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In-work Poverty: Cost of Living

Volume 715: debated on Monday 6 June 2022

12. What discussions she has had with Cabinet colleagues on steps to tackle in-work poverty in the context of the rise in the cost of living. (900284)

15. What discussions she has had with Cabinet colleagues on steps to tackle in-work poverty in the context of the rise in the cost of living. (900287)

This Government have taken decisive action to make work pay, giving 1.7 million families an extra £1,000 per year, on average, through changes to the universal credit taper, work allowances, and increasing the national living wage to £9.50 an hour. Some extra support is coming in through the packages we have already mentioned today. It is also important to make the House aware that we extend help to people already on universal credit who are working to see what we can do to help them to progress in work and to take up other opportunities, such as making sure that they know about things like childcare support.

So grants rather than loans are the solution after all. Evidence from Feeding Britain and Good Food Scotland shows, for example, that people who work in a supermarket cannot afford to shop there, with fridges being switched off and lightbulbs being removed at home, and more pawning, borrowing and reliance on credit. Now that the principle is that grants are preferable to loans, will the Secretary of State apply the same principle to universal credit advance payments, as argued for by the Work and Pensions Committee?

This is the second time I have discussed this particular topic today. People can choose to get an extra payment of universal credit earlier, and then we spread that over the entire year, so, in effect, they get 13 payments instead of 12. That is what the advance is about. A number of people who move across from legacy benefits get some run-ons of different benefits to try to help with the cash transition when they are used to getting cash on that more regular basis. We will continue to make sure, though, that our top priority is to help people to get into work and to progress in work.

Having a child is one of the tipping points that can plunge families into poverty. Each year, thousands of claimants are excluded from statutory maternity pay by arbitrary rules that disadvantage people in low-paid and insecure employment. These claimants are forced to rely on maternity allowance, which is offset against any universal credit they receive, leaving them thousands of pounds worse off than those on statutory maternity pay. When will the UK Government tackle this manifest injustice rooted in their policies?

The two benefits are completely different, recognising the situations that people find themselves in, so they will be treated differently. The hon. Lady should of course be aware that this was challenged in court and the court did not go with the person who challenged it, recognising that they are completely different benefits.