Oral Answers to Questions Debate

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Department: Department for Work and Pensions

Oral Answers to Questions

Lindsay Hoyle Excerpts
Monday 5th February 2024

(4 months, 2 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
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Mel Stride Portrait Mel Stride
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May I first recognise the fantastic work my hon. Friend does on financial resilience? The Government have, through very difficult times, come forward with £104 billion of cost of living payments between 2022 and 2025. I would point my hon. Friend to one particular scheme: the help to save scheme encourages low-income households to save and we have recently extended that by 18 months, until April 2025.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call James Sunderland. Not here. I call the Chair of the Select Committee.

Stephen Timms Portrait Sir Stephen Timms (East Ham) (Lab)
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I agree with the Secretary of State about the cross-party success of auto-enrolment, which has doubled the proportion of eligible employees saving for retirement, but we know that the current regular auto-enrolment contribution of 8% of earnings is not enough to deliver the standard of living in retirement that most people hope for. Does the Secretary of State recognise that that minimum level of contribution will need to be increased?

Mel Stride Portrait Mel Stride
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The contribution rates of the employer and employee are a very important matter, and we keep both under review.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call Jim Shannon. Always here.

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP)
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Thank you, Mr Speaker.

When I was 16, my mother took me to Danske bank—or Northern bank as it was then—and opened an account for me. When I was 18, my mother phoned up the pension man in Ballywalter and told him I needed a pension. My mother has been a big guide in my life. What would the Secretary of State say to encourage the young people of today to take their mother’s advice on opening bank and pension accounts and planning for the future?

Mel Stride Portrait Mel Stride
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I think the response to that is, always take your mother’s advice. I always did—and look where it got me. At the age of 16, I would have thought the hon. Gentleman would have been saving into a piggy bank, putting his little pennies in a porcelain pig. I direct him to the gov.uk website, where there is a plethora of information for young people and those of all ages about saving and what the Government are doing to assist.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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The good news is that Mrs Shannon is still giving him advice. I call the shadow Minister.

Gill Furniss Portrait Gill Furniss (Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough) (Lab)
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One of the simplest ways to get people saving for the future is by ensuring that they are enrolled in a pension scheme, but all too many are currently excluded from auto-enrolment, particularly women, who are twice as likely to miss out. The Government have known about this problem for years. They first proposed widening the criteria in 2017. Last year, thanks to a private Member’s Bill, the Minister was given the power to do just that, but still we have seen no update on when this will be implemented. Can the Secretary of State shed light on when these vital changes will take place?

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Mel Stride Portrait Mel Stride
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As the hon. Gentleman will know, we keep all benefits under review. I point him to various things that we have done to ensure that we look after those lower-income families, including increasing the national living wage by about 10% in both of the last two years; the increase in the local housing allowance to the 30th percentile announced at the last fiscal event, which will be worth about £800 a year for about 1.6 million people; and, of course, the tax cuts that the Chancellor was able to bring forward, which for an average earner are worth £450 a year.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the SNP spokesperson.

David Linden Portrait David Linden (Glasgow East) (SNP)
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Rather than deal with the known policy failures within the benefits system, the Government seem to be more focused on penalising people through, for example, the two-child cap. Last week, the Labour party joined the Conservatives in prioritising lifting the cap on bankers’ bonuses rather than the two-child cap on working women. Does the Secretary of State take comfort in the fact that his cruel legacy will be protected by the Labour party?

Mel Stride Portrait Mel Stride
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I am not going to get involved in the crossfire between the Scottish National party and the Labour party, other than to say—[Interruption.]

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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Order. I do not need a continuing argument and disagreement. I am sure that when the questions come to an end, you can speak outside.

Mel Stride Portrait Mel Stride
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Thank you, Mr Speaker. The two-child cap is there for good reason: so that families in those circumstances are taking the same kind of decisions that others—the taxpayers funding benefits—have to take.

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Jo Churchill Portrait Jo Churchill
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The welfare system is there to be a strong safety net. It is not about a singular issue, because no households are the same. It is about wraparound care and dealing with people on an individual basis. It is about making sure that where children need support—for example, with free school meals—we provide it.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the shadow Minister.

Alison McGovern Portrait Alison McGovern (Wirral South) (Lab)
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Further to the Minister’s response, the Prime Minister has been asked similar questions about child poverty in recent Prime Minister’s questions. He usually responds that since 2010, the Conservatives have lifted 1.7 million people out of absolute poverty, which, as you know Mr Speaker, tracks living standards from a fixed point in time. Can the Minister tell me how many more people, on average, Labour lifted out of absolute poverty annually, compared with the 1.7 million since 2010 that the Prime Minister regularly claims?

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Mims Davies Portrait Mims Davies
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I am very sorry to hear about the hon. Lady’s constituent. Our aim is always to make the right decision as early as possible in the claim journey, and I would be keen to see the full details of that particular situation. On decisions, it is important to consider the context: 2.9 million initial decisions following an assessment have been made between June 2018 and July 2023; 5% have resulted in a completed tribunal hearing, with 3% overturned. I would be very keen to see what has happened in the case that the hon. Lady mentions.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the shadow Minister.

Vicky Foxcroft Portrait Vicky Foxcroft (Lewisham, Deptford) (Lab)
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As my hon. Friend the Member for Newport East (Jessica Morden) has just highlighted, the Department is in chaos and that is having a huge impact on claimants’ lives. As of October, there were 294,000 new personal independence payment claims waiting to be processed, with a further 445,000 claimants awaiting an award review. As of November, 24,339 people were awaiting Access to Work decisions. We are talking about hundreds of thousands of disabled people left in financial limbo, with tens of thousands waiting to start work. What message does the Minister think these huge backlogs send to disabled people, and how does she finally plan to get a grip of them?

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Mel Stride Portrait Mel Stride
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I thank my hon. Friend for highlighting all the good work that has gone on in his constituency. I believe he opened a jobcentre only as recently as 30 January in his constituency. He is a doughty campaigner for and supporter of employment in his patch. He asks whether I will visit his constituency. I would certainly like to consider that, but my hon. Friend the Employment Minister might also visit, because she just said she was particularly keen to do so.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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There we are.

Antony Higginbotham Portrait Antony Higginbotham
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Burnley and Padiham has so much going for it—with the rest of Lancashire, our area is the manufacturing powerhouse of the United Kingdom—but still has stubborn levels of economic inactivity among people who could be contributing to economic growth and having financial security, which we all want them to have. What more can we do to help those people? In particular, can my right hon. Friend do more to join up with other Departments so that areas such as Burnley, which might have structural problems, get more intensive support?

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Jo Churchill Portrait Jo Churchill
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We know that social media helps, and that 40 to 50-year-olds in particular enjoy engaging with a digital platform when they are looking for work. We have had instances in the past of people thanking us when they have been given interviews online. It is important that posts are accessible and we are working to ensure that this is the case. I would point customers of any age to the JobHelp website, which has a host of useful information. I am keen to see if we can roll out such progress further.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I do find that a strange grouping, but not to worry, Minister. Well dealt with! How you got from Cumbria across the country like that is amazing.

Barry Sheerman Portrait Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op)
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20. What steps he is taking to help ensure workplaces are accessible for autistic people.

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Mel Stride Portrait Mel Stride
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I thank my hon. Friend for her question, because autism is an issue of great importance to the House and to her personally. I know about the work that she is doing with Ryan Gibbs, Becca Pierce and Shelly Rankin Jones. She will know that the Buckland review was instigated in April 2023 and will conclude relatively shortly, with a report being published online. I look forward to visiting her disability jobs fair in Holyhead at the end of this week.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the shadow Secretary of State.

Liz Kendall Portrait Liz Kendall (Leicester West) (Lab)
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This morning the Office for National Statistics published the long-awaited updated figures from the labour market survey. Can the Secretary of State now confirm that our employment rate is even lower than previously thought, and that there are at least 200,000 more people out of work due to long-term sickness? We thought that the cost of health-related inactivity was an additional £15 billion a year since the pandemic, but given these new figures, can he tell the House how much more his Government’s failure is costing taxpayers every single year?

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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Order. I remind Front Benchers that this is topical questions, which are meant to be short and punchy, and they should stick to the rules. Do we understand each other?

Mel Stride Portrait Mel Stride
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The hon. Lady refers to the latest weighted numbers just released by the Office for National Statistics, which show that unemployment as a percentage is lower than originally forecast. She cannot get away from the fact that there are 330,000 fewer people in economic inactivity since the peak. As a result of our work capability assessment reforms, the Office for Budget Responsibility has scored us as having 371,000 fewer people on long-term sickness benefits than would otherwise have been the case.

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Jo Churchill Portrait The Minister for Employment (Jo Churchill)
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Like my hon. Friend, I am excited about the jobs and opportunities at Sizewell. Local jobcentres have been engaged with Sizewell C, and I understand that a local partnership manager will be designated to promote opportunities, and to find people for 1,500 apprenticeships and thousands of jobs. We will invest in local skills through sector-based work programmes and the like.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the spokesperson for the Scottish National party.

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Mims Davies Portrait The Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work (Mims Davies)
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If the hon. Gentleman has specific examples, I would be keen to hear from him and to look into them.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the Chair of the Work and Pensions Committee.

Stephen Timms Portrait Sir Stephen Timms (East Ham) (Lab)
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Will the Secretary of State point out to the Chancellor that many councils have used the household support fund to pay £3 per day per child during the school holidays to families entitled to free school meals, and that if the fund closes at the end of March, those families will be straight into hardship in the Easter school holidays?