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Social Security Payments: Cost of Living

Volume 726: debated on Monday 23 January 2023

2. What recent assessment he has made of the adequacy of social security payments in the context of increases in the cost of living. (903183)

9. What recent assessment he has made of the adequacy of social security payments in the context of increases in the cost of living. (903192)

10. What recent assessment he has made of the adequacy of social security payments in the context of increases in the cost of living. (903193)

13. What recent assessment he has made of the adequacy of social security payments in the context of increases in the cost of living. (903198)

The Department has completed the statutory annual review led by the Secretary of State on the levels of state pension and benefits. The outcome of the review was confirmed in a written ministerial statement tabled on 17 November last year. Benefits and pensions will increase by 10.1% in April, subject to parliamentary approval. We understand the pressures that people are facing, which is why this Government have provided cost of living support worth more than £37 billion in 2022-23. In addition, more than £1 billion will be provided in 2023-24 through further cost of living payments.

While the Scottish Government are using their devolved powers to support families through anti-poverty measures such as the Scottish child payment, the Tory Government’s changes to the universal credit administrative earnings threshold will mean that 600,000 more people will risk having their vital payments sanctioned. Instead of preventing vulnerable families from receiving the vital social security to which they are entitled when they need it most, will the UK Government follow Scotland’s lead and match the child payment UK-wide?

The hon. Gentleman talks about the Scottish child payment. The DWP is actively working with the Scottish Government to support its delivery, including by providing data through the Scotland Act 2016. I know that the hon. Gentleman has been holding cost of living events in his constituency. To his credit, he has been working with local jobcentres and the DWP to help people at this difficult time, which I applaud. The anecdotal evidence that I have of the AET changes, from visiting jobcentres, has been incredibly positive. People understand that they can earn more, take on more hours and fill vacancies, and that work is the best route out of poverty.

We on the SNP Benches have long called out this Government’s many poverty-inducing policies, such as the benefit cap, the five-week wait and the brutal sanctions regime, which contribute further to debt when people are barely surviving the cost of living crisis. Now, the Conservative think-tank Bright Blue—backed by some on the Government Benches—has said that the welfare system is not providing people with enough support and has called for the introduction of a minimum income. If the Minister will not listen to us, will she at least listen to her friends at Bright Blue?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising that issue. I will be very interested in the outcome of the work that the Scottish Government have been doing on the Scottish child payment system, taking the powers that have been devolved to the Scottish Government to support and link into their communities—that is absolutely what devolution is, and I will be following the outcome. But I reiterate that the work that goes on in his constituency and in the jobcentres that serve his community is also about people progressing through work, and that benefits are not the route out of poverty.

Food prices rose by 16.8% in the year to December, according to the Office for National Statistics, and that disproportionately affects households with children, particularly women-led, single-parent households. Given that the Government spent most of last week saying that they wanted to protect the rights of women and children, can the Minister explain how they are protecting the rights of the women and children in the 787,000 households affected by their two-child policy and the associated rape clause?

Personally, I find the term “rape clause” obnoxious and completely inappropriate. I absolutely do not mind standing up for women, either at this Dispatch Box or outside the Chamber. On supporting families, we are acting, with Barnett consequentials, to support families to progress, whether through interventions such as the national living wage or on the cost of living. I am proud to be the Minister bringing forward the next stage of household support funds and the cost of living Bill. We are not leaving families behind. We are determined to help make work pay and ensure that we fill these sectors’ vacancies and opportunities in the whole of the United Kingdom.

Many of my Edinburgh South West constituents were already suffering from policies such as the two-child limit and the failure to reverse the cut in universal credit before the cost of living crisis hit home. In its recent submission to the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, Human Rights Watch gave a damning review of the United Kingdom Government’s restrictive social security policies, saying that they have a negative impact on the right to an adequate standard of living, to food and to housing for families with children. So, given the times that we are in and given that we are in the full thrust of our cost of living crisis at present, should not the Government be scrapping these policies?

Over 8 million households on eligible means -tested benefits will receive additional cost of living payments up to a total of £900 in the year 2023-24, with more to come. The Government are committed to reducing poverty and supporting low-income families, and we will spend £111 billion on welfare support for working-age people between 2022 and 2023. But let us balance this up, because progression is not only about benefits. I say this as a former Employment Minister, and with the current Minister for Employment, my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham (Guy Opperman), sitting near me. With 1.16 million vacancies across the UK, our focus is firmly on supporting families, both in and out of work, to progress in work.

While understanding the concerns of Opposition Members, can I ask the Minister, when making changes to the benefits system, always to be mindful of ensuring that work pays, given the need to get more people back into the workforce?

My right hon. Friend is right. Whether it is cutting the taper rate, managing the AET, looking at in-work progression or focusing on people dropping out of the labour market at 50-plus, and whether it involves single parents such as myself or other people who need help to progress in work, we are focused on work paying. That should always the balance.

A crucial way to help people in the benefits system is to get inflation down, so can I urge the Government to ensure that they deliver the reduction in inflation that we desperately need?

My right hon. Friend is exactly right. We have heard about the cost of living challenge, but this is a global challenge; it is not only for us. We absolutely need to work together so that every family is doing better.

The best solution for low-income families is not increases in universal credit but access to better-paid employment, so will the Minister join me in encouraging the 1,130 universal credit claimants in Broadland to come to my jobs fair on 10 March at Taverham High School?

I love a jobs fair; I have another one coming up in March in my own constituency of Mid Sussex. Opening up opportunities for people just down the road can often make the difference, and I applaud my hon. Friend for doing this. Every Member should be having their own jobs fair.

Will the Minister join me in congratulating and thanking the volunteers at citizens advice bureaux, especially the one in Kettering, for the work they do to help people access cost of living payment support? What more can the Government do to signpost people to the unprecedented level of support that is available?

I thank my hon. Friend for raising the wonderful work of Citizens Advice, which does so much in Kettering and across the country, and indeed delivers our Help to Claim service. The benefits calculator on and Help for Households can also support people; many do not know those resources are there. We are absolutely here for people and there is more out there. I will ensure that the household support fund is clearly branded and reaches people who may be just managing.

The Minister seemed to be appalled by the reference of my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow North (Patrick Grady) to the rape clause, so let us use its Sunday name: the non-consensual sex exemption, as the Government like to call it. Is she genuinely comfortable with a Government who ask survivors of rape to prove that their child has been born as a result of sexual assault? The reality is that, with the limited devolution powers we have for social security, we have the game-changing Scottish child payment, while this Government ask women to prove that their children have been born as a result of rape just to get state support. Given that the Labour party has departed from many of its policies and is a pale imitation of the Tories, is it not the case that the only way to ensure that we have a decent social security system is with independence?

We should be very careful with our language in this regard. It is absolutely right that people in every single circumstance can come forward positively, but labelling the provision in that way in the Chamber is not helpful—[Interruption.] It is not about whether it is our policy; that terminology is unhelpful. Universal credit is always tailored to individual circumstances. If anybody would like to come forward with anything that has happened to them, jobcentres are a safe place in which to declare domestic abuse or ask for support. I say to those people: please do step forward, as we have the J9 initiative and other ways to support people.