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Covid-19: Employment Support

Volume 688: debated on Wednesday 3 February 2021

What recent discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions on support for people in Wales whose employment has been adversely affected by the covid-19 outbreak. (911548)

I have regular discussions with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions on our support for people affected by covid-19. The UK Government have funded the furlough of 8,900 employees and provided over £17 million to the self-employed in the hon. Lady’s own constituency.

The pandemic has exposed inadequacies in our welfare system to act as a safety net, from the insufficient level of statutory sick pay to the damaging impact of the two-child benefit limit on families. The idea of a universal basic income is gaining increasing traction as a solution to many of these issues, and there is increasing support in Wales and elsewhere for a UBI pilot funded by the UK Government. Will the Minister express his support for such a pilot and call on the UK Government to fund it?

The UK Government have already provided £5 million of extra funding to the Welsh Government to ensure that they have adequate funds to support businesses and individuals who have been affected by the covid pandemic, and of course the Welsh Government also have tax-raising powers. The reality is that this Government have spent hundreds of billions of pounds supporting businesses and individuals throughout this country, such is our commitment to ensuring that no one is left out as a result of the impact of this terrible pandemic.

The last year has been immensely challenging for many Welsh families, who have seen their lives completely upended by the virus. Despite welcome progress on vaccinations, the pandemic is not going away overnight, and many still feel grave uncertainty about the future of their jobs and their family finances, so why do the Government think that now is the time to cut universal credit by £1,000 a year, hitting more than 200,000 Welsh families who are doing their best to get by?

I have not yet been promoted to the Treasury, and I cannot possibly predict what might happen in the Budget that may or may not come in a few months’ time. Perhaps the hon. Lady knows something that the rest of us do not, but I can tell her that the Government have been steadfast in their commitment to supporting all those who have been left out. May I just point out that we will come through this crisis quickly as a result of the Government’s wise decision not to take part in the European Union vaccination scheme, which is why we have now vaccinated 14% of the population of the United Kingdom?

Anyone who took the initiative and started their own business within a year of the pandemic hitting was completely shut out of the self-employment income support scheme when it was announced last March. Many turned to universal credit as their only option. Now, nearly a year on, and with last year’s tax returns submitted to HMRC, will the Government think again, close the gaps in support and give the newly self-employed the help that they deserve?

The hon. Lady knows very well that I am not responsible for the policies of the Treasury, but I simply point to the fact that we have provided more than £9.3 billion of additional support through the welfare system for people affected by covid, including the £20 a week increase in the universal credit standard allowance. The Government’s commitment to supporting all those who have been affected by this pandemic is very clear to all.