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Cost of Living: Social Security Payments

Volume 721: debated on Monday 31 October 2022

23. What recent assessment he has made of the adequacy of benefits in meeting increases in the cost of living. (901932)

We have already taken decisive action to make work pay by cutting the universal credit taper rate to 55% and increasing UC work allowances, which mean that on average low-income households have about an extra £1,000 a year. In addition to that, two cost of living payments, which total £650, are being paid to more than 8 million low-income households on UC, tax credits, pension credits and legacy benefits. There has also been extra help for pensioners and those on disability benefits. That totals more than £37 billion this year.

I am grateful for the Minister’s answer, but the Joseph Rowntree Foundation has warned that if social security does not get uprated with inflation, it will be the

“largest permanent deliberate real-terms cut”

to the basic rate of social security by a British Government in history. According to the Child Poverty Action Group, that would push 200,000 children into poverty. Even the UN rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights warns that it will mean that “lives will be lost”. What will the Minister do to stop that?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that question. I note that he will be visiting his Dumbarton Jobcentre Plus shortly, which I am sure will help him to see the range of interventions in jobcentres, as well as the benefits calculator and the cost of living interventions on I remind him that the Scottish Government have a range of powers, including the ability to provide their own welfare benefits to people in Scotland using existing reserved benefits. The Scottish Government can see how they would like to use their powers and budget themselves.

Happy Hallowe’en, Mr Speaker. Many of my constituents have found social security payments inadequate, because they have not kept pace with the cost of living. For William Thompson and Anne McCurley, however, it is even more frustrating because they narrowly miss out on pension credits and all the passported benefits—Anne misses out by only £3 a week. Will the Minister review the cut-off so that as many people as possible can access the support that they badly need this winter?

I thank the hon. Lady for the point, and I have mentioned two particular websites that I think are incredibly important for people to make sure they get every single bit of help they need. There is always a cut-off point, which is very challenging. I understand there is a huge amount of work going on in her own community to support people, including getting people into work and progressing them, and working with local employers. Of course, the pensions issue is something that the Secretary of State has just answered and will be further updated on 17 November.

I thank my hon. Friend for the answers she has already given for those people meeting the costs of living on social security payments. A big concern many of my constituents have is about the cost of energy over the course of the winter, and the Government have a plan for the next six months to support people. Can my hon. Friend give my constituents reassurance that that plan, when it comes towards its end, will be under review to see what ongoing support could be offered, if required?

I thank my hon. Friend for raising that matter. I worked with the Prime Minister on the plan for jobs, and he has been very clear that he wants to protect the most vulnerable, which is why we are providing families with direct payments worth at least £1,200 over the winter. We will all look with interest at what the Chancellor does on the 17th.

Too many disabled people have been disproportionately hit by the cost of living crisis, with extra costs of over £600 a year. Sadly, we have seen too many unable to cope with this. The Information Commissioner ruled that the DWP unlawfully prevented the release of over 20 reports into the deaths of benefit claimants. We must be able to scrutinise whether the actions taken by the DWP were sufficient or timely enough to prevent the harms identified from happening again. So will the new Secretary of State agree to publish these and all other secret reports—and a yes or no would actually suffice?

I thank the hon. Lady for her question, and I understand the Opposition have an interest in such reports. However, my role at the DWP is about people—helping people up and down the land—and that is what we are doing for people with disabilities. With the extra costs part of the disability payment, about 6 million will be helped by the extra one-off payment of £150, ensuring that we all across the DWP are focused on the most vulnerable.

I welcome the new ministerial team to their place. I hope to meet the new Secretary of State in early course; it was quite difficult to secure a meeting with some of his predecessors, unfortunately. The new Prime Minister spoke of the difficult decisions that will have to be made, but the real difficult decisions are those being forced on our constituents—people on low incomes struggling to afford the basics, pay their bills, heat their homes or feed their children. Let us not forget the reality of the tragic human cost of over a decade of Tory austerity, which urgently needs to end. Does the Minister agree that uprating benefits in line with inflation is not a difficult decision, but is instead the only moral course of action?

That is not a matter for me, but I would like to reiterate at the Dispatch Box that the Government fully understand the pressures we are all facing. We all have constituents facing these matters, and it is absolutely right that we take that decisive action to support people with their bills. Members are talking as if we are not supporting people, but there is £37 billion of help with the cost of living, including the £400 of non-repayable discounts to eligible households provided by the energy bills support scheme. In addition to the benefits calculator and the cost of living webpage on, I would ask people please to reach out to their councils. Members are talking this afternoon as if there is no help, and it is important that our constituents know that that is far from the case.