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Social Security

Volume 635: debated on Monday 5 February 2018

With this it will be convenient to consider motion No. 2:

That the draft Guaranteed Minimum Pensions Increase Order 2018, which was laid before this House on 15 January, be approved.

With the forbearance of the hon. Member for Oldham East and Saddleworth (Debbie Abrahams) for any prior confusion, I move the motion. In my view, you will pleased to hear, Mr Speaker, the provisions in both orders are compatible with the European convention on human rights.

The draft Guaranteed Minimum Pensions Increase Order 2018 is an entirely technical matter that we attend to each year in this House and I do not imagine that we will need to spend much time on it today. The statutory instrument provides for contracted-out defined benefit occupational pension schemes to increase members’ guaranteed minimum pensions that accrued between 1988 and 1997 by 3%.

I turn to the rates that are included in the draft Social Security Benefits Up-rating Order. The Government continue to stand by their commitment to the triple lock guarantee, which means that, this year, the basic state pension and the full rate of the new state pension will go up by the increase in prices, at 3%, as outlined in the autumn Budget on 22 November last year. We will increase the pension credit standard minimum guarantee by more than the growth in earnings to match the cash increase in the basic state pension, and we will increase benefits to meet additional disability needs and carer benefits by 3% in line with prices.

The Government’s continuing commitment to the triple lock for the length of this Parliament means that the basic state pension rate for a single person will increase by £3.65 to £125.95 a week from April 2018. As a result, from April 2018, the full basic state pension will be £1,450 a year higher than it was in April 2010. We estimate that the basic state pension will be around 18.5% of average earnings—one of the highest levels relative to earnings for more than two decades.

In 2016, the Government introduced the new state pension for people reaching their state pension age from 6 April 2016 onwards, with the aim of making it clearer to people at a much younger age how much they are likely to get and providing a solid base for their saving and retirement planning. We are committed to increasing the new state pension by the triple lock for the duration of this Parliament. As a result, the full rate of the new state pension will increase by 3% this year, meaning that, from April 2018, the full rate of the new state pension will increase by £4.80 to £164.35 a week—around 24.2% of average earnings.

The benefits of the triple lock uprating will also be passed on to the poorest pensioners through an increase in the standard minimum guarantee in pension credit to match the cash rise in the basic state pension. That will be paid for through an increase in the savings credit threshold. To match the cash increase in the basic state pension, the standard minimum guarantee will rise by 2.29%, which exceeds growth in earnings of 2.2%. That will mean that, from April 2018, the single person threshold of this safety net benefit will rise by £3.65 a week, to £163.

On the additional state pension, this year, state earnings-related pension schemes will rise in line with prices by 3%. Protected payments in the new state pension will be increased in the same manner. Consistent Government support for pensions has seen the percentage of pensioners living in poverty fall dramatically in the past few decades; it is now standing close to the lowest rate since comparable records began.

The Minister will know that state pension is deducted from pension credit, leaving those pensioners no better off than if they had not contributed to qualify for a state pension. Because state pension is also taxable if other income is brought into the household, the pensioner may have both to pay tax on it and to see it deducted from their pension credit. Therefore, they could be worse off than if they had not contributed to qualify for a state pension. What are the Government doing to address that long-standing inequity?

Significant measures have been taken by the Government to deal with pensions and, in particular, pensioner poverty over the last few years. We have seen that fall from something approaching 46% to around 16% in the last few years. One measure, in particular, that will have benefited many millions of pensioners is raising the personal tax threshold. That has taken millions of people out of the tax system altogether and particularly those, such as pensioners, who are on a fixed income.

I turn to disability benefits. The Government will continue to ensure that carers, those who cannot work and those who have additional needs as a result of disability get the support that they need. We continue to follow the principle in our welfare reforms that more of the money should get to the people who need it most. That results in disability living allowance, attendance allowance, carer’s allowance, incapacity benefit and personal independence payment all rising by 3% in line with prices from April 2018. Disability-related and carer premiums paid with pension credit and working-age benefits will also increase by 3%, as will the employment and support allowance support group component and the limited capability for work and work-related activity element of universal credit.

All in all, the Government will spend an extra £4.2 billion in 2018-19 on uprating benefits and pension rates. With that spending, we are upholding our commitment to the country’s pensioners by maintaining the triple lock on their state pension, helping the poorest pensioners who count on pension credit, and providing support to disabled people and carers. I commend the orders to the House.

I will focus initially on the draft Social Security Benefits Up-rating Order and then move on to the draft Guaranteed Minimum Pensions Increase Order.

The uprating order provides for the annual uprating of social security entitlements excluded from the Government’s freeze to levels of social security enacted in the Welfare Reform and Work Act 2016. As we have heard, that includes attendance allowance, carer’s allowance, disability living allowance, personal independence payment, industrial injuries disablement benefit, bereavement benefits, incapacity benefit and severe disablement allowance. This year, the Secretary of State proposes to uprate those limited social security entitlements by inflation under the consumer prices index measure, which currently stands at 3%, together with the new state pension in accordance with the triple lock, and pension credit.

We will not delay the measures to increase the new state pension and the adequacy of the social security provision provided by the uprating of payments in the order. However, although I welcome the upratings contained in the order, this needs to be seen in the context of the support that is not being provided or has not been uprated, as well as the Government’s wider approach to social security. The uprating order does not include child benefit, jobseeker’s allowance, employment and support allowance, income support, housing benefit, local housing allowance rates, child tax credit, working tax credit and the majority of comparable elements of universal credit.

The Government’s decision to limit the cap on uprating to 1% between 2013 and 2015 and the subsequent freeze on the vast majority of social security payments has seen low-income households suffer a significant deterioration in the adequacy of social security support. The freeze to payments and support is having an extremely detrimental impact upon millions of people on low incomes across the UK. Over the last year, inflation has more than doubled, hitting a five-year high of 3.1% in December 2017. It currently stands at 3%.

The payments subject to uprating were uprated by just 1% last year, with the vast majority of social security payments remaining frozen. To put that into context, research by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation shows that the price of essentials has risen three times faster than wages over the past 10 years. Food prices have increased by 4.1%, transport by 4.5% and clothing and footwear by 3%. People are suffering a continued increase in the cost of living, and that is being exacerbated by wage stagnation and the rise in insecure work caused by the Government’s inadequate economic policies. Last year, in-work families on the national living wage saw minimum costs rise faster than their net income because in-work payments were frozen and any rises in pay were clawed back by tax credit reductions. While millions of families are seeing their incomes fall in real terms, the wealth of the richest few continues to soar, with FTSE 250 bosses seeing their pay rise by 11% in the last two years alone.

Despite promises to tackle these burning injustices, the income gap between the richest and poorest in our society has almost doubled. Britain’s top bosses are paid, on average, 165 times more than a nurse, 140 times more than a teacher and 312 times more than a careworker. Research from the Resolution Foundation shows that the poorest families will see their incomes drop by an average of 2% by 2021, while the richest fifth of households will see their wealth increase by 5%. It is clear that the Government’s cuts to social security support are pushing more and more people into poverty. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation has called on the Government to end the freeze to social security payments, as has the Child Poverty Action Group, which states that

“the failure to uprate benefits in line with inflation is the single biggest driver behind child poverty”.

Following the 2015 summer Budget, the Government’s flagship universal credit programme saw cuts to the work allowance. That was on top of the scrapping of severe disability premiums, the imposition of the minimum income floor for the self-employed and the limiting of child tax credit support to the first two children. As a result of those cuts and the freeze, not only is universal credit failing to make work pay, but instead of reducing poverty it is actually exacerbating it.

My hon. Friend may also be aware of the difficulties people are having claiming the childcare element of universal credit—the bureaucratic burdens which are compounding the freezes and cuts she is talking about and which mean that families cannot get the childcare support they used to be able to fund relatively easily under the tax credit system.

My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. There are many different aspects to the Government’s still inadequate response on how they will fix universal credit. She has highlighted one, and we heard earlier in oral questions about the debacle of free school meals and how more children will be deprived of free school meals.

What is the Minister’s assessment of the impact of the social security uprating cap on poverty levels? Does he accept the Child Poverty Action Group’s analysis that 1 million more children will be pushed into poverty as a direct result of the cuts to universal credit? Does he accept the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s report on the cumulative impact on disabled people, which estimates that a disabled adult will have lost on average £2,500 a year since 2010?

Despite announcing a small amount of additional investment in the autumn Budget to prop up universal credit, in reality, the Chancellor has only reintroduced £1 for every £10 cut by his predecessor. Why are the Government choosing not to uprate social security payments in a way that reflects the economic reality for those in most need? I remind hon. Members that the Child Poverty Action Group estimates that cuts to universal credit will force 1 million additional children into poverty by 2020. The social security system should prevent people from getting into debt and poverty, not make things worse.

By continuing the freeze on social security payments not included in this order, the Government are subjecting 10.5 million households to an average cut of £450 a year up to 2020. The order was a chance for the Government to recognise the desperate reality for many of the poorest and most vulnerable people in our society, but they have failed to do so. As charities across the sector have been asking, will the Minister ensure the end of the freeze on other social security payments in next month’s Budget statement?

The order allows for discretionary upratings to be made by the Minister where he deems it necessary and appropriate. I want to be clear that we welcome the Minister’s decision to include a 3% uprating to the work allowance element of universal credit in the list of discretionary upratings in these measures, but the reality of people’s lives demands more. This again raises questions about the consistency of the Government’s argument to uprate some social security payments and not others. If he believes that the work allowance element of universal credit should be uprated, as the Opposition do, will he explain why tax credits are not also being uprated by the same amount? Why the disparity?

The Government cut the work allowance element of universal credit in 2015, yet subsequently have recognised the need to uprate it through the discretionary element in the order—although not to a level that reflects the reality of the rising costs of living and previous cuts. Is that an admission that they were wrong to cut work allowances in 2015?

Moving on to the pensions element of this uprating, I welcome the uprating of the state pension via the triple lock. I am glad to see that has survived, given the Government’s indifference to it last year, but I want to put on the record concerns about the public’s levels of understanding of the new single-tier pension and the paucity of information the Government have made available. As we know, there are both winners and losers as a result of the Government’s changes and most new pensioners will not receive the full single-tier pension. Before its introduction, it was estimated that only around 22% of women and half of men reaching state pension age would be entitled to the full single-tier pension. Will the Minister update the House on that?

In addition to the numerous social security payments subject to the Government’s benefits freeze and not uprated in this order, there are some very significant further omissions. Although the state pension is being uprated, people who have frozen pensions are excluded from the uprating and will not see an increase in their state pension in line with inflation. Pensioners living abroad face very different circumstances depending on whether their country of residence has a reciprocal agreement with the UK for the uprating of state pensions. Pensioners in countries without this arrangement see their pensions frozen at their initial retirement level, which means that the value of their pension falls in real terms every single year.

More than half a million people currently have their pensions frozen, mostly in Commonwealth countries such as India, Australia, Canada, parts of the Caribbean and New Zealand, and in countries with strong family and historical links to the UK such as Pakistan and parts of Africa. The Opposition believe that their pensions should be protected in the same way that the pensions of other UK citizens living abroad are in the future, yet the Government are choosing to withhold the pension uprating in this order from 550,000 recipients living outside the UK. This is a chance for the Government to make an historic change to our pension system and support our policy to end future arbitrary discrimination against some British pensioners living overseas by uprating in line with inflation from this point. Will the Minister look again at that issue and take action to address that inequality?

Not only have the Government failed to support pensioners living abroad; they have failed to address the current injustice faced by many millions of women born in the 1950s. It is important that the Government not only recognise the real injustice that women born in the 1950s have been dealt as a result of Government changes to pensions policy, but take action to remedy this injustice.

I agree totally with my hon. Friend. Millions of people living in this country have suffered discrimination because of the Government’s policies, particularly the women born in the early 1950s. The Government could do something about it and I can say this to them: as long as they refuse to do something about it, we will keep raising it.

My hon. Friend speaks strongly on behalf of his constituents and women born in the 1950s, given what they are going through, and long may he continue to do so.

There can be no doubt that women have borne the brunt of the Government’s cuts over the past seven years, but that applies particularly to women born in the 1950s, who have been dealt a real injustice through the accelerated increase in their state pension age. The Government have no excuse not to bring forward retirement for women born in the 1950s and early drawdown of their pension, as it is entirely cost-neutral. Alongside our proposals for the extension of pension credit, these additional measures would mean that people affected by the Government’s chaotic mismanagement of state pension equalisation would have the option to retire earlier, and would allow for much-needed financial support. The Government are in a position to implement proposals for early drawdown immediately, but they refuse to do so. I should be grateful if the Minister could explain exactly why that is.

Let me make it clear that the proposals are a “starter”. They do not in any way preclude further action, or even compensation, for this group of women. Will the Minister commit himself to reviewing the Government’s approach to pensions provision for women born in the 1950s, and will he release the original legal opinion contained in the “pink files”?

In the context that I have set out, a 3% uprating of some social security entitlements is unlikely to do much for those who are “just about managing”. As a matter of principle, the uprating should apply to all entitlements, not just the ones that the Government have cherry-picked. In the meantime, although we regret the limit on the groups who will benefit from the uprating, we must support the order, because otherwise those identified will lose out.

Let me now turn to the draft Guaranteed Minimum Pensions Increase Order 2018. We support the uprating of the guaranteed minimum pension in line with inflation, but we believe that some of the issues that were raised last year about the new state pension arrangements that came into effect in April 2016 remain unresolved.

The old state pension had two main components: a basic state pension; and a state earnings-related pension. People who made national insurance contributions at the full rate built up a basic state pension, but an option created in 1978 enabled people to contract out into another pension scheme, either voluntarily or via their employer on their behalf, on the basis that the other scheme met certain criteria. Between 1978 and 1997, schemes that took on such new members were required to provide a “guaranteed minimum pension”. The guaranteed minimum pension system was discontinued by the then Government in 1997.

In 2016, the Government’s introduction of the new state pension ended contracting out by replacing the additional state pension with a single tier. Working-age people now have their existing state pension entitlement adjusted for previous periods of contracting out and transferred to the new state pension scheme. For people who have guaranteed minimum pensions rights under an old pension scheme but who reached retirement age after April 2016, the Government no longer take account of inflation increases in guaranteed minimum pensions when uprating people’s new state pensions. The changes mean that any guaranteed minimum pensions accrued between 1978 and 1988 will not be uprated, and the scheme provider will uprate guaranteed minimum pensions built up between 1988 and 1997 only to a maximum of 3% each year.

When the National Audit Office investigated the impact of the changes, it concluded that there would be some winners and some losers under the new arrangements, depending on the time for which people were contracted into a scheme. Those whose state pensions have been pushed back because of the rise in state pension age will lose out on guaranteed minimum pensions inflation-linked increases that would have been received under the old rules. However, those who lose under the new rules may be able to build up additional entitlement to the state pension. The issue here is a lack of clear information, as is too often the case with the Government.

The NAO report stated:

“Some people are likely to lose out and they have not been able to find the information they need.”

Why did the Government fail to provide information that would enable people to make informed decisions? The NAO also said that it was

“concerned that the Department has limited information about who is affected by the impact of pension reforms on Guaranteed Minimum Pensions.”

Will the Minister provide a much-needed update on the number of people who have been affected since the relevant legislation came into effect? What support is available to help people to understand the changes?

I hope that the Minister will address all the issues that I have raised in respect of both orders.

It is a pleasure to be able to set out the Scottish National party’s position.

You will not be surprised, Madam Deputy Speaker, if I am rather critical this evening, because I have been speaking about the matters covered by the social security order since my election nearly three years ago. Like the annual review of social security payments, the order covers everything from pensions to maternity allowances, but for many people, there is no annual review, because a number of social security benefits are automatically frozen, regardless of the impact on people who need that support to get by, regardless of the rise in household costs, and regardless of widespread opposition to the continuation of the freeze. Jobseeker’s allowance, child and working tax credit, local housing allowance, income support, child benefit, and the work-related activity group element of employment and support allowance have all been frozen. That means that people who are desperately seeking work, families with children, parents who are working hard but receiving poverty pay, and sick or disabled people will see their support frozen, although their household costs have risen significantly in the past year.

In December, the consumer prices index hit 3%, which means that families in and out of work who need the support of the social security system to get by will need to find extra money just to stand still. The Resolution Foundation has calculated that working families with two children will lose £315 a year as a result of the benefit freeze, and the Institute for Fiscal Studies has said that as a result of higher CPI rates, benefit entitlements will be reduced by an average of £450 per year by 2019-20. We know that this is the worst decade for wage growth in 210 years, and that as a result people who are in work but also in receipt of social security support have had their chances cut off at both ends. As costs rise, they cannot rely on work or social security to help them to keep up.

Another issue—I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will come to it—is that of the third child and the so-called rape clause. Nothing has been done about that.

I entirely concur with the hon. Gentleman. He is right to draw attention to one of the Government’s most iniquitous and disgraceful policies. As he has said, no action has been forthcoming to address it.

The End Child Poverty coalition has said that it is because of the four-year benefit freeze that more than 50% of children in the UK’s poorest areas are growing up in poverty. Earlier today, at Question Time, the Minister defended the freeze, saying that overturning it would require primary legislation. I say, “Bring us that legislation and let us vote on it.” The evidence clearly shows the damage that is being done, and I would challenge any Government Back Bencher to vote for its continuation in the face of such evidence. It is time to end the freeze and lift children out of poverty.

Apart from anything else, the Government do not need to continue this, even by their own reasoning. Figures obtained by the SNP from the House of Commons Library show that while the four-year benefit freeze introduced by the Tory Government in April 2016 was intended to result in £3.5 billion of cuts by 2019-20, that figure could now be £5.2 billion owing to rising inflation. The decision not to uprate the bereavement support payment in line with inflation is completely unacceptable while the cost of funerals continues to rise at an incredible rate. What is worst is that the DWP’s own statistics show that 75% of recipients of the new combined payment who have children will be worse off, and that the figure rises to 88% for those who are bereaved with children and in work. The resignation of the entire board of the Social Mobility Commission in December should have been seen as the climax of the Government-driven poverty crisis, but today we see it being driven on.

There are some welcome elements in the order. I am glad that Ministers have used their discretion to uprate statutory sick pay, statutory maternity and paternity pay, adoption pay and statutory shared parental pay, all of which will rise by 3%. They may have done so in the light of a report from the European Committee of Social Rights. I quizzed Ministers about that report earlier, but they appeared to know little about what I was talking about. It states that social security provisions for the self-employed, the sick and the unemployed in the UK are “manifestly inadequate”. The UK is now “not in conformity” with a number of legal obligations in the European social charter, which is a legally binding economic and social counterpart of the European convention on human rights.

The hon. Gentleman is making an impassioned speech and I respect his position on these matters, but it is worth asking this question: since 2016, the Scottish Government have had powers to top up reserved benefits—indeed, they have a wide range of powers in relation to welfare matters—so what do the SNP Government in Scotland intend to do in relation to those benefits?

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the new Scottish social security agency Bill is going through the Scottish Parliament so that we can bring in measures that allow us to make changes to how things are done down here. He will also be aware that we have put in place hundreds of millions of pounds of mitigation spending over the past few years, including to ensure that none of his constituents have to be impacted by the iniquitous bedroom tax.

I think we have heard enough, and I am sure that if the hon. Gentleman wishes to, he can make a speech later.

The order will not do much to make up for the lack of conformity that the European Committee of Social Rights has highlighted, and that Ministers seem so clueless about. Its latest report follows the High Court ruling on the UK Government’s changes to personal independence payments, which said that the system “blatantly discriminates” against people with mental health problems, and a report from the UN saying that Tory benefit cuts “violate human rights”. This Government have another new Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, who has thankfully accepted the High Court ruling on PIP. Perhaps it is time for her to take a fresh look at all the other areas of international criticism as well.

On pensions, Ministers will not be surprised at my disappointment that another year has gone by without any action on frozen pensions or to sort out the state pension inequalities faced by women. Accompanying the order are regulations—they are brought forward annually under the negative procedure—ensuring that the state pension uprating will not apply to people entitled to the pension living in certain countries around the world. My right hon. Friend the Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Ian Blackford) and my hon. Friend the Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire South (Mhairi Black) have been pressing the Government on this matter since their election in 2015. It is an injustice that some people, who have earned the right to their pension like everyone else, have their payments frozen at the rate they first received for the rest of their life abroad. It is just not right that the pensions of those who live in some countries continue to rise while those of others are frozen. Some 550,000 British pensioners are affected, who represent 4% of all recipients of the state pension and half of all those drawing their pensions abroad.

I agree with the hon. Gentleman about overseas pensions. I am sure he recalls—I think this was last year or the year before—that a number of representatives from different countries came to lobby us about this situation, which has been ongoing for a number of years. I am sure that we have all received many emails on the subject.

We have indeed, and I am sure I have been copied into the same emails that the hon. Gentleman has received. It is wrong that people still face this glaring injustice, and the new DWP team must look at it again to ensure that there is action upon it.

The DWP must also finally act to rectify another pension injustice: that suffered by women born in the 1950s. The WASPI campaign has been the clearest, most persistent and compelling of the dozens we have seen before us in the last two and a half years. It is a scandal that the UK Government continue to refuse to address this issue, which is not going away.

I turn to the draft Guaranteed Minimum Pensions Increase Order 2018. Under the old state pension system, which was made up of the basic state pension and the state earnings-related pension scheme, people built up their basic element through national insurance contributions, but built up SERPS depending on their circumstances. Some people—doing so themselves, or because their employer did it—were contracted out of SERPS. Contracting out occurred because it allowed both parties—the individual and the employer—to pay reduced national insurance contributions. However, to ensure some standard was maintained, the employer had to guarantee that their company pension would match at least the SERPS the employee would have received if they had not been contracted out. That is the guaranteed minimum pension, or GMP.

The system ran for a number of years between the 1970s and 1990s, but was discontinued by the Labour Government, and now the new state pension works in a completely different way. Complicated rules apply to uprating, depending on when the pension was built up. We know that people will be impacted in different ways, but people who were extensively contracted out may just receive the basic state pension, and for some this might come as a shock.

Clearly this is an extremely complex matter and we know that people are struggling to understand their circumstances. Our main concern regarding the order is that the UK Government ensure that people are adequately informed of the impact of the new state pension on their own pension pots.

Not all those who were contracted out were made fully aware of the impact on their eventual pension pot. While it is good that a minimum guarantee is linked to CPI, there are adverse impacts for some people. We understand that the Government’s changes to the state pension mean that any GMPs that people have accrued between 1978 and 1988 will not be uprated, and that a maximum of 3% each year will be uprated for GMPs built up between 1988 and 1997. This applies to those who have retired after 6 April 2016. Whether or not people benefit depends on their circumstances, and some people will get less money than they expected. People who were contracted out were not necessarily aware of what that meant at the time, or did not necessarily understand its implications, and they certainly could not have anticipated that their retirement income would be impacted by such future changes as the Government have made to the state pension. For those without further savings to fall back on, like many of the WASPI women, this can mean a loss in income. The UK Government should have better communicated the impact of these changes for those who were contracted out.

All in all, what this points to is the urgent need to establish an independent pensions commission. The Government continue to ignore the needs of pensioners, as well as the looming pensions and savings crisis we may well encounter in the future. The Government need to ensure that people’s retirement savings are on a sustainable footing so that future generations can plan for their future. The SNP has long called for the establishment of an independent pensions commission to ensure that employees’ savings are protected and that a more progressive approach to fairer savings is looked at as we move to a period in which defined benefit schemes are becoming a thing of the past and the new state pension begins to take effect. The need for that independent commission is greater than ever.

While I too am pleased that a number of benefits have been uprated in the Social Security Benefits Up-rating Order 2018, overall I am disappointed in it for the reasons outlined by my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham East and Saddleworth (Debbie Abrahams) and the hon. Member for Airdrie and Shotts (Neil Gray). In too many cases, in failing to offer any uprating at all of certain benefits it serves to embed meanness in our social security system, particularly against the backdrop of rising prices that we have heard about.

We see a number of specific instances in this order where the Government simply say the benefit rate “remains unchanged”—or, in other words, is frozen—despite the rise in prices. We see that, for example, for income support, for jobseeker’s allowance and—I was shocked to see—for the bereavement support grant. We also know from my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham East and Saddleworth that the consequence of the freeze and other cuts will be a very significant rise in the number of children growing up in poverty.

The consequence will be huge hardship for families. We have already seen food bank use rise tenfold over the last decade, and it will increase further. The Institute for Fiscal Studies has reported that the lowest income households are already struggling with personal debt and paying the bills; their situation will simply worsen as a result of these frozen benefits.

I have to say that the decision to impose this freeze for a period of four years is, frankly, wicked. In a civilised society, our social security system is here to meet need, and there is no way the Government can assure this House that it will do so if prices continue to rise over that period while benefits remain frozen.

Contrary to what the Government appear to believe, meanness—a lack of generosity in the system—does not improve its legitimacy. Conversely, one thing that does improve the legitimacy of the system is recognising contribution, so it is depressing that the order misses the opportunity to improve a number of the contributory benefits that it covers. We are in the ridiculous situation where some contributory benefits are being reduced pound for pound from the equivalent means-tested benefit. While this is not a new problem, it is exacerbated by the introduction of universal credit. For example, income-based jobseeker’s allowance in universal credit is not taxable, but contributory-based JSA is deducted from universal credit pound for pound, and it is then taxed into the bargain, leaving the claimant worse off than a claimant who has not contributed. We see a similar situation with widowed parents allowance, which is based on the deceased partner’s contribution record. Because universal credit brings together a number of benefits in one single payment, deductions of contributory benefits can be taken not just from the equivalent income-based component of universal credit but from other help in universal credit such as payments towards housing costs or towards the cost of raising children.

As I say, this problem is not new, but in some respects it is being made worse, and I hope that the House will uniformly agree that to penalise people who have made a contribution in this way is not actually moral. Disregarding at least a proportion of contributory benefit for the purpose of calculating means-tested entitlement would be a powerful recognition that people should be rewarded, not penalised, for making a contribution. That is important for building confidence in the social security system . It is also a matter of simple justice. I find these orders disappointing at best, and in some respects downright cruel, perverse and unethical. I urge the Minister to make good on these defects, and to do so as a matter of urgency.

It is a privilege to respond to the social security benefits uprating order on behalf of the Liberal Democrats. As the Minister knows, the Government have been obliged by law since 1992 to increase the value of certain disability benefits in line with inflation, and I am pleased to see that attendance allowance, carer’s allowance, disability living allowance and the personal independence payment will be going up by 3%. My colleague from the Scottish National party, the hon. Member for Airdrie and Shotts (Neil Gray), also noted that the Government have recognised that they made a tremendous mistake over PIP for people with mental health issues, and I am glad that it is being increased by 3%. However, over the next few months while this absolute shambles is sorted out, I doubt that the many people on PIP who have mental health issues will appreciate that increase as much as they might have done if the Government had not been so foolhardy in the first place.

I value the fact that pension credit is going up by 2.2% and that the widows pension in industrial death benefit is increasing by 3%. To be fair, I also appreciate the fact that the Government have used their discretion to increase working-age benefits for disabled people in line with inflation, particularly around the support group component. As the Minister will be aware, people who are on support group employment and support allowance often have a profundity of disability which means that they cannot work, irrespective of the support they get. I welcome the fact that the Government have increased that by 3%.

It is always good to see the state pension triple lock. The last time I was here, we were in coalition, and I am delighted to see the Government continuing to implement Lib Dem policy by introducing an increase of 3% this year. However, I also want to flag up my disappointment, as other colleagues have done, that the Government have not used this opportunity to give some succour to the many women born in the 1950s and who are part of the Women Against State Pension Inequality campaign. This would have been a good opportunity to send a message that the Government are listening and are prepared to come up with something to salve the frustration and anger of many millions of women across the country. As I have said before in the House, I believe that all the parties are culpable in this regard. The Conservatives originally brought in the changes through the Pensions Act 1995 without telling anyone. Labour did nothing for the 13 years it was in government, and then we had the coalition. As we are all culpable, I hope that we can work together to come up with the kind of transition payment that I profoundly believe the WASPI women deserve. I am disappointed that the Minister has not mentioned this today.

I shall move on to the elements that I am unhappy with. In accordance with the Welfare Reform and Work Act 2016, working-age benefits will be frozen until April 2020. I will not go through the whole list of benefits, but the consequences of this freeze will be absolutely deplorable. I shall give the House an example. The Child Poverty Action Group and the Resolution Foundation have identified that, from this year onwards and for the next four years, single parents stand to lose an average of £2,380 per annum. That is an enormous amount of money for anyone to lose from their annual budget. I am on a very good salary here—we all are—and I would notice if that amount were suddenly taken out of my salary. For single parents to have to suffer that over the next four years is absolutely wrong. I am very disappointed that the Government are continuing with the freeze despite all the evidence from robust, independent and reputable organisations such as the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and the Resolution Foundation. As the hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston (Kate Green) so eloquently said, the impact of the benefits freeze is simply cruel.

One of the consequences of this is that people have not been assisted with burials, because nobody ever looks at burial charges, and I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman has noticed that the number of pauper burials is starting to increase in this country. Surely that is quite an indictment.

The hon. Gentleman might know that an additional aspect of the benefits freeze is that the bereavement support payment is frozen. That is just unacceptable, and I will also keep banging on about the cuts affecting single parents.

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to highlight how particularly unfair these freezes are to single parents. It is obviously extremely difficult for them, as the sole carer of their children, to increase their family income by increasing their working hours. Does he therefore agree that special attention should be paid to their needs in the benefit system?

I heartily agree with the hon. Lady. There are more than 2 million single parent families, which must involve many millions of children, and the effect on them will be devastating if the Government do not address this matter very quickly. If they leave it for another four years, I can barely comprehend the damage that it will do to many of those children.

I am also disappointed about the employment and support allowance work-related activity group benefit—the WRAG—which is for disabled people whom the DWP recognises as having the capacity to work but who need a certain amount of support in order to get back into work as a consequence of their disability. This is an area that I have been supporting for many years before I came into politics, because I totally share the view of many others in the Chamber that work is the best way out of poverty and the best way to boost self-respect. However, after the coalition—the Liberals would never have allowed this—the Government cut the WRAG payment by 30%. I see that that has not changed. In fact, the Government are looking at removing it completely.

I ask hon. Members to imagine that they have a disability, that they have been unemployed for six or seven years, and that they want to get back into work. They will be supported by their local Jobcentre Plus and by the DWP, but because they have been away from work for a long time, they might lack confidence. They will therefore be gently directed, guided, assisted and mentored into work. I now ask them to imagine what would happen if the DWP then said, “Oh, by the way, we are going to reduce your income by 30%.” What would that do to their self-confidence, and to their determination to stay in the work-related activity group? I can tell them that because human nature is what it is, more and more disabled people will try to move into the support group as a result of this cut, and that will cost the state more. This shows the Government’s complete lack of understanding of disability and of human nature. Bad move!

Turning to the work allowance, one of the first things that George Osborne, now editor of the Evening Standard, did after the Liberals were defenestrated in 2015 was to slash £3 billion per annum from the work allowance. When I was on the Work and Pensions Committee, along with the hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston, I was so supportive of universal credit because, despite all its clunky bits, the work allowance meant that work really did pay. By removing £3 billion per annum since then, which will continue for the next four years, work no longer pays, which is completely counterproductive. The Government have kept all the worst elements of universal credit and have dumped the best element: the work allowance.

I pointed out in DWP questions earlier that universal credit is not working for the self-employed due to the minimum income floor. People who are self-employed may earn x amount of money one month and y the next—it could be less or more—but the way that universal credit is designed can mean that, at the end of 12 months, someone who is self-employed and earned £15,000 will have received less in benefits than someone who is employed and earns £15,000 or £20,000. The Conservative party, which always trumpets itself as the aspirational party, is specifically working against the self-employed, which is absolutely daft. As we know, the Government have abolished housing benefit for 18 to 21-year-olds, and housing benefit payments in the private rented sector have been frozen since 2016.

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the cancelling of benefits for under-21s leads to a perverse incentive? If young people are in supported accommodation, it does not actually make any sense for them to leave and go back into ordinary rental housing, because they cannot afford it.

I thank the hon. Lady, who makes such a good point. Again, it is a false economy, because the situation just leads to more dysfunction and challenging circumstances for families. It will prevent younger people becoming independent, and it will cost the state more money.

In drawing my remarks to a close, I want to return to the issue of single parents once again. I urge the Minister to take responsibility for his Government and to listen to these figures. There are more than 2 million single parents in this country, who will have x million children, and they stand to lose nearly £2,500 a year in benefits under the benefit freeze. Those people do not have a lot of money; they are just trying to bring up their children. The situation is unacceptable. I urge the Minister not to ignore that important issue when he responds and to say something that we can perhaps take back to those many hundreds of thousands of single parents.

I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute to this relatively short but necessary debate. I was encouraged to see the words “social security” appear on the Order Paper for this debate today and to see them on the annunciator. Over the years, we have sadly moved away from talking about social security to talking about welfare and, latterly, to benefits. Tempting though it is, I will resist lambasting Members, particularly those on the Government Benches, for their use of words like “scroungers” or “skivers” and the divide-and-conquer mentality that we see from the Conservative party—[Interruption.] I see that I have woken them up. The title of today’s debate—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Stirling (Stephen Kerr) is chuntering from a sedentary position. Does he want to intervene? No, perhaps not. The title of today’s debate is a good reminder to us—

I am happy to intervene on the hon. Gentleman. Will he give the precise constituency of the Member who used the words that he suggests were used?

It was the former Chancellor, so I think that it is Tatton. He now edits the Evening Standard, but it was not so long ago that Conservative Members were charging away behind him and saying how wonderful he was. [Interruption.] I will make some progress with my speech while Conservative Members chunter away.

I rise to express my profound disappointment at the UK Government’s continued obsession with the punitive benefit freeze. As a constituency MP, I am acutely aware that a clear majority of the people I speak to in my surgeries on a Friday do not choose to be on benefits. Circumstances largely dictate that. Broadly speaking, people end up receiving state support because they are disabled, sick or out of work. Contrary to what some right-wing newspapers print, being on benefits does not constitute a life of luxury. If people outside this House or Conservative Members genuinely believe that, they ought to go and study the Trussell Trust’s annual statistics, which show that the top three reasons people use foodbanks are changes or delays in benefits, low income at work and insecure employment. The charge for all three falls squarely at the door of this Tory Government.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. He says with great assurance that everything lies at the door of this Government. However, the Scottish Government have had powers to adjust, top up or change things or to introduce new benefits since 2016. In fact, the Scottish Government have done none of those things. The only thing that they have done is make some changes to how universal credit can be changed. The Scottish National party has the power at its disposal in the Scottish Government to change the benefits package in Scotland, so why is it not doing it?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his speech. He will perhaps want to have a glass of water after that. Scottish Conservative Members often come to the Chamber and act as Rottweilers and have a go at the Scottish Government. After a certain amount of time, Conservative Members will realise that they have been sent here from their constituencies to hold the United Kingdom Government to account. Until that happens, I am more than happy to debate with the hon. Gentleman about the powers that the Scottish Government have taken on.

No, the hon. Gentleman can sit down for a wee minute. His remarks are disappointing, because we broadly see a good cross-party consensus in the Scottish Parliament, including from the Conservative party, about moving forward. The hon. Gentleman’s rather pathetic intervention is perhaps a bit of an insult to his colleagues in the Scottish Conservative and rape clause party.

As I have said, I am acutely aware as a constituency MP that people do not choose to be on benefits. We want a Government who are willing to stand up and build a country that works for everyone, but that cannot just exist on the side of buses. During the general election campaign, the Conservatives were talking about building a country that works for everyone, but if they are serious about that, it has to work for everyone. The people whom Conservative Members denigrate and have a go at might not vote for them, but the reality is that the Government need to give them more support.

I am conscious of the time, and I want to give the Minister the opportunity to respond to the debate, but I first want to place on the record my concern about the lack of support for the WASPI women. One of the first things that I did as an MP was to bring together many of the women in my constituency who have been unfairly affected by this Government’s attack on women born in the 1950s. In my remaining time, however, I want to issue a plea to the Government to halt the roll-out of universal credit in Glasgow, end the benefits freeze and scrap the medieval, barbaric two-child policy.

Before I entered this House, I worked for my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow Central (Alison Thewliss)—I am glad to see her here—and she has doggedly pursued the Government over their barbaric rape clause and medieval two-child policy.

My hon. Friend mentions the rape clause. Conservative Members asked him earlier about MPs who had said things that we would not accept were right, but the hon. Member for Mansfield (Ben Bradley) said that people should have vasectomies rather than children, because vasectomies are free. Does my hon. Friend agree that that sort of attitude—thinking that poor people are having hundreds of children just to scrounge off the state—is completely unacceptable?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. That takes me quite nicely on to my next point, and the hon. Member for Stirling takes a keen interest in such matters, so I am sure that he will be concerned about this. Government policy is meant to go through a family test, so for the hon. Member for Mansfield (Ben Bradley) to start suggesting that poor people should have vasectomies is deeply worrying and provides a real insight into the mindset of a Tory MP.

I have a simple question: does the hon. Gentleman accept that the Scottish Government now have power over things such as tax credits? The Scottish Government have not done anything with those powers since 2016. SNP MPs stand up here and give these virtue-signalling speeches about concern and compassion, but if they think that something needs to be fixed, the Scottish Government have the power to fix it.

I am entertained by the fact that the hon. Gentleman has not sought to catch your eye to make a speech, Madam Deputy Speaker, but has instead decided to try to use my speech as an opportunity once again to attack the Scottish Government. [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman is not even listening, so I do not know whether I should continue to address the point, but Scottish Conservatives come to this House and use the opportunity to rail against the Scottish Government as much as possible, yet he has absolutely no clue that tax credits are not being devolved to the Scottish Government. If he had spent any time reading the order in the back of this debate, he would know that that is the case.

Despite widespread condemnation from every corner of the globe, including from the United Nations, Ministers have pursued a two-child policy that would frankly make China blush. The Institute for Fiscal Studies has said that the two-child cap, which is tantamount to social engineering, will mean that some 600,000 three-child families will lose £2,500 a year on average—that is families in Stirling losing £2,500 a year because of this Government’s policy. That is not £2,500 a year on catalogues, gambling or lavish nights out; it is £2,500 a year that should go towards hot, nutritious meals for low-income families with children in my constituency of Glasgow East.

The reality is that, under this uncaring Tory Government, we are watching child poverty go through the roof, while living standards go through the floor. The other debate that I plan to take part in this week is on free school meals, and 21st-century Britain has now arrived at a point where, due to the sheer levels of poverty in our communities, the only place that some children can get a hot, decent meal is at school. Only last week, MPs on both sides of the Chamber voted to spend billions of pounds on tarting up this royal palace so we can enjoy yet more luxury, yet tonight we are being asked by the Minister to support an order that will continue the benefit freeze for some of the most vulnerable people in our constituencies.

No, I will not give way at this point.

Continuing the benefit freeze is fundamentally wrong, and it is time to call it out. It is time for an end to the punitive benefit freeze.

I rise to focus on the pensions aspect of this debate. We would all agree it is the duty of the United Kingdom Government to make sure that pensioners fully understand the impact that pension changes will have on their retirement planning. This is, of course, an extremely complex matter, and we know that many people struggle to understand the impact that changes to their pensions will have on their pension pots. The movement from a basic state pension and a state earnings-related pension scheme—commonly known as SERPS—to a one-off calculation is far from straightforward, and it will have an impact on people’s ability to understand their pension pots. Indeed, some people who have been extensively contracted out will get just the basic state pension figure.

We have heard tonight from my hon. Friend the Member for Airdrie and Shotts (Neil Gray) that it is good that there will be a minimum guarantee linked to the consumer prices index, but there will also be some adverse impacts. We know, for example, that those who were contracted out were not necessarily aware and did not necessarily understand what it meant, and certainly could not and would not have anticipated that their future retirement income would be negatively affected by the Government’s changes to the state pension. Those without savings to fall back on, such as the WASPI women, are hit very hard. They face a significant loss of income and real hardship.

Many of us are tired of saying it, but I hope that the Minister is not tired of hearing it—he is hearing it, but he and his Government do not seem to be listening. The UK Government should have better communicated the impact of these changes on those who were contracted out. It is absolutely imperative that the UK Government make sure they adequately inform people of the impact of the new state pension on their pension pots, as they have a duty to do.

That is worth saying because, apart from Government Members, just about everyone agrees that the UK Government have completely failed in this duty with regard to WASPI women. Changes under the Pensions Act 1995 began to be made in 2010, but women were written to only from 2009. Many were simply not told, so they were completely unaware of the changes being made to their pensions. That is an appalling abdication of responsibility, and it shows complete disregard for the impact of such changes on the lives of those affected.

Many WASPI women were simply unaware of the changes, but the Government have not been listening. It is worth remembering that DWP research carried out in 2004 found that less than half the women surveyed were aware of the impact the changes would have on their state pension age, with awareness particularly low among those who would arguably be worst affected—women who were economically inactive.

In addition, the Pensions Commission said in 2005 that

“a policy of significant notice of any increase (e.g. at least 15 years) should be possible”.

In 2008, the Pensions Advisory Service also reported low levels of knowledge about the state pension and said that that “must be addressed” by the Government. The warning signs were all there, despite how much the UK Government insist that they did enough to inform women of changes to their pension age.

This whole episode has undermined the social contract that the state pension represents. If Members do not believe that, perhaps it is worth spending five minutes with a WASPI woman. With the impact of contracting out, it is extremely important that the Government tell the House what provisions are in place now, and have previously been in place, to ensure that people are fully informed of the impact on their pension pots. If some people are unable to make ends meet due to lower pension payments because of contracting out, the Government need to explain what support and advice will be made available to them.

The fact is that pensions are far too important to be kicked about by Governments of different political persuasions. Once again, as we have heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Airdrie and Shotts, we in the SNP are asking for an independent pensions commission, and we will continue to do so. Only then can we properly address the needs of pensioners and prepare for the looming pensions and savings crisis that many fear will come to pass. I draw the Minister’s attention to the spike in pensioner poverty, which shows that many of those in the over-60 age bracket are being failed by the Government.

Does the hon. Lady agree that perhaps one way forward is for the parliamentary ombudsman to look at what was clearly poor-quality communication, from the 1995 Act onwards, and to make a ruling on whether the communication was good enough? We would then find out for sure what I think is true, which is that there was poor communication. We rely on the parliamentary ombudsman to give us that steer.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his insight. That idea is worth pursuing, but, rather sadly, I fear that the WASPI women now feel that the only option left to them is a legal challenge in the courts. If that is where the matter finds itself, that in itself is an indictment of a Government who have let these women down. Either way, the WASPI women are not going to go away, and perhaps through the parliamentary ombudsman and perhaps through the courts, this matter is far from over.

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation has said that 300,000 more pensioners have been driven into poverty over the past four years, which is the first sustained increase in pensioner poverty for more than 20 years. That, on its own, should give us pause for thought. [Interruption.] The Minister shakes his head, but he should take it up with the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, which is a very credible organisation.

There has been a sustained attack on pensioners, and we saw that in the Government’s election campaign with the attack on the triple lock and the threat of a dementia tax. Thankfully those threats have receded, because they cost the Government their majority, but the matter requires the Government’s full attention. The Government should reflect on the electoral consequences, as well as the moral consequences, of these attacks.

According to the European Commission’s 2015 research, the UK has a wider than average gender pensions gap. We are trailing behind the rest of Europe on how we treat our pensioners, which is a matter the Government should take seriously. After the WASPI fiasco, confidence in pensions has been undermined at a time when we are trying to encourage younger generations to plan for their future. Those two situations do not sit side by side very comfortably.

An independent pensions commission would ensure that employees’ savings are protected and that a more progressive approach to fairer savings is considered, as we move towards a period when the new state pensions take effect. An independent pensions commission is needed more than ever. It is time for the Government to consider it seriously in the long-term interest of pension security, and I urge the Minister to do so.

I, too, commend my hon. Friend the Member for Airdrie and Shotts (Neil Gray) for covering the issues so completely. He welcomed the changes that are there to be welcomed, while making the criticisms that are due. My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow East (David Linden) succinctly covered many of the points I would normally make in a speech such as this and, as we have just heard, my hon. Friend the Member for North Ayrshire and Arran (Patricia Gibson) covered the pensions issues, particularly the treatment of the WASPI women, a subject dear to my heart. Given that that territory has been covered so completely, I wish to concentrate on one aspect that we face from this measure: the fact that most working-age benefits will now be frozen in cash terms from 2015-16 to 2019-20 inclusive.

That continued freeze on social security, in the light of the consumer prices index of 3%—

I will make some progress. That situation means punishing costs for families, which are trapping thousands of them, including the children, in poverty. All they have to look forward to is the noose getting tighter every year. The fall in the pound has led to food prices rising at their fastest rate in four years, with an increase of 4%. Meat prices have risen by nearly 4% and vegetables have gone up in price by nearly 6%. Even taking refuge in a cup of tea is more unaffordable, as coffee, tea and cocoa prices soar—they are more than 8% higher. In these debates, we are talking about the effect on families at their kitchen tables—about them eating and about them making choices. When we are going through the technical nature of these debates, we would do well to reflect on that.

The hon. Gentleman used the words “all they have to look forward to” and then went on to talk about benefits. Are benefits not supposed to be temporary and about getting people into work? Are these people not looking forward to getting into work, which is what this Government are getting them into and investing in?

This is clearly part of the problem: the understanding of people’s real lives. We are not just talking about people who are out of work; we are talking about a range of people, including those suffering in-work poverty. This all comes at—

I am going to make progress, but I will cover the hon. Gentleman’s points, as he has asked his question twice.

All the time, as a result of this Government, vital support remains frozen, and one in four children are growing up in poverty as a result. We already know, thanks to research from the Child Poverty Action Group, that children from well-off families outperform their low-income counterparts at age three to five, and by age five there are gaps of 10 months in problem solving development and 13 months in vocabulary. Three-year-olds in households with incomes below £10,000 are two and a half times more likely to suffer chronic illness than children in households with incomes above £52,000. There are also strong links between the experience of child poverty and poor mental health. One study shows that children living in low-income households are nearly three times as likely to suffer mental health problems as those in better-off households. So why do this Government not accept the damage that is being done?

In Scotland, tackling child poverty is at the heart of decision making. I will give way to the hon. Gentleman at this point.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way unbidden. Let me ask him the same question. I do not dispute the sincerity or passion that SNP Members have on this issue, but since 2016 the Scottish Government have had powers to top up reserved benefits. So if SNP Members feel as passionately as they seem to, what are the SNP Government in Scotland going to do in practical terms—

Order. Before I take the point of order, let me say that we cannot have interventions from a sedentary position upon someone who is intervening. We also cannot have such long interventions. This debate does not have much longer to go.

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Over the course of this debate, the hon. Member for Stirling (Stephen Kerr) has intervened on several occasions on me and my hon. Friends. Had he indicated to you that he was seeking to catch your eye to speak in the substantive debate, or is it the case that no Back Benchers—

Order. That is not a point of order. Any Member of this House may try to intervene on any other Member, and it is up to the Member who has the Floor whether they take the intervention or not. We will not waste time on points of order at this point.

Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. We have now heard in painstaking detail the grandiloquence of the hon. Member for Stirling on this point, where he has spectacularly failed, not once or twice, but thrice, to make the point—

Let me answer the hon. Gentleman’s question directly. In Scotland, tackling child poverty is at the heart of decision making. Scotland is now the only UK nation to have child poverty targets set out in law—the Tories scrapped such targets for the whole of the UK and we now know why. In Scotland, we have initiatives to see fairness delivered: the Poverty and Inequality Commission; a new £50 million fund to tackle child poverty; our use of the limited social security powers to support young families at key stages of—

I am going to make some progress, as this question needs answering. We are using the limited social security powers to support young families at key stages of children’s lives with the best start grant. We are providing free childcare—up to 45%. We are providing free school meals for primary 1 to 3 and expanding all early years. We are mitigating the Tory bedroom tax and maintaining council tax benefit. And we have the Scottish welfare fund.

Will my hon. Friend confirm something that may be of interest to Conservative Members? Is he telling me that the Scottish Government have put in all these measures to tackle child poverty in the face of a £2.6 billion cut over 10 years?

My hon. Friend makes that point extraordinarily well; this comes against a background of having to backfill to deal with the poverty and misery caused by UK Tory policies. Lessons could be learned, but will they be? They should be, in order to provide justice, fairness and dignity. In order to achieve that—

No. In order to achieve that aim, the lessons must be seen to be learned. It is shameful that we have to fight policies such as the cap and freeze, given that children in Scotland and across the nations of the UK are condemned to poverty by them. The UK Government should wake up to the harm they are doing and end this policy and the dogmatic approach through austerity that is driving it.

This has been a lively debate—certainly more lively than it has been in the past. Doubtless many of the arguments made—not least as much of the debate was about what is not in the order rather than what is in it—were exactly the same as those made last year. Therefore, I do not propose to detain the House for too long. A number of Members raised a series of detailed points, which I will try to address in writing, if I may, should I fail to address them in my speech.

The hon. Member for Oldham East and Saddleworth (Debbie Abrahams) raised a couple of issues I want to address. First, she asked when the Government will produce a cumulative impact assessment of all welfare reforms. The Treasury published a cumulative distributional analysis alongside the Budget, in November last year, showing the impacts on household income of tax, welfare and expenditure, so I would point her to that. She also asked about the new state pension communications, as did a number of other hon. Members. She will be pleased to know that, following the National Audit Office report last year, from which she quoted, the Department for Work and Pensions launched an online “Check your State Pension” service.

I will carry on. The service has had 7 million views since February 2016. Notwithstanding that, there is obviously more work to do on communications.

The hon. Member for Airdrie and Shotts (Neil Gray) asked why bereavement support payments have not been uprated. A bereavement support payment is not a cost-of-living benefit and is paid in addition to means-tested benefits to protect the least well off, so it is not necessary to uprate it in line with the cost of living. Unlike bereavement allowance and widowed parent’s allowance, bereavement support payment is paid in addition to other benefits to which the recipient is entitled, helping those on the lowest incomes the most. The hon. Gentleman will know that the up-front payment for those with children has been increased from £2,000 to £3,500.

I will not; I do not really have time and the hon. Gentleman and his friends had plenty to say during the debate.

A wider point was raised by several Members that for me distils the difference between the Government and Opposition on this issue. There seems to be on the Opposition Benches a kind of Stockholm syndrome attachment to the old benefits system, despite the fact that it is obviously a fraud perpetrated on the poor, more often than not designed to keep them poor rather than to give them the tools and ladders to climb so that they can take control of their own lives and financial control of those of their families into the future. I understand and would never seek to doubt Opposition Members’ motivation to do the best by their constituents and the rest of the country, but for some reason they seem to think that that motivation applies only to them, rather than to Government Members as well. I reassure the House that the motivation of every Conservative Member of Parliament is the betterment and welfare of our fellow citizens, which is what the order is designed for. With that, it gives me great pleasure to commend the orders to the House.

Question put and agreed to.


That the draft Social Security Benefits Up-rating Order 2018, which was laid before this House on 15 January, be approved.



That the draft Guaranteed Minimum Pensions Increase Order 2018, which was laid before this House on 15 January, be approved.—(Kit Malthouse.)

Smart Meters Bill (Programme) (No. 2)


That the Order of 24 October 2017 (Smart Meters Bill (Programme)) be varied as follows:

(1) Paragraphs (4) and (5) of the Order shall be omitted.

(2) Proceedings on Consideration and any proceedings in legislative grand committee shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion two hours after the commencement of proceedings on the Motion for this Order.

(3) Proceedings on Third Reading shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion three hours after the commencement of proceedings on the Motion for this Order.—(Richard Harrington.)