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Universal Credit: Removal of Uplift

Volume 700: debated on Monday 13 September 2021

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.