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Social Security (Additional Payments) (No. 2) Bill

Volume 729: debated on Monday 6 March 2023

Considered in Committee

[Dame Rosie Winterton in the Chair]

6.27 pm

Clause 1

Means-tested additional payments: main payments

I beg to move amendment 4, page 2, line 10, leave out “30 April” and insert “1 April”.

The intention of this amendment is that all payments under this Bill should be made no later than 1 April 2023.

With this it will be convenient to consider the following:

Amendment 5, page 2, line 14, leave out “31 October” and insert “1 April”.

The intention of this amendment is that all payments under this Bill should be made no later than 1 April 2023.

Amendment 6, page 2, line 16, leave out “29 February 2024” and insert “1 April 2023”.

The intention of this amendment is that all payments under this Bill should be made no later than 1 April 2023.

Clause 1 stand part.

Amendment 3, in clause 2, page 2, line 27, leave out “one month” and insert “two months”.

This amendment would extend the assessment period for recipients of universal credit, allowing them to receive the additional payments under this Bill if they had been entitled to a universal credit payment of at least 1p in the two months prior to the qualifying day for each additional payment.

Amendment 2, page 2, line 27, at end insert


(ii) the person would have been entitled to a payment of at least 1p in respect of that period if the person had not been subject to a benefit sanction.”

This amendment is intended to ensure that, in respect of universal credit, payments under this Bill are not denied to a person who is subject to a benefit sanction.

Clauses 2 to 12 stand part

New clause 1—Assessment of bringing forward the second qualifying day—

“The Treasury must publish, no later than six weeks after the day in which this Act is passed, an illustrative analysis of the impact of this Act on household incomes if —

(a) the second qualifying date was no later than 15 August 2023, and

(b) the third qualifying date was no later than 3 January 2024.”

The intention of this new clause is to explore the impact of bringing qualifying dates forward to the beginning of the school year in Scotland and the beginning of the New Year.

New clause 2—Assessment of cost of living support package—

“(1) The Treasury must publish, no later than the next fiscal event after the day on which this Act is passed, a full and detailed analysis of the impact of this Act on households.

(2) The Treasury may include in the analysis the effect of support for households announced in October 2022 in response to energy price rises.

(3) The analysis must include an estimate, based on the latest available reliable data, of the impact on household incomes of —

(a) payments made under this Act to households on mean-tested benefits,

(b) payments made under this Act to recipients of disability benefits.

(4) The analysis must show impacts across all deciles of household income distribution—

(a) in cash terms, and

(b) as proportion of net household income.

(5) The analysis must take into account where relevant differing policy contexts in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.

(6) The analysis must include an assessment of the impact of this Act on households of different types, including single parent families, larger families, and pensioner households.”

New clause 3—Review of distributional effects—

“The Secretary of State and the Treasury must make a joint assessment of the distributional effects of this Act on—

(a) rural communities;

(b) families eligible for free school meals;

(c) unpaid carers; and

(d) households in each income decile

no later than six weeks after this Act is passed and must lay a copy of the assessment before both Houses of Parliament.”

New clause 7—Review of public health and poverty effects of the Act—

(1) The Secretary of State must review the public health and poverty effects of the provisions of this Act and lay a report of that review before the House of Commons within six months of the passing of this Act.

(2) The review must consider —

(a) the effects of the provisions of this Act on the levels of relative and absolute poverty across the UK including devolved nations and regions,

(b) the effects of the provisions of this Act on socio-economic inequalities and on population groups with protected characteristics as defined by the Equality Act 2010 across the UK, including by devolved nations and regions,

(c) the effects of the provisions of this Act on life expectancy and healthy life expectancy across the UK, including by devolved nations and regions, and

(d) the implications for the public finances of the public health effects of the provisions of this Act.”

This new clause would require the Government to report on the public health and poverty effects of the provisions of the Act.

New clause 8—Review of distributional effects—

“The Secretary of State and the Treasury must make a joint assessment of the distributional effects of this Act on—

(a) rural communities;

(b) families eligible for free school meals;

(c) unpaid carers;

(d) households including at least one disabled person; and

(e) households in each income decile,

no later than six weeks after this Act is passed and must lay a copy of the assessment before both Houses of Parliament.”

This new clause would require the Government to report on the effects of the Bill on different socioeconomic groups.

New clause 13—Payment date—

“The Secretary of State and HMRC must seek to make all payments due under this Act no later than 1 April 2023.”

This new clause is intended to require the Government to make all payments listed in this Bill by 1 April 2023.

New clause 14—Review of coverage of self-employed workers—

“The Secretary of State must lay before Parliament within three months of the date on which this Act is passed an assessment of how many recipients of payments under this Act live in households where at least one earner is a self-employed worker.”

This new clause is intended to highlight that the variable income of self-employed workers may leave them excluded from receiving the Government’s cost of living payments.

It is a pleasure to move amendment 4 on behalf of my party.

Additional support for struggling families is much welcomed, and I am pretty sure that no one in the Committee would oppose the provision of more help through the Bill. What my amendment seeks to do is ensure that those struggling families receive that support now, rather than having to wait. It has been a long cold winter, and we are expecting another cold snap this week, so it certainly is not over yet.

While the energy price guarantee has protected families from the worst increases, some households have seen their bills increase two, three or possibly even four times in the past year. We know from the scandal of the forced instalment of prepayment meters that many people have been unable to keep up with those bills, and that for many of them the debts continue to mount up. Hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of others are walking a tightrope—just managing payments, sometimes late, by making other cutbacks: being cold, eating less, or reducing travel. If we are not just to get those families back on an even keel but to help them to stay there, it is vital for the full cost of living payment that the Government wish to make to be made immediately—especially, I would argue, in the face of the impending increase in the energy price guarantee. We have all seen reports in the media over the last few days that the Government may well choose to extend that guarantee. I am sure you might have some thoughts, Dame Rosie, on whether that announcement ought to be made here before being briefed to the press. We cannot fully assess the impact of this Bill, given that we do not know for definite what is happening with the energy price guarantee, so we are left to make assumptions accordingly.

In any case, whether the guarantee lasts for another month or as, my party wants, for more months than that along with a reduction in the energy price guarantee to the Ofgem cap of £1,971 last April, cost of living support payments must be made now to have any impact. We are seeing a reduction in wholesale gas costs, which is why we argue that the Government can do more than they are outlining because they have the headroom to do so. What is the point in people paying some or even all of their bills, only to start struggling all over again? For people to get all the other benefits of affording the basics—being warm enough and fed enough to work, go to school and stay healthy—support needs to be geared to preventing them from falling below that line in the first place.

Moving on from my amendment 4 to the remainder of the Bill, I am left wondering if this really is it. You do not need to be a politician to know that this country is in crisis, although if you are a politician and have a modicum of responsibility or power, it is critical that you realise the severity of the situation. Just turning on the TV, opening a newspaper, speaking to parents at the school gate or spending any time out and about in our communities makes it very clear what is happening.

The difficulties felt by different communities vary, and that is what the Liberal Democrats’ new clause 8, and to some extent new clause 3, seek to address. For a lot of my constituents living in relatively rural North East Fife, the crisis is exacerbated by their countryside location, without easy access to local services and battling against unrelenting fuel costs. What I hear from them time and again is that they feel they are being let down. Farmers, for example, work long days seven days a week, without let-up and never taking a holiday, to provide the rest of us with the food that goes on our plates, but they are being left with next to no support for their fuel costs, no protection against foreign imports and no ability to plan for the future under the Government’s funding streams.

As has been mentioned many times in this House, many rural households rely on heating oil. I have discussed the price guarantee already, but heating oil is not even covered by that. Costs have almost doubled, yet those households have received just one £200 payment—that is if they have managed to receive it at all. We know that the system has been beset by practical difficulties. We have also seen the continued delays in the roll-out of the alternative fuel payment scheme. Applications are now open, but despite reassurances there has been no support for many until now. And when the shop—or too often now, the food bank—is not just around the corner for those in rural communities, they need to travel just for the basics. They cannot avoid getting into the car and paying for petrol, and although petrol and diesel prices have gone up everywhere this year, we always see much faster increases in rural areas.

Those in rural households are not the only group to suffer because of rising energy costs and fuel poverty. As has been discussed in this place before, disabled people have much higher living costs. I recently met representatives of Disability Rights UK, one of the organisations leading the Disability Poverty Campaign Group, as well as representatives from the Liberal Democrat Disability Association, and their message was clear: the additional £150 payment for people on disability benefits is so lacklustre as to be grotesquely offensive. It shows that the Government are taking no interest in, and making no effort to understand, the reality of the lives and expenses of disabled people.

Disabled people are not all the same: they have a wide variety of unique needs, which I cannot cover here, but I shall give just a few examples. Imagine someone needing a hoist to safely manoeuvre between their bed and their wheelchair, but being unable to charge that hoist and having to watch their family risk their own health by lifting them unsafely. Or perhaps think about someone being unable to charge their electric wheelchair and becoming unable to mobilise even around their home to get to the toilet or to fetch a cup of tea.

Perhaps someone’s partner has a spinal injury and is incontinent, but they cannot afford to run their washing machine every day or to properly heat their water, so they find themselves washing dirty clothes by hand in lukewarm water. Perhaps someone’s child has cystic fibrosis and needs a nutritious high-calorie diet, but with 10% inflation—we know it is worse for food inflation —and shortages, they themselves are having to skip meals to let their child eat instead. It should not take a donation from an international celebrity to reassure families of the disabled that they can keep their homes warm and essential equipment functioning. There are many ways in which disabled people incur additional costs, all of which are incredibly important and all of which demand support additional to what the Government are offering in this Bill.

Unpaid carers, on the other hand, are not even explicitly considered in this package of support. I will not labour the point, as I have said all this before, but not all unpaid carers receive means-tested benefits, and given that the vast majority of them live on or close to the poverty line, they are also badly in need of cost of living support. I would like to say that they are unsung heroes, but I have been singing their praises and calling for more support since the start of the crisis and I am starting to think that the Government do not want to hear it.

Dame Eleanor, it is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, and I am sure that everybody in the Chamber will welcome you back.

Overall, my concern about the Bill, as we consider it clause by clause, is that it is just a sticking plaster that will not truly keep our communities afloat during this crisis. Fuel poverty is widening and deepening; meanwhile, energy companies continue to rake in record profits. The Government must make suppliers act responsibly towards consumers. I acknowledge that it is not just the political response that is causing trouble for my constituents, as an astounding number of them have come to me with problems including being charged incorrectly, often more than they should be, and sometimes by companies that they are not even with. Electricity is a vital service, so surely this type of predatory behaviour cannot be allowed.

Food poverty continues to soar. As early as last April to September, before the worst of this crisis and before winter took hold, the Trussell Trust reported its busiest ever spring and summer, with a 45% increase in the number of families needing its support. The figures will only have gone up since then, and I am not convinced that this package will help, especially with the payments spread out so far. We know that when the £20 universal credit uplift was in place during covid, food bank use went down. How we stop families going hungry or relying on food packages is a vital conversation, and one that needs more time for discussion, so I encourage all Members present to come to the report launch of the all-party parliamentary group on ending the need for food banks on 22 March to hear more on the outcome of our “Cash or Food?” inquiry.

In the long term, to end the need for additional cost of living payments we need economic growth, we need more people able to work and we need a healthier society. Poverty is the enemy of all those things. Poverty breeds worse health outcomes, it makes people cold and hungry and it drives away hope and drive. That is nobody’s fault except those who choose to look away and do nothing, and that is why we need the Government to review reinstating the uplift to universal credit and extending it to legacy benefits. It is why carer’s allowance needs reforming, and it is why we need all the cost of living payments at once, now, as a circuit breaker.

I want to end by reflecting on the words of one of my constituents who got in touch with me over the winter. He is a 79-year-old gentleman who struggles to heat his home and who has a mixture of health difficulties. He said:

“Maybe it would be better if I wasn’t alive, for everyone else’s benefit.”

He cannot wait for April to October and then again for months for additional support, so with him in mind, I urge Members to support amendment 4.

It is a pleasure to see you chairing the Committee this afternoon, Dame Eleanor.

I thank hon. Members for the useful debate on Second Reading and I welcome this opportunity for a more detailed examination of the Bill in Committee. Clause 1 enables the Government to make three separate cost of living payments of £301, £300 and £299 to individuals or couples with a qualifying entitlement to an income-related social security benefit or tax credit. I have listened carefully to the hon. Member for North East Fife (Wendy Chamberlain). We have looked in the round at what we have done before, and I want to set out strongly to the Committee that we have worked very hard, whether on the household support fund or on this Bill, to support the most vulnerable through the really tough times that she described. I hope to give the Committee answers that will show that.

To be clear, the clause sets out that the qualifying days for each of the cost of living payments will be specified in secondary regulations, which will help to minimise work disincentives and fraud risks. In response to amendments 4, 5 and 6, it might be helpful if I clarify for the hon. Lady that the dates set out in clause 1 are backstop dates, meaning the latest possible qualification dates that could be set out in regulations. Bringing those dates forward could not achieve the amendment’s desired effect, although I understand the sentiment.

In any event, making all cost of living payments by 1 April 2023 would not support our ambition to spread the support through 2023 and into 2024. In fact, we have increased the number of payments from those made in 2022, having listened and engaged with the feedback from MPs across the land. This ensures that as many people as possible will qualify for a payment at some point, including those who become entitled to a qualifying benefit later in the year and those whose earnings fluctuate from month to month. Making all the payments in one lump sum would mean that more people miss out.

I understand the hon. Lady’s point, but I must be robust in saying that we simply cannot do what she suggests, as it runs contrary to what we should be doing in spreading out support for the most vulnerable. It is also the total opposite of the Select Committee’s request for more payments. I hope she understands that and will withdraw her amendment.

I, too, welcome you back to the Chair, Dame Eleanor.

We continue to support the additional payments covered by this Bill because they will deliver much-needed support to households facing the greatest cost of living crisis we have seen for decades, but we also continue to recognise the limitations inherent in any policy of one-off, flat-rate payments and the extra limitations of the approach taken here.

One of the problems that the additional payments are intended to address is the six-month lag between the value of social security benefits and real-world prices, which can lead to long-term impacts on the real value of benefits when inflation is high. That problem became critical in the winter of 2021, when it became obvious that annual inflation would reach over 10% by the time benefits were uprated by only 3.2% in the following April, using inflation data running up to the previous September.

We are still dealing with the consequences of the 2021 uprating decision. As the Institute for Fiscal Studies explains,

“in April 2023, the annual uprating of benefits will merely take them back to around the level they were at a year earlier—the shortfall that opened up between September 2021 and April 2022 will still remain unplugged.”

This means that the real value of benefits will be 6.2% lower in April 2023 than before the pandemic, and astonishingly, based on current forecast inflation, benefits will not return to their pre-pandemic level until 2025.

This problem was completely predictable well over a year ago—a year in which the Government could surely have applied themselves to coming up with a better solution than the one before us today. The approach of one-off, flat-rate payments could just about be justified last year by the international situation and the suddenness of the energy price surge, but that does not apply this year.

We know that one-off payments are a crude substitute for ensuring that social security benefits retain their real value. But even accepting the one-off approach, this Bill, while undoubtedly necessary, will lead to rough justice and, in some cases, poor value for money. It does not even attempt to relate payments to need; it sets qualifying conditions and arbitrary reasons; and it creates an arbitrary cliff edge in support based on whether people are receiving a penny of qualifying benefits.

Some households will be shielded from the impact of inflation—indeed, some will be more than protected—but, as these flat-rate payments take no account of household size and composition, which is one of our most fundamental concerns, there is huge variation in the protection that families in different circumstances will receive.

As the IFS has shown, in general it is those without children who are best protected, and larger families and households with disabled members who lose out most. Forty per cent. of families with three or more children, but only about 3% of those without children, would have been better off with a timely uprating of benefits. Seventeen per cent. of households receiving a disability benefit would have been better off had benefits been uprated in real time.

It is obvious that the flat-rate approach is inherently inequitable and poorly targeted, and it is hard to see how it can be justified given the time the Government have had to devise a better solution. That is further compounded by the qualification conditions, which insist that households must have received a positive award of a qualifying benefit within the month leading up to the qualifying dates. One of the issues that universal credit is supposed to address is fluctuating incomes, but fluctuations in income from month to month, the norm for many lower-income families, are simply ignored by this Bill.

The cliff edge in entitlement is well illustrated by the large number of households, an estimated 850,000, that would be better off by reducing their earnings to qualify for universal credit so that they can benefit from the additional payments. Families on earnings low enough to qualify for universal credit face losing up to £900 if they have a marginal increase in earnings just enough to take them out of receiving UC. It is therefore perfectly reasonable for colleagues to demand a full Government analysis of the distributional and public health impacts of this Bill.

This Bill falls short of what might reasonably have been expected from a Government who had plenty of time to come up with a better solution, but we want this money to go into people’s pockets as quickly as possible in what is, for millions, a deepening personal and family financial crisis, which is why we are not seeking to oppose or delay today’s proceedings.

I am delighted, as I am sure everyone is, to see you back in the Chair, Dame Eleanor.

I also do not seek to delay the Bill’s progress. New clause 14 is a probing amendment that raises an issue to which the shadow Minister alluded: the failure of the system, however good its intentions, to deal adequately with people who have fluctuating incomes, particularly those who are self-employed.

The way in which the system interacts with self-employed people has always led me to believe that, with all due respect, the vast majority of people advising Ministers, and the government machine as a whole, do not understand the self-employed or how they work. All too often, I am afraid, those who work for the Government in full-time, regular jobs seem to think that self-employment is something to be wary of, and that it can lead to a risk of fraud or a lack of seriousness. There is a fundamental culture gap in the system of government.

Of course, this leads to a differential effect in communities, such as mine, that have a high incidence of self-employment. The disadvantage to my community is quite clear.

I am sure the hon. Gentleman is right. This can apply to particular communities and to particular sectors. I suspect it is not deliberate, as I do not believe Ministers are looking to treat people unfairly, but I genuinely think there is a lack of understanding in how the system works for the self-employed and the degree to which fluctuating incomes are not captured by the scheme, as currently devised. That is why I urge the Government to review the position.

I particularly ask the Government to review how the minimum income floor interacts with self-employed people on varying incomes. I will explain it as briefly and as swiftly as possible. Eligibility for each of the three cost of living payments depends on receiving a universal credit payment of at least 1p during the corresponding qualifying month, as set out in the Bill. The position was the same for the original cost of living payments set out in the Social Security (Additional Payments) Act 2022.

Equity, which represents self-employed people working in the creative industries and the theatre, challenged the 2022 Act as unfair and detrimental to the entertainment industry, and it seems to me that it presented good evidence. I refer to my interest as chair of the all-party parliamentary group on opera and as a member of the all-party parliamentary group on theatre. I regret to say that Ministers did not make any changes, and I ask them to look into this in more detail and to think again as more evidence emerges.

When the minimum income floor is applied to self-employed universal credit claimants, their universal credit payments are, of course, reduced. For some claimants, the MIF reduces their payments to zero. The MIF is assumed earnings for UC claimants who are deemed gainfully self-employed, irrespective of whether those earnings are being received in a particular month. It is a calculation based on the national minimum wage and in a typical case the assumption is 35 times the hourly national minimum wage per week. On 2022-23 figures, that equates to £311.85 a week or £1,351.35 over a UC monthly assessment period.

The effects of that are unduly harsh for the self-employed with variable and unpredictable incomes, because it removes UC payments during periods of low earnings. The difficulty for people in the theatre is that, although they may well have periods when they are busy and above the threshold for any benefits, there may be weeks and months when they are not getting paid and the system does not pick that up. During those months when they are not qualifying they are likely to fall into debt, needing to borrow, and into arrears. That cannot be a fair way to deal with this. At a time when the entertainment industry and the theatre have been particularly hard hit during covid and the lockdowns and are still, in some respects recovering, the position seems to me and to many others to be unjust. It particularly hurts those who are starting out in their careers in the industry. I have been self-employed in the past and I know that at least one of the Ministers on the Bench has, but there is a difference between being in an established set of barristers’ chambers with a significant workflow coming through and being a young actor, musician or creative starting out. The inability to draw such distinctions and to be more nuanced in approach needs to be looked at, and I ask Ministers to do that.

The figures that have been demonstrated by Equity in looking at the DCMS workforce estimates show, for example, that between 2019 and 2021 the number of young people aged 16 to 24 working in music and performing and visual arts fell by 19%, which compares with a 14% drop among people aged 55 to 64. That was probably largely due to people leaving because of the impacts of the lockdown on that sector, but it is happening more among the youngsters, for the reasons I have set out. The number of black, African, Caribbean, black British people—those with minority ethnic backgrounds —in music, and performing and visual arts has fallen by 39%, which compares with a fall of some 9% among people with white ethnic backgrounds. Again, the people who find it harder to access careers in the arts sector to start with are the ones being most hard hit, because their incomes are more precarious, as it often takes them longer, by the nature of the business, to establish themselves. I am sure that is not an outcome Ministers wish to see, but that is the way the system, without any reform, is currently operating.

That situation is likely to get worse. In the first round of cost of living payments some 80,600 UC claimants were subject to the MIF, of whom 4,860 earned below their MIF and received a nil payment—that is about 6% of them. We are likely to be talking about a lot more people in 2023-24, because more claimants are now subject to the MIF than they were in the previous regime. That is simply because some 219,000 claimants were in a 12-month start-up period and therefore exempt during the qualifying period for the first payment. That of course has now ended for that cohort, so they will be subject to the MIF. If we were looking at the same percentages, we would be talking about another 13,000 people. That leaves us with the figure that Equity suggests of about 17,000 being affected.

This issue has been raised before, including by the right hon. Member for East Ham (Sir Stephen Timms), the Chair of the Select Committee on Work and Pensions. He raised it with Ministers back in November 2022, and I am grateful to him for doing so. He asked the Secretary of State to consider a way to rectify the position of claimants who had had a nil payment during that period, but I regret to say that the Secretary of State rejected that request. He said that, among other things, simplicity of processing in the timeframe required and an inability to readily identify people affected were the reasons. I am not sure that simplicity of processing is, of itself, a good justification for causing unfairness to people. I thought that the Government were about fairness, more importantly, than they were about administrative simplicity. The suggestion that having the three qualifying periods reduces the risk of someone missing out completely does not work for every sector. It may work in some industries, but it does not work for the theatre and other sectors. The lack of flexibility and the rigidity need to be addressed.

Against that background, I hope that the Government will reflect on this matter. We want to encourage people into our creative industries, which is a thriving sector that does a great deal for this country. They work well for us economically, in social matters and for our cultural heritage, but it is hard for young people, in particular, to start out and this is a precarious life. We ought to have a system that more readily recognises that. It is not, as has been suggested, that the MIF is dealing with cases of fraud here; these are not fraudulent people, and we can sometimes worry so much about fraud that we exclude the honest from the system. We ought to get a balance on that. It has also been suggested that this was to weed out hobbyists who cannot sustain themselves in self-employment. I know lots of people in the creative industries who are not hobbyists. They work immensely hard to sustain themselves in self-employment but their incomes fluctuate to such a degree that they lose out on supplements and benefits that others who happen to be in slightly different forms of work with a slightly different pay structure get. That does not seem to be fair, which is why I tabled my new clause. I hope that the Government will reflect on it and undertake at the very least to review the matter again, look again at the evidence and meet people in the sector. I am not sure how often Ministers have face-to-face meetings. They should meet the people affected. Let us try to find a fairer way of making the Government’s objectives work for those people.

It is not often that I find myself pleased in this place, but may I say how genuinely pleased I am to see you back in your place, Dame Eleanor? It is just right to see you in that place, so it is great to see you back.

I rise to speak to the amendments and new clauses that stand in my name and those of my hon. Friends. I am also happy to offer support for the amendments tabled by members of the Select committee, namely the hon. Member for Amber Valley (Nigel Mills) and the right hon. Member for East Ham (Sir Stephen Timms), as well as for new clause 7, which stands in the name of the hon. Member for Oldham East and Saddleworth (Debbie Abrahams). I also support new clause 12, which was tabled by the right hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) but not selected.

The House will recall that when I spoke on Second Reading, I stated my party’s support of the broad thrust of what the Bill seeks to achieve but was clear that it fails to address some of the wider issues impacting our social security system, which have only been highlighted further by the cost of living crisis. It is important to remind ourselves that these amendments, and in fact this entire Bill, are the product of the continuing cost of living crisis, which remains the single biggest priority for my east end constituents. We cannot forget that all of this comes against a backdrop of households continuing to face extremely challenging economic conditions. As such, there should be no doubt that my party welcomes the support laid out in this Bill, but we think that it does not go far enough to meet the needs of the poorest households struggling with the cost of living crisis. We have therefore tabled these amendments, in good faith, to try to make the Bill better.

The one-off cost of living payments in this Bill, as set out in the Chancellor’s autumn statement, are only a temporary fix, when it is clear that more permanent solutions are needed. Rather than offering one-off payments to shore up the incomes of struggling families, the British Government should reverse the damaging policies that are impacting the most vulnerable in our communities. They should be ending benefit sanctions, ending the benefit cap, ending unfair assessments, ending the rape clause, ending the five-week wait, ending no recourse to public funds. That list sometimes feels endless, but it is not, and the social security system is fixable if we have the political will. The amendments we have tabled today show that and highlight just some of the ways in which the British Government can point the social security system towards the people who actually use it and ensure they have adequate support, perhaps taking a leaf out of the Scottish Government’s book.

My amendment 2 ensures that universal credit claimants who have been sanctioned are not denied the vital cost of living payments. As the Bill currently stands, to qualify for the cost of living payment, claimants must be entitled to at least 1p in the month preceding the date specified by the Secretary of State in clause 2. However, if a claimant is sanctioned, their full entitlement could be taken away for a period of time. Many of those who have a sanction imposed will receive a nil award, which means that they do not receive the payment despite having an underlying entitlement to universal credit for that period. I have heard of cases where claimants have missed the bus or had to drop their children off at school, which has resulted, I am afraid, in their being late or missing an appointment at the jobcentre. That in turn has led to their being sanctioned and losing their universal credit for a number of weeks.

It is increasingly concerning when Government Members suggest widening further the scope for minor sanctions, such as the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities who, last week, suggested that parents should face cuts to their benefits for their children’s truancy. Quite what he was thinking about with that policy I do not know. The “minor failings” that currently exist account for 97.6% of all sanctions in the latest quarter, according to the Department’s own data. Being five minutes late to an interview could lead to a claimant being punished twice: first, with the sanction and the loss of their benefits, and, secondly, with the possibility that they miss out on the cost of living payments.

I appreciate that hon. Members across the Chamber have different views to me and my party when it comes to sanctions and conditionality, but surely Government Members can see that it is vastly unfair to claimants to deny them the lifeline of a cost of living payment for a mistake as minor as being late to an interview at the jobcentre. The brutal economic conditions that people face right now take no cognisance of sanctions policy.

In response to a recent written answer, the Department revealed that it estimated that some 6,600 households missed out on the cost of living payment due to a sanction in July last year. These are people who are incredibly vulnerable at the best of times, and even more so during a cost of living crisis. It is a dereliction of duty on the part of the Government to bring forward legislation that actively seeks to punish them twice. The DWP’s only explanation for the exclusion of more than 6,000 vulnerable households was that the

“unsophisticated character of the payment system made inclusion impossible.”

Dame Eleanor, I have to agree with the Public Law Project that administrative difficulty is not a sufficient reason for excluding vulnerable people from this lifeline support.

The British Government have had a year to fix the problem, yet nothing, as far as I can see, has been done. Sanction rates have risen sharply since the pandemic began in 2020 from 2.5% to almost 7% in record new levels. To prevent the increased number of sanctioned claimants being punished twice, amendment 2 simply seeks to ensure that payments under the Bill are not denied to a person who is subject to a benefit sanction. I do not see what is controversial there, and hope that the House can agree to it when I choose to divide the House later.

New clause 1 explores the impact of bringing qualifying dates forward to the beginning of the school year in Scotland and the beginning of the new year. The Bill as it stands states that the second qualifying day will be no later than 31 October 2023, and the third qualifying day will be no later than 29 February 2024, as may be specified by the Secretary of State in regulations. For many benefit claimants, their lives are marred by uncertainty. It would make a huge difference if the DWP were able to provide clarity about the dates on which the payments will be made and their qualifying period, which would allow claimants to plan accordingly. Although we will not press the amendment to a vote, it would be helpful if the Minister could provide such clarity.

New clauses 2 and 3 address distributional analysis and impact assessment. In essence, they would require the British Government to assess the effect of the payments made under this Bill to households. The DWP has produced an impact assessment for the Bill and the Treasury has published a distributional analysis in the autumn statement. However, neither of these fully consider distribution and household comparison. New clause 2 would ensure that the British Government also include in their analysis households of different types, including single parent families, larger families, and pensioner households.

Likewise, new clause 3 would look at various socio-economic groups, including: rural communities, such as those represented by my hon. Friends the Members for Argyll and Bute (Brendan O’Hara) and for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey (Drew Hendry); families eligible for free school meals; unpaid carers; and households in each income decile. I am not minded to press new clauses 2 and 3 to a vote, but I encourage the Minister to consider the benefits of richer data and fuller assessments on household composition and particular groups. In that context, I and a number of cross-party colleagues are somewhat concerned about the lack of publication of data from the DWP. Certainly, we are finding it very difficult to reach that information. Similarly, under new clause 4, the Secretary of State would be required to assess the effects on household incomes, and especially on food and fuel poverty—a massive issue in rural Scotland—of reintroducing the universal credit uplift and increasing it to £25 per week.

Alongside colleagues from across the House, I have campaigned hard to retain the £20 uplift to universal credit. Indeed, we asked for it to be extended to legacy benefits. It was a great policy from the British Government, which was warmly welcomed, including by my party. It is no coincidence that we saw food bank usage reduce as the uplift was in place. Likewise, it was no coincidence that food bank usage increased as the uplift was taken away.

My hon. Friend makes a telling point about the universal credit uplift. Does he not think that, when it was made, it was a welcome admission that universal credit was not enough to live on, whereas the removal of the uplift has re-established that deficit for people and their families?

I agree with my hon. Friend. I tend to take the view that if the British Government concluded in March and April 2020 that social security was inadequate for the then economic climate, social security is indeed inadequate in the current economic climate. I welcome the fact that the Select Committee is looking at benefit provision. The all-party group on poverty, which I co-chair with Baroness Lister, is taking evidence on this separately tomorrow.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey has outlined, it was a huge disappointment when the British Government decided against retaining the uplift. Since its removal, I have heard anecdotally that many people have struggled with the sudden loss of income—the largest drop in support in the modern welfare state. Any of us who interact with our constituents can outline how challenging that has been.

Similarly, new clause 5 would require the Secretary of State to produce an assessment of the impact on household incomes— as well as on fuel and food poverty—of the Government’s failure to extend the equivalent uplift to legacy benefits. As with the previous iteration of the Bill relating to cost of living payments, it is welcome that the British Government have included Scottish payments for disability in the eligibility criteria. Although I wish sincerely that the London Government would look towards Holyrood as a guide for more of their social security policies, I appreciate that Ministers have been working with my colleagues in Edinburgh and have ensured that people in receipt of Scottish disability payments will also get the additional payment.

It is widely acknowledged that disabled people are far more likely to live in poverty than non-disabled people and are particularly vulnerable to the rising cost of living. For instance, I have heard testimony in my constituency, in the Lilybank area, of vital medical equipment—not something that can be turned off or turned down a wee bit to take cognisance of energy prices—leading to extortionate electricity bills. Despite that knowledge, legacy benefit claimants, many of whom are long-term sick or disabled, were unjustly denied that uplift during the pandemic. That was a monumental injustice, and it certainly adversely financially impacted many people throughout the pandemic, which was already causing heightened health anxiety. It is only right that an assessment be made of the failure to extend the uplift to legacy benefit claimants.

We must also consider where inflation will be at the time that payments are made. In January this year, the consumer prices index was still in double digits and near the highest levels in about 40 years, at 10.1%. However, we know that the poorest often experience a high rate of inflation; according to the Resolution Foundation, the poorest tenth of households experienced an inflation rate of 11.7%. What is more, recent Office for National Statistics stats show that food and drink inflation remained close to the highest rates since the 1970s, with the soaring price of milk, bread and other basic essentials pushing prices up by almost 17% in a year.

Recently, the British Government rightly increased social security benefits and the state pension in line with the CPI, so it seems only logical that that should apply to the cost of living payments that the Bill makes provision for. Therefore, our new clause 6 would ensure that

“all payments due under this Act are increased by the rate of inflation as measured by the latest Consumer Prices Index at the time of payment, if that is higher than the original amount.”

We do not know what the economic landscape will be later this year, so the new clause was tabled as an insurance policy in the event that inflation does not fall as has been forecast. It is unfortunate that some of the amendments are not in scope; the money resolution was so restrictive that it prevents our bringing forward amendments that would assist our constituents in a more meaningful way.

However, I have highlighted some of the inadequacies in the UK’s social security system, mainly the punitive sanctions regime. Instead of providing a robust safety net for millions of households, the surge in sanctions demonstrates the uncaring approach of a Westminster Government who Scotland did not vote for and who are pushing people further into poverty during a cost of living crisis. People across Scotland are paying a very steep price indeed for poor economic decisions made in this Palace of Westminster.

It does not have to be like this. We can make better policy if the Government accept that they do not have a monopoly on wisdom. I have tabled the amendments in good faith and I believe they would vastly improve the Bill. I hope the Minister can come to the Dispatch Box later and confirm the Government’s support for amendment 2, which I believe can make this legislation much better for not only the people that I represent, but the people that we all represent in this House.

It is a pleasure to see you back in your position, Dame Eleanor. I rise to speak to amendment 3, which stands in my name and the name of the Chair of the Select Committee. It is an attempt to ensure that what the Government are legislating for is consistent with what they are generally trying to do with universal credit and with these payments: to ensure that we do not create a cliff edge and a lumpy system in which people miss out through no fault of their own.

Under the amendment, rather than looking back and seeing whether someone has received 1p of universal credit in the previous month, we could simply check the two previous months and, if they received a payment in either or both those months, they would still get each of the individual £300 payments. It is designed to prevent a situation where somebody misses out on the individual payments because they have had some kind of strange anomaly in their UC record.

That anomaly might be that they are paid four-weekly and happened to get two payments in one assessment period, that they got a bonus or a few extra hours that tipped them out for that period, or that the employer has made a mistake, has not processed their payroll in time and has then managed to process two payments in the same month, as occasionally happens. Those are not really the intended position. I think we all expect that, for most people in a job, their monthly income is relatively stable—subject perhaps to a bit of overtime or the odd bonus here or there—and so their UC claim over a year is not affected; they get a bit more one month, a bit less the next and it all averages out over the year.

With the impact of these payments—not quite one-off payments, but three-off payments—that will not quite be the situation. If someone happens to have a month where they earn a bit too much, they could miss out on £300, which could be a material part of their annual income. That might drive people to be careful about whether they take extra hours and thus enforce the wrong behaviour. Having to plan for whether they will be £300 worse off if they get another £50 of wages or similar is not the behaviour that universal credit was designed to drive. It was designed to make clear that work would always pay, and we are in danger of doing something that goes against that.

I welcome the Government’s bringing forward these payments and the fact that we are debating them in March. That means that we have a plan for the year and people know what they are going to get, unlike last year when—perhaps for some good reasons—it was all a bit haphazard and we kept announcing new things all over the place. As some other hon. Members have said, I would have preferred this year to have an increase in UC; this £900 works out at just under £18 a week, and with the tapering effect we could have given a higher starting point to achieve the same costs, so those less well-off households got a bit more than the £900 and those who earn a bit more got a bit less. That would have been a better use of funds and a better way of doing it.

As the Government have chosen to go down this route, however, I welcome the fact that we have gone for three payments this year rather than two, which helps to smooth things out a bit. Of course, this year we get the £400 off our energy bills, which is generally split over six months, so there is already a spreading effect. Having said that I would rather this was done by UC, I cannot support the proposal of the hon. Member for North East Fife (Wendy Chamberlain) to pay it all in one lump sum before the start of April. For a lot of people who are vulnerable and struggle to manage their budgets, spreading the support over the year is probably a better outcome for them.

While people will have budgetary pressures throughout the year, we want them to get some money next winter when the heating bills will be at their worst, rather than having it all almost a year in advance, having had more support this winter than they will get next winter.

I think it would be a mistake to go down the lump sum line, but the Minister could improve her proposal by accepting amendment 3 to allow for a longer period of assessment. On Second Reading there were a few arguments against this proposal. The Secretary of State appeared to suggest that there was some discretion where someone could ring up and say, “I’ve missed out on my £300 through a quirk in the system, can that be fixed?” As I read it, this is primary legislation that sets out the qualifying period, and there would not be any wiggle room or discretion for the Department to make a payment that did not meet the criteria in that situation. I hope the Minister can confirm that would not be a solution.

The second suggested solution was that, if somebody had suffered one of those strange quirks, they could go to the discretionary fund and get the same amount anyway. I am not absolutely sure that someone making an application to the council for a discretionary payment on the basis that they have missed out on a payment provided by law because they did not meet the terms of that law has the strongest case.

Equally, the argument for discretionary payments is that they can deal with situations that we cannot envisage or deal with. The situation where someone misses out due to an unfortunate quirk was envisaged a year ago; it happened on a fair number of occasions in the first round of these payments, and we can find a solution to it. It is far better practice to make the laws we pass work, than to have discretionary funds to try to fix things. There is a readily available fix—not least because these are automatic payments. People do not have to claim them or check them; they do not have to work out why they have not had them and then try to work out who to make a claim to. They get their money without any of those issues. The idea of having a discretionary payment system as a fallback to get equivalence just does not work. I suspect most people who do not get one of these payments may not realise they did not get it, and if they do realise, they will not understand why or what they should do about it, so they will not get the same level of income as other struggling households. Since we have a ready fix, I urge the Minister to adopt it.

The other argument against the amendment was that it would result in people who are now earning too much and are not entitled to the payment getting it because they were earning the right amount a month previously, and that that is not the best use of funds. First, choosing a flat-rate payment gives people who earn a very small amount of UC every month the same as somebody whose sole income is from UC. The Government have chosen a very lumpy system—that is their choice.

Secondly, I cannot imagine there are many households who are earning below the UC level in one month and then suddenly disappear from it the next month, and so get the £300 that they would never have been entitled to. I suspect that is not the case for the vast majority of people, and that the few people who benefit from that will be outweighed by the large number of people who are genuinely claiming UC, genuinely struggling and will lose this payment through no fault of their own. I urge the Government to accept that this is the least bad of those two alternatives in that situation. There is no perfect answer, given that the Government have chosen not to do this on a monthly UC award—if they were worried about that situation arising, they could have made the payments that way.

This is my final point. People end up in a very different position if they are on UC compared with tax credits, because tax credits do not have a monthly assessment in this situation. Therefore, if people have not earned too much over the year, they do not look back and start to work out whether they had too much in one month and whether they should have got the £300. Somebody on tax credits who, on average, does not earn too much over the year will get all three payments. For people in that situation, UC and tax credits are meant to do the same thing. Somebody should not be left materially worse off because they are on universal credit.

I urge the Government to accept this simple amendment, which I suspect would not cost very much. It is entirely consistent with the policy intent of providing support to households who desperately need it. It is more consistent with the overall aims and objectives of universal credit to ensure that work always pays. I commend the amendment to the Minister, and I hope that she will accept it when she speaks again.

I add my very warm welcome back to you, Dame Eleanor; like everyone, I am delighted to see you back in the Chair.

I will make a few brief remarks. Initially, I will follow up the speech from the hon. Member for Amber Valley (Nigel Mills) in favour of amendment 3, which I have signed alongside him. The amendment relates to an intervention that I made on Second Reading, when I highlighted—the hon. Member just mentioned this—that people who are paid every four weeks instead of monthly, of whom there are quite a large number, receive 13 payments a year rather than 12. That means that in one month of the year, they receive two salary payments instead of one. Very often, that means that even though they will normally receive universal credit, they will not in that particular month, because their income is deemed to be too high for them to be eligible for universal credit. If that month happens to be one of the months when eligibility for the cost of living payment is assessed, they will lose their payment. No one is going to argue that they should not receive a payment, because their annual income is exactly the same as it is in every other month of the year. However, because of universal credit’s rigid approach to assessing people on a monthly basis, they will miss out. By arguing that eligibility should be based on looking at two months, not one, the hon. Member’s amendment entirely overcomes the problem for people in that situation.

The hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Sir Robert Neill) made some telling points about the situation for self-employed people. He was right to query how the minimum income floor works. There did not used to be a minimum income floor in tax credits. The Department for Work and Pensions introduced that innovation into universal credit and the case for it is, at best, debatable. But again, I do not think anyone would argue that the operation of the minimum income floor should deprive people of a cost of living payment when they would otherwise be entitled to receive it.

The hon. Member made a telling case for musicians and actors. Self-employed people may well have a good month and receive a significant amount of income, so they would perhaps not receive universal credit in that month. However, if they did not receive anything like as much in the month before or the month after, they would receive universal credit in that month. Most would agree that people in that situation—self-employed people with very fluctuating incomes, as he described—should receive a cost of living payment if their income across the year made them eligible. Therefore, looking at two months instead of one would help in that situation as well.

The hon. Member for Glasgow East (David Linden) made some telling points about people who have been sanctioned. It is very hard to argue that someone who happens to have had a sanction in a particular month, and therefore does not receive a penny of universal credit in that month, should not be entitled to a cost of living payment. A lot of sanctions last for a month. If we looked at two months, that would help to overcome that problem. I note from the briefing that 7,000 people lost out on the previous cost of living payments because they were subject to a sanction when their eligibility was assessed.

The Minister may say in response that people who are in this difficult situation can apply to their local authority for a payment from the household support fund. However, as we all know, the reality is that the household support fund is very little known by our constituents. It is extremely unlikely that anyone in the situation that I described would know that they should apply to the local council for a payment from the household support fund. It would be much better and simpler to extend the assessment of eligibility from one month to two months. It would mean adding an extra line of code in the computer system, which is a very easy thing to do to deal with a significant part of this clear unfairness in how the system works.

I want to make a point to the hon. Member for North East Fife (Wendy Chamberlain), who tabled the amendments on behalf of the Liberal Democrats. My worry about saying that all the payments should be in one would be that the whole assessment for eligibility for that therefore annual payment would be based on receiving universal credit in one month. There is a benefit in dividing this across three months, as the Government have: if someone misses out on the payment in one month, at least they will still get the other two, whereas if it was all done at one time, there would be a danger of losing the whole year’s payment.

I will say a few words in support of new clause 7, which my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham East and Saddleworth (Debbie Abrahams) tabled. I commend her contribution to the work of the Work and Pensions Committee. Indeed, all the amendments that I have spoken in favour of are tabled by members of the Committee. My hon. Friend correctly highlights the public health impacts, for better or for worse, of our social security arrangements, and it is absolutely right to take account of them.

At present, the headline rate of social security benefits—the typical universal credit standard allowance—is the lowest in real terms that it has been for four decades. As a percentage of average earnings, it is probably the lowest that it has ever been. It is certainly much lower than it was when Lloyd George introduced unemployment benefit in 1911. He did so at a significantly higher proportion of then average earnings than the standard allowance of universal credit today. There are significant public health impacts of this low level of social security support, making a contribution, for example, to the mental health crisis, which has hit so many people of working age in the UK since the pandemic. The hon. Member for Glasgow East referred to the fact that the Work and Pensions Committee will conduct an inquiry on the adequacy of benefits and the question of what the level of benefits should be. Public health impacts are a very important part of that debate.

Let me add how wonderful it is to see you back in your place, Dame Eleanor.

I rise to speak to amendment 4, which was tabled by the hon. Member for North East Fife (Wendy Chamberlain). I will also comment on one or two other amendments and clauses that have been mentioned, because this has been a very worthwhile debate.

Before I do so, I want to qualify the reason why I am here speaking to the Bill. I am doing so because in my city of Peterborough the Bill will impact and benefit so many of my constituents. It will benefit 21,900 people in my constituency, and that is a significant number of people. The difference that these payments and this legislation will make to their lives is considerable. On top of that, we are looking at 13,100 individuals who will be eligible for the disability payment.

This Government are committed to supporting families, and this legislation will be a good thing. It will get many, many of our constituents through, let us be honest, a difficult time, and that should be applauded. The people of Peterborough will benefit from this. It is a sign that the Government are doing exactly what they said they would do, supporting families across the UK during a global cost of living crisis.

I understand exactly why the hon. Member for North East Fife tabled new clause 13. She is absolutely right that a lot of people are struggling and need this money as soon as possible, but I would also like to say—following on from what my hon. Friend the Member for Amber Valley (Nigel Mills) has said—that a lot of the time, what people want is certainty. They want to understand, and I think that spreading these payments across the year will benefit my constituents more than they would if they came in one lump sum. As my hon. Friend said, the first payment of £301 will be paid in spring 2023, a second payment of £300 will be paid in autumn 2023 and a third payment of £299 will be paid in spring 2024. The fact that households in my constituency will not have go through the pain of applying is absolutely a good thing. They will just come automatically, which is incredibly important.

I have a lot of sympathy with the argument put forward by my hon. Friend. I, too, have had constituents come to see me at my constituency surgeries who are paid four-weekly—13 payments in 12 months—and I understand that that often causes complexity when it comes to other parts of the system. My hon. Friend identified one example of that today, and I hope the Minister will listen carefully to what he has said.

But as I have said, this payment will change the lives of my constituents. I think it is worthwhile, for the final minute or two before I sit down, for me to tell the House a little bit about what constituents have said that these benefits will mean to them. I met a family from Ravensthorpe, a husband and wife both working part time with two children. They want to do more—they would like to work full time—but with childcare, elderly relatives and some of the problems they have, they cannot. That family told me by email that this payment will be the difference between getting by and getting into debt. That is what we are doing here today, and it is an incredibly important thing. Sometimes, in hon. Members’ eagerness to improve legislation, we forget the overall impact that it will have on so many people’s lives.

In another family, from Bretton in my constituency, just one person in the household works full time, for just over the living wage. This payment will make the difference, making sure that they are able to look their neighbours in the eye and that their children will not go without—again, this is a good thing that we are doing. Finally, I heard from a pensioner who lives in Paston, a proud man who worked all his life. This payment will allow him to put the heating on this year with confidence. This is an inherently good thing that we are doing. These are proud people—Peterborough people, working people—and what we are doing here today is something that they will welcome.

I add my voice to those welcoming you back, Dame Eleanor. It is so lovely to see you back in your rightful place.

I rise to speak to new clause 7, which stands in my name. As the Chair of the Work and Pensions Committee, my right hon. Friend the Member for East Ham (Sir Stephen Timms), has already said, new clause 7 is about reviewing the public health and poverty effects of the Bill. It requests that the Secretary of State

“review the public health and poverty effects of the provisions of this Act and lay a report…before the House of Commons within six months of the passing of this Act.”

The reason why we need to do so is that we know our health, how long we live and how long we live in good health are driven by the social, economic and environmental policies that we in this place enact. Given that we now have a declining life expectancy in our country, addressing this issue cannot be delayed any further.

As chair of the all-party parliamentary group on health in all policies, I authored in 2021 a report that looked specifically at the health effects of the Welfare Reform and Work Act 2016. That report pulled together the evidence on the reduction in support since 2012 by successive Administrations—some £34 billion in support to working-age people has been cut since 2010—and the impact that that reduction has had on social security-driven poverty and, in turn, on health. If I may, Dame Eleanor, I will read out a section of that report:

“Each 1% increase in child poverty was significantly associated with an extra 5.8 infant deaths per 100 000 live births”


“about a third of the increases in infant mortality between 2014 and 2017 can be attributed to rising child poverty”.

Earlier in that report, it set out how significant those changes in social security were, as my right hon. Friend the Member for East Ham mentioned. That reduction in value has not only been the worst in the UK but, I think, the worst in the OECD and the worst in the EU. As for its impacts, I have just mentioned the relationship with infant mortality. When Michael Marmot published his 10-year review of the impact on inequalities, he mentioned the contribution of the declining value of social security support, and the lack of protection that it provided to the most financially vulnerable. In turn, he related that to the contribution of the UK’s flatlining life expectancy—it was flatlining in 2017, although in my part of the world, in Oldham, it was actually declining. Now we are seeing declining life expectancy across England, and the reduction in the value of social security support is a major contributor to that.

I hope that the Minister will take a look at my new clause 7, which is about developing good policy that will benefit the constituents we serve. I also add my support for amendment 3, tabled by my right hon. Friend the Member for East Ham and the hon. Member for Amber Valley (Nigel Mills), and for amendment 2, on sanctions, tabled by the hon. Member for Glasgow East (David Linden).

It is great to see you back in the Chair, Dame Eleanor.

We are all broadly united in this Chamber today, in that we recognise that our constituents need additional financial support, but the reality is that we are here today because of 12 years of Tory austerity. The cost of living crisis has occurred because of Brexit and because of the policies of austerity, so it is welcome that we are having a debate on this Bill if even so we can go over broader DWP failings and mismanagement.

One example is that a very recent 38 Degrees poll found that 20% of my constituents fear that they may have to use a food bank. I am not convinced that these payments will help with that figure at all. This Government are giving our constituents the additional payments outlined in the Bill, yet they still impose the benefit cap, the bedroom tax, the rape clause and cuts to universal credit. Naturally, the British Government will sit here today hoping for a round of applause for these additional payments, but frankly, these pennies are nowhere near enough to make up for the grossly flawed benefit system that this Government preside over. This support is a start, and it needs to be just that. In the face of a Tory-made, Brexit-induced cost of living crisis, we need this Government to step up and step up more, again and again.

I have previously spoken in this House about my constituent Stacey, who I met in hospital while we recovered from our strokes together. Stacey and her family struggle to make ends meet. The Government will be aware of the significantly increased costs that disabled people face, so I would be keen to hear exactly what difference the Government think this £150 payment will make to them. I also echo the call of my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow East (David Linden) that an assessment should be made of the fact that legacy benefits were not uplifted during the pandemic in the way that universal credit was. It would be revealing to see the impact that has had, particularly on disabled people.

My constituents and people across Scotland are being failed by this Tory Government. Week by week, this Government try to steer conversation towards one topic or the next, but when I speak to my constituents, the issues caused by this Government’s failing, broken social security system are consistent. Dignity and the basic living conditions of our constituents are simply not a priority for this Government but an afterthought, hence them not bringing forward the uprating of benefits to before April. The House of Commons Library has published information showing that inflation is being felt worse than ever, and also that it is usual or the norm for this uprating to occur in April, but that no Government are bound by that; it is just common practice. These are not normal times we are living through, and support should be accelerated, instead of civil servants’ time being wasted applying the Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill. I would also appreciate some clarity on the timing of these additional payments—that should have been laid out before now.

Amendment 2 would fix a flaw in the Bill as it stands. It seems utterly unreasonable that any one of our constituents could miss out on this additional support because they have been sanctioned under this Government’s cruel sanctions regime.

My hon. Friend speaks about sanctions. Does she share my concern that in probably one of the grimmest league tables around, my constituents are No. 4 in Scotland for the number of people being sanctioned? Some 10% of claimants are being sanctioned, and one reason is public transport. We have significant challenges with public transport, because we cannot get enough bus drivers, and we cannot get enough bus drivers because of Brexit. Those constituents are facing a triple whammy—from the cost of living crisis, from being sanctioned because they cannot get there, and from the increasing cost of living and energy costs—because of the policies this Government have pursued.

Unfortunately, my constituency of East Dunbartonshire rivals my hon. Friend’s and has a similar statistic for sanctions. It is not a position we want to be in, especially when we know that many of our constituents are sanctioned due to legitimate reasons, such as transport issues or potentially having to take their children to school.

Any Member walking through the Lobby tonight to vote against amendment 2 is condoning the Government’s sanctions regime—in fact, they are breathing more life into it by denying the most vulnerable much-needed support. We on the SNP Benches always welcome additional support for our constituents, especially in these times, but will the Government consider whether they are offering enough? What about the Women Against State Pension Inequality Campaign? Those women have been continuously let down by the failings of this British Government. They have run an incredibly powerful campaign so that politicians will listen. Are they supposed to be appeased by this additional payment? I know with certainty that they will not be.

What about UK pensioners living overseas? Will their pensions be uprated this time around? Will they receive this additional support? What about our pensioners who have remained in the UK? Additional support for them is of course welcome, but it highlights a glaring need for a concerted effort, or a more concerted effort, around the uptake of pension credit, of which £3 million goes unclaimed each year in my constituency of East Dunbartonshire alone. Hopefully that will be less this year, given the effort by me and my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow North East (Anne McLaughlin). When will we see a much more active campaign directly reaching out to pensioners, encouraging them to sign up for pension credit?

What about single-parent families, already discriminated against by the British Government’s child maintenance system, which charges them to access money they are entitled to and places vulnerable women at further risk of manipulation and abuse? Where is the relief from their deductions? What about young parents on universal credit? They face the young parent penalty, denying them the same level of social security as parents over 25. Where is the relief from their deductions?

These additional payments are welcome, particularly against the backdrop of this Tory cost of living crisis and a fundamentally broken social security system, but these payments need to be made with the highest degree of urgency, and a timescale would be much appreciated. If the Government wanted to make a real difference, they could reintroduce the uplift to universal credit and extend it this time to legacy benefits. I urge Members to vote for our amendment 2 tonight, to stop our constituents missing out on this much-needed support due to sanctions being imposed upon them.

Welcome back, Dame Eleanor. You can gauge from the warmth of the response how much you have been missed. Pass on my thanks also to that young whippersnapper they appointed to act on your behalf, the right hon. Member for North Thanet (Sir Roger Gale). I say that, but then I realise that Hansard has no irony, does it?

I want to speak briefly in support of amendments 2 and 3 and new clauses 7 and 14. Unfortunately, at this stage of a Bill we are not able to move amendments that significantly increase the benefits, but because we are within a week of a Budget, we can send a message from this debate to the Chancellor. The message is to acknowledge the background to this legislation, which is fuel poverty rising in the past year from 4.5 million households to 6.7 million—a 50% increase. We welcome the legislation today, but in that context, and as others have said, it clearly does not go far enough, and my worry is that if the energy price cap is lifted to £3,000, fuel poverty will rise to 8.4 million.

My hint to the Chancellor—all Chancellors like to pull a rabbit out of their hat on that last day—is not to raise the cap to £3,000. In fact, a reduction could be in order and an increase in the level of benefits support could be provided fairly rapidly, too. In that way, we would have, alongside this legislation, some real impact on fuel poverty. The Chancellor, because of the reduction in energy fuel prices, and also because of the increase in income tax receipts he has received recently, is in a beneficial position to enable that to happen. Alongside this legislation, action in a week’s time from the Chancellor could have an immediate impact on lifting people out of poverty.

My second point is in support of amendment 2. Many of us have constituents who have been penalised, and this Bill will double-penalise them. It is almost like they are now placed in a form of double jeopardy. As others have said, sometimes those penalties have been for trivial reasons—often for understandable incidents that have occurred with people not being able to fulfil all their responsibilities for claiming the benefit. A bit of flexibility is definitely needed.

Moving to new clause 14, I claim philistine status on this; I am not a member of the all-party parliamentary group on opera or the all-party parliamentary group for theatre—I will join immediately—but I am a member of the performers’ alliance all-party parliamentary group. Like the hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Sir Robert Neill), I was also briefed by Equity and the Musicians Union about what is happening, particularly in the arts sector, for those people in and out of work and employment, because that is part of life in that sector, particularly for youngsters. The new clause simply asks the Government to stand back and look at how they are treating the self-employed, particularly this group of people.

In that briefing from Equity, I was shocked by the recent impact. I did not realise that 40% of that group have not received any support throughout the pandemic. They never qualified for any of the support mechanisms, which surprised me. I looked at the impact that was having on Equity’s members. It did its survey, and these are some of the results, which demand a response from the Government. Some 60% of respondents anticipate difficulty in meeting essential costs—we are talking about housing, rent, food, childcare and utility bills. Some 33% have seen their level of personal debt increase in the past year, 41% feel negative about their prospects for work in the entertainment industry over the next 12 months, and, as the hon. Member said, 19% are considering having to leave the entertainment industry. That is an immense loss of talent.

As the hon. Member said, the minimum income floor largely affects young people, but it also impacts on different parts of society. Black and ethnic minority communities are impacted in particular. The Government need to stand back and undertake a short, sharp exercise on the implications of the minimum income floor on the self-employed, particularly in this sector. I am sure we can come to a reasonable response that can be agreed on a cross-party basis.

I come to my third point. I support new clause 7 because we desperately need to stand back and see where we are, after the panoply of legislation that we have introduced. We need to assess whether any of it is working and having the impact that it should. On Second Reading, we went through some of the issues facing our constituents. That debate impressed on me, and I think many others, exactly why the new clause is important. Now is the time to review the implications of poverty in our society.

Mention was made of unemployment benefits. We have discussed this before; all of us believe that if a person can get into work, that should help them to lift themselves out of poverty. The problem is that for some people, it is difficult getting into work, so they are dependent on benefits. Unemployment benefit is at its lowest in real terms since 1990-91. As my right hon. Friend the Member for East Ham (Sir Stephen Timms) mentioned, as a proportion of average earnings, it is 14% of what it was in the 1970s. People cannot survive on an unemployment benefit at that level, so it is no wonder that the relative poverty rate among working-age adults has risen from 8% in 1961 to 20% now. No wonder there has been a 135% increase in food bank usage between 2016 and 2020.

When we discussed this earlier, what shocked us all was what has happened with regard to poverty and children. There are 4 million children in poverty; that means that they live in households with less than 60% of median household income. That is up from 3.6 million in 2010-11. According to Action for Children, there are 400,000 more children in deep poverty than in 2010-11; 2.7 million children—20%—are in deep poverty and 1.4 million children are in very deep poverty. That is 10% of children in the United Kingdom. We see many of those children in our constituencies, when their parents come to try to get advice and assistance; we are usually the place of last resort for that help.

That is why it is absolutely critical that the Government take up the challenge of new clause 7. It is a simple request. A review, in addition to the impact assessments that the Government have published, would enable us to stand back and look at where we are. What has been the cumulative impact of numerous pieces of legislation? What has worked, what has not, and what could work? Could we perhaps agree across the House on a new strategy for tackling poverty? It is clear from this legislation, and the legislation that preceded it, that the strategy is not working. The increases in poverty have been staggering. It is a disgrace to the country that we have these levels of poverty.

I want to speak up for one more group. I congratulated the Government on introducing the triple lock on pensions, but nevertheless 20% of single pensioners live in poverty; 1.7 million pensioners live in relative poverty. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation has advised the House that pensioner poverty is forecast to rise again. I supported the triple-lock legislation, but it has not had maximum impact. That is why new clause 7 is important. It would enable us to stand back, see where we are, recognise the problems, and recognise that we have significantly failed, and need to move forward with a new strategy, on a new basis.

May I state my delight at seeing you back in the Chair, Madam Deputy Speaker? I support new clause 14. My constituency has a very high level of self-employment, as I indicated in my intervention on the hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Sir Robert Neill), but it also has a large and active television industry, surprisingly to some people, considering that it is at the far end of Welsh-speaking Wales. Most of the TV is in Welsh. The new clause is on an issue that has an impact on us.

I mainly want to speak in favour of new clause 2, which is in the name of my hon. Friends in the Scottish National party, and in favour of the amendments that they have proposed. I support the requirement for an assessment of the latest cost of living support package that the Government have announced. The hon. Member for North East Fife (Wendy Chamberlain) said that the cost of living payments, although necessary, are a sticking-plaster, and I would repeat that. The payments are inferior to ensuring that benefits keep up with the real cost of living. The Institute for Fiscal Studies has shown that almost half of all families with three or more children on means-tested benefits would have been better off if the Government had not introduced cost of living payments, but had instead just ensured that benefits kept pace with inflation.

Benefit-receiving households where people were in receipt of disability benefits, or were in paid work, were less likely to have been properly compensated for the failure to uprate flat-rate cost of living payments in good time. That is another matter that needs to be looked at. I understand that the cost of living payments will result in the Government spending around £2 billion more on recipients of means-tested or disability benefits in 2023-24 than would have been needed simply to raise ordinary benefits in line with inflation. We really do need a full, detailed analysis by the Government, showing why they think that these ad-hoc payments are an appropriate way to distribute support fairly.

When it comes to living standards and social security, it is important that we recognise the differential effect across the nations of the UK—a point I referred to earlier. The Bevan Foundation’s latest research shows that even before the pandemic, around one in eight people lived in deep poverty in Wales. Around one in 30 has such low income that they live in destitution. New clause 2, proposed by my hon. Friends in the SNP, would require an analysis of the cost of living payments that considered the differing policy contexts in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

In Wales, we have the shameful record of having the highest proportion of children living in poverty of any nation in the UK. An analysis of how the cost of living payments will play out in Wales might reveal significant differences between the system in my country and the partially devolved benefits systems in Scotland and Northern Ireland. For instance, the Scottish child payment of £25 was a bold step towards tackling child poverty. It was one of the wider reforms that the IFS said was part of a trend in which the Scottish Government are using their devolved income tax and benefits powers to increase the progressivity of the tax and benefit system. That is something that we dearly need in Wales. Had we a similar payment in Wales, our tragically high levels of child poverty would surely be reduced. We also have a higher proportion of disabled people in Wales. An analysis by the disability equality charity Scope estimates that the extra costs faced by disabled people average £583 a month.

These are just a few examples showing why we need a Wales-specific analysis of the cost of living payments and how they interact with wider social security policy. Such an analysis would most certainly strengthen the argument for devolution of social security to Wales, I believe—understandably so, as that is my party’s policy. I am told that new clause 2 will not be pushed to a vote tonight, but I hope that the Government accept its logic, and provide for a proper analysis of changes to social security—an analysis that specifically takes into account the impact in Wales.

It is a pleasure to respond to points made this evening. I thank all hon. Members for their contributions and discussions. I take this opportunity to fully, strongly assure all Members that policy officials in my team at DWP and I have looked roundly at the cliff edges and the challenges in getting these payments out swiftly. This will very much link to the household support fund, and the learnings from that. I can reassure the Chair of the Select Committee, the right hon. Member for East Ham (Sir Stephen Timms), that there will be strong communications and engagement with local authorities for anybody who may be missing out. I hope that reassures my hon. Friends and colleagues.

Clause 2 sets out in more detail the eligibility criteria and the means test for the cost of living payments. I have covered much of clause 1, but I will come back to that briefly, if I may. The eligibility criteria, as we have heard, are similar to those in the Social Security (Additional Payments) Act 2022. We know from making those tens of millions of payments last year that keeping the policy simple is essential to delivering the payments successfully and to those most in need.

I now turn to amendments 2 and 3, tabled by the hon. Member for Glasgow East (David Linden) and my hon. Friend the Member for Amber Valley (Nigel Mills), respectively. Amendment 2 asks us to change our eligibility criteria to include those who have no benefit payment due to a sanction. I want to reiterate to the Committee and to anybody listening that people are only sanctioned if they fail, without good reason—and we have heard tonight some that sound like good reasons—to meet the conditions they have agreed to.

I will just make a little progress, and I am sure the hon. Gentleman will want to jump in again shortly.

Ultimately, this is about parity between taxpayers and those people who are seeking support. As I say, we have targeted communications in place to make it clear to customers that our work coaches are there to help, whatever their circumstances. Whether it is getting advice, boosting people’s skills, or identifying opportunities for progression, anybody looking for support should speak to their work coach to access all the help that the DWP can offer.

On amendment 2, the fact of the matter is that people have already been punished once by being sanctioned. This is a cost of living payment in recognition of inflation and high energy bills. Why on earth does the Minister think it is appropriate for 6,600 households to have been sanctioned and punished twice last year, and why is she allowing legislation to go forward that allows people to be punished twice again? That is the simple question.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for making his points, and I simply do not agree with the point about punishment. Conditionality works on both sides, and I think it is important that people play their part. I will come on to further comments about that shortly.

I welcome the additional payments, but Conservative Members know that employment is the best way out of poverty, and part of getting people back into employment is the conditionality of universal credit. One key benefit of universal credit is that there is a clear incentive for claimants to get into work, preventing them from becoming trapped in welfare, which then creates a dependency. I know the Minister will explain this to the Committee, but I want to stress the importance of this in Hastings and Rye where, at the moment, one in five people—20%—are on out-of-work benefits by choice. I reiterate the importance of conditionality in gaining employment.

I thank my hon. Friend, and she makes the point extremely eloquently. This is much more about getting people into work and progressing; it is not about some punitive sanctions regime. This is about individuals being supported to best progress. On those people who engage with us during the qualifying period, as long as they attend, we will be supporting them if there is any particular reason that they cannot engage with us, if they have good cause.

Amendment 3 would extend the qualifying period for universal credit over two months rather than one. I understand the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Amber Valley. Keeping the eligibility dates as close as possible to payment reduces administrative challenges such as out-of-date contact or bank details, and including two assessment periods extends the amount of time between eligibility and payment. [Interruption.] Sorry, but the hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire (Amy Callaghan) was speaking. In this time, individuals will have the opportunity to—

On sanctions, I appreciate the Minister giving way, and I thought she might enjoy a second just to reflect on some of the guff that she has been spouting. [Interruption.] I would say “guff” is a suitable word. I am absolutely scunnered by what she is saying, and I know my constituents will be too, given the high rate of sanctions in my constituency.

I thank the hon. Lady, and I think the point here is that this is not solely about sanctions. As we heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough (Paul Bristow), this is about getting cost of living payments to the people most in need at this challenging time. SNP Members are continually talking about sanctions, and never talking about getting people into work and progressing. It is a continual bleating, and I think it is right that the hon. Lady reassesses the word “guff” in relation to fairness between the taxpayer and those people who of course need to be engaging with work coaches. It is important that we know what is happening with our claimants. Leaving people to their own devices and not seeing what is going on is no way to support them, and I do hope that SNP Members will look at that.

I am going to talk a little more about sanction cases: 97.6% of sanctions in the quarter up to October 2022 were applied for failing to attend a mandatory appointment at a jobcentre. These cases can often be resolved quickly by engaging with claimants, so that they turn up to the next appointment. If someone with no universal credit award due to sanctions re-engages with us, they could get one of the later cost of living payments. That is why it was so important that we look at those hard edges, and as I have told the Committee, we did look at them.

Clause 3 sets out the eligibility criteria for each cost of living payment, based on the entitlement of child tax credit or working tax credit. This clause ensures that only individuals who have been paid tax credits by HMRC in respect of a day in the qualifying period will receive a cost of living payment. Clause 4 is applicable to those who are entitled to more than one social security benefit or tax credit, so that they do not get duplicate cost of living payments.

Clause 5, on the additional payment for disability, means that there is a cost of living payment of £150 for people who receive an eligible benefit, and this will enable us to make payments to up to 6 million people. I fully recognise that disabled people may be likely to face extra costs to deal with the impact of higher inflation, as we have heard in the Chamber this evening, so I am pleased that we can make this additional payment. I can also confirm that many will qualify for both the disability payment and means-tested benefits, to a maximum of £1,050 in total in what is covered by this Bill.

Let me make a little progress in trying to whip through the clauses. On the administration of the payments, clause 6 makes appropriate arrangements for the recovery of overpaid cost of living payments. This means that, where a cost of living payment is overpaid, including as a result of fraud, recovery rules that apply to its qualifying benefit will apply to the cost of living payment. Cost of living payments are paid automatically, without the need to claim, and there is no separate right of appeal against a decision on entitlement. Individuals can, of course, exercise their right of appeal against the decision on entitlement in relation to the relevant qualifying benefit.

Clause 7, on the co-operation between the Secretary of State and HMRC, allows for relevant data to be shared to ensure that cost of living payments reach the right people, and to avoid the duplication of payments. In the event that a payment is made by HMRC when it should have been made by the DWP, or the other way around, this clause allows us to treat the payment as if it was made by the correct Department, and it avoids the need for recovery of cost of living payments in these circumstances.

I am pleased to confirm to Members that clause 8—on payments to be disregarded for the purpose of tax and social security—ensures that any additional payments made are exempt from tax, will not affect a person’s entitlement to social security benefits or tax credits, and are not subject to the benefit cap. This means that every person who is entitled to a cost of living payment will receive every penny in their pockets.

Clause 9 amends the Social Security (Additional Payments) Act 2022 to ensure that provisions relating to overpayments and recovery of the qualifying disability benefit also apply to disability cost of living payments. This clause also amends regulations made by HMRC to simplify and clarify their position on the recovery of overpaid cost of living payments in the next financial year. These are essentially tidying-up provisions that modify existing legislation to clarify our policy intention.

Clause 10 sets out the definition and interpretation of certain terms used in the Bill. Clause 11 explains the procedure for the laying of regulations. Clause 12 defines the territorial extent of the Bill and specifies that its provisions extend to England, Wales, Scotland and now to Northern Ireland. These are standard clauses.

I will briefly respond to new clauses 1, 2, 3, 7, 8 and 14 laid respectively by the hon. Members for Glasgow East (David Linden), for Oldham East and Saddleworth (Debbie Abrahams) and for North East Fife (Wendy Chamberlain) and my hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Sir Robert Neill).

New clause 1 appears to require the Government to publish analysis of the impact on household incomes of an earlier backstop date for the second and third qualifying day. New clauses 2, 3, 7, 8 and 14 require the Government to publish analysis on the impacts of the Bill on various groups, and I would point to a number of existing analytical publications. The Treasury has already published a distributional analysis of the autumn statement decisions; this shows the impact of the cost of living payments on households across the income distribution. Alongside this Bill, we have published an impact analysis which uses administrative data to look at the characteristics of those receiving the cost of living payments. This includes consideration of different characteristics such as age, gender and geographical location, including England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. My Department’s annual “Household below average income” publication looks at numbers in both relative and absolute low income and covers a wide range of characteristics, as I have mentioned.

I am pleased to say that my Department is planning an evaluation of the cost of living payments. In addition, we will consider what further information we can release in future. I hope, given the amount of data we are making available, hon. Members will withdraw these amendments.

Finally, I would like to mention the minimum income floor, which I think my hon. Friend wants to raise. He has spoken this evening to the Minister for Employment about fluctuating earnings; I entirely understand the challenges that he has set forward in Committee and I know that he will be meeting the Minister. I worked in media where there are fluctuating earnings and fully understand the points he and others have made; we do not think, however, that it is right for the state to provide indefinite support through the welfare system for those who persistently declare low earnings from self-employment.

I am glad that the Minister recognises that that was not the point made in relation to creative industries. I am grateful for the constructive approach by her colleague the Minister for Employment towards a meeting. I hope that we can have a meeting with the relevant all-party groups so that Ministers can directly hear the views of those who work in the sector and, as suggested by the right hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell), find a constructive way forward which we can all sign up to.

I thank my hon. Friend and agree that it is right that we raise the situation of that sector. He has made his point and we have heard from other Members across the House about the same scenarios.

New clause 13 tabled by the hon. Member for North East Fife requires us to make all payments under this Act by 1 April. As I previously stated, we have deliberately staggered payments over the course of the next year to ensure that as many people as possible will qualify for a payment at some point. I therefore ask the hon. Member to withdraw the motion.

I think I have made all my points.

I am grateful to the Minister for giving me a short time to reply. I accept that amendments 4, 5 and 6 are fairly blunt instruments, but during the debate I heard from both sides of the Committee, including the Government side, that we want to get money to people as soon as possible. The purpose of our amendments is to ensure we can do that. Giving people in need cash gives them dignity as well; it gives them choice, as I have heard in my role as co-chair of the all-party group on ending the need for food banks. The hon. Member for Glasgow East (David Linden) raised inflation, too, and giving people money now would help them ameliorate that. Amendment 4 merely asks the Government to make a payment at the start, rather than the end, of April, so I will not withdraw it.

Question put, That the amendment be made.

More than two hours having elapsed since the commencement of proceedings, the proceedings were interrupted (Programme Order, 21 February).

The Chair put forthwith the Questions necessary for the disposal of the business to be concluded at that time (Standing Order No. 83D).

Clause 1 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 2

Qualifying entitlements: social security benefits

Amendment proposed: 2, page 2, line 27, at end insert “or—

(ii) the person would have been entitled to a payment of at least 1p in respect of that period if the person had not been subject to a benefit sanction.”—(David Linden.)

This amendment is intended to ensure that, in respect of universal credit, payments under this Bill are not denied to a person who is subject to a benefit sanction.

Clause 2 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 3 to 12 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

The Deputy Speaker resumed the Chair.

Bill, not amended, reported.

Bill, not amended in the Committee, considered.

Third Reading

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

The Bill legislates for two key elements of the substantial package of further support that the Chancellor announced in November. It builds on our £37 billion package to help with the cost of living last year, demonstrating our continued commitment to the most vulnerable during these challenging times. This hugely important legislation lays the foundations for cost of living payments to millions of households. It underpins the Government’s commitment to supporting people across the country who we know face increased financial pressures over the next year. We have legislated to uprate benefits and pensions by 10.1%, have extended the household support fund and are supporting people with energy costs.

I am delighted by the spirit in which the Bill has been received, for which I thank Members across the House. Frankly, I do not agree with the hon. Member for Glasgow East (David Linden) about sanctions and conditionality, but I appreciate his arguments; I can promise him that we always look at individual circumstances and are fully focused on positive engagement with our claimants and on always being fair to the taxpayer. Despite the spirit in which the hon. Member for North East Fife (Wendy Chamberlain) pressed her amendments in Committee, it simply was not possible to deliver what she asked, so I think we are absolutely right to have moved forward in a different way this evening.

I thank the hon. Member for Westminster North (Ms Buck) for raising issues around larger families. She feels that perhaps there could be a better solution. I can say honestly that we looked very strongly at whether there were any better solutions, but unfortunately we could not find them. I take her point, however, and fully appreciate the points about the flat rate with respect to larger families.

Let me reiterate that these payments are being made through the DWP’s ad hoc payments system, which does have some limitations. For instance, it can only make one type of payment of a single value at a time. However, for the families whom the hon. Lady describes who need additional help, we are extending the household support fund in England throughout 2023-24, while the devolved Administrations will receive Barnett consequentials to spend at their discretion, with the benefit of their local knowledge. I know that Opposition Members feel strongly about that. I ask all Members to look at the benefits calculator on and at the Help for Households website, which can help all their constituents.

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has set out the Government’s priority, which is to see inflation halved this year. It is, of course, good news that we have already seen small decreases, with greater decreases forecast for later this year. However, we have recognised the need to act to support people now, which is why, through this Bill alone, we are providing additional support of up to £1,050 for low-income and vulnerable households across the UK. Last year we delivered, successfully and at an unparalleled pace, tens of millions of payments to people throughout the country. We were able to achieve that because we deliberately kept the eligibility criteria for the payments as simple as possible, avoiding the complexity that could lead to delays and unacceptable levels of fraud or, indeed, error. These are the key principles that have guided our approach to the Bill.

I thank all Members for their contributions to, and engagement with, today’s debate and the Second Reading debate last month. I am grateful to Opposition Members who do not agree with the finer detail of the Bill for supporting the overall package that the Government have presented to Parliament. We have looked at all the feedback about how people can best be supported through difficult times. I am grateful, in particular, to the Chair of the Select Committee, the right hon. Member for East Ham (Sir Stephen Timms), for his measured interventions and his scrutiny of the Bill. I pay tribute to my policy officials—the Bill team—for making all these key payments possible, and for all the other work that they have done.

Let me end by underlining the point made earlier by my hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough (Paul Bristow), who is not currently in the Chamber. The Bill will enable the Government to start making additional payments soon to millions of families throughout the country to help them to become better off, and I commend it to the House.

On behalf of the Official Opposition, I thank the Clerks and the Bill team for their support. While it is always a delight to see you in the Chair, Mr Deputy Speaker, I think I speak on behalf of the whole House in saying how delightful it was to see the Chairman of Ways and Means back in her rightful place. She chaired our deliberations with typical skill and good humour.

I was pleased that the Minister attempted to answer questions from Members on both sides of the House with courtesy, but I am afraid that some of her answers did not clarify the points put to her. The fault was not particularly in her or in the briefing that she was given; it was because of the way in which the Bill is structured. The Bill has problems because, as has been mentioned, it does not deal with the fluctuation of universal credit payments month by month. The Bill has problems for those who happen to be sanctioned when the payments are made. The Bill has problems for those who are self-employed. The Bill does not take into account larger families either, because this is a flat payment.

We will not be dividing the House, because we understand that our constituents are in desperate need of help and we recognise that the Government are spending about £11 billion on this cost of living payment, but of course we still do not know whether the Chancellor will maintain the energy price freeze at £2,500 or whether our constituents will be faced with average bills of £3,000 from April. Our constituents are losing the extra support that they have been receiving with their monthly bills as well.

The reason that the Government have had to spend £11 billion is that there is less resilience in our constituencies and our constituents are facing greater hardship than ever before. There is despair in the faces of many people that Ministers do not often meet and in communities they seldom visit, because for 13 years we have had Conservative Ministers telling us that they were going to balance the books by cutting more deeply and more brutally into social security. That is why, today, child poverty is up, pensioner poverty is up and in-work poverty is up. This Bill is welcome as far as it goes, but there are fundamental problems with the social security system. Our safety net is ever more threadbare and there is ever more desperate need and hardship in our communities. We will not divide the House this evening, but so much more needs to be done to give our constituents a better chance.

In rising to conclude this Bill, I also want pay tribute to the Clerk of Legislation and to Linda Nagy and Nansi Morgan from my own team for their help with the amendments. My position on the Bill remains that it is welcome but could have gone further. I say to the Minister—whom I genuinely respect; we have robust debates in this place, but they are just that—that the reality is that last year 6,600 people who should have had a cost of living payment did not get one because they were sanctioned. All that the amendment was trying to do was to ensure that the law had a safety net, which is the very purpose of social security, and it is regrettable that the Government voted against that tonight. I hope that, when the Minister and I are jousting about this in a year’s time, we will not look back and see an even higher figure of households that have been sanctioned. As much as the Minister and I can have robust debates, we should never lose sight of the fact that the legislation that we pass in this place, imperfect though it is, impacts some of the most vulnerable people in our constituencies, and I fear that the Government will come to regret rather hastily rejecting amendment 2 tonight, because those people will be at the Minister’s surgeries on a Friday morning, as I am sure they will be at mine. On that basis we will let the Bill go off, and look forward to the progress that it will make for those that it does include.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.

Genetic Technology (Precision Breeding) Bill (Programme) (No. 3)

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 83A(7)),

That the following provisions shall apply to the Genetic Technology (Precision Breeding) Bill for the purpose of supplementing the Order of 15 June 2022 (Genetic Technology (Precision Breeding) Bill (Programme)) as varied by the Order of 31 October 2022 (Genetic Technology (Precision Breeding) Bill (Programme) (No. 2)):

Consideration of Lords Amendments

(1) Proceedings on consideration of Lords Amendments shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion one hour after their commencement.

Subsequent stages

(2) Any further Message from the Lords may be considered forthwith without any Question being put.

(3) The proceedings on any further Message from the Lords shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion one hour after their commencement.—(Mark Spencer.)

Question agreed to.