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Deprivation: Benefits Policy

Volume 711: debated on Monday 21 March 2022

We know that moving into work—particularly full-time work—is the best way to tackle poverty. We are taking decisive action to make work pay, giving nearly 2 million families an extra £1,000 a year through our changes to the universal credit taper rate and work allowances.

I represent Gainsborough South West ward, the 24th most deprived in the country. I wonder whether the Minister would like to come to Gainsborough and discuss with me how we can have pilot schemes, perhaps in the 100 most deprived wards in the country, to really tackle the problem of deprivation with a cross-Government approach that would improve universal credit and tax credits to get people into work and keep them in work, help businesses create jobs in those wards and, above all, help with housing. Is that not a good idea?

It is always a good idea to meet my right hon. Friend, and I will look forward to that. He is absolutely right: the best way to assist people is to help them gain the skills they need to move into work and to progress in work. In Gainsborough, the local jobcentre has worked in partnership with the local council, training providers and the owners of a local business park to recruit staff for a new hospitality venue called the Caldero Lounge through a sector-based work academy programme to help get unemployed people back into work, and there is another SWAP already in train in his constituency. I look forward to meeting him.

Back in the real world, we have seen food bank use rocket over the last 12 years—the Trussell Trust alone distributed 2.5 million emergency food parcels in 2020-21, compared with 40,000 in 2010—and it is set to balloon further as the cost of living soars. That is not tackling poverty through the benefits policy. What does the Minister think went wrong with the welfare state under the Conservatives?

With a record 1.3 million vacancies in the UK, our top priority needs to be to get people into work. We have the household support fund to help people who have vulnerabilities in their lives. That has played a very important role, with £500 million.

The new report from the centre-right Centre for Social Justice is about the latest scourge to hit the desperate and the destitute: illegal money lending. Over a million people have been driven into the arms of illegal money lenders. The report—by the Centre for Social Justice, not the Labour party—states:

“We can expect this to get worse. The emergent cost-of-living crisis casts a looming shadow of financial anxiety.”

It adds that

“pressures on household budgets, low financial resilience and increasingly limited credit options”

are creating “a perfect storm”, driving people “towards exploitation”. Given soaring inflation and falling real living standards, does the Minister expect that there will be more or fewer people in destitution this year?

We work hard to ensure that people receive the money they need and we also work hard to ensure people get into work. As far as people needing debt management advice, we can do that through our jobcentres. The Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham (Guy Opperman), also does a huge amount of work in this area to provide the right sort of advice on money and pensions.

My hon. Friend will know that in February, 9,846 people were claiming universal credit in Darlington. Does he agree that the decision to increase the living wage, extend the work allowance and reduce the taper rate will massively improve the income of people on universal credit?

Absolutely. We want to make sure that work pays, and my hon. Friend has highlighted that fantastically.