Chris Stephens debates involving the Department for Work and Pensions during the 2019 Parliament

Thu 1st Oct 2020
Social Security (Up-rating of Benefits) Bill
Commons Chamber

2nd reading & 2nd reading: House of Commons & Money resolution & Money resolution: House of Commons & 2nd reading & Money resolution
Thu 1st Oct 2020
Social Security (Up-rating of Benefits) Bill
Commons Chamber

Committee: 1st sitting & Committee: 1st sitting: House of Commons & Report stage & Report stage: House of Commons & Committee stage & Report stage

Oral Answers to Questions

Chris Stephens Excerpts
Monday 8th November 2021

(2 months, 2 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text
Mims Davies Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Mims Davies)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Jobcentres work directly with local employers using programmes such as SWAPs to fill those vacancies and gaps. We are providing training and work experience, and a guaranteed interview. The Chancellor has announced £1.3 million investment in new technology to better match claimants and vacancies with a new job-matching tool. I can confirm that that is out to tender and we will update the House shortly.

Chris Stephens Portrait Chris Stephens (Glasgow South West) (SNP)
- Hansard - -

T2. I refer to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. DWP staff report that Serco telephony services are causing excessive call times because the private sector staff are poorly trained. How much is this outsourcing obsession costing the taxpayer, and is it fair on claimants who face hours hanging on the phone only to receive often questionable advice?

Guy Opperman Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Guy Opperman)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

If the hon. Gentleman wants to write to me I will try to get a more detailed answer, but the bottom line is this: he will be aware that there is a regular review of all contracts put out by the DWP, and in respect of Serco the latest data was published on 24 September 2021 and is available on the gov.uk website.

Universal Credit and Working Tax Credits

Chris Stephens Excerpts
Wednesday 15th September 2021

(4 months, 1 week ago)

Commons Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text
Jonathan Reynolds Portrait Jonathan Reynolds
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. However, it is also important to say that there are 1.7 million people this will affect who cannot work, owing to disability, illness or caring responsibilities. I have not heard a single mention of them from the Government, or the offer of any help coming their way to mitigate this cut.

Chris Stephens Portrait Chris Stephens (Glasgow South West) (SNP)
- Hansard - -

The Government said at the time they increased the universal credit payment that it was to pay for essentials during the pandemic. I take that to be food and fuel. Does the shadow Secretary of State believe that food and fuel prices have fallen since the pandemic, and if not, does that not just do away with the Government’s argument altogether?

--- Later in debate ---
Nick Fletcher Portrait Nick Fletcher (Don Valley) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the people who work in the DWP down here in London and in Thorne in my constituency. I have spent quite a lot of time there and they are doing some fantastic work.

I am proud of many of the schemes that the Government have brought in through the pandemic, including furlough, the self-employed income support scheme and the temporary £20 uplift—and it was temporary, to help people through the pandemic, and it was on universal credit, which is a transient benefit in that people are not meant not to stay on it for a long time; this Government are trying to get people off universal credit and into work.

I know that many people want to keep the £20 uplift, including many of my hon. Friends, but that would cost us £6 billion. I have not shied away from this issue. I have knocked on doors in my constituency and spoken to many groups. I have put myself in the mix with people who really pushed for keeping the uplift, but the question that I have always asked them is, “Where do we get the £6 billion from?” I have asked and asked, and no one is able to come back with an answer. There are places that we can get it from. We can get it from increasing taxes, which affects the people we would end up giving it to anyway. We could end up with further borrowing, but if interest rates go up, we would end up with even more problems. We can take it from another Department. I have asked, “Which Department do you want us to take it from? Do you want to take it from education? Do you want to take it from the police? Do you want to take it from the council?” Nobody comes up with an answer. They want to shake the magic money tree and they never, ever want to give us a proper answer.

Chris Stephens Portrait Chris Stephens
- Hansard - -

The hon. Member talks about a magic money tree, but does he not think that some of the money could be found if this Government were more aggressive on tax evasion, which they estimate at £70 billion?

Nick Fletcher Portrait Nick Fletcher
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I take the hon. Gentleman’s point. I will come to other issues regarding similar things towards the end of my speech.

This Government are trying to help people to get back to work and get into work. I cannot stress how important it is that people work. This debate is about the money, but it is also about the value that it gives an individual when they go to work. We need to take down the barriers to get to work that have been put in people’s way over the years. We need to incentivise people to get to work, which is what the Government are doing with the kickstart scheme, the restart scheme and JETS—job entry targeted support.

--- Later in debate ---
Chris Stephens Portrait Chris Stephens (Glasgow South West) (SNP)
- Hansard - -

If this debate was a boxing match, those opposing the motion would have thrown in the towel a long time ago, but I do want to praise all those supporting the motion today including on the Government side. I am, however, sad that some on the Government side treated us to their usual Marie Antoinette routine, saying that somehow people are not trying hard enough and have got themselves into these difficulties.

Some of the contributors from the Government side have said “Let’s talk about jobs.” Yes, let’s talk about the public sector jobs this Government have cut in the last 10 years. They praise DWP staff and I agree, but in the next breath they say, “Let’s talk about pay.” Yes, let’s talk about the pay freeze for public sector workers in the last 10 years and pay restraint, and how many, and why, people working in the public sector are having to get support from the UC system because their wages are too low and the Government have taken that position. Let’s talk, too, about tax avoidance. If the same number of people employed by the Government to tackle social security fraud were tackling tax avoidance and evasion we might get more money in tax and perhaps we would get that £6 billion that we keep hearing about. I believe that the social cost of cutting £20 a week from claimants is far more important, and there will be an explosion in food insecurity in this country. When asked, every food aid provider will explain how nervous they are if the cut goes ahead and what that will mean to the people they support.

The uplift was set by the Government to pay for essentials such as food, energy and fuel. Those essentials have not suddenly disappeared, and claimants were never told this was to be temporary: those who applied for UC during the pandemic were never told at any time, “By the way, some of the money we’re giving you is only a temporary payment.” It is very concerning that those of us on the Select Committee were told by claimants that they had not yet been informed that the £20 was to be removed. If that is the case, I think the parliamentary ombudsman is going to be very busy. This might be WASPI 2. We talk about putting people in jobs; the ombudsman may have to employ many people to deal with all the complaints from universal credit claimants who have not been told that this money is being cut. I will be proud to support the motion and to support my constituents.

Oral Answers to Questions

Chris Stephens Excerpts
Monday 13th September 2021

(4 months, 2 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text
Thérèse Coffey Portrait Dr Coffey
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The hon. Lady is wrong to suggest that our Government have not supported the people of Luton throughout this difficult time. The furlough scheme was unique; it was not introduced when many hundreds of thousands of people were made redundant after Labour’s financial crisis. We stepped in, putting more than £400 billion into Government spending overall to support the country during this time. I am conscious of that fact that some people will be concerned about the impact on aviation travel, which is why we have invested in various job schemes, including encouraging people to switch sectors, recognising that the skills they have are transferable.

Chris Stephens Portrait Chris Stephens (Glasgow South West) (SNP)
- Hansard - -

Will the Secretary of State tell us what work is being undertaken to prevent future maladministration in the communication of major policy changes? I am thinking about not only 1950s-born women, but, as we heard at the Select Committee last week, the many claimants who are still to be told of the imminent cut to UC. Is the ombudsman going to be kept very busy because of the structural failings of this Department?

Thérèse Coffey Portrait Dr Coffey
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Communications have already been issued to every UC claimant, through the journal messages, and further communications are continuing to go out.

Draft Occupational Pension Schemes (Administration, Investment, Charges and Governance) (Amendment) Regulations 2021

Chris Stephens Excerpts
Tuesday 7th September 2021

(4 months, 2 weeks ago)

General Committees
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text
Chris Stephens Portrait Chris Stephens (Glasgow South West) (SNP)
- Hansard - -

I know that we want to be quick, but I have a couple of general comments and questions. As someone with a trade union background who has been on a picket line and taken industrial action to preserve occupational pension schemes, it is a topic close to my heart. I know that the Minister appreciates that and the work of those of us who serve on the Work and Pensions Committee on that issue, and indeed the impact of the Carillion inquiry, which raised key questions about pensions.

The proposed regulations are fair, but the Minister will recognise the ongoing issues associated with smaller pension pots, which can become uneconomic for both the providers and the members. Just how is he going to ensure that members’ interests in those smaller schemes are protected? Is he looking to enhance the auto-enrolments? There are still too many people excluded. How will the Government also ensure that there is not a sizeable gender pay gap? Will he also consider lowering the age of the threshold for ongoing auto-enrolment membership?

Oral Answers to Questions

Chris Stephens Excerpts
Monday 8th March 2021

(10 months, 3 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text
Thérèse Coffey Portrait Dr Coffey
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My hon. Friend is right to praise the work coaches at his Jobcentre Plus, who are exactly the people who will help prepare people to get those opportunities as and when they arise. I was particularly pleased with the initiative of freeports, recognising not only the one that will help people in his constituency but the one—freeport east—that will benefit people in mine.

Chris Stephens Portrait Chris Stephens (Glasgow South West) (SNP) [V]
- Hansard - -

As in the constituencies of many Members of the House, there are constituents in Glasgow South West who are potential victims of furlough fraud. There are obviously people who will now have to claim universal credit in order to get money, so can Ministers assure the House that the cases of those who are caught up in this predicament will be dealt with sympathetically?

Social Security

Chris Stephens Excerpts
Tuesday 2nd March 2021

(10 months, 4 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text
Chris Stephens Portrait Chris Stephens (Glasgow South West) (SNP) [V]
- Hansard - -

As someone who has spoken on these statutory instruments before, I want to start, as I always have, by remembering my Unison comrade and friend Tom Begley, who sadly died as a result of asbestos-related cancer. Today I want to remember him and the others who have succumbed to these pernicious industrial diseases. I also want to pay tribute to and recognise the work of campaigners, trade unions and charities such as Clydeside Action on Asbestos in highlighting the devastating impact that these industrial diseases have on victims and their families.

There is a big problem in ensuring that people who are at risk are identified and diagnosed as soon as possible—not just those who have worked in factories and buildings but those who, for example, contracted these diseases as a result of washing clothes with asbestos on. It was SNP MPs in the 1970s who warned of the dangers of asbestos and industrial diseases. At that time, they were accused of scaremongering, but thankfully we have come a long way since then in recognising the dangers of asbestos and its impact on people’s health. We should recognise that one of the difficulties people have in pursuing civil claims is that many businesses are no longer trading.

I have a number of points and questions for the Minister. First, we welcome today’s uprating. We could quibble about whether the consumer prices index or the retail price index is appropriate, but I suggest that that is for another time. The Minister has said that the Government are under no obligation to increase the payments, but will he please give us a commitment and an indication that it is Government policy to uprate these particular benefits annually? I think the whole House would welcome that, and I hope that he is in a position to do so.

Secondly, as we heard from the Labour Front Bencher—I totally agree—the Government committed in 2010 to addressing the disparity between payments to sufferers and to dependants. That indicates that an equality impact assessment should have been carried out on the benefits, so I hope that the Minister can update the House in response not only to the shadow spokesperson but to me on what progress has been made in addressing the disparity.

Thirdly, given that the Health and Safety Executive comes under the control and purview of the Department for Work and Pensions, will the Minister indicate what help and support HSE is being given to ensure asbestos-free workplaces? What work is being done between his Department and HSE on awareness of asbestos and industrial diseases? It is vital to continue to raise awareness of the risks.

These payments are vital to sufferers of industrial diseases, so the SNP will support the statutory instruments today, with the caveats that I have outlined. I look forward to the Minister’s response.

Supporting Disadvantaged Families

Chris Stephens Excerpts
Monday 9th November 2020

(1 year, 2 months ago)

Commons Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text
Thérèse Coffey Portrait Dr Coffey
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am sure that the holiday activities fund will be a huge success in my hon. Friend’s constituency, as it will have her full support. I am conscious that having a nutritious meal is part of that, but I am also sure that the enriching elements that children will enjoy over the longer holidays will be a welcome relief both for parents and their children, and will keep them connected to the ongoing progress that they can make in their educational attainment.

Chris Stephens Portrait Chris Stephens (Glasgow South West) (SNP) ][V]
- Hansard - -

The Secretary of State said earlier that advances are grants. That, of course, is not the view shared by the cross-party Work and Pensions Committee, which describes advances as loans that should be replaced by grants. Will the Secretary of State tell us when she will be in a position to respond to that report, and whether she is considering making the £20 uplift to universal credit permanent, as Feeding Britain estimates this would prevent 300,000 children from going into poverty?

Thérèse Coffey Portrait Dr Coffey
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The universal credit that is given out every month to benefit recipients is a grant. The advances are simply an early payment of that grant, and then the total amount is spread over the year. I have been asked about the report a few times; as I have said to the Select Committee previously, we have ongoing discussions with the Treasury about aspects of welfare support and those discussions are continuing.

Universal Basic Income

Chris Stephens Excerpts
Tuesday 13th October 2020

(1 year, 3 months ago)

Westminster Hall
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text

Westminster Hall is an alternative Chamber for MPs to hold debates, named after the adjoining Westminster Hall.

Each debate is chaired by an MP from the Panel of Chairs, rather than the Speaker or Deputy Speaker. A Government Minister will give the final speech, and no votes may be called on the debate topic.

This information is provided by Parallel Parliament and does not comprise part of the offical record

Ronnie Cowan Portrait Ronnie Cowan (Inverclyde) (SNP)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I beg to move,

That this House has considered the introduction of a universal basic income.

I thank the Backbench Business Committee for granting me this opportunity. I regret that this sitting is not fully hybrid and that MPs who are isolating or shielding to protect their health and that of others are in effect barred from taking part. That only increases the pressure on Members to travel when they could work from home and forces those who support us to attend the parliamentary estate, too. It was my first time back on the estate for a wee while and I was delighted to see new signs everywhere saying, “Keep left and keep moving”. I am hoping that that is a new sign from the UK Government.

While writing this speech, I noticed that as soon as I typed in the letters “u” and “n”, my iPad prompted me to select “universal”; when I accepted that, it prompted “basic income”. It appears that my iPad has been paying more attention to me than the UK Government have. It also learns quicker.

Universal basic income is an inclusive scheme that protects and recognises everyone. All adults and children receive a set payment on a regular basis. It is fair. It destigmatises the recipient. People are paid regardless of their circumstances. After all, are all people not created equal?

UBI alleviates poverty and reduces inequality. It strengthens a sense of individual citizenship. It empowers people and facilitates civic partnerships. To quote the UBI Lab Northern Ireland working paper,

“A UBI can be understood to be a right of citizenship—a fair share of the assets we and the generations before us have helped create. It recognises each of our stake, or share, in ‘the commons’ of the earth.”

I find that a truly beautiful concept.

A UBI strengthens social bonds and improves mental health. Nobody would deny that economic instability contributes to poor mental health, yet the current system dangles the threat of sanctions over the heads of recipients, going so far as to drive some to suicide. UBI removes that psychological burden. A UBI will not fund the lifestyle of an MP, but it is a platform on which individuals can add other income without fear of financial repercussions.

The current system ties work to welfare. It can make the transition into work more complex. People should be free to take on part-time or occasional work without strings attached. A UBI affords more flexibility to employee and employer, while acknowledging that employees are empowered and less likely to be exploited. It is permanent. It gives security and peace of mind. It cannot be withdrawn or become conditional, unlike the pensions of hundreds of thousands of WASPI women—Women Against State Pension Inequality—who were cheated out of their pensions by the UK Government. That permanency stimulates entrepreneurship, which can lead to the generation of jobs. It is the poorest in society who will directly benefit most; as we know, they are more likely to spend their money on essential items in their own community, which in turn stimulates local growth.

Prior to covid, the upsurge in interest in UBI was attributed to the gig economy, the increase in automation and the creation of a greater number of people described by Guy Standing as “the precariat”. Covid has accelerated the increase in the numbers of the precariat. Many people who once felt safe now feel vulnerable.

It is the duty of any good Government to protect their citizens—not just in the short term, not just by reacting to unfolding circumstances, but by planning for the long term, for future generations. To that end, pilot projects have already been run in Canada, the USA, Kenya, Brazil, Finland, India, Italy, Uganda and Namibia. Versions of cash transfer projects have been run in Iran, Lebanon, Kuwait, Zambia and Zimbabwe. There are plans for UBI-type schemes in Spain, Switzerland, Germany and Ukraine. I have a simple ask of the Minister: have the UK Government taken any steps to learn anything from any of those countries? And please do not quote the Finnish Finance Minister, who came out against UBI before the results of the Finnish trial were even published.

If the UK Government think it is beneath them to be advised by foreigners, will they back pilot projects in the UK and learn from them? Northern Ireland is asking, Wales is asking, Scotland is asking and England is asking. If ever there was a policy that could be pursued and that would be welcomed across the United Kingdom, UBI is it.

The four pilots proposed in Scotland are all well documented—all we need is the co-operation of the Department for Work and Pensions and Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs. Those pilots will help us not only to learn about the economics of UBI but to understand the political, strategic, institutional, psychological and ethical feasibility of a UBI.

When we exposed the UK to universal credit, it was plain to see that it had not been thought through fully, and it failed miserably. Ever since then, we have been patching and amending the system. If we had run pilots for universal credit, we would have avoided many of the pitfalls and saved many people from the suffering that it caused.

I claim that UBI reduces crime, gives people more opportunity, improves health and mental wellbeing, improves community relations and contributes to a stronger local economy. Minister, run these pilots across the UK and prove me wrong. I know that the Minister is not a fan of UBI: he will claim that the cost makes it a non-starter. Why even consider it, if we cannot afford it? Why run pilots that might tell us that it is amazing, even magnificent, if we cannot then implement UBI? Well, Minister, let us run the pilots, learn what benefits UBI brings or does not bring, and then we can argue about cost versus outcome. If the Minister is seriously telling me that even if all the benefits of UBI that I am claiming can be proved, he would not move mountains to provide them for the citizens of the United Kingdom, then he is skating on very thin ice.

The NHS did not just materialise out of thin air; it was not dreamt up one wet Wednesday afternoon in the Tea Room or designed on the back of a fag packet. The NHS was introduced on 5 July 1948, but prior to that half of Scotland’s land mass had already been covered by the Highlands and Islands Medical Service, which had been set up in 1913. HIMS acted as a working blueprint for the NHS in Scotland. It was directly funded by the state and it had Ministers centrally in a Scottish Office in Edinburgh. It was a pilot project allowed to develop and grow; it uncovered unforeseen problems and fixed them. It ensured that, on day one of the NHS, the NHS was to all intents and purposes good to go.

There is an interesting aside about HIMS. One of its administrators was from my constituency, a Gourock-born woman called Muriel Ritson. She was the only woman on the Scottish Board of Health in 1919, but by 1942 she was sitting on the Beveridge commission, which helped to establish the NHS. The link is there for us all to see. She had learned her lessons, and she brought that learning to bear many years later. She also attended the school that the hon. Member for North East Fife (Wendy Chamberlain) and I both attended.

Mary Breckenridge, an American, visited Scotland in 1924 and later established the Frontier Nursing Service in Kentucky, based on the HIMS model. But not everyone saw the benefits of HIMS—just like today with UBI, the Conservatives argued against it. Lord Banbury objected to English taxpayers contributing money that would be of medical benefits to Scotland. Here we are, all these years later, with NHS Scotland and the wider UK NHS acting in true UBI-style and supporting us all through the current health crisis. If we had not had the NHS, it would have been too late for us to create it. It was there for us and UBI could have been there for us, too.

If the Minister is not prepared to follow current examples from around the world, then he should be brave—support the pilot projects and lead the world. Yes, it will cost more; it will cost lots of pounds and lots of pence. However, their value will be far higher than that of our current system, and the society that the spending will support is too precious not to exist. Although I do not doubt for one minute that budgets must be balanced, recent times have taught us that when the motivation exists, the purse strings can be loosened.

I will now review quickly the response of the Minister to UBI in a recent Petitions Committee sitting. He had three objections. First, how do we afford it? The Minister explained that the Centre for Social Justice found that giving every working-age adult in the United Kingdom £10,000 per year would cost in the region of £400 billion. He seems to think it is higher, but I question that figure. His argument was that the average universal credit claim was more generous at £16,000 per year, completely ignoring the fact that the UC figure is per household. A household with two parents and two kids do not need £5K per adult and £3K per kid to meet his generous standards. I have just halved his £400 billion in one stroke.

His next question was: how do we deliver it? The simpler the system, the cheaper the delivery—and UBI is simpler. Even if it costs the same as the existing system, we are still no worse off. He went on to boast:

“My Department and HMRC have done exceptional work throughout the pandemic to stand up new services and increase the capacity of existing ones. We have been able to move quickly to support over 9 million people”.

I offer genuine congratulations. That is a job well done. I know my local DWP and the one jobcentre left in my constituency have been superb, but with UBI there would be no need for that. All payments would already be in place. With UBI, the safety net has already been built. We are not building it as we are falling.

Chris Stephens Portrait Chris Stephens (Glasgow South West) (SNP)
- Hansard - -

Is my hon. Friend as concerned as I am that at the height of lockdown, although the herculean efforts of the DWP staff ensured that people got paid, many people were getting about £60 a month taken off them owing to advance repayments?

Ronnie Cowan Portrait Ronnie Cowan
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

That goes back to my original point: that I do not believe universal credit is the solution we are looking for. It has been patched and amended, but when it is put under pressure and there are changes in circumstances, the system is not fleet of foot and able to cope with people’s day-to-day living.

During the Petitions Committee sitting, the Minister turned to the issue of the impact of UBI. He had the temerity to say:

“this is the fundamental case against UBI.”

It was not the cost or the delivery, but the impact of UBI that he did not like. He stated:

“Unlike our UC system, UBI does not target support at those in greater need”.

Finally, he got it right. We do not need to target it—everybody gets it, with no stigma attached. He went on to say that UBI does not

“take into account additional costs faced by many individuals, such as those with a disability or those with childcare responsibilities.”

If he reads the pilot project’s proposals, he will see that they do take those into account.

Then, in sheer desperation, the Minister went for an old chestnut. To put it into perspective, Chair, UBI would be paid to you, me and all Members of this House. Yes it would—and it would be taken back in tax, thank you very much. In attempting to vindicate the current system, the Minister, without a hint of irony, said in his conclusions that the UK Government were

“providing millions to food charities to help get through to those who are struggling”.

Yet if people had UBI, they would not rely on charity from this one nation conservatism-driven Government. People do not want handouts—they do not want charity or the crumbs from the top table. They deserve a platform on which they can build and that allows them to sit at the top table as equals, not to be beholden to their rich benefactors. For the benefit of all four nations in the United Kingdom, will the Minister please support the plans for UBI pilots and allow us to move forward with a progressive welfare system that is practical, compassionate and fit for this century?

--- Later in debate ---
Chris Stephens Portrait Chris Stephens (Glasgow South West) (SNP)
- Hansard - -

It is a pleasure to see you in the chair, Mr Davies. This has been a fantastic debate in which everyone has come to a consensus; we will see if that lasts as the debate goes on. It was led superbly by my hon. Friend the Member for Inverclyde (Ronnie Cowan), and I very much subscribe to his advice that we should keep left and keep moving—that is something we should all do, and I encourage the Minister to do so. He is shaking his head, for reasons that are beyond understanding. My hon. Friend also said that pilots are being asked for across the UK and should be supported, which is something I will come to later in my remarks.

As someone who sits on the Select Committee on Work and Pensions, I can say that the Committee will be looking at universal basic income. There have already been 20,000 individual submissions not only asking the Committee to look at universal basic income, but supportive of it and describing its benefits. I am struck by just about everyone’s contributions regarding the disadvantages of universal credit, particularly the five-week wait—something the Select Committee is currently looking at—and, of course, the advance repayments model. It beggars belief that at the height of lockdown in May, advance repayments of £60 a month were taken off people. At least 1.6 million universal credit claimants had money taken off them in May this year, which is something that the Government really do need to look at.

By way of background, the Scottish Government confirmed on 21 May 2018 that they would provide £250,000 over two years to support the undertaking of the feasibility study for a universal basic income pilot in Scotland. In June 2020, a group established to explore the feasibility of a citizens’ basic income pilot concluded that while such a pilot was desirable it was not feasible within the current devolved settlement, as the necessary tax powers remained with the UK Government through the Department for Work and Pensions and HMRC. The Scottish Government have written to UK Ministers asking them to engage constructively, and to discuss the next steps in getting the pilots up and running. A petition entitled, “Implement Universal Basic Income to give home & food security through Covid-19”, was considered in an oral evidence session, as my hon. Friend the Member for Inverclyde mentioned, on 17 September this year. In response, the UK Government said that a UBI did not target help on those who needed it most, stressing that additional support had been provided during the coronavirus outbreak with the job retention scheme and changes to statutory sick pay and universal credit. I understand that the Welsh Senedd debated universal basic income on 13 September this year, with a motion calling for the Welsh Government to establish a universal basic income trial in Wales.

We want basic income pilots in Scotland, as well as elsewhere in the UK. That is desirable, but it can be done only with full co-operation and collaboration from the Government. Far too many people across the UK were living with the constant pressure of poverty, even before coronavirus. In the period 2016-19, about 1 million people in Scotland were in poverty, living precarious and insecure lives. That includes people in precarious and insecure work, which the Government need to tackle. It is not right in the 21st century that people are being pushed into destitution and homelessness, having to rely on food banks to survive.

The proposed pilot that the Scottish Government want to introduce would run for three years, with a one-year preparation period. Even with a pilot, it should be understood that such a systematic change to the welfare state could take many years to introduce. Commenting on these matters, the SNP social justice and fairness commission produced a discussion paper, “A Secure Income for All”, which explores the principle of the state providing a secure minimum income, with a more in-depth examination of universal basic income.

As many Members have said, the current situation with covid has exposed pre-existing vulnerabilities and shortcomings in the welfare and social security system. That system is an essential public service, like the national health service, and it should be funded properly and designed to support us all in times of need. Instead, it is our view that the Government have eroded the social safety net over the past decade, with brutal cuts and poverty-inducing policies such as the benefit sanctions regime, the benefit cap, the two-child limit and the bedroom tax. Even with the temporary £20-a-week increase in the universal credit standard allowance, which the UK Government have called generous, people who are out of work are £1,000 a year worse off today compared with 2011. We want that £20-a-week increase to be made permanent, and it is disappointing that the UK Government have refused the right to statutory sick pay to all those told to self-isolate as part of contact tracing.

If we look at the figures on statutory sick pay, the UK Government’s current rate is £94.25 a week, compared with £266 a week in Ireland and £287 a week in countries such as Germany and Austria. The UK Government have the second-lowest rate in the European Union for statutory sick pay. As the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) and other Members have said, during the covid period, people whom we would consider to have had a comfortable lifestyle before the pandemic no longer have such a lifestyle, which is one reason why a universal basic income could and should be a solution.

It is indefensible for the Government to obstruct potential solutions to poverty such as basic income pilots. As mentioned by the hon. Member for Edinburgh West (Christine Jardine), there was a call by many political parties for an emergency basic payment to be put in place, to go in people’s pockets and support families during the covid crisis. An emergency basic payment would not be a universal basic income, but would go some way towards ensuring that people had a secure income. That is something which we very much believe the Government need to look at. The 3 million who have been excluded have been referred to in this debate. The Government need to consider an emergency payment going to everyone, particularly as local and regional lockdowns are put in place across these islands.

We certainly encourage a universal basic income. We want to encourage the Department for Work and Pensions to engage with all the devolved Administrations and any local authorities that want to put a basic income pilot in place, wherever they are in these islands. We believe the time has come for that to happen.

--- Later in debate ---
Will Quince Portrait Will Quince
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I have given way once already; if I can give way again at the end, I will.

As I was saying, the Finnish Finance Minister concluded that there must be conditionality—that is the important point—in the social security system.

This Government have done brilliant work through the pandemic to stand up and bolster services, and to get money to those who need it in all four nations of our United Kingdom. We have supported more than 9 million people through the coronavirus job retention scheme and we have accepted more than 3 million new claims for universal credit. The universal credit system has proven that it is up to the challenge, and replacing it at potentially astronomical cost would provide little benefit to anyone, not least those who rely most on our welfare safety net.

Finally, I want to discuss impact, which is the fundamental case against UBI. The welfare system is a safety net and should be there for those who need it. Unlike universal credit, UBI does not target support at those in greater need or take into account additional costs faced by many individuals, such as those with disabilities or those with childcare responsibilities. To put things into some kind of perspective, UBI would be paid, as the hon. Member for Inverclyde pointed out, to me and all the other Members in the Chamber today and across Parliament. I would much rather that it be spent on supporting those who need it. To claim, as the hon. Gentleman did, that that would simply be taken back in tax is not a valid argument, as I have set out, because that is simply shuffling money around.

The OECD has also been clear about the broader consequences. For most high-income countries, a UBI could increase poverty and negatively affect the poorest, with middle-income households most likely to gain. That is all before we start discussing real outcomes. Evidence suggests that UBI provides a disincentive to employment, and in the Finnish trial the Government have acknowledged—I repeat this, because it is important—the need for conditionality.

Chris Stephens Portrait Chris Stephens
- Hansard - -

Surely the Finnish model demonstrated that people rejected precarious work and that employers had to increase pay and model terms and conditions. It is just not the case that the Finnish model suggested a disincentive to work.

Will Quince Portrait Will Quince
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention and I hear the call that he and other Members across the Chamber make for a UBI pilot, but in rebuttal I say, “Show me the international evidence.” The hon. Member for Inverclyde made reference to numerous pilots that have taken place all over the world, so why does he not demonstrate what he argues for by showing what impact they had, and then showing the evidence of how those countries have gone on to implement UBI?

Social Security (Up-rating of Benefits) Bill

Chris Stephens Excerpts
2nd reading & 2nd reading: House of Commons & Money resolution & Money resolution: House of Commons
Thursday 1st October 2020

(1 year, 3 months ago)

Commons Chamber
Read Full debate Social Security (Up-rating of Benefits) Act 2020 - Government Bill Page View all Social Security (Up-rating of Benefits) Debates Read Hansard Text
Thérèse Coffey Portrait The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Dr Thérèse Coffey)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I beg to move, that the Bill be now read a Second time.

I am pleased to introduce the Social Security (Up-rating of Benefits) Bill. It makes technical changes for one year only that will ensure that state pensions can still potentially be uprated, despite the likely fall in earnings. This will allow the Government to maintain a manifesto commitment to the pensions triple lock policy, providing peace of mind to pensioners about their financial health. It will also allow for potential increases for the poorest pensioners who are in receipt of pension credit, as well as uprating widows’ and widowers’ benefit in industrial death benefit.

As I set out with the Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham (Guy Opperman), in our letter to all right hon. and hon. Members last week, each year the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, my good self, is required by law to conduct a review of certain benefit and pension rates to determine whether they have retained their value in relation to the general level of earnings. If there is a rise, then there is a requirement to uprate the state pension and benefits at least in line with that increase.

In accordance with the usual process, I will undertake that review of social security rates shortly and will report to Parliament on the outcome of the review in November. However, if there has been no increase in the general level of earnings, there are currently no legal powers for the Government to bring forward an uprating order. Since 2011, the Government have used average weekly earnings growth from May to July as the basis for the review. The provisional figure for that period, published by the Office for National Statistics on 15 September 2020, shows a decline in earnings of 1% due to the economic impacts of covid-19. Confirmed figures will be published later this month. Owing to the challenging economic circumstances, average weekly earnings are expected, unfortunately, to show no growth this year. Therefore, this Bill will temporarily amend the Social Security Administration Act 1992 for one year only to grant discretionary powers to increase these rates irrespective of the growth or indeed fall in earnings.

The Bill covers the basic state pension, the new state pension, the standard minimum guarantee in pension credit, and widows’ and widowers’ benefits in industrial death benefit. Those benefits are linked in primary legislation to earnings. The Bill does not extend to benefits that are linked to prices. I will review those under the existing powers in the 1992 Act.

The Bill largely covers reserved matters for Great Britain. On the one element that is devolved to Scotland, Scottish Ministers laid a legislative consent motion, which was passed by the Scottish Parliament yesterday. Under the Social Security Administration (Northern Ireland) Act 1992, the Department for Communities has the power to mirror the uprating order made under the Act that applies in Great Britain. The Northern Ireland Executive can make a corresponding order under their existing power, which mirrors the outcome of the Secretary of State’s review without the need for new primary legislation in Northern Ireland.

The Bill must receive Royal Assent by mid-November to allow the review to be completed. If the Bill does not receive Royal Assent ahead of this deadline, the current legislation will apply, and state pensions will almost certainly remain frozen.

Chris Stephens Portrait Chris Stephens (Glasgow South West) (SNP)
- Hansard - -

I thank the Secretary of State for giving way; I know that she has other business this afternoon. As well as uprating, many of us in the House have a concern about the lack of uptake of pension credit. Will she tell us what measures her Department will take to ensure that there is a better uptake of that particular benefit?

Thérèse Coffey Portrait Dr Coffey
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The hon. Gentleman raises an important point. We always want to encourage people to take up benefits to which they are entitled. There was an extensive amount of advertising earlier in the year, which was linked into GP surgeries and other public places, in order to encourage that uptake. The changes that the BBC has made in regard to the TV licence has also encouraged some people to take that up. We will continue to try to encourage people to access the benefits to which they are entitled.

If the Bill does not receive Royal Assent ahead of the deadline, the current legislation will apply and it is almost certain that state pensions will remain frozen. The prompt passage of the Bill is essential, which is why I am grateful to the usual channels and the House for expediting this important legislation. In our discussions with the shadow Front-Bench team, we were able to highlight that there has been similar legislation, with a clause in the Welfare Reform Act 2009, to give similar flexibility to the then Secretary of State in consideration of uplifting benefits.

I have set out that this is a technical but important Bill. The Government have worked hard to protect people of all ages during the pandemic by strengthening the welfare safety net, introducing furlough and income protection schemes, as well as supporting those who have lost their jobs to try to help them get back into work. It is right that we also provide protection to our pensioners. Provided the Bill has passed into law by the time I conduct my annual review next month, those pensions and benefits need not remain frozen next year and we will provide our pensioners with important peace of mind.

--- Later in debate ---
Chris Stephens Portrait Chris Stephens (Glasgow South West) (SNP)
- Hansard - -

It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Delyn (Rob Roberts). I will be picking up on similar themes to those he mentioned.

We welcome this Bill, as it enables the uprating of the state pension and pension credit despite a fall in earnings. We would expect the Government to uprate them accordingly and ensure that everyone can benefit. As the Secretary of State said, the purpose is to ensure that we meet the standard minimum guarantee in pension credit and other benefits. According to the Office for National Statistics, earnings fell by 0.1% in the three months to July 2020 as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. The Government have said that they are committed to ensuring that the Bill will allow them to meet the requirements of the triple lock. We would certainly expect that. The triple lock was a manifesto commitment from the Government, but it was very much supported across the House.

Without this Bill, the existing legislation would mean that the Secretary of State would probably not be able to increase the relevant benefit and pension rates. They would remain frozen, as happened in 2016-17 when the consumer prices index in the 12 months to September 2015 showed a negative growth rate of 0.1%. We therefore certainly welcome the Bill. As the Secretary of State indicated, it also applies to industrial death benefit, which falls within the legislative competence of the Scottish Parliament, where there has been an agreement with a legislative consent motion. The Scottish Government are committed to expediting the timetable to match that of the Government here.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies has warned that unemployment shocks to older workers, many of whom have lost their jobs or will do so when the furlough scheme ends, could have severe implications for individuals’ retirement savings, and therefore long-term effects on their living standards in retirement. We should be very wary of that going forward, not just in discussing this Bill.

On pension credit, we encourage the Government to look at ways of ensuring that there is uptake of that benefit. There are really alarming statistics from the charity Independent Age about the numbers of pensioners who could be in poverty. We really want to ensure that pensioners are kept out of poverty by increasing uptake. I press the Government, once again, to look at as many imaginative and creative ways as they can to ensure that pension credit is taken up, because the statistics, not just in my constituency but in every constituency across the UK, are pretty alarming. I have tried holding constituency events myself to make sure that the benefit is taken up. The Under-Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Hexham (Guy Opperman), knows that I have raised the issue of uptake of pension credit with him many times.

We start from the principle that just as the national health service was created to protect all in time of need, the social security system should do the same. I encourage the Government to ensure that the £20 uplift to universal credit remains permanent and is extended to all legacy benefits. There are some really dire predictions. The Trussell Trust forecasts that food bank use could surge by a staggering 61% in the coming months, which would be equivalent to 846,000 parcels being given out. Behind these statistics are families hit by the pandemic and in desperate need of support.

Finally, I would like to take this opportunity—I am sure that the Minister would think it remiss of me not to do so—to suggest that the social security system should be fully devolved to the Scottish Parliament, where we would make sure that the job was done. The Scottish Parliament has now initiated the Scottish child payment, which will be open for applications in November, with the first payments to start in February 2021, providing low-income families with an additional £10 a week initially for each child under the age of six. We will be supporting the Bill on Second Reading, but I look forward to proposing some amendments in Committee.

Social Security (Up-rating of Benefits) Bill

Chris Stephens Excerpts
Committee: 1st sitting & Committee: 1st sitting: House of Commons & Report stage & Report stage: House of Commons & Committee stage
Thursday 1st October 2020

(1 year, 3 months ago)

Commons Chamber
Read Full debate Social Security (Up-rating of Benefits) Act 2020 - Government Bill Page View all Social Security (Up-rating of Benefits) Debates Read Hansard Text
Chris Stephens Portrait Chris Stephens (Glasgow South West) (SNP)
- Hansard - -

I beg to move amendment 1, page 1, line 10, leave out from “State” to the end of line 15 and insert—

“shall lay before Parliament the draft of an order which increases each of the amounts referred to in subsection (1) above by a percentage no less than—

(a) the difference between the general level of earnings at the beginning of the period under review and the general level of earnings at the end of that period, or

(b) the difference between the general level of prices at the beginning of the period under review and the general level of prices at the end of that period, or

(c) 2.5%,

(none) whichever is the greater.”

This amendment would require the Secretary of State to up-rate the benefits to which this Act applies in accordance with the “triple lock” of the higher of increases in prices, increases in earnings or 2.5%.

Rosie Winterton Portrait The First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Amendment 2, page 1, line 23, at end insert—

“(2C) No draft order laid before Parliament under section (2A) above may be made in the form of the draft until the Secretary of State has laid before Parliament a report containing an assessment of the impact of its effect on levels of poverty.

(2D) The assessment required by paragraph 2C shall, in particular, consider the impact on levels of poverty in—

(a) Scotland, and

(b) Wales.”



This amendment would require the Secretary of State to lay before Parliament an assessment of the impact of the up-rating on levels of poverty, including in Scotland and Wales.

Amendment 3, page 1, line 23, at end insert—

“(2C) No draft order laid before Parliament under section (2A) above may be made in the form of the draft until the Secretary of State has laid before Parliament a report containing an assessment of its impact on persons not ordinarily resident in Great Britain, including the impact of exempting any such persons from entitlement to up-rating increases granted by the order.”

This amendment would require the Secretary of State to lay before Parliament an assessment of the impact on those overseas pensioners whose pensions are frozen in accordance with Government policy.

Amendment 4, in clause 1, page 1, line 23, at end insert—

“(2C) No power may be exercised under this or any other Act so as to exempt persons not ordinarily resident in Great Britain from entitlement to up-rating increases granted by an order made by virtue of section (2A) of this Act.”

This amendment would ensure that this up-rating applied to all overseas pensioners, including those whose pensions have previously been frozen in accordance with Government policy.

Amendment 5, page 1, line 23, at end insert—

“(2C) No draft order laid before Parliament under section (2A) above may be made in the form of the draft until the Secretary of State has laid before Parliament a report containing an assessment of its impact on those affected by the changes in the state pension age made by the Pensions Act 1995 and the Pensions Act 2011; and that assessment shall, in particular, consider the impact on women born between 6 April 1950 and 5 April 1960.”

This amendment would require the Secretary of State to lay before Parliament an assessment of the impact of the up-rating on those whose state pension age was changed by the Pensions Acts 1995 and 2011, including in particular the group known as the “WASPI women”.

Clause stand part.

Clause 2 stand part.

Chris Stephens Portrait Chris Stephens
- Hansard - -

It is good to see that social distancing is being applied at all times. It was remiss of me not to welcome the Pensions Minister back to his place. I did send him a private message, and thoughts of him and his wife and family are very much with us all in this House. I do welcome him back.

These are five non-controversial amendments, which I hope— [Interruption.] We seem to have a laugh already from the Minister. I do not know why. He has obviously not read these non-controversial amendments. We have tabled some probing amendments and look forward to his response.

The first amendment is a theme that was picked up on Second Reading by the hon. Member for North East Fife (Wendy Chamberlain), which is to ensure that the triple lock is applied in legislation. The Government would have to give an explicit commitment to maintain the triple lock for the year ahead. The amendment seems to speak very much for itself.

Amendment 2 asks for an assessment on poverty, which again was picked up on Second Reading. It is certainly our view that the Government are overseeing some brutal benefit cuts, which have exacerbated poverty, and we require a proper impact assessment of the proposed uprating and the impact that has on poverty levels in each of the devolved nations.

Previous UK Budgets have introduced some fairly punitive cuts to social security—certainly the most punitive in recent memory—and we are starting to see an active reversal of reducing and fighting poverty. The Social Metrics Commission report, which was referred to at an earlier stage, notes that prior to the outbreak 14.4 million people in the UK were already living in poverty, including 33% of children, 22% of all working-age adults and 11% of pension-age adults. The largest employment impacts of covid have been felt by those in the deepest poverty, with many at risk of falling deeper into poverty as a result of job losses, reduced hours or reduced pay. We have tabled amendment 2 to provide for that impact assessment.

Amendments 3 and 4 deal with the issue of frozen pensions. UK pensioners deserve a full uprated state pension, wherever they choose to live. Due to the historical arbitrary bilateral agreements between the UK and other countries around the world, some UK pensioners who live overseas do not have their state pension payments uprated every year. That means that their pension is frozen at the level at which they first received it for the rest of their lives abroad. As of August 2019, that affected over 5,110 UK pensioners, who we believe are being adversely affected by the UK Government’s frozen pension policy. Pensioners who have paid the required national insurance contributions during their working lives in expectation of a decent basic pension and retirement find themselves on incomes that fall in real terms year on year. Pensioners will now face ending their days in poverty because they choose to live in the wrong country, in most cases without any knowledge of the implications of their choice for their pension.

In our view the state pension is a right, not a privilege. UK pensioners who have paid their fair share of national insurance contributions should not have to suffer simply because successive Governments have failed to establish bilateral agreements with certain countries. Therefore, we are asking that amendments 3 and 4 be agreed. I also refer hon. Members to the frozen pensions campaign, of which many hon. Members are members.

Amendment 5 relates to 1950s-born women, an issue that I am sure the Pensions Minister would be disappointed if I did not mention. As a previous Speaker of this House advised in 2015, persistence is not a vice. The amendment would require the Government to publish an assessment of the impact of uprating on those whose state pension age was changed by the Pensions Acts 1995 and 2011, including in particular 1950s-born women, or WASPI—Women Against State Pension Inequality Campaign—women, as they are known.

The numbers of ’50s-born women and men claiming working-age benefits has rocketed, and they should have been receiving their state pension. This is a double whammy, with those with occupational defined-contribution pensions to fill the gap being squeezed even further. Those claiming benefits find themselves having lost Government support in many cases, excluded either due to gaps in national insurance contributions, because of low-paid, precarious work, or because of other parts of household income. We are very aware of the history of 1950s-born women and the inequality they have faced throughout many parts of their lives. They now find themselves discriminated against on the basis of so-called equality, while those losing their jobs or seeking work are being further disadvantaged by an unequal playing field and a shrinking job market.

I look forward to hearing the Minister’s response to our amendments.

Jonathan Reynolds Portrait Jonathan Reynolds (Stalybridge and Hyde) (Lab/Co-op)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the hon. Member for Glasgow South West (Chris Stephens) for tabling these amendments, which I would describe as probing amendments to have a wider conversation—perhaps “uncontroversial” is too dramatic a description of what we are discussing today.

On amendment 1, to be fair, the Government have given a clear indication in the opening remarks to this debate of their direction of travel and their commitment to the triple lock this year. It is perhaps worth putting on record the figures from the Library, because I see so much commentary on social media and in the press about affordability. As the Minister said earlier, rounded to the nearest billion, this year this country will spend £102 billion on the state pension—not benefits for pensioners, but the state pension. If we had not operated triple lock from 2011, but had just a double lock of prices or earnings, that figure would be around £100 billion. No one would describe a couple of billion pounds as an insignificant amount of money, but in the context of the UK pensions bill it is 1.2% less. If we had no lock and had simply increased the state pension by earnings since 2011, the bill would be £96 billion, which is £5.5 billion less. However, the crucial point is that that is in the context of the worst earnings growth over the last decade that this country has really ever seen—certainly the worst in modern times. Crucially, that would have meant pensioners becoming worse off, because pensions would not have kept up with prices—something that I think no one here would have been happy to see.

I think we all have to acknowledge that the UK state pension is relatively low by international standards. I am not taking a cheap political pop, and it is appropriate to say that the system is obviously much better when we consider it alongside the NHS, because in some pension systems people have to cover their healthcare costs, and we also have top-ups such as pension credit. The overall system is also clearly much better when we factor in private pensions. However, our basic state pension is relatively low compared with other countries. For instance, a typical woman retiring today will still look to the state pension for over half her retirement income. That is a significant point to bear in mind.

As we have heard, when the coalition Government introduced the pensions reforms that came into effect in 2016, the triple lock was a fundamental part of the calculations for the system. The deal was that people would have to retire later and that some people would not be able to create a state pension that was as high as they could previously have done, but that everyone would get a proper index-linked pension at 67, 68 or 69.

--- Later in debate ---
Guy Opperman Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Guy Opperman)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank colleagues for their contributions and will respond briefly because I accept that these are probing amendments. I will most definitely not take up the opportunity to refight the 2019 election with the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Jonathan Reynolds), because, frankly, that is probably somewhere he does not wish to go.

On the probing amendment on the triple lock, this is a matter, as was rightly highlighted by the hon. Gentleman, that the Secretary of State herself was pretty unequivocal about. I also welcome his analysis and appreciation that the state pension should not be viewed in isolation, because, quite clearly, it is one element of the various supported benefits that are available—whether a national health service, free at the point of delivery, or the support that is now going through with automatic enrolment, a cross-party policy developed by the Labour party and the Turner commission. Various Ministers in the Labour Government had brought that policy forward as part of the coalition, and it was then implemented by the Conservative Government. That has clearly had an impact, as has, obviously, the expansion of pension credit, and it should be seen in the round rather than on its own in that particular context.

Clearly, the key policy has been the increase in the basic state pension and the fact that we are now £1,900 larger than we were in 2010. Clearly, this is a matter that all parties in this House are supporting on an ongoing basis. I submit with respect that it is entirely appropriate that the Secretary of State should be allowed to bring forward this legislation, as the House seems to deem fit, and should conduct the uprating review and then come back to this House, as she is required to do, and debate the matter in this House.

The issue of pensioner poverty leads me into amendment 5 in respect of the women against state pension inequality. It is unquestionably difficult to predict future poverty rates when one is assessing an impact. The Bill is an enabling piece of legislation. It is not a piece of legislation that then implements a particular policy. There is also a danger with trying to accurately predict future poverty rates, when one is looking at an individual policy and an individual part of a Bill. For example, the published predictions of the Resolution Foundation, which were cited by colleagues earlier on, suggested that relative child poverty after housing costs would increase in 2017-18 when they actually fell. The Institute for Fiscal Studies has not published projections of poverty since 2017.

Let me turn now to the other amendments submitted by the hon. Member for Glasgow South West (Chris Stephens). In respect of the assessment in amendment 3, I submit that there is a “be careful what you wish for” approach. The assessment is unnecessary and, in reality, unfeasible. The reality is that the UK state pension is payable worldwide and given that the socioeconomic conditions of each country vary enormously, it is simply unfeasible to produce a meaningful assessment of the uprating policy’s impact on overseas recipients, and—this is the crucial point—notwithstanding issues regarding feasibility, the timetable for laying a draft order for uprating does not allow for an assessment to be made. If there were to be an assessment, and the amendment was successful, the reality is that that assessment would not be made in time—by November 2020—with the consequence that the state pension would be frozen. I most definitely suggest, with great respect, that that assessment would be a negative idea for all the pensioners who are seeking an increase, potentially by reason of this legislation.

On amendment 4, this is a long-standing policy pursued by successive post-war Governments, who have taken the view that priority should be given to those living in the United Kingdom in drawing up expenditure plans for pensioner benefits. There are no plans to change that policy. The up-rating of the state pension is intended to provide support for pensioners who live in the UK.

I turn to the perennial issue that the hon. Gentleman seeks to raise—I do not diminish the fact that he wishes to raise it, as did the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde from the Opposition Front Bench—in respect of the changes to the state pension increase, which were, of course, supported for 13 years by the Labour Government when they were in power and, in fact, were enhanced by the 2007 Act. It is not the Government’s intention to amend the 1995 Act, the 2007 Act or the 2011 Act. Clearly, if the Scottish Government wish to act, sections 24, 26 and 28 of the Scotland Act 2016 give powers to the Scottish Government to intervene in Holyrood if they choose to do so. We would certainly resist any changes in this Parliament.

I take the point made by the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde about the 2019 election and the debate on that matter, but since then, there has been the Court of Appeal’s decision in respect of the court case, which unequivocally found for this Government, the coalition Government, the Labour Government and the Conservative Government, dating back to 1995 on all issues on these grounds, including notice. With respect, I believe that the matter should rest there.

The long and the short of it is that I would resist the amendments, and I invite the hon. Member for Glasgow South West, with due respect, not to press them.

Chris Stephens Portrait Chris Stephens
- Hansard - -

I would love to say that I am shocked and stunned that the Government have not accepted any of the amendments, but that would perhaps be an oversell. As the Minister said, they are probing amendments. He will be well aware that we will return to these topics, and I invite Members of the other place perhaps to pick them up when they discuss the Bill. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 1 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 2 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

The Deputy Speaker resumed the Chair.

Bill reported, without amendment.

Bill read the Third time and passed.