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Social Security (Up-rating of Benefits) Bill

Volume 815: debated on Monday 8 November 2021

Third Reading


Moved by

My Lords, as this is a two-clause Bill and the main clause was an amendment, I will use this opportunity to thank all noble Lords for the positive engagement and feedback they have provided thus far. We have had some truly wide-ranging debates, and I deeply appreciate the House’s passion for and knowledge of social security and pensions. I am enormously grateful to my noble friend Lady Scott, who has supported me at each stage of the Bill’s progress, both on and off the Floor of the House. I extend my thanks to the noble Baronesses, Lady Sherlock, Lady Janke, Lady Altmann and Lady Stroud, and the noble Lords, Lord Sikka and Lord Davies, for their amendments, ensuring thorough scrutiny of the Bill. I extend my thanks to the countless other noble Lords who have provided an abundance of constructive support and knowledge, and I thank all noble Lords for taking part.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for her remarks and thank all noble Lords who participated in the debate on the Bill. For a short Bill, its impact is quite wide, affecting millions of people. Our debates have raised some crucial issues around approaches to uprating and the government strategy for retirement saving, and especially around the position of pensioners on lower incomes as we enter a season of spiralling prices. Not for the first time, it is possible that our deliberations may have a broader impact in parts of Westminster and Whitehall than perhaps we realise or will ever know—at least until the autobiographies of the future come to be written.

On the matter of memoirs, these proceedings have also been notable for the return to the fray of the former Minister for Welfare Reform, the noble Lord, Lord Freud, whose frank demolition of the Government’s case for social security cuts and policies such as the benefits cap will, I predict, turn out to have a half-life somewhere around that of uranium.

I thank the Minister for her concession on Report, in response to my amendment on pensioner poverty, that an impact assessment should be published. That happened on Friday. I look forward to having the opportunity, if we can, to discuss that with her and her officials in due course. Most importantly, we have amended the Bill to require the Government to find a way to adjust pension uprating and to maintain the earnings link, while making allowance for the pandemic. I urge the Government to take that seriously and to use the time they now have to find a better solution than that offered by the Bill.

Public trust in politics has taken a bit of a hit in recent times. If there were a way of pursuing this objective without dumping a manifesto commitment, we would all want that. In the meantime, I thank the Minister and her officials, colleagues across the House for their thoughtful contributions, and Dan Harris of our staff team for his marvellous support. We send the Bill back to the Commons with our best wishes, hoping that it will embrace it and hold on to it as it is.

My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Janke, apologises for not being able to be here today. She has asked me to say a few words on behalf of our group. We very much welcome that noble Lords have agreed with the amendment from the noble Baroness, Lady Altmann. We hope that it will enable MPs in the other place to think again about the need to protect pensioners from the worsening economic circumstances. In the time since the Bill’s passage through the other place, significant changes have taken place, with economic indicators leaving little doubt that pressures will grow in the months ahead. I thank all noble Lords for their contributions. I particularly welcome the cross-party working made possible by the noble Baronesses, Lady Altmann and Lady Sherlock. We have much appreciated the Minister’s helpful approach. We thank her for her openness and willingness to share information on the Bill. We extend sincere thanks and appreciation to the Bill team, who have provided us with expert professional advice at all stages.

My Lords, I also thank my noble friend the Minister and the Bill team for all their work, and for the courtesy they have shown in meeting us many times to listen to the concerns we have expressed. I too am extremely grateful for the work across the House that was encompassed by this Bill. It has shown the House of Lords at its best. This is an issue of significant social importance where this House has shown that it believes that the other place took a decision based, perhaps, on incorrect information and has asked it to reconsider. I am particularly grateful to the noble Baronesses, Lady Sherlock and Lady Janke, my noble friend Lady Wheatcroft and others including the noble Lords, Lord Hain, Lord Davies and Lord Sikka, and the noble Baroness, Lady Drake, for their hard work. As the noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock, has said, I hope the Government will find a way to retain this amendment in the Bill and uprate state pensions by more than the 3.1%, which is clearly inadequate to protect against cost of living increases.

My Lords, I echo the words of the previous speakers. I hope that the Government will act on the recommendations of this House. I am also grateful to the Minister for the impact analysis, which I received on Friday night. I should be grateful if in future we could have a better quality of data. For example, it refers to weekly mean benefits, which do not tell us much about the societal impact or distribution. It would be very helpful, for example, to know the median figure and to have some further analysis in the appropriate financial brackets. Table 4 refers to the number of people eligible, pre-2016, for the new state pension but does not tell us how many actually receive the full amount. Once again, could I please request a fuller analysis, which would not only provide greater transparency but enable us to call the Government to account? It could be in the form of a statement of the number of individuals receiving, for example, a pension of less than £100 per week, those receiving between £100 and £120, and so on in other brackets. A better quality of analysis would enrich the debate.

My Lords, I am grateful for the remarks made by all noble Lords today. Our discussions have been thoughtful and powerful. Above all, they have demonstrated the commitment across your Lordships’ House to protect the income of pensioners and to bear down on pensioner poverty. The Bill now goes to the other place to consider the amendments put forward by this House. I look forward to our consideration of its reasons on the Bill’s return. As always, I note the challenge of the noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock. I will take the observations of the noble Lord, Lord Sikka, on the impact assessment back to the department, as I have done with all the other points he has raised. Finally, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken today and at earlier stages. I also thank the officials who have supported me in our discussions.

Bill passed and returned to the Commons with amendments.