Debates between Baroness Meacher and Baroness Stedman-Scott during the 2019 Parliament

Tue 17th Nov 2020
Social Security (Up-rating of Benefits) Bill
Lords Chamber

3rd reading & Report stage (Hansard) & 3rd reading (Hansard) & 3rd reading (Hansard) & 3rd reading (Hansard): House of Lords & Report stage (Hansard) & Report stage (Hansard): House of Lords & Report stage
Wed 13th May 2020
Tue 10th Mar 2020

Out-of-work Benefits

Debate between Baroness Meacher and Baroness Stedman-Scott
Monday 17th October 2022

(1 year, 7 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Baroness Stedman-Scott Portrait Baroness Stedman-Scott (Con)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I completely agree with my noble friend, and we need to take this up with the Department for Education, which has responsibility for this. My noble friend has been a long-time champion of technical and higher education. I will speak to my colleague in the Department for Education, write to my noble friend and place a copy in the Library.

Baroness Meacher Portrait Baroness Meacher (CB)
- View Speech - Hansard - -

My Lords, in response to an earlier question the Minister rightly said that many people are sanctioned and deprived of their benefits because they fail to turn up for an interview. I happen to know that a good proportion of those people—parents with sick children, for example—are denied benefits because of a failure of somebody in the department. The child wakes up sick in the morning, the parent phones in and says, “I’m sorry, I can’t make the interview; please hand on this information”, it is not handed on and they are sanctioned. This happens time and again. Will the Minister accept that this is the case and look into it?

Baroness Stedman-Scott Portrait Baroness Stedman-Scott (Con)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am very happy to look into it. Before I do so, maybe I can speak with the noble Baroness to get some more information to share with my colleagues in the department.

Cost of Living: Pensioners

Debate between Baroness Meacher and Baroness Stedman-Scott
Thursday 26th May 2022

(1 year, 11 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Baroness Stedman-Scott Portrait Baroness Stedman-Scott (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank my noble friend for making those points. I have no desire to wind up noble Lords, but please can we wait and listen to what the Chancellor says? Perhaps then we can speak again about your question.

--- Later in debate ---
Baroness Meacher Portrait Baroness Meacher (CB)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, does the Minister agree that, along with some pensioners, the most vulnerable people in our society are those of working age who cannot work, because of disabilities, mental health problems or other issues? I understand from the media reports that the Chancellor will be focusing help on working-age people who can work, urging them into work with incentives and so on. Will the Minister draw to the Treasury’s attention this incredibly vulnerable group of people who will simply not be helped at all, according to press reports about the Treasury support?

Baroness Stedman-Scott Portrait Baroness Stedman-Scott (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I confirm to the noble Baroness and the whole House that the Chancellor and his team are cognisant of the issues that the most vulnerable are facing—those who cannot work and those who are in work but wish to do better. He is clear that, as this situation evolves, his response will evolve too. The most vulnerable are at the heart of what the Government want to do, so please be patient.

Women: Cost of Living

Debate between Baroness Meacher and Baroness Stedman-Scott
Thursday 10th March 2022

(2 years, 2 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Baroness Stedman-Scott Portrait Baroness Stedman-Scott (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

In our debate yesterday the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, raised the issue of the higher energy costs due to the method of payment that many people face. I have agreed to take that back to the department, and I will do so. Again, I can make no promises. As for forcing change, I will have a good go.

Baroness Meacher Portrait Baroness Meacher (CB)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, yesterday evening, believe it or not, I hosted a dinner for those in the bailiff industry, as I call it, and they are expecting a veritable explosion in debt, because people on benefits simply cannot pay council tax and all the other things they have to pay. Does the DWP have an estimate of that huge explosion in debt? If not, will it please get that information, because it will need it? This can be resolved only by the Treasury, and the DWP needs its ammunition.

Baroness Stedman-Scott Portrait Baroness Stedman-Scott (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am not aware that the information the noble Baroness suggests we should have is there. She makes a good point, and again, I shall go back, talk to my colleagues and try to get that information.

Benefit Sanctions on Jobseekers

Debate between Baroness Meacher and Baroness Stedman-Scott
Thursday 3rd February 2022

(2 years, 3 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Baroness Stedman-Scott Portrait Baroness Stedman-Scott (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Building on the answer that I just gave the noble Baroness on the opposite Benches, if a claimant disagrees with their sanction, they can ask for the decision to be reconsidered and can subsequently appeal against it. There are hardship payments. To emphasise the point, I rang a district manager this morning and said, “Tell me about this Way to Work”. She said, “We love it. We’re very excited about it, we’ve never had so many jobs, and the last thing in the world we want to do is sanction somebody in this environment”—and I believe her.

Baroness Meacher Portrait Baroness Meacher (CB)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, the Minister referred to the inundation of employers, and I can imagine that, but has any work been done to assess the willingness of employers in different sectors to take on people with no experience in that sector? It is very important that workers on the front line understand.

Baroness Stedman-Scott Portrait Baroness Stedman-Scott (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The noble Baroness makes a very good point. The work coaches are well trained and their relationship with employers is gathering momentum. In fact, I heard today that employers are more prepared to take people with no experience in their industry and in fact are also considering taking people they would not normally have taken, such as ex-offenders and those with autism. So, yes, I agree.

Unemployment: Over-50s

Debate between Baroness Meacher and Baroness Stedman-Scott
Tuesday 9th March 2021

(3 years, 2 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Baroness Stedman-Scott Portrait Baroness Stedman-Scott (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am pleased to report that the Government have appointed Andy Briggs as business champion for older workers to spearhead the Government’s work to support employers to retain, retrain and recruit older workers, including the disabled.

Baroness Meacher Portrait Baroness Meacher (CB) [V]
- Hansard - -

My Lords, as the Minister well knows, the over-50s who have lost their jobs during the pandemic are at a serious risk of long-term unemployment, at huge cost to themselves but also to the taxpayer. Have the Government considered creating an over-50s Kickstart scheme—it is an excellent scheme for young people—encouraging employers to create jobs but also providing retraining for older workers who might well benefit from it?

Universal Credit

Debate between Baroness Meacher and Baroness Stedman-Scott
Tuesday 1st December 2020

(3 years, 5 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Baroness Stedman-Scott Portrait Baroness Stedman-Scott (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I can confirm that the DWP continues to support vulnerable groups, such as people with disabilities, through a series of safeguards and easements aimed at simplifying and improving their interaction with the benefits system. For ESA claimants, we have launched the New Style ESA online portal, which allows the majority of people who need to claim to do so online. Everyone infected with Covid-19 or required to self-isolate in line with government guidelines will be treated as having limited capability for work in ESA, without the requirement for fit notes or a work capability assessment.

Baroness Meacher Portrait Baroness Meacher (CB) [V]
- Hansard - -

My Lords, will the Minister consider the plight of families thrown into unemployment because of the pandemic who are subject to the cap? My understanding is that these families have not benefited from the £20 uplift to universal credit. They have very little—perhaps a few pounds a week—once they have paid their rent. Would it not be fair to raise the level of the cap by £20 a week to try to help these desperately needy families?

Baroness Stedman-Scott Portrait Baroness Stedman-Scott (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Government believe that the benefit cap restores fairness between those receiving out-of-work benefits and taxpayers in employment. The noble Baroness raises an important issue that we should continue to consider, but we ought also to consider that the benefit cap statistics that have come out and show an increase in the number of people impacted are unacceptable, but also not surprising when we have a 600% increase in the number of those who have gone on to universal credit. We have also increased the local housing allowance rates.

Social Security (Up-rating of Benefits) Bill

Debate between Baroness Meacher and Baroness Stedman-Scott
3rd reading & Report stage & 3rd reading (Hansard) & 3rd reading (Hansard): House of Lords & Report stage (Hansard) & Report stage (Hansard): House of Lords
Tuesday 17th November 2020

(3 years, 6 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Social Security (Up-rating of Benefits) Act 2020 View all Social Security (Up-rating of Benefits) Act 2020 Debates Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: HL Bill 136-I Marshalled list for Committee - (22 Oct 2020)
Baroness Meacher Portrait Baroness Meacher (CB)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, it is a privilege to have been asked to make the Cross-Bench concluding contribution at the end of our consideration of the Social Security (Up-rating of Benefits) Bill.

In Committee a number of noble Lords raised concerns about the level of pensioner poverty, most notably the noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock, and I very much support their comments; but others of us wanted some reassurance that while working people are experiencing job losses on a massive scale and abject poverty—often facing homelessness—many pensioners, including me I suppose, are in a much more secure position and should not be given disproportionate support. Those sentiments certainly do not apply at all to people on pension credit. I was delighted to hear—the Minister might be able to give us some figures—about the increase in the take-up of pension credit. That is at least a start. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock, I would certainly like to hear an assurance that pension credit will in fact be protected by the triple lock. I think that these pensioners and other subgroups mentioned by the Minister are in a very particular position and that any support that can be given should be given.

The other issue referred to by a number of noble Lords is the number of pensioners living in what I shall call unprotected countries abroad who have had their pensions frozen, often for many years, and find themselves in 2020 still living off something like £5 a week—serious, abject poverty. I hope the Government will give attention to that issue and also the other issues that noble Lords raised in Committee.

The noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock, as always, made a number of very powerful points. Importantly, she sought reports on current levels of pensioner poverty. I hope we will perhaps have a report on pensioner poverty shortly. She was also looking for an impact assessment of the Government’s policy options. I am not sure whether we have had a commitment on that or not.

In conclusion, there was general acceptance of the thrust of this Bill, and no amendments were pressed to a vote. I want to thank the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman-Scott, for her cheerful and always courteous responses to our pleas and questions, which she always gives with a smile, which is quite disarming at times. Also, a big thank you to the Bill team, which, as always, makes sure our deliberations and debates are meaningful.

Baroness Stedman-Scott Portrait Baroness Stedman-Scott (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

First, I thank all noble Lords for their contributions, which were valid and important. On the working-age benefits, as raised by all contributors, as soon as the Secretary of State has completed the review, Parliament will be advised of the outcome. I am glad the noble Baroness, Lady Janke, was with us yesterday for our pension credit meeting and our robust and creative discussion about increasing take-up. It was probably one of the best meetings I have been in since becoming a Minister. I am sorry the noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock, could not be with us, but my office did advise me prior to coming to the Chamber that it is finalising the read-out; I think she will be pleased with the actions we have agreed.

In respect of the letter to the noble Baroness, Lady Drake, I was sure that had been sent, but let me go back to my department, double-check and confirm that to the noble Baroness.

Regarding the potential for uprating the standard minimum guarantee, it is right that we protect the incomes of the poorest pensioner households in receipt of it. A decision on how to uprate it next April will be made in the review the Secretary of State is carrying out. It will be announced this month, and we will wait to see what the outcome is and report it to Parliament, as I have already said.

The Government are committed to action to alleviate levels of pensioner poverty. For current pensioners, this includes the contributions of the triple lock, the new state pension and pension credit.

As I have already said, the Bill reflects the Government’s commitment to maintaining the income of pensioners in these difficult times. I am grateful to noble Lords for ensuring that it will be passed in time to receive Royal Assent before the Work and Pensions Secretary must conclude her uprating review of benefits and pensions. In doing so, the state pension and pension credit standard minimum guarantee can and will be uprated next year.

I commend the Bill to the House.

Universal Credit

Debate between Baroness Meacher and Baroness Stedman-Scott
Wednesday 13th May 2020

(4 years ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Baroness Stedman-Scott Portrait Baroness Stedman-Scott
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Claimants who receive certain benefits for caring or for a severe disability or health condition will not have their benefits capped. This ensures that the most vulnerable people are protected. Universal credit households are exempt from the cap if the household earnings are at least £604 each month. Households may also be exempt for a period of nine months, if they have a sustained work history.

Baroness Meacher Portrait Baroness Meacher (CB)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, advances for universal credit claimants have to be repaid when claimants finally receive their benefits—after at least five weeks, and often very much longer than that. But their benefits will be well below subsistence level, due in part to the benefits cap, but also to the two-child limit, and to very tough rent and council tax rules. Could any Minister maintain their mental health in these circumstances? I absolutely could not—and I mean that. Will the Minister plead with her colleagues for urgent further changes—I understand that some have been made—to protect the mental health of universal credit claimants?

Baroness Stedman-Scott Portrait Baroness Stedman-Scott
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The noble Baroness makes an excellent point: these are very difficult times. People are struggling in all sorts of ways, and we are mindful of the impact of mental health issues. I am afraid that I am unable to make any commitments around the points that the noble Baroness made, but I will say that, in these very difficult times, nobody has to wait five weeks. Since 16 March, we have issued 700,000 advances, and the majority have received their money within 72 hours.

Household Income

Debate between Baroness Meacher and Baroness Stedman-Scott
Tuesday 10th March 2020

(4 years, 2 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Baroness Stedman-Scott Portrait Baroness Stedman-Scott
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My noble friend makes a very important point. I understand all too well that energy costs are an issue for single parents: my niece is a single parent, and the amount she pays for electric on a key is out of kilter with other methods. My noble friend’s point about energy costs is well made. I will go back to the department—they are going to love me when I get back—and then write to him to answer the specifics of his question, placing a copy in the Library.

Baroness Meacher Portrait Baroness Meacher (CB)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, the Minister will be aware of the number of universal credit claimants who commit suicide every year, and of course these are the poorest people in our society. What steps will the Government take to improve the administration of universal credit and reduce the huge stress levels involved in trying to make a claim in the way required at the moment?

Baroness Stedman-Scott Portrait Baroness Stedman-Scott
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Suicide is a terrible thing in any circumstances. We have all been reminded recently of its impact on various groups in our society. I can tell the noble Baroness and the whole House that the administration of universal credit is reviewed on a daily basis. We have a terrific director, Neil Couling, who looks after the system, and I know for a fact that he is trying to do everything he can to simplify the process without losing the administrative needs within it.