All 2 Guy Opperman contributions to the Social Security (Up-rating of Benefits) Act 2020

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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

Social Security (Up-rating of Benefits) Bill Debate

Full Debate: Read Full Debate
Department: Department for Work and Pensions

Social Security (Up-rating of Benefits) Bill

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

(1 year, 10 months ago)

Commons Chamber
Read Full debate 2nd reading Page Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: Committee of the whole House Amendments as at 1 October 2020 (PDF) - (1 Oct 2020)
Guy Opperman Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Guy Opperman)
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I would like to begin by thanking everyone who has spoken in the debate, which has been wide ranging and consensual and has covered a number of topics.

Because this is my first appearance back at the Dispatch Box, Madam Deputy Speaker, I just want to raise a personal matter. This is my first appearance since the demise of my twin boys in late June, and I was genuinely struck by the amazing words of commiseration and support that I received across the House from all colleagues. I am deeply grateful, and I know I speak for my wife on that particular point as well.

Moving on, I was struck by the opening point from the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Jonathan Reynolds) on the shadow Front Bench, and it is one I think we should all celebrate in this House: rising longevity is a fantastically good thing, and it is a wonderful problem to have. Clearly, there are policy and fiscal issues that follow it, but it is a genuinely good thing that we are addressing.

Even though the House is not well populated today, I am conscious that before me I have a former Pensions Minister from the Department for Work and Pensions—the right hon. Member for East Ham (Stephen Timms), who now chairs the Select Committee. I also think that the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde was a special adviser—

Guy Opperman Portrait Guy Opperman
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He was an adviser—let’s put it that way—to the previous Labour Government, and he is acutely conscious of the issues that we are dealing with today.

Clearly, there is a delightful sense of a cross-party consensus, but I want to address some of the key points that were raised. People clearly wish to make the case on pensioner poverty, and I will address that. One can trade statistics, but material deprivation for pensioners fell from 10% in 2009-10 to 6% in 2018-19. There are 100,000 fewer pensioners in absolute poverty before and after housing costs than in 2009-10. Average pensioner incomes have grown significantly in real terms over the past two decades. Average weekly income in 1994-95 was £165 a week after housing costs; that compared with £320 a week in 2018-19. For 2020-21, we are forecast to spend £126 billion a year on pensioners, including £102 billion on state pension. Colleagues will know that that is a record sum spent by any Government in this House in respect of pensioners.

I will attempt to answer some of the particular points that were fairly made on pension credit. It is again the case, and I should put this on record, that pension credit increased significantly under the coalition and then under this Government, from £132.60 to £173.75 for a single person and from £202.40 to £265.20 for a couple. The take-up of pension credit is something that all would like to see increased. I echo my hon. Friend the Member for Delyn (Rob Roberts) on that; this is the first chance I have had to respond to him in this House, and it is delightful that he is here. He makes the fair point that it is in all our interests that pension credit be increased.

One of my colleagues asked what had been the impact of the BBC decision. There is no totally granular data on that, but I can assist to a degree: the claims for pension credit, which is what we want to see, were dramatically increased as of July 2020 compared with January 2020. There is definitely a massive increase in claims and clearly a filtering through of the acceptance of said claims. I refer hon. Members to the parliamentary question asked by the hon. Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Dr Cameron), PQ 82024. I will ensure that I put a note of the issue on the record in the Library to answer that particular point and expand upon it.

In respect of pension credit, the Secretary of State was right to identify that we had a significant nationwide campaign in the spring of this year, and that the combination of that and the impact of the BBC decision clearly had an impact on greater take-up. The specific causes of the increase in take-up are hard to assess, but there is no doubt that the take-up has been larger.

In respect of the point raised by various hon. Members about working-age benefits, it is right to say that the Government are proud of the fact that they have provided support during the pandemic for those below state pension age, whether through the plan for jobs, with Kickstart now open for bids across Great Britain and doing very well, increasing the standard allowance in universal credit and working tax credit by £1,040 this year, benefiting 4 million families, investing approximately £9 billion of extra support to protect people’s incomes through the pandemic, removing the seven-day waiting requirement for employment and support allowance claims linked to covid-19, or relaxing the universal credit minimum income floor for self-employed people.

As the Secretary of State said to the right hon. Member for East Ham and the Work and Pensions Committee yesterday, that is a matter that is clearly in her mind and that is to be considered by the Secretary of State. I cannot really add or expand upon the answer that she gave, and it would not be appropriate to comment further, because clearly she has to conduct a review and then return to this House to respond to that review.

Having dealt with the specifics, all colleagues have identified that this is an important piece of legislation, without which the state pension would be frozen for a year from April 2021. It makes technical changes to ensure that state pensions can be uprated, providing peace of mind to pensioners regarding their financial health. It is a one-year Bill, so it is not the case that we are considering the matter beyond the first year. Clearly, this arises out of the covid emergency and its impact on earnings, and it would not be appropriate to address the future at this stage. I believe this Bill is a further demonstration of this Government’s action in support of pensioners, and provides them with financial peace of mind in the face of the coronavirus pandemic. I commend it to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

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

SOCIAL SECURITY (UP-RATING OF BENEFITS) BILL (MONEY)

Queen’s recommendation signified.

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

That, for the purposes of any Act resulting from the Social Security (Up-rating of Benefits) Bill, it is expedient to authorise the payment out of money provided by Parliament of any increase attributable to the Act in the sums payable under any other Act out of money so provided.—(David T.C. Davies.)

Question agreed to.

Social Security (Up-rating of Benefits) Bill Debate

Full Debate: Read Full Debate
Department: Department for Work and Pensions

Social Security (Up-rating of Benefits) Bill

Guy Opperman 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, 10 months ago)

Commons Chamber
Read Full debate Committee: 1st sitting Page Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: Committee of the whole House Amendments as at 1 October 2020 (PDF) - (1 Oct 2020)
Again, I pressure the Government to consider what this pandemic means for those 1950s women and whether there is the opportunity to bring forward more support for them. I ask the Government, in responding to this amendment, to consider that. There will be further opportunities in future to recognise the strain on this cohort of women and what further measures could be done for them.
Guy Opperman Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Guy Opperman)
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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
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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.