Baroness Penn (Con)
My Lords, I join other noble Lords in congratulating my noble friend Lord Price on securing this debate, and the members of the committee which produced this excellent report. This is a far-reaching issue, which is amply demonstrated by the range and insight of the contributions made by noble Lords today. The Government welcomed the publication of the original report of the Select Committee in July 2019, expressed their gratitude to the committee at the time and published a detailed written response, taking each recommendation in turn. In those cases where the Government did not agree with the committee’s recommendation, we explained why. I note noble Lords’ disappointment that this House has not had the opportunity to discuss this important report until now, although noble Lords did recognise the joint pressures of Brexit and responding to the current global pandemic in influencing that timing.
I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Price, the noble Baroness, Lady Thornhill, and the other noble Lords who commented that the current pandemic has made the debate on intergenerational fairness all the more pertinent. We need to reassess the report in the light of today’s circumstances. The Government are acutely aware of the pandemic’s impact and the fact that it is not borne equally by different generations; their response has been developed with that in mind.
I will touch on that response later. First, I want to address in turn the major themes in the Select Committee’s report. On data and the policy-making approach of government, I assure noble Lords that accounting for the interests of future generations is a core consideration in the Government’s policy-making process, which requires that all programmes, projects and policies demonstrate the costs, benefits and risks associated with the intervention over their whole lifetime, in line with the Government’s Green Book. This includes both the social costs and social benefits of an intervention. Where long-term effects are expected to occur, the appraisal of proposals may involve longer timescales with declining discount rates and further sensitivity analysis. This helps to ensure that, where relevant, the costs and benefits of an intervention to future generations are captured.
The Government agree that the generational breakdowns are informative. We also welcome the new ONS generational breakdowns and their data. This adds to the DWP’s own data on households below average income, which also allows for generational analysis.
Among others, the noble Lords, Lord Dodds and Lord Addington, the noble Baronesses, Lady Greengross and Lady Ritchie, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford mentioned affordable housing— a key consideration in the committee’s report. The Government are committed to delivering more and better-designed homes, and to doing so faster. Investment in affordable housing is a priority. Last November’s spending review reconfirmed funding for the affordable homes programme, bringing total funding between 2021-22 and 2025-26 to £12.2 billion—and that is just the start. To tackle the root cause of a lack of affordability, we have set a target of building 300,000 homes a year. We are making good progress against that ambition, with last year seeing the delivery of around 244,000 additional homes—the highest level in more than 30 years.
A number of noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Addington, emphasised the importance of not just improving home ownership but recognising improved circumstances for renters. I declare an interest as a member of Generation Rent or as a millennial—there are a number of other such terms—and as someone who rents but cannot yet afford to buy their own home. The Government are absolutely committed to improving the regulation of renting at the same time as increasing the supply of housing. We will introduce a renters’ reform Bill, which will create a fairer and more balanced rental market for all tenants, including younger renters. That will include removing Section 21 of the Housing Act 1988, enhancing renters’ security by ending no-fault evictions. We are also introducing lifetime deposits to improve affordability for tenants when moving from one tenancy to the next.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, asked about the report from the noble Lord, Lord Best, which we welcome. It contained 53 detailed recommendations, which we are committed to considering in the light of the broader changes that we are making to deliver a better deal for renters. However, I must confess to the noble Baroness that our most recent efforts have focused on responding to the urgencies of the Covid pandemic. We will return to our efforts to respond to the wider recommendations in due course.
I want to mention social housing, which did not come up as much in this debate as it might have done. The solution to the housing crisis cannot just be about home ownership and more support and security in private rents; it must also be about having more socially rented homes for those who cannot afford the commercial rates that we now face. The Government are committed to increasing the supply of social housing, not just affordable housing. We have taken action to help councils to build more homes, for example through the removal of the cap on borrowing on the housing revenue account.
The noble Baronesses, Lady Jenkin and Lady Wheatcroft, and the noble Lord, Lord Hain, spoke about the potential for local government to use its planning powers to create more healthy intergenerational communities, while the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, emphasised the importance of active ageing. They all touched on the impact of these measures on tackling loneliness. I reassure noble Lords that the Government’s commitment to these issues, particularly tackling loneliness, is central. This includes the first ever government strategy on loneliness and a Minister to lead this work, the current Minister being my noble friend Lady Barran.
My noble friend Lord Moynihan spoke of social prescribing. The Government are pioneering in their use of this tool. The NHS long-term plan committed to ensuring that at least 900,000 people will be referred to social prescribing by 2023-24.
On a fairer tax and benefits system, the Government are committed to ensuring economic security for people at every stage of their life, including when they reach retirement. Older people should be able to live with the dignity and respect they deserve, and the state pension is the foundation of support for older people.
Today’s debate has illustrated that the question of the appropriate level of that pension and the triple lock is not straightforward, although there was more consensus on the need to ensure that the state pension age is sustainable and maintains fairness between generations in future. To do this, the Government are committed to aiming for up to 32% in the long run as the right proportion of adult life to spend in receipt of the state pension. We have set in progress reforms to ensure that that is reviewed and updated regularly to maintain it. That and auto-enrolment are two examples of policies introduced under Governments of different colours that have been sustained over a period of time to help address some of the challenges that we face with intergenerational fairness.
I note that the committee and noble Lords today made several recommendations to reform taxes. As we set out in our response, changes are not always straightforward, but I reassure noble Lords that the Government keep all aspects of the tax system under review. However, any future changes will be made as part of the annual Budget process, which I do not plan to preview any further here. I shall also refrain from wading into the question of the independence of the Bank of England, raised by a number of noble Lords.
When it comes to employment, the Government are committed to improving the quality of work in the United Kingdom, recognising that those involved in insecure work are often younger. The noble Lord, Lord Bird, raised low pay. The Government accepted all the recommendations from the independent Low Pay Commission for the April 2021 national living wage and national minimum wage. That means that, despite challenging economic circumstances, those on the minimum wages will see another pay rise from April. For the first time since its introduction in 2016, the national living wage will be extended to those aged 23 and over from April 2021.
The Government are also committed to making the UK the best place in the world to work. As laid out in our manifesto, we will bring forward measures to establish an employment framework which is fit for purpose and keeps pace with the needs of the modern workplace, following the important review by Matthew Taylor. We have already made significant progress in implementing aspects of that review, including by improving worker protections, legislating for stronger protections for vulnerable agency workers and extending the right to a written statement to workers of their rights.
The noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, spoke of the importance of green jobs and the green economy. Alongside the spending review, the Prime Minister announced a 10-point plan for the green industrial revolution which will mobilise £12 billion of government investment to create and support up to 250,000 highly-skilled green jobs.
The Government recognise the vital role that further education and vocational provision play in helping people develop the skills they need for work. That is why the Government invested £400 million in 2020-21, and an additional £291 million for the following year, into education for 16 to 19 year-olds, recognising the vital role of this sector in delivering the skills needed for the UK. As a number of noble Lords also noted, the Government’s skills White Paper published last week details our plans to take forward our commitment to lifelong skills, including the lifetime skills guarantee. The noble Lord, Lord Addington, was right that we will be debating the ministerial Statement on that White Paper tomorrow, but it will be my noble friend Lady Berridge who takes that debate.
Education is also an area that has been hit hard by the pandemic. I thought my noble friend Lord Holmes and the noble Baroness, Lady Tyler, put it well: the pandemic has highlighted the uneven generational impacts that we have been discussing in this debate, from the fact that the oldest and those with underlying health conditions are the most at risk from the virus to the devastating impact of lockdowns on children and their parents, with schools closed and businesses forced to shut their doors. As I said, the Government are conscious of this uneven impact, and our response is focused on helping those who are hardest hit.
On education, our absolute priority is to get schools back. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford asked about the provision of vaccinations for teachers. As noble Lords will know, phase 1 of the vaccinations has been set out by the JCVI. That has been focused on protecting another group—those most vulnerable to the virus—from its worst effects, which will also have the effect of protecting our health system. For phase 2, the Government are in the process of considering the latest data from the first phase of vaccinations and other emerging evidence, and of course the importance of key workers, including teachers and school staff, will be part of that consideration.
However, noble Lords are right that, even when we get schools back, we will have a lot of work to do to ensure that those who have missed weeks of school get the help that they need to catch up. The Government have a £1 billion catch-up plan to help support children, which includes tutoring. We also have a plan in place to help ensure that those children who need it get access to remote IT provision to help them access education while schools are still closed. For those who are the most vulnerable, including those who cannot access remote education during school closures, school doors remain open.
Young people are at particular risk of unemployment due to the economic consequences of the pandemic. That is why the Government have put such an emphasis on employment support, a key part of which is the £2 billion Kickstart scheme that has created over 100,000 job opportunities so far for young people who are unemployed. Finally, last November’s spending review provided £3.6 billion of additional funding for the Department for Work and Pensions to deliver labour market support.
We cannot talk about the pandemic without talking about the additional support that we have put into our National Health Service. The Treasury has approved £52 billion for front-line health services to respond to the pandemic in 2020-21, including £9.5 billion of extra day-to-day funding for the NHS to care for Covid-19 patients while continuing to deliver routine services. The spending review recommitted to the historic settlement for the NHS. It also committed an additional £3 billion to the NHS in the coming year to support its recovery from the impacts of Covid-19. That will have wide-reaching benefits for older generations.
The original Select Committee report contained the following simple line:
“Intergenerational fairness should offer the opportunity of a fulfilling life.”
Giving people up and down the land the opportunity of a fulfilling life is a philosophy that this Government share and champion. It is embodied in our determination to level up and build back better. Achieving inter-generational fairness requires ambition, imagination and action, and the Government are committed to all three.