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Progression out of Low-Paid Jobs

Volume 708: debated on Monday 7 February 2022

I associate myself with your comments, Mr Speaker, on the magnificent service of Her Majesty the Queen.

People can use the Train and Progress scheme to access courses so that they can progress out of low-paid jobs. We are appointing progression champions throughout the country and, from April onwards, will open up access to work coach support to address skills barriers or wider barriers to progression among people who are already in work.

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend and constituency neighbour for that answer. In sectors such as offshore wind and nuclear power in Suffolk, either there are skills shortages or new opportunities are emerging. Currently, many people are not able to acquire the skills needed for such jobs because of the rigid and complex universal credit conditionality rules. Will my right hon. Friend agree to a review of universal credit conditionality, as she and I have discussed and in accordance with the new clause that I have tabled to the Skills and Post-16 Education Bill?

As my hon. Friend is my neighbour, I am conscious of the opportunities in his constituency thanks to the Government investment, alongside that of private investors, in our progress to net zero. I do not agree with him that we need to reshape student finance in such a way; that is not the purpose of universal credit, and only a limited number of people can undertake that training. I assure him that Train and Progress, which I mentioned, the lifetime skills guarantee and the opening up of access, as well as apprenticeships to get into a sector in the first place, are better ways to make sure that we help people to get on in work.

I similarly associate myself and all my colleagues with your remarks before questions, Mr Speaker.

The Government know that, as the hon. Member for Waveney (Peter Aldous) suggests, there is a problem with progression out of low pay, because they commissioned the Ruby McGregor-Smith review, which reported in July last year. In January this year, the Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, the hon. Member for Mid Sussex (Mims Davies), told me that the Government would publish their response “shortly”. Meanwhile, kickstart has failed to deliver and, as the journalist Ed Conway pointed out this afternoon, in the past year the average house has earned more than the average 18 to 29-year-old in this country. That is a disgrace. Will the Secretary of State announce today when she will at last publish the Government’s response to the Ruby McGregor-Smith review of low pay? Will she say how the Government propose to make progress on two key issues that the review identified: public transport and childcare?

I reject the hon. Lady’s assertion that kickstart is not working. More than 130,000 young people have now had access to a proper job in which they have gained employability skills, so it has been an effective response. At the same time, she will be aware that there are more people in work on payroll than there were before the pandemic. People are making good progress in that regard.

The review is important. I will be candid and say that I am the person who has held it up, because I want to make sure we have got all the questions answered as best we can. Meanwhile, we continue to work across Government on some of the hurdles that people are trying to get over, such as childcare and similar issues. I hope that the response will be published shortly.