As my right hon. Friend the Chancellor has announced, we are increasing the national living wage to £9.50 an hour for workers aged 23 and over from this April. That means a pay increase of £1,000 a year for a full-time worker earning the national living wage, and keeps us on track to meet our target to end low pay by the financial year 2024-25. As we have heard, we have taken further decisive action by cutting the universal credit taper rate and increasing the universal credit work allowances.
When it comes to high-paid jobs in the Ipswich area, Freeport East has generated great interest. However, my constituents are keen to see meat on the bones, and for that exciting principle to become a reality. Currently, the plan is to put in the full business case this April. Clearly, that is a most exciting prospect, being near to Ipswich. Will my right hon. Friend give me a firm guarantee that rocket boosters will be put under the plans, to ensure that the benefits of Brexit and the benefits of the freeport can be realised for my constituents as soon as possible?
I thank my hon. Friend for his question. In the week that we announced the Brexit freedoms Bill, that is a really good example of why our decision on the Government Benches to honour the people’s decision to leave the European Union was the right one, and why the Labour party was so wrong to oppose it. The Prime Minister was at Tilbury only yesterday to identify the benefits of freeports, and I can reassure my hon. Friend that we are putting rocket boosters under this policy, for the benefit of places like Ipswich.
Does the Minister agree that some of the ways in which low-income families could be helped would be to drop the national insurance increase, which is wiping out part of the increase in the national living wage anyhow, and to drop many of the green levies, which have a massive impact on electricity bills—up to 20%?
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his question. He knows the high regard that I have for him. I do, however, respectfully disagree with him on these points. There is no other responsible way for us to finance the 9 million more checks, scans and operations that the health and social care levy will unlock than through a broad-based tax increase, which is highly designed to ensure that we protect vulnerable families, so that the 6 million lowest-paid will pay no extra tax at all as a result of the levy.
When it comes to the green levies, it is worth noting that we have reduced our reliance on natural gas, as a country, by 26% since 2010. That is saving taxpayers now, in an era of ultra-high gas prices. It is also worth noting that clean technologies are now the cheapest form of new energy to procure—cheaper than new gas.
Lower-paid, and especially young part-time workers, do not currently benefit from tax relief or employers’ contributions towards pensions under the auto-enrolment scheme. Will the Minister speak to colleagues across Government to look at extending auto-enrolment to lower-paid workers, to ensure that they get the long-term benefits?
My hon. Friend has campaigned consistently on this theme. I would certainly be very happy to have further discussions with him about it. It is worth noting, and celebrating, the fact that the proportion of people who are in low-paid work is actually at its lowest since records began in 1997.
The Trussell Trust finds that three out of four referrals are disabled people, and the Office for National Statistics finds that people who work online at home are more likely to work longer and not retire early, particularly if they are disabled. So will the Chancellor, the Treasury and the Minister look at the idea of promoting working from home after the pandemic, to help enable people with disabilities and other people to be more productive, and at the same time target more support for those in greatest need, as we have found from the Trussell Trust?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question, and for the spirit in which he asks it. Over the course of the spending review we are investing £1 billion in disability-related programmes, and that is an aspect that I am happy to look at further. More broadly, the Government as a whole spend £58 billion a year on wider disability support, so we certainly take that area very seriously.
Some of the lowest-income households are made up of pensioners, and important extra help for the most vulnerable is already available and budgeted for through pension credit, yet up to 1 million people—including, potentially, 4,500 pensioners in north Northamptonshire—are failing to claim up to £1.8 billion in pension credit. Please will the Government do more to promote the take-up of pension credit?
My hon. Friend raises an important point. The state pension and pension credit are rising by 3.1%, which is helping to protect more than 12 million pensioners from cost of living increases. It is vital that people get the help to which they are entitled. If any Member has any practical suggestions to bring to our attention, we will happily look at those, and I will task officials to make sure that we are doing all we can.