There is clear evidence that work offers people the best opportunity to get out of poverty, and we now see record numbers of people in work. But it is not enough just to have a job; we want people to have good jobs and to progress in their work. And last month, this Conservative Government increased the national living wage, work allowances on universal credit and the personal tax allowance, providing the biggest pay rise to the lowest earners in 20 years.
I did listen to the Secretary of State’s answer, but she will know that around two thirds of children growing up in poverty have at least one parent in paid work. Work is simply not a straightforward route out of poverty for far too many families. Will she look again at the current levels of the work allowance and the taper rate for universal credit as an important first step in addressing this rising tide of in-work poverty?
There are many different levers that we can assist with to ensure that we reduce poverty overall and child poverty in particular. I have been focusing particularly on ensuring that more childcare is available and accessible to parents who want to get back into work, sometimes full time, so that the whole family income can be increased. That is a really positive way to try to assist people such as the hon. Lady’s constituents.
Some people working in Truro and Falmouth tell me that the faster technology changes, the more frightened they feel of being left behind. I therefore very much welcome the Secretary of State’s recent announcement enabling work coaches to support people in work to upskill and transition to better-paid employment, including in the new tech sectors. When will my constituents be able to benefit from this new service?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to say that some people are very concerned about this; they see the changing face of the workplace, and they are concerned about their own job security and skills. I am determined to ensure that we give people the skills they need and that we work with work coaches on projects to ensure that people get the right support. I would be delighted to work with my hon. Friend, particularly as she did such fantastic work in my Department, to ensure that her constituents are early beneficiaries.
We know that, from April, 15% of claimants are not receiving their first payment within five weeks. Will the Secretary of State tell us what action the Department is taking to ensure that claimants are paid in a timeous fashion?
I can reassure the hon. Gentleman that we are seeing constant improvements in the rate at which pay is received by claimants as early as possible. We have ensured that advance payments are available, and I am vigilant about ensuring that the figure of 85% for those receiving the actual application on time is constantly improving.
Will my right hon. Friend tell the House what safeguards are in place to help universal credit claimants with regard to the repayments of any debts they might have accrued?
My hon. Friend asks a very good question. Many universal credit applicants have already accrued debts, and sometimes they wish to take out an advance on their claim, which they would then need to repay over a period. We have been able to reduce the amount that they need to repay, from 40% to 30%, to ensure that they can keep more of their funds. I am constantly alert to the fact that people may have debts, and we need to be careful about the rate at which they need to repay, to protect vulnerable clients.