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Work and Pensions

Volume 718: debated on Monday 11 July 2022

The Secretary of State was asked—

Cost of Living Payment: UC Claimants in Gedling

1. What estimate she has made of the number of universal credit claimants in Gedling constituency who will receive a cost of living payment. (900970)

Despite what has happened today, our spirits will not be dampened, and I am sure that the Chamber will be in full flow before we know it.

Universal credit claimants who received at least 1p during assessment periods that ended between 26 April and 25 May 2022 will be eligible for the first instalment of a cost of living payment worth £326. Latest statistics show that 4,800 households in Gedling were in receipt of universal credit in February 2022.

Will my hon. Friend confirm when the more than 10,000 households in my Gedling constituency that are eligible for a cost of living payment should expect to receive that help from the Government?

The first instalment of the means-tested cost of living payment of £326 will be paid to eligible households from 14 July. I am pleased to remind colleagues that the payment is the first in a £15 billion package of measures to help households this year.

Disabled People: Support in Work

2. What steps she is taking with Cabinet colleagues to help ensure that disabled people are supported in work. (900971)

We are absolutely delighted to see 1.3 million more disabled people in work than in 2017, smashing our commitment of 1 million lives changed by 2027 five years early. We remain committed to reducing the disability employment gap and, over the next three years, we will invest £1.3 billion in employment support for disabled people and people with health conditions.

The UK has the highest levels of in-work poverty this century, which, as the Minister will know, disproportionately impacts groups facing higher living costs, such as disabled people. In the middle of this Tory man-made cost of living crisis, will she ensure that the UK Government’s health and disability White Paper addresses the suitability of the current statutory sick pay system, increase the Access to Work fund and end the payment cap, as well as create statutory timescales for the implementation of reasonable adjustments?

As is the hon. Member’s wont, she introduces a series of serious points, which I look forward to continuing to discuss with her here and in other places. I can confirm that we shall be bringing forward our health and disability benefits assessment White Paper, and I very much look forward to discussing the full breadth of the contents with her. I can also confirm that our goal is to help as many disabled people as possible and as appropriate to start, to stay and to succeed in work, because that is one way of being more resilient to economic crises. That is in addition to our extensive cost of living support.

The Government-commissioned National Centre for Social Research report confirms that many disabled people live in poverty. Ministers claim that work is a route out of poverty, yet the disability employment gap remains stubbornly at 28%. We have a bureaucratic Access to Work scheme, with an ineffective spending cap, which, ironically, is not available in all accessible formats. A mere £128 million is spent on it, compared with £64 billion on disability benefits. What does the Minister say to those disabled people who want to work, but who are faced with a system that, frankly, is not fit for purpose?

I think the hon. Member is wrong to say that the disability employment gap is static at 28%. It is moving in the right direction, which is important to acknowledge. While we have made progress, we need to be able to make more. It is important to recognise what has gone on, in that we have more disabled people in work and the disability employment gap is reducing. We need Access to Work to be a strong part of the solution. There is a great deal of work going on to transform Access to Work to make it even more effective in helping disabled people to start, stay and succeed in work. Those will all be continued priorities of this Government and this Department.

Cost of Living Increase: Pensioners

3. What steps her Department is taking to support pensioners in the context of the increase in the cost of living. (900972)

Mr Speaker, I hope to be a better Pensions Minister than the one from whom I have just inherited the job.

The United Kingdom Government have provided £37 billion-worth of support for those most in need, including pensioners. Some pensioners will receive in excess of £1,500 over and above the state pension, which is up this year.

I thank the Minister for that answer, but pension credit figures show that an estimated £1.7 billion goes unclaimed. Not only are 850,000 families missing out on this essential support, but they are also ineligible for the £650 cost of living payment. Will the Minister consider extending the cut-off date for entitlement to that payment to next March? Will the Department finally look at a proper benefits take-up strategy such as the one we have in Scotland?

The hon. Member will be aware that, by reason of the pension credit awareness campaign from April and in particular the pension credit day of action on 15 June, the numbers for pension credit have massively increased—by well over 275% for that period. He will also be aware that there is a huge effort being made to ensure that pension credit take-up increases. I ask all hon. Members please to encourage their communities to apply. Finally, he will also be aware that pension credit is retrospective, so people have until 24 August to apply and still be entitled to the £650 cost of living payment that this Government will be making from Thursday.

Following the resignation of the Prime Minister, there is a real risk that the House turns in on itself. I want to draw the Minister’s attention to the serious cost of living crisis facing families and pensioners in this country. Sadly, the Government broke their promise to keep the triple lock on the state pension at the very time that inflation was starting to rise. As a result, pensioners struggling to get by have each lost more than £500 this year. How can the Minister possibly justify letting down pensioners in this way?

I was the Minister who saw that the Labour party at the time did not object to our taking the actions we did in respect of the triple lock. The hon. Gentleman talks about a loss but, as he knows, the state pension was less than £100 in 2009, before the Government changed in 2010. He also knows that we have now virtually doubled the state pension and that there is in excess of £1,500 extra money going to pensioners this year, by reason of the winter fuel payment, the cost of living support for those who are most vulnerable, the council tax rebate worth £150 and the energy support fund, which arrives on or around 1 October.

The reality is that even before the Pensions Minister scrapped the triple lock, taking £500 out of the pockets of pensioners, the UK had pensioner poverty rates higher than small independent European countries. We now know that the Chancellor is reviewing the corporation tax rates, which were intended to raise £50 billion over the lifetime of this Parliament. How can he guarantee that the triple lock will not be sacrificed once more, trapping pensioners in poverty just to pay for Tory tax giveaways?

As the hon. Gentleman will be aware, the United Kingdom Government have provided £37 billion-worth of support—[Interruption.] Oh, we most definitely have. That takes the form of four different payments over the next six months and is a real support to the most vulnerable in our community. Without a shadow of a doubt, we will continue to support those most vulnerable.

Pension Credit Campaign: New Claims

4. What estimate she has made of the number of new Pension Credit claims submitted in (a) Kettering constituency, (b) North Northamptonshire and (c) England since the start of her Department’s Pension Credit campaign in April 2022. (900973)

It was an honour and a privilege to visit my hon. Friend’s Kettering constituency. Although the figures on new pension credit claims cannot be broken down by constituency or region, the pension credit campaign has been highly successful, with more than 10,000 claims received across Great Britain during the week of the pension credit day of action on 15 June. That was an increase of 275% for the relevant period compared with 2021, which also saw an increase.

I congratulate my hon. Friend on being the longest-serving Pensions Minister ever and thank him for visiting Kettering on Friday 1 July and supporting the Kettering Older People’s Fair. I urge him to use the fact that pension credit is a gateway benefit in encouraging people to take it up. Not only could it be worth £3,300 in itself, but it gives access to extra help with council tax, heating bills, NHS dental treatment and free TV licences.

As my hon. Friend knows, I am in day three of being the Pensions Minister—but the previous one was very good, I did hear. The practical reality is that pension credit is a difficult benefit to try to get out, because everybody has to apply. It is very much our role as Members of Parliament across all parties to ensure that we send out the message that, if anybody is in doubt, they should apply. That can apply to any particular member of our community because the circumstances differ in any particular way, but my hon. Friend is right that this benefit is a springboard to so much else, with £3,300 on average that people can apply for.

I am not quite sure of your connection with this question, as a Scottish MP, because obviously it is about Northamptonshire and England. There must be one, but I cannot see it. Are you sure there is a connection to the question? [Interruption.] It is limited to three areas—the responsibility is for those areas. I call James Sunderland.

Fraud and Error in Welfare System

5. What steps her Department is taking to reduce the level of fraud and error in the welfare system. (900974)

In May this year, we published “Fighting Fraud in the Welfare System”, which details our proposals for reducing fraud and error, including legislative change and closer working across Government.

The claimant rate in Bracknell is way below the national average. My constituency enjoys high employment, but we still have lots of job vacancies. What steps is the Department therefore taking to ensure that the remaining claimants are helped into work?

With a record 1.3 million vacancies, our focus is not only on tackling fraud but on continuing to help people to get back into work and to progress in their careers. A multi-billion-pound plan for jobs will continue to help our constituents and people across the UK to find work and progress in employment.

With regard to DWP issues, one of the largest problems I see in my mailbag is people who go for assessed benefits, such as the personal independence payment, being turned down at the first stage, having to go to appeal and, in huge numbers, winning on appeal. Why are there so many errors in the assessment process?

I thank the hon. Member—another good Cheshire MP—for his question. We are working hard to make the right decisions first time, every time. All health professionals undertaking assessments on behalf of the Department must be registered practitioners who have also met requirements around training and competence. We are working hard to make sure that we can further improve the quality of those assessments with clinical coaching and monthly performance meetings.

Phoenix House DWP Office: Proposed Closure

6. What assessment she has made of the potential impact of the proposed closure of her Department’s office based in Phoenix House in Barrow-in-Furness on the ability of her Department to deliver specialist services in that area. (900975)

The Department’s priority will be to retain, retrain and redeploy colleagues either within the Department for Work and Pensions or within other Government Departments in the area, and with no reduction in the overall services people receive.

The plan to close Phoenix House in Barrow will result in more than 40 specialist jobs leaving the area. This matters because the people there are the only team in the country able to deal with the really complicated industrial disablement benefits that they process. Only recently, largely due to our industrial heritage in Barrow, we were confirmed as having the highest rate of mesothelioma in the UK. The team at Phoenix House help not just Barrow residents but people across the UK with such complex diseases. I have written at length to the Secretary of State about this, with detailed testimonies from charities, service users, staff members and third-party organisations that want to keep the centre open. Will my hon. Friend meet me to discuss how we can find a way to make this work?

My hon. Friend is a doughty campaigner for his constituency and for the wider area, and the jobs that he is concerned with, and I give him great credit for that. I am not the responsible Minister, and I know that that letter has only recently arrived into the Department, but I will ensure very definitely that the Minister in respect of this particular decision will meet him in the near weeks so that there can be a proper discussion in respect of the situation for impacted staff.

Disabled People in Work

As I said to the hon. Member for Motherwell and Wishaw (Marion Fellows) , we are absolutely committed to being able to continue to increase the number of disabled people in work. There is a range of Government initiatives to achieve this, including the Work and Health programme, the Intensive Personalised Employment Support programme, Access to Work, Disability Confident, and supporting partnerships with the health system.

My office is part of the Disability Confident scheme started by the Department. I strongly support the scheme because it encourages employers to think differently about disability, and to take action to improve how they recruit, retain and develop disabled people in their workplace. How will my hon. Friend work to promote that scheme, which is a valuable tool to close the employment gap that we have already talked about today?

First, I thank my hon. Friend and any other hon. and right hon. Members who are members of that scheme, because it is incredibly important that we do that from this place as we encourage employers of all shapes and sizes to be involved in the scheme. Secondly, we will continue to promote the scheme from the Department as widely as possible through a variety of communications. Thirdly, because our goal to continue to reduce the disability employment gap remains at the forefront, we want to grow commitment and action across and outside of Government. It has to be a shared ambition across society and that is well encapsulated in the Disability Confident scheme.

The Government’s response last November to the Select Committee’s report on the disability employment gap promised key improvements to Access to Work to make it easier for people to use. Can the Minister give us an update on progress with that? Specifically, the trial of Access to Work passports started last November, so that people can take their support from one job to another. Can the Minister tell us whether that will be extended to everybody on the scheme and when we can expect that to happen?

These are incredibly important details and aspects of the Access to Work scheme, and the right hon. Gentleman is correct that those improvements are in the pipeline. We have been able to pilot a number of different passports. I will write to him with details and I am also with his Committee next week, where I can provide the precise details of that. By way of example, a passport now in operation assists freelancers and people who work in contract form to be able to carry their requirements with them from job to job, so that it is easier for them to stay and succeed in work, which is the goal we are talking about. I also look forward to talking further with him about the digital improvements we want to make to the process, again to help people get that support earlier and faster, so that they can get the benefits of being in work.

Unemployed People: Help into Work

It is a privilege to be here, and I take this opportunity to pay tribute to the former Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Sussex (Mims Davies), for all her incredible work in this role. We want everyone to be able to find a job, to progress in work and to thrive in the labour market, whoever they are and wherever they live. On 26 January 2022, we launched the Way to Work campaign, moving more than 520,000 job-ready claimants into work by the end of June.

I warmly congratulate the Minister on her appointment. Unemployment is at extremely low levels across the country, which is very welcome, but in my constituency of Aylesbury, we still have some small areas where some people struggle to find a job, despite there being vacancies nearby, often because they do not have the skills required to take those jobs. How can my hon. Friend’s Department help those who need new skills to get back into work?

Thank you very much, Mr Speaker. My hon. Friend raises the important issue of skills. We empower work coaches to build individual, tailored support packages to help claimants into work and to progress into better work. The DWP has a range of programmes that work coaches can use to help claimants to gain new skills in areas of local labour market need. That includes sector-based work academy programmes and DWP Train and Progress.

I also welcome the Minister to her new job. Can I ask her to give someone a good kick on the kickstart scheme? It was the skill delivery mechanism for this Government, and it has quietly been put down in some back room. The fact of the matter is that this country needs more skills and this Government are not interested in skills and are not doing their job. Can she not get on with it, and get on with it now?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. Kickstart has delivered more than 163,000 starts, and I think that is hugely to be welcomed. One of the things that is so amazing to me in this role is to recognise the absolute impact on the individual people concerned of those 160,000 job starts. That is something we should welcome.

I congratulate the Secretary of State and her updated DWP team on their successes up and down the country. It is okay that it is my hon. Friend the Member for Hertford and Stortford who is at the Dispatch Box, rather than anyone else. Delivering help and opportunities up and down the country—true levelling up in action in jobcentres—has been the difference for the Way to Work campaign. Can I ask my hon. Friend, the new Minister, how she is looking to continue to progress for everybody, building on the success of getting half a million people into work through the Way to Work scheme?

Again, I pay tribute to all the amazing work that my hon. Friend did in her role. She is right to talk about the way to work scheme. We are pleased that we have the DWP youth offer, which will continue to offer huge opportunities to people in that age group, and which extends to 16 and 17-year-olds. There are also a multitude of other valuable schemes, such as the 50-plus champions, the job entry targeted support scheme and in-work progression—a whole host of schemes—that we are working hard to deliver.

I welcome the Minister to her new role. Does she share my concern at recent data showing up to 70,000 armed forces veterans in receipt of universal credit? Does she think that the 50 armed forces champions around the country, who are no doubt doing their absolute best, have the capacity to provide the support to those who have served our country so that they can weather the cost of living crisis?

That is a vital area. Our veterans deserve our respect and every bit of help and assistance that they can receive. We are extending the veterans champions scheme; I will be looking at that in much more detail. This is day one, but I look forward to focusing on that and ensuring that I engage with the hon. Gentleman and others who are concerned about it.[Official Report, 13 July 2022, Vol. 718, c. 4MC.]

I welcome the new Minister to her role. She joins the Government at a unique and special time. I also take the opportunity to pay tribute to the work done by the hon. Member for Mid Sussex (Mims Davies). I do not agree with her very much on employment, but I know how hard she worked and that many people in the Department will miss her greatly.

As the Minister is new, I will ask her an easy question—all I am looking for is a single number. By the time she leaves office, how many of the 1 million people who are estimated to have left the labour market will be back to work?

It seems churlish, on day one, to mention the Labour party’s record on jobs. Every time it has left power, it has left more people unemployed than when it started.

Living Cost Increases: Benefit Claimants

Our £15 billion cost of living package includes a one-off £650 cost of living payment to low-income households in receipt of a means-tested benefit, a one-off £150 disability cost of living payment, and a £300 top-up to the winter fuel payment for pensioners. That is on top of a wider package of measures that takes the total Government help for households to £37 billion this year.

The Minister will be aware that during a recent Work and Pensions Committee meeting, the Secretary of State told me that she was not satisfied with the progress of bereavement benefits for cohabiting partners, and that she was meeting her officials the next day. When will the second remedial order be laid so that people who would qualify for that benefit can meet their living costs?

The hon. Member is a determined terrier on this issue, and understandably so. Important issues have been raised and it is vital that we get it right. We are carefully considering the issues and we will lay the order before the House as soon as we are able. In parallel, DWP officials are working at pace on implementation plans for the order, as I have discussed with him separately.

State Pension: Cost of Living

11. What assessment she has made of the adequacy of the state pension in meeting the rising cost of living. (900981)

18. What assessment she has made of the adequacy of the state pension in meeting the rising cost of living. (900988)

The Government have announced a £37 billion package of support to help people with the cost of living. The full basic state pension is now £2,300 a year higher than in 2010 and is supported by many other measures.

It is good to see the Minister back; there is nothing like organised labour to effect progress.

In reality the state pension has not managed to keep up with the multiple crises we face: we have the Ukraine crisis pushing up food and fuel prices on top of the existing cost of living crisis. Yet the Ministerial and other Pensions and Salaries Act 1991 dictates that last week’s non-returning Ministers, including an alleged groper, are set to net £423,000 in severance payments. Given the widespread public revulsion among our constituents feeling the pinch, including state pensioners, does the Minister not see that there is an argument for the non-exercise of that provision in this instance, because—

This is about the pensions Act, Mr Speaker; I asked about this on Thursday. Does the Minister not see that this looks really bad to the general public in a cost of living crisis and that there is a good argument for the non-exercise of the Act in this instance?

This matter will be dealt with by an urgent question that follows. I can confirm it definitely does not apply to me, and frankly I do not think it is an appropriate question for today.

The Minister is not new to his job. In the order of 1 million pensioners who should be in receipt of pension credit are still not receiving it, and he will know that they lose out not simply on the credit but on all manner of other benefits. Will he show some urgency and compassion for those struggling with the cost of living increases?

I sincerely hope that the hon. Gentleman joined in on Pension Credit Day of Action on 15 June, because it is incumbent on all Members of Parliament to get behind the efforts of the Government, and successive Governments, to improve pension credit take-up. The fact of the matter is that this Government have done more to increase take-up and the number of claims than any previous Government. There is no doubt whatsoever that we should all get people to apply, with £,3,300-worth of benefits applying for those receiving pension credit.

Universal Credit Migration: Disabled People

12. What assessment her Department has made of the impact on disabled people of the move from legacy benefits to universal credit as part of the managed migration process. (900982)

We estimate that 600,000 people on employment and support allowance will be better off on UC, which is of course a modern, flexible benefit that includes targeted support for disability and which helps to simplify the benefits system, providing support in times of need and making work pay. I can add that the Department holds regular engagement sessions with external stakeholders, including of course disabled people and others in the health and disability sector, seeking their input into the process.

In 2019 the then Secretary of State promised that the Department would pause the migration to UC after a pilot of 10,000 cases, would report back and would provide parliamentary scrutiny of legislation for the wider roll-out. Instead of breaking this promise, does the Minister accept that migration to UC will make thousands of people worse off in real terms just when inflation is going through the roof, and will she now pause the process?

The answer is no, and that is because, first, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State updated the House through a written ministerial statement only recently in which she explained precisely the point about the prior piloting and exploratory work. Secondly, Parliament voted in 2012 to end legacy benefits and replace them with a single, modern benefit system, and on top of that, committed to providing transitional financial protection. That is the key point in this case: where a claimant may not already be better off—as we have said, in the majority of cases, they are—they are supported.

The truth is that many people migrating will be worse off because of the timing—in a period of high inflation. We know that the legacy benefit group to be transferred on to UC is on average much more vulnerable than those in the existing UC caseload; the great majority of legacy ESA clients are in the support group. Can the Minister tell us exactly how the migration process is going? Has it been tested at scale to ensure that it is safe for vulnerable clients?

As my right hon. and hon. Friends have laid out extensively to the House, the process being followed is one of initial discovery. After that, it will be possible to provide fuller answers to the House of Commons about how the broader process will work. The vast majority of claimants will either be better off or no worse off, and I want to lay on record one more time that 55% of people will see an increase in their award, 10% will see no change, and 35% will be protected transitionally.

Poverty Levels: April 2023

It is not usual to project poverty levels in terms of statistics—[Interruption.] Does someone want to join in? [Interruption.] I just cannot hear. Somebody is talking. Projecting poverty levels is not something we normally do. However, the latest official statistics show that in 2021, some 8 million people were in poverty in absolute low-income before housing costs, which was a fall on the previous year. I am very conscious of the challenge of the cost of living right now, which is why we are providing a £15 billion support package targeted at the most in need, but I am proud of the fact that we are getting more and more people into work—over half a million in just the past five months. We know that for most people, the best way to get out of poverty is to get into work.

Even using the Government’s preferred measure of absolute child poverty, the proportion of children living in absolute poverty rose in every north-east local authority area between 2014-15 and 2019-20, and continued to rise in the first year of the pandemic. In Stockton, that figure is up by 7.1 percentage points; in Hartlepool, it is up by 7.2; in Darlington, it is up by 7.9; in Redcar, it is up by 9.4; and in Middlesbrough, it is up by a colossal 13.9 percentage points. Those are not just numbers: they represent thousands of children. Can the Minister tell the House which of the Tory leadership candidates will be content to see children in places such as Stockton go hungry, and which of them will take action to ensure they do not?

I would be grateful if the hon. Gentleman would give me the specific source of his statistics, because I believe that statistically, child poverty has actually fallen, something of which Government Members are proud. Nevertheless, he will be pleased by the fact that people have opportunities and are getting into work. That is what we will continue to do, because we know that children in workless households are undoubtedly more likely to be in poverty. That is why we continue to focus on getting their parents into work.

One in three children in Barnsley are living in poverty. My constituent cares for his disabled eight-year-old son. He recently started a part-time job to supplement his income, but after working just two hours’ overtime, he had a whole month of carer’s allowance deducted. The Secretary of State has just said that the best route out of poverty is to get into work, so can she explain why those who receive carer’s allowance are penalised for doing just that?

I expect that the hon. Lady’s constituent is receiving the caring element of universal credit, rather than carer’s allowance specifically, which is a slightly separate approach. Universal credit is a dynamic benefit. It reflects the fact that when a person is working more, they receive less support from other taxpayers, and—just as happened at the beginning of the covid pandemic—when taxpayers are working less, they immediately started receiving more. That is the success of universal credit, and we will continue to encourage people to get into work.

Workplace Pension Auto-enrolment: Crawley

14. How many people have been auto-enrolled in workplace pensions in Crawley constituency since 2012. (900984)

Some 35,000 people have been automatically enrolled into a workplace pension in the Crawley constituency since 2012. We thank the 1,690 employers who have declared compliance with their enrolment duties. Some 10.7 million people across the country are now saving into a workplace pension.

I am grateful to receive those figures from the Minister, and I congratulate the Government on the record numbers of people auto-enrolled into workplace pensions, both in my Crawley constituency and across the country. Will he also pay tribute to some of the pension providers, such as B&CE, the People’s Pension, which is headquartered in Crawley?

I know the People’s Pension very well, and have met its staff many times. I have had the great privilege of coming to Crawley and meeting the team behind such a great organisation. It is a much-valued employer that is doing great work in making pensions accessible to the working population, both in Crawley and all across the country. That matters, because we used to have 26% of young people and 40% of women saving for a pension, and those figures are now well above 80% across the country.

Young People: Support into Work

15. What steps she plans to take to support young people into work following the closure of the kickstart scheme. (900985)

Following the success of kickstart, which has seen over 163,000 jobs started by young people, with approximately 30,000 still on that scheme, the DWP youth offer remains in place to support those who still need help. That includes youth hubs, which bring together partner organisations and the DWP in local communities to provide employment and skills support.

I have spoken with many young people since becoming an MP. They believe that waiting and fighting for their dream job is the right thing to do. Does the Secretary of State agree with me that our young people should take opportunities that arise which will get them earning while still applying for their dream job, as that will not jeopardise their chances but will, most probably, do exactly the opposite?

As ever, my hon. Friend talks common sense. It is really important that people realise that the heart of our Way to Work campaign is ABC—any job, better job, career. We know that having a job already allows people to build a lot of skills so they can progress, perhaps in the job of their dreams. Through support such as the DWP youth offer, work coaches will continue to help unemployed young people move into a range of roles. The skills and work experience that people can gain from a job will help them to progress.

Universal Credit: Performers and Creative Workers

16. If she will make an assessment of the impact of the universal credit minimum income floor on performers and creative workers with unpredictable and fluctuating earnings. (900986)

We recognise that earnings can fluctuate for all self-employed people, including performers and creative workers, and that it takes time to establish a business. That is why we offer a 12-month start-up period, giving claimants time and support to grow their earnings and reach their agreed minimum income floor before it is applied.

I understand the objective of the minimum income floor, to get into sustainable employment, but perhaps the Minister does not appreciate that for people in the performing arts and creative sectors it is not just a short-term period for which they have unpredictable and fluctuating incomes. By the nature of theatre, music, performance and so on, shows are cancelled at short notice. In fact, established performers with viable careers still get hit disproportionately by the minimum income floor. Would it not be sensible to collect the data on a sector-by-sector basis, so that we do not have a one-size-fits-all approach but can tailor it to achieve the objective he wants, which is to reach the need of each specific sector?

Universal credit supports self-employed people and the Department ensures fairness by treating all sectors equally. I have already talked about the 12-month start-up period, which is designed to strike the right balance between supporting claimants to make a success of their business and protecting public funds.

Cost of Living: Disability Benefit Claimants

19. What steps her Department is taking to support people in receipt of disability benefits with the rising cost of living. (900989)

Six million people in receipt of an eligible disability benefit will receive a £150 disability cost of living payment, as well as the £400 energy bill discount. Many will also be eligible for the £650 cost of living payment for lower-income households, the first instalments of which are being paid this week.

I thank the Minister for that response, but at the time when the then Chancellor came up with that support package in May, Ofgem’s cap prediction was that a typical bill would rise to £2,800 in October. It now looks as though it could be something like £450 more than that, with yet another rise in January. What additional support will whoever the Chancellor is, or will be in a couple of weeks’ time, come up with to ensure people with disabilities can manage to pay their fuel bills?

The helpful thing I can add here is that disabled people can, of course, also benefit from the package previously announced in the spring statement, which continues in the format of the household support fund. Many millions of pounds have already been allocated to local authorities, which are best placed to direct help to those who need it most.

Topical Questions

At this moment, I am delighted to have a team who are making sure that the wheels of government keep turning. That is particularly true given that we are the biggest delivery Department in Whitehall, on which so many vulnerable people rely.

It is certainly my focus to deliver help for households. As the Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions, my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich North (Chloe Smith) pointed out, we will be sending out the first instalment of the £650 cost of living payments, starting from this Thursday.

We are also building on our successful Way to Work scheme, having smashed our ambition to get half a million people into a job in just five months, thanks to help from my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Sussex (Mims Davies). Dare I say, Mr Speaker, that that is way to go for Way to Work!

We are now putting more focus on those further from the labour market who are economically inactive or most at risk of inactivity, whether through the lifetime MOT offer or the £1.3 billion-worth of employment support for disabled people. That will help to grow the economy and ensure that more people are on the path to prosperity and prospects through work.

Many of my Luton South constituents are struggling to make ends meet. In fact, across the east of England, 50% of Citizens Advice debt clients are in a negative budget, with their monthly expenditure on essentials exceeding their income; that is up 12% from the same period in 2019. Does the Secretary of State still think that it is a good idea for the Government to raise taxes this year, when the UK is the only G7 country to do so?

The hon. Lady will be aware of the £37 billion package that is going to households, £15 billion of which is being deployed this year. People will already have received some elements of that through council tax support, and I have outlined the cost of living payment support. I could add to that the lifting of the national living wage to £9.50 an hour and the reduction in the taper rate to 55% for people who are working and on universal credit. We are targeting support at the most challenged low-income households, and we will continue to do that. Meanwhile, we will continue to try to do what we can to grow the economy to help households, so that we can tackle inflation overall.

T3. Will my right hon. Friend outline how, thanks to the work incentives built into universal credit, some 11,600 Carshalton and Wallington residents—in working households, which is welcome—will receive a cost of living payment in the coming days, and will she set out what she is doing to ensure that even more people from Carshalton and Wallington can get into work? (900997)

My hon. Friend continues to be a champion for his constituents. He will be aware of aspects of the Way to Work campaign that are different from how they were in the past. Far more job fairs are happening, bringing employers into jobcentres for interviews. That enables us to make quicker decisions, find out what is going wrong in the process and support people so that they can more quickly get the pay packet that they cherish.

As we have heard, it is expected that the energy price cap will rise by £450 more than was anticipated when the Government announced their cost of living package. A typical household will face energy bills of £3,250; that is more than a third of the value of the state pension. How on earth does the Secretary of State expect pensioners and families to cope this winter?

I think the right hon. Gentleman is referring to an external analyst’s prediction of what might happen with energy prices. Nevertheless, the Government have responded. We deliberately made sure that our cost of living payment package came out when Ofgem made its announcement, and that is why we tailored the cost of living payment support to help households. We will make sure that support for household energy costs goes to every single household in the country, in addition to our comprehensive package. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy leads on fuel poverty. I am conscious that in making decisions, he will consider the vulnerable the most, as all of us in the Government do.

I appreciate that the Secretary of State may not be in her place come this October—who knows?—but she is currently in a Cabinet with a Chancellor and a Foreign Secretary, and she shares the Government Benches with a whole host of colleagues, who have made £30 billion to £40 billion-worth of unfunded tax cut commitments. Is not the truth that those tax cuts can be paid for only by further cuts to the state pension, further cuts to universal credit and further cuts to disability benefit, and that the reality is that the next Tory Prime Minister will make the cost of living crisis even worse?

Far from it; as has been shown yet again, this Conservative Government have stepped up to deal with the cost of living challenge, just as we did through covid, and we will continue to do so. That is why we will be spending £37 billion on this. As for support going forward, I am conscious that people who are running to be leader of the Conservative party and the future Prime Minister want, quite rightly, to make sure that we have an active, growing economy. I will leave them to be judged on their policies. I am the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, and we are going ahead with the additional payments, starting this week. Many households will be looking forward to them, and I am pleased that we are able to deliver them.

T6. I frequently get complaints from people in the agriculture sector that they cannot get the workers they need from the UK jobs market. What more can the Department do, perhaps working with educational facilities such as Duchy College in Cornwall, to get jobseekers into these important roles? (901002)

As always, my hon. Friend is a fantastic advocate for her constituents in South East Cornwall. Jobcentres work with employers in all sectors to help them to connect with jobseekers who are looking for work, and to fill their vacancies. I encourage any employer to reach out to their local jobcentre. DWP staff recently held events alongside the National Farmers Union to promote jobs in agriculture and connect people to our sector-based work academy programmes.

The UK Government recently rejected the Work and Pensions Committee report’s recommendation to

“extend Child Benefit to all British children irrespective of their parents’ immigration status.”

People with no recourse to public funds do not qualify for the additional cost of living payments. Children are literally starving and suffering malnutrition because of this cruel policy. Does the Secretary of State believe that this is acceptable in the 21st century?

The hon. Lady refers to the fact that people without recourse to public funds are not eligible for benefits. When people arrive, I accept that they are not going to be eligible for child benefit. Any family in a state of difficulty can apply to the Home Office for a review of that status; it is for them to do so. At the same time, as I think we confirmed to the Select Committee when we discussed the matter at the hearing last week, it is for local councils to design the way they do the household support fund. It may be possible for people without recourse to public funds to apply to their local authority.

Will the Secretary of State confirm that support for the welfare state depends on a kind of social contract where people realise that those who are pensioners or out of work should be helped because they have paid their taxes? How is support for the welfare state improved when 60,000 people a year are pouring across the channel, paying illegal smugglers—these are not the poorest of the poor—and being kept on social security, maybe for 10 years, without ever being deported? By the way, what does it cost?

I am conscious that through the help—the visa schemes—being put forward for Ukrainian citizens and for Afghan resettlement, there is access to public funds. My right hon. Friend will be aware that people who arrive in the country illegally are given a payment via the Home Office, I think, of a very small amount of money to pay for the day-to-day, but they are not eligible directly for benefits.

T4. One in five pensioners in the UK is living in poverty, 1.3 million retirees are undernourished and 25,000 people die each year because of cold weather. The situation is dire and is getting worse and worse by the day. What discussions will the Secretary of State have with her new colleague the Chancellor to reverse the cruel Government cuts to the state pension and provide the 5,360 women in Liverpool, West Derby who are affected by the changes to the women’s state pension age with the full restitution that they fully deserve? (901000)

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the state pension has almost doubled under the coalition and this Conservative Government. He will be aware that pensioner poverty is going down. He will be aware that the state pension is up on last year and the year before. He will also be aware that we are paying £1,500-worth of support. He should very much be aware of pension credit and should be making the case for it to all his constituents who can access the £3,300, on average, plus the household support fund. I am sure he is making the case to each and every one of his constituents.

T8. Four in 10 of those who are refused a disability benefit do not appeal. Of those who do, two in three win their appeal, but it is months and months before they come before a tribunal. Are the Secretary of State and her team not ashamed of that? This is about poverty among tens of thousands of people. (901004)

The hon. Gentleman raises an important point that we take very seriously in the Department. We want to get the correct support to people as early as possible and in a way that engenders trust and the proper levels of support from our Department. He will, I am sure, be an avid reader in due course of the health and disability assessments White Paper, which will go into some of these points in greater detail, following on from the Green Paper, to which we had 4,500 consultation responses. However, I can assure him, and all other right hon. and hon. Members, that we want to be able to ensure that the right decisions are made in the first place, and considerable resources are being put into the Department for that purpose.

Last year there were 337,000 overpayments as a result of errors by the DWP, with the debt waived in only 10 cases. Claimants spend these funds in good faith, but are then required to make repayments that they simply cannot afford. Will the Minister agree to bring universal credit in line with legacy benefits by making no-fault debts non-repayable?

It is obviously important to ensure that we get our payments right, and we are working hard to do that, but it is also important to balance the needs of the taxpayer with those of benefit recipients. We do need to get that balance right.

The Department’s annual report, released last week, has revealed that the estimate of the number of women who have been short-changed over their retirement pensions has risen by a further 103,000. That is not quite the rosy impression that the Select Committee was given when the Secretary of State and the permanent secretary appeared before it recently. Just how long will these women have to wait before they receive their legal entitlement, and can the Minister confirm that there will not have to be a further upward revision of these estimates?

It is unquestionably the case that this Government are trying to resolve matters that date back some 20 years. I might have wished that some of my predecessors who occupied the illustrious position of Pensions Minister, some of whom now sit on the Opposition Benches, had made a better job of monitoring these matters. We are fixing the problem. We have—definitely—more than 500 people working on it now, and, as I explained to the Select Committee, we will have upwards of 1,000, rising to 1,300, working on it on an ongoing basis; so it will be fixed in the very near future.

I know what the Government have said they are doing to increase the uptake of pension credit, and that is good; I do not want to hear it again, though. I also know that people can backdate their claims for pension credit, so anyone who makes a successful application by 24 August this year will receive the £650. However, I have been campaigning for the deadline to be extended to the end of the fiscal year, because I think that as we go into the winter, that is what will concentrate people’s minds when they have to make the very real choice between heating and eating. I am not asking the Minister to commit himself to doing this today, but will he commit himself to at least considering extending the deadline to 31 March next year?

The uptake of pension credit is clearly to be applauded, and I sincerely hope that the hon. Lady was behind the pension credit day of action and is behind the messages that we are all trying to put out. That is not all, however. On Thursday we will make the £326 cost of living payment, which will drop £1 million in payments every single working day, and there will be a further £324 payment in the autumn. We are also providing the energy support grant of £400, which will go to every individual in the country, as well as the £300 winter fuel payment, the council tax rebate, and various other household support grants. All those are available to individuals up and down the country, and will also support pensioners.[Official Report, 14 July 2022, Vol. 718, c. 6MC.]

Order. If there are no further questions, I will suspend the sitting for two minutes.

Sitting suspended.