Social Security (Additional Payments) Bill Debate

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Department: Department for Work and Pensions
David Rutley Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (David Rutley)
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I thank those who have contributed to this debate. I echo the points made by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to stress the importance of this urgent legislation to support people up and down the country. The sharp increase in the cost of living is a challenge shared across the globe due to the aftershocks of covid on global supply, amplified by Russia’s unacceptable invasion of Ukraine. This Bill is the flagship component of our bold package of cost of living additional payments which have been designed to help people to cope with increased costs.

We are grateful for the support of Opposition Front Benchers in facilitating the speedy progress of the legislation. It is vital that these payments get to the people who need them. I am also very grateful for the contributions that have highlighted that these are a serious response to serious challenges, such as those made by the Chair of the Select Committee, the right hon. Member for East Ham (Sir Stephen Timms), as well as by my right hon. Friend the Member for Preseli Pembrokeshire (Stephen Crabb) and my hon. Friend the Member for Amber Valley (Nigel Mills).

The support provided through this Bill is timely and comprehensive, and we are taking significant steps and targeting resource to support those in greatest need. The spirit of this Bill is in line with the approach that the Government have taken since the start of the pandemic, which has been shown to deliver for the people of this country in challenging times. We will continue to work hard to help people on low incomes get the support that they need.

We have worked hard through the vaccine roll-out, through the dedication of amazing people, to reopen society, and our economy has responded positively. There are record numbers of people in payroll employment, unemployment is just 3.8%, which is around the lowest level since the 1970s, and there are 1.3 million vacancies, which we are working diligently with employers and communities to fill. My hon. Friend the Member for Ashfield (Lee Anderson) will be pleased to know that, given his focus on work.

With all the work going on to help get people into work and progress in work, we recognise that people do need additional support in dealing with the cost of living challenges. That is why the Chancellor has set out his generous package, with another £15 billion of targeted support, which brings our total package to £35 billion this year alone. Of these additional payments, a particularly important one is the means-tested benefit that will provide a £650 one-off cost of living payment. It will be paid in two instalments to recipients entitled to qualifying means-tested benefits or tax credit. The first starts on 14 July and the second, of £324, later in the year. The hon. Member for Richmond Park (Sarah Olney) asked if there could be one payment. I understand the point she made, but we have consciously staggered the payments to help people on low incomes with their budgeting, which I hope she will welcome. The other important element of the Bill is providing disability cost of living payments of £150, which will go to 6 million people in the United Kingdom and will be paid in September.

We have deliberately kept the rules of the additional cost of living payments as simple as possible, because that is the way we can ensure that we develop the systems and processes required to make the payments at pace. I pay tribute to the hard work of officials across the Government to make that possible.

There are a number of contributions in the debate to which I need to respond. The benefit cap was raised by the right hon. Members for East Ham and for Leicester South (Jonathan Ashworth) and also by my hon. Friend the Member for Amber Valley. We have kept the payments very simple both for those receiving them and for Government systems. They are tax-free, they will not impact on benefit entitlement or the benefit cap, and they will be paid to people without the need for paperwork. They will be paid into people’s bank accounts.

The hon. Member for Aberdeen North (Kirsty Blackman) made points about uprating. Of course, as the Secretary of State said in her speech at the start of the debate, there will be an annual review of benefits and pensions for the tax year 2023-24, which will commence in the autumn as per convention.

Some hon. Members have highlighted the legacy systems and pensions, and asked why we cannot do uprating more frequently. I think we know that the legacy systems are not that agile. Of course, what we are trying to do and working very hard to do—recognising how flexible universal credit is and how resilient it has proven through the pandemic—is to move people through to universal credit by the end of 2024.

Stephen Timms Portrait Sir Stephen Timms
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I want to go back to what the Minister said about the benefit cap, and I welcome the point he made. Does he recognise that, in a very high inflation environment, there really is quite a compelling case for looking again at the level of the benefit cap for next year alongside the other benefit uprating matters?

David Rutley Portrait David Rutley
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There is a statutory duty to review benefit cap levels at least once every five years, and this will happen at the appropriate time. When the Secretary of State decides to undertake the review, she will consider the national economic situation and any other matters she considers relevant at that moment in time.

I reiterate that carer’s allowance is not a means-tested benefit. Nearly 60% of working-age people on carer’s allowance will get the cost of living payment as they are on means-tested benefits or disability benefits. Carer’s allowance recipients will benefit from the £400 per household universal support being provided to help with the cost of energy bills.

People who receive carer’s allowance may live in a household that will benefit from the Government’s support package. For example, they may live with someone who receives a means-tested benefit, a disability benefit or tax credits. If so, the household will benefit from the cost of living payment.

The hon. Member for Westminster North (Ms Buck) has asked me in a number of debates why this measure does not more fully reflect different family sizes and formations. The challenge is trying to get these payments out as fast as possible. To do that, we need to get the payments out to “single benefit units,” as they are described, and households. The important thing to highlight is that most low-income families will be able to receive the £150 council tax support and the energy bill support, on top of the work allowance taper and the increase in the national living wage.

It is not possible to distinguish between those who have a permanent increase in their earnings and those whose earnings are temporarily fluctuating. If a UC claimant’s income subsequently falls, they will return to having a positive award after the cut-off date, and they may be eligible for the second payment.

The right hon. Member for Leicester South talked about the minimum income floor, which ensures we do not prop up unproductive employment or self-employment indefinitely. There is a start-up period to protect newly self-employed people. Beyond that, having a minimum income floor is the right policy. If it means there is a nil UC payment, the claimant would not be entitled to the means-tested payment. However, they would get the £400 energy payment and the £150 council tax rebate, and they would potentially be eligible for the household support fund. It is worth recognising that there are paid employment opportunities out there, given the high level of vacancies.

We have heard about the take-up of pension credit, and I am sitting next to the expert, the Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham (Guy Opperman).

David Rutley Portrait David Rutley
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Whatever we want to call him, he will take this forward with aplomb, that is for sure.

There was a serious question about why the number of means-tested benefit recipients will fall in the second cost of living payment period, and it is because the projections reflect mortality rates. However, they do not reflect the important work many of us are doing to raise awareness, so hopefully many more people will claim it.

I think I have now answered most of the questions. The hon. Member for Richmond Park asked about industrial injuries disablement benefit, on which I would be more than willing to talk to her separately. We should not underestimate the additional payments from the household support fund to help people with the cost of essentials. The Chancellor announced another £500 million in his latest statement, and it will be available from October 2022 to March 2023.

In England, the £421 million household support fund will be administered by local authorities, and the devolved Administrations will receive £79 million through the Barnett formula. Importantly, there will be new guidance to local authorities on this latest extension of the household support fund to reflect the fact that some people who are not able to secure these additional payments will be able to go to their local council to secure support.

Kirsty Blackman Portrait Kirsty Blackman
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Some household support funds ran out months earlier than expected. Does the Minister expect the new funds will be sufficient and will last as long as they are supposed to last?

David Rutley Portrait David Rutley
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The current tranche of household support fund is on top of all the other benefits we have talked about. As we have said, these are substantial additional support payments that are being made available, and the £500 million on top is there to help those people who have further needs with the cost of essentials. Further guidance will be made available.

We are working at unparalleled pace to get money into people’s pockets. It is vital that we meet the deadline for Royal Assent by 30 June, after a fast-tracked passage, so that we do not create a strong risk that we fail to make payments in July. We want to make sure that the most vulnerable people in our society—people on low incomes, people with disabilities—get the payments and support that they need. As I have highlighted already, this payment package in total comes to £37 billion this year alone. The Bill helps to deliver key elements of the support package to those who need it most. I strongly support these measures and commend the Bill to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time; to stand committed to a Committee of the whole House (Order, this day).

Further proceedings on the Bill stood postponed (Order, this day).

Social Security (Additional Payments) Bill: Money

Queen’s recommendation signified.

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 52(1)(a)),

That, for the purposes of any Act resulting from the Social Security (Additional Payments) Bill, it is expedient to authorise the payment out of money provided by Parliament of:

(1) a sum not exceeding £326 to anyone who is entitled, in respect of 25 May 2022, to—

(a) universal credit or state pension credit,

(b) an income-based jobseeker’s allowance, an income-related employment and support allowance or income support, or

(c) working tax credit or child tax credit;

(2) a sum not exceeding £324 to anyone who is entitled, in respect of a day after 25 May 2022 and not later than 31 October 2022, to a benefit mentioned in paragraph (1);

(3) a sum which, together with any sum paid as mentioned in paragraph (1) or (2), does not exceed £650 to anyone who receives a working tax credit or child tax credit of at least £26 in the tax year 2022- 23;

(4) a sum not exceeding £150 to anyone who is entitled, in respect of 25 May 2022, to—

(a) a disability living allowance,

(b) a personal independence payment,

(c) an attendance allowance or a constant attendance allowance,

(d) an adult or child disability payment,

(e) an armed forces independence payment, or

(f) a mobility supplement.—(Michael Tomlinson.)

Question agreed to.