Social Security (Up-rating of Benefits) Bill Debate

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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, 7 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 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.