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People on Lower Incomes: Financial Support

Volume 734: debated on Tuesday 20 June 2023

The Government recognise the challenges facing households as a result of the elevated cost of living, and we took further action in this year’s spring Budget to provide targeted support to protect the most vulnerable. That included the new cost of living payments this year, help with the cost of essentials through a further extension of the household support fund in England, and the uprating of benefits in line with inflation in April this year.

One of the best ways of supporting those on lower incomes is to remove the barriers that prevent them from acquiring the new skills that are necessary for better-paid jobs. Will my hon. Friend confirm that the Treasury is working closely with the Department for Education and the Department for Work and Pensions to ensure that the Lifelong Learning (Higher Education Fee Limits) Bill gets rid of those obstacles, and can she provide an update on the progress of the Barber review?

I know that you like Ministers to answer briefly, Mr Speaker, so, if I may, I will answer my hon. Friend’s first question now and respond in writing to his question about the Barber review.

My right hon. Friend the Chancellor made employment one of the four Es in his drive for growth in the spring Budget, and we are working closely with the Department for Education to invest in exactly the way that my hon. Friend describes. That includes investment in free courses for jobs, which enable people to study high-value level 3 subjects and gain free qualifications, and employer-led skills bootcamps in high-growth areas—a phrase that I never thought I would find myself uttering—which, apparently, involve sectors such as digital, and are available to those who are either unemployed or in work and wanting to retrain.

Food banks, playgroups and warm spaces are among the services provided by mosques, temples, synagogues and churches for all our constituents to help them cope with the cost of living crisis, but many of the buildings are creaking and falling apart. Will Ministers consider extending Gordon Brown’s policy of VAT relief on building works for listed places of worship to all such places, to recognise their role in providing social good and to alleviate the pressure on multiple systems?

I thank the hon. Lady for raising an important point. There has been an incredible outpouring of support across communities—not just in religious communities, but at village and town halls around the United Kingdom—in an effort to help people with the cost of living pressures that we face in the winter. The picture is quite complicated, but perhaps I can write to the hon. Lady with a fuller response to her question, because I want to do it justice and I know I will get in trouble with you, Mr Speaker, if I do so now.