder whether the Ministers can tell us whether any of them actually listened to the evidence of the Work and Pensions Committee last week about hard-pressed families and the effect that universal credit was having on them. If they did, what would they say to their faces about taking £1,040 away from them?

What I would say is that I am proud that this Government stepped forward at the beginning of the pandemic to put in place the largest cash increase in our welfare safety net to support people through an unprecedented period of economic shock and financial disruption, but as our economy opens up, we have record numbers of vacancies in our labour market—we know that work is the best route out of poverty—and it is absolutely right that we tack our approach to support and empower people into work and to progress in work.

Children in Relative Poverty

18. What recent estimate she has made of the proportion of children in relative poverty where at least one adult in that household is in employment. (903388)

National statistics on the number and percentage of children in low-income households are published annually in the “Households below average income” publication. In 2019-20, 19% of children living in households where at least one adult is in employment were in relative poverty before housing costs.

The Government are very keen to say that work is the route to escape from poverty. However, over 27% of children in my Blaydon constituency live in poverty and many of those are in families where at least one parent or more is in work. The £20 universal credit uplift removal will push working families deeper into poverty, so what will the Government do to tackle the crisis of in-work poverty?

We know—all evidence suggests—that full work dramatically reduces the risk of poverty. As our economy improves, we will increasingly focus on progression to improve opportunities for those in low-paid work and support them towards financial independence. But the hon. Lady is right, and I recognise that moving into work is not always enough to lift people out of poverty; that is why we have the independent in-work progression commission, which published its report over the summer on the barriers to progression for those on persistent low pay. It makes a number of recommendations for the Government that we will consider very carefully and respond to later in the year.

Support for Young Jobseekers

19. What specialist support her Department is providing to young jobseekers at the start of their careers. (903390)

Through the enhanced Department for Work and Pensions youth offer, we are providing targeted interventions to help young people to gain new skills, build confidence and move into work. Our work coaches are working in partnership to deliver through our new youth hubs, helping young people to access opportunities, including kickstart roles, sector-based work academy programmes, traineeships and apprenticeships.

Jobcentre staff across the country are doing a fantastic job, not least in the Rochdale youth hub, which serves my Heywood and Middleton constituency, but as my hon. Friend will know, getting young people into work is a cross-Government effort. What steps are being taken to work with the Department for Education to ensure that young people have the skills necessary to take on these high-quality jobs?

We are absolutely working across Government; we also have our enhanced DWP youth offer, which is a programme of 13 weeks of intensive support to address key barriers and drive positive outcomes, including kickstart. I know that, as we speak, job offers are being made in my hon. Friend’s constituency and in his jobcentre. Crucially, we have also recruited 150 youth employability coaches who specialise in supporting young people with significant complex needs, to help them into work.

Pension Auto-enrolment: Crawley

22. How many people have been auto-enrolled in workplace pensions in Crawley constituency since 2012. (903393)

My hon. Friend is a doughty champion for Crawley. It is fantastic news that 35,000 people have been automatically enrolled into a workplace pension in the Crawley constituency as a whole. That is also thanks to the 1,600 employers who have supported them in their auto-enrolment duties.

Those are very impressive statistics that prove that this Government’s policy of auto-enrolment has been a great success. Will the Minister join me in paying tribute to auto-enrolment pension providers such as B&CE—The People’s Pension—which is based in my Crawley constituency?

I was delighted to meet The People’s Pension with my hon. Friend a couple of years ago and see the fantastic work that it does. It has more than 5 million members and is one of the largest providers in this important market. I am sure that we will continue to work with it as we expand automatic enrolment, take it to the first £1 earned and lower the entitlement age as we bring forward the 2017 automatic enrolment changes.

Topical Questions

This summer, we launched our national disability strategy, setting out more than 100 practical actions and a long-term vision for reform that will make a real difference to disabled people’s everyday lives. Our strategy sets out the actions, ambition and accountability in helping disabled people to overcome the remaining hurdles. We will publish annual reports setting out progress and further actions, and the Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work will chair cross-Government meetings to hold our ministerial disability champions to account for delivery across Departments.

Just as you praised a recent sporting achievement, Mr Speaker, I would like to pay tribute—fresh from the Paralympics GB homecoming yesterday and the celebration on the Terrace just now—to all our amazing Paralympians. I was able to cheer them on in Tokyo and talk to them about aspects of the national disability strategy and the daily barriers that they face. In addition to praising Emma’s remarkable success in winning her championship, I say well done to Alfie Hewett and Gordon Reid, who won the gold medal at the Paralympics for wheelchair tennis doubles. They flew straight to the USA, and I am pleased to say that on the same night they also won the grand slam. Those are fantastic sporting achievements—well done to them.

I join the Secretary of State in those comments; it was a pleasure to bump into some of those athletes and Ms Balding this morning in Westminster Hall. It was lovely to see them here—well done.

The latest figures show that 50% of personal independence payment mandatory reconsiderations result in a change of award. This is causing huge stress and anxiety to vulnerable people in Bristol South and additional work for advice agencies. What sanctions have been applied to the private companies that are wrongly assessing the applicants?

I am conscious of what the hon. Lady has said. Over the past couple of years, we have tried to improve the decision-making stages along the way. One of those important elements involves mandatory reconsiderations, and how we take what we have learnt into the initial decision making, which is still done by DWP civil servants on the advice of assessors. We have further plans, as set out in our Green Paper, which we published before the summer recess, and I am sure that the hon. Lady will take a close interest in that progress.

T5. We will be heading into difficult times with the end of furlough, so I want to thank my right hon. Friend for all the work she has done in support of the Leigh and Bolton jobcentres to help them prepare for those difficult times. Will she continue to ensure that they have all the resources that they need in order to support my constituents? (903399)

My hon. Friend is right to praise his local jobcentres. One thing we have done as part of the plan for jobs is increase the number of work coaches, and indeed the number of jobcentres, thus demonstrating to people—particularly those who have been out of work already but are coming off furlough—that we are ready to support them so that they can get back into work as quickly as possible.

This morning, during her television appearance, the Secretary of State said that a person could make up for the Government’s £20 a week cut in universal credit by working just two extra hours a week. I am sure she is aware by now that she got that completely wrong: the taper rate would of course remove a proportion of those additional earnings, so the net earnings for those extra two hours would be far less than £20. May I therefore ask her if she now knows how many more hours a single parent working full time would have to work to make up for the money the Government is cutting?

Every single universal credit payment depends on the individual, so I cannot articulate that, but it is fair to say that a number of different levers appear when people work more hours, and that includes the lifting of the benefit cap. There are a number of ways in which people can earn more and keep more of their money when they are working more hours.

The figure is 10 extra hours a week, so the cut would force that person to work 50 hours a week in total to get what he or she is receiving now. That is why I have said that reducing the taper rate will be our absolute priority in our replacement for universal credit, but it is also why we oppose the cut. It is why six former Conservative Secretaries of State for Work and Pensions oppose the cut. It is why every Labour Mayor, and even Conservative Mayors such as Andy Street, have spoken out against it. It is why the Government’s own analysis, leaked last week, says that the cut will be “catastrophic”.

This is a Government who half the time do not know what they are doing, and the rest of the time they just do not care. Is not the truth that the only way to get the Government to see sense will be the House of Commons voting to defeat them this Wednesday?

I do not know the basis of the hon. Gentleman’s calculation and his suggestion, but what I do know is that the Labour Government did nothing to help people in the midst of the financial crisis of 2008, whereas we have injected more than an extra £7.5 billion. We recognised the need for the temporary uplift, particularly for those who were newly unemployed and coming on to benefit for the first time. That is why we made the temporary uplift similar to that of the minimum paid through statutory sick pay. We will continue to do what we have been doing: investing in our plan for jobs, helping people back into work and helping them to make progress in work.

T7. Despite the Government’s best efforts, many freelance and self-employed people in my constituency and throughout the country had a very tough time during the covid restrictions. Within the remit of her own departmental responsibilities, but also in her discussions in the Cabinet, what is my right hon. Friend doing to encourage people to take that extra risk in pursuing a future means of access to work by becoming self-employed? (903401)

My hon. Friend will be pleased to know that we are currently working across Government to understand local labour market needs and opportunities, and to understand how best to support those who wish to enter self-employment and be self-supporting and, above all, self-starting. We have learned from the new enterprise allowance and we also understand the impacts of covid, and we are working on all that right now.

Many pensioners will be relying on pension credit to get by after the Tories’ brutal triple lock betrayal. Will the Secretary of State follow Scotland’s lead and commit herself to introducing a proper take-up strategy for reserved benefits, including pension credit, and will she consider the automation of payments to ensure that more people receive the support to which they are entitled?

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that pension credit take-up has improved, not least through the actions of this Government. For example, we have seen the pension credit action day in June this year, the partnership that we have entered into with the BBC and Age UK, and the working group that we have. I continue to work with the BBC and I met the chief executive, Tim Davie, only last week.

T8. It is vital that disabled people are able to play an active role in public life, particularly those with visual impairments. Will my hon. Friend therefore update the House on what the Government are doing to support this? (903402)

We are committed to seeing more disabled people becoming elected representatives. In addition to political parties doing more, the national disability strategy sets out the Minister for the Constitution’s work to bring forward a new scheme in 2022 to support candidates and, importantly, those already elected to public office.

It was disappointing that the Government chose to sneak out their disability strategy over the summer recess, meaning that we had no opportunity to question the Minister on its failure to address barriers to employment for disabled people. Why are his Government not introducing mandatory reporting on the disability employment and pay gaps? Why does the strategy contain no proposals to work with trade unions? Most importantly, can he explain why no parliamentary time has been given over to the scrutiny of this strategy?

I am very much looking forward to going to the Work and Pensions Committee to discuss this very topic this coming Wednesday. It is disappointing that the hon. Member does not recognise that, despite the unprecedented challenges of covid, we once again saw an increase in disability employment over the past year. The figure now stands at 1.5 million since 2013, with the disability employment gap continuing to close. This Government are absolutely committed to their target of 1 million more disabled people in work by 2027.

Could the Secretary of State—or the Minister for Pensions, who is doing such great work in this area—explain what they are doing to ensure that when pensions are invested, the environmental, social and governance agenda is about incentivising high-quality sustainable products across the world, for instance in Africa, and not just becoming a box-ticking exercise here at home?

I will take my right hon. Friend’s compliment. The UK is the first country in the world to address the social elements of ESG. We have produced a call for evidence, “Consideration of social risks and opportunities by occupational pension schemes”, and I would encourage everyone to get involved with that. That will genuinely transform the supply chain, access to finance and investment in all parts of the world, but particularly in respect of Africa.

T2. When a domestic abuse survivor decides to leave an abuser, having a safe, affordable place to escape to is key. Otherwise, they face the risk of homelessness. The benefits system should be there to protect women and children who need to escape, but unfortunately it can often act as a barrier—for example, when a survivor leaves a working household that is not subject to the benefit cap and then becomes a lone parent in an out-of-work household that is subject to the cap. Will the Secretary of State commit today to exempting domestic abuse survivors from the benefit cap so that they can have the best possible chance of accessing a safe and affordable home? (903396)

I thank the hon. Lady for making that point. The benefit cap is there to provide a strong work incentive, to be fair for those people who are hard-working and tax-paying, and to encourage people to move into work where possible. I understand the point she makes regarding the impact of a partner and their work history in this situation, and I am happy to discuss that with her. I have been talking to other Members on this issue. Exemptions will of course apply to the most vulnerable claimants, and we take this area very seriously.

We have heard a lot from those on the Treasury Bench about how much money will be spent on the plan for jobs and the kickstart programme. Can the Secretary of State set out how she will measure success in this programme, and will she commit to coming to the House regularly to update us on progress?

I am absolutely delighted about the impact of the kickstart programme. I went to an event at the Emirates this week where there were 1,400 people coming to find jobs that simply were not there before the start of the pandemic. It is absolutely right that we focus on the outcomes for young people. We have more than 288,000 roles out there for young people, and there are 69,000 people in those roles. That is success. There are traineeships and apprenticeships, and work through youth hubs, and we will find a path for them.

T3. More than 7,000 people in Salford are on the housing waiting list, which is forcing many to rent privately, but the under-35 rule means that younger vulnerable constituents claiming universal credit receive only enough to cover a single room in a shared house, with people they do not know. One of my constituents fled domestic abuse and they do not meet the narrow criteria for exemption until 2023. Will the Secretary of State commit today to urgently expand exemptions from the shared accommodation rate? (903397)

I thank the hon. Lady for that question. As she knows, we have brought forward two of the exemptions to the shared accommodation rate. We have committed to the third, and if I can accelerate it, of course I will do so.

I commend my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and her Department for their success in doubling the number of work coaches to 27,000 in just a few short months. Does she agree that thanks to that boost more jobseekers will get the personalised support they need?

My hon. Friend is so right; it has been a successful recruitment programme. We wanted to reintroduce the face-to-face interventions because we know that that direct intervention through our work coaches is the best way to help people identify roles that they are suitable for and consider the skills involved—they might want to change career. That is how we can guide them on our various jobs programmes and make sure they can start earning again.

T6. Some 11,000 people in my constituency are on UC, and it may come as news to Ministers but nearly 4,000 of those people are in work. More than 2,000 good jobs in Luton North are in aviation and they are under threat as furlough ends. When we look at this job cuts double whammy, it is hard not to conclude that the Conservatives are leaving Luton to fight this crisis on our own. Will the Minister tell the Chancellor to extend the furlough for aviation and to reverse this cut in UC? (903400)

The hon. Lady is wrong to suggest that our Government have not supported the people of Luton throughout this difficult time. The furlough scheme was unique; it was not introduced when many hundreds of thousands of people were made redundant after Labour’s financial crisis. We stepped in, putting more than £400 billion into Government spending overall to support the country during this time. I am conscious of that fact that some people will be concerned about the impact on aviation travel, which is why we have invested in various job schemes, including encouraging people to switch sectors, recognising that the skills they have are transferable.

Will the Secretary of State tell us what work is being undertaken to prevent future maladministration in the communication of major policy changes? I am thinking about not only 1950s-born women, but, as we heard at the Select Committee last week, the many claimants who are still to be told of the imminent cut to UC. Is the ombudsman going to be kept very busy because of the structural failings of this Department?

Communications have already been issued to every UC claimant, through the journal messages, and further communications are continuing to go out.

In my constituency, some 5,000 families with children—possibly more than 10,000 children—are dependent on UC. Can the Secretary of State guarantee that when the benefit is reduced by that £20 a week not one of those children will suffer as a result? Can she look me in the eye and promise that that is the case?

Every family has a different situation and I encourage any of the hon. Gentleman’s constituents who are concerned to approach their jobcentre. We are very conscious that where both parents are actively working, rather than one parent being economically inactive, that will bring more revenue into the household budget. That is one thing we need to do to try to make sure that as many people are economically active as possible, for not only their own prosperity, but the prosperity of the nation.

Many constituents have emailed me to outline their concern that the planned removal of the £20 uplift will have a significant impact on their family and children. How does the Department expect families to survive Tory cuts to UC coupled with a national insurance hike?

The national insurance levy increase is there to tackle a long-standing issue and will be spread between businesses and employees. In fact, the top 15% of earners will pay roughly half the future levy revenues. We are conscious that the universal credit uplift was temporary and we will be doing what we can to help more people not only to get back into work but to progress in work.

My local economy is already struggling, with £12.6 million to be taken out by the universal credit cut. The Secretary of State said that no economic impact assessment had been carried out so far, but will she look again and consider doing one? The cuts are going to affect the most disadvantaged parts of our country, and that does not fit with the Government’s so-called levelling-up agenda.

Just today, the Prime Minister and the Chancellor have announced £650 billion of investment in infrastructure over the next decade. The right hon. Lady will be aware of the industries in her constituency, where there has been huge support from the Government to bring green jobs to her part of the world, and I am conscious of the other benefits that she and colleagues may see in respect of freeports. All that is putting into effect our aim: we want to help people not only to get back into work but to progress in work, with higher-skilled jobs that bring higher pay.

This morning, the Secretary of State claimed to know exactly how many extra hours a universal credit claimant would have to work to make up the £20 by which the benefit is to be cut; this afternoon, she admitted to the House that she had no idea of the answer to that self-same question. That must mean that her comment to the BBC this morning was at best wildly misleading and recklessly irresponsible. Will she apologise for that inadvertent but serious error?

I was not misleading the House in any way in any of my statements made so far, and I ask the hon. Gentleman to withdraw.

Why are lifetime individual savings accounts counted as capital in the calculation of universal credit entitlement? They are designed not to be touched until the saver reaches 60 or is buying a house, so why are people like my constituent being hit by penalty charges because the DWP is forcing them to withdraw from a lifetime ISA early?

Since universal credit was introduced, there has always been a capital recognition, recognising when people have resources that they can draw on to support themselves rather than drawing on the resources of other taxpayers. That is the principle of why capital is included when people want support for their other living expenses.