Universal Credit and Working Tax Credits Debate

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Department: Department for Work and Pensions

Universal Credit and Working Tax Credits

Jonathan Reynolds Excerpts
Wednesday 15th September 2021

(1 month ago)

Commons Chamber

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Department for Work and Pensions
Jonathan Reynolds Portrait Jonathan Reynolds (Stalybridge and Hyde) (Lab/Co-op)
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I beg to move,

That this House calls on the Government to cancel its planned cut to Universal Credit and Working Tax Credit which from the end of September 2021 will reduce support for many hard-working families by £1,040 a year.

I reiterate what I said when we had this debate in January: while, understandably, strength of feeling is high when talking about something that affects so many families and households across the country, this should not be a debate with personal abuse or accusations of bad motive. I ask everyone following the debate at home to consider that, too. If we instead took a moment to assess the matter properly and considered not just the impact on the 6 million affected families but what is in the best interests of our economy as we recover from the pandemic and, crucially, what we need as a country to be able to face the inevitable shocks and economic problems that will come our way in the future, we would decide that it would be unconscionable to take this money away.

Angela Eagle Portrait Dame Angela Eagle (Wallasey) (Lab)
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In my constituency, £10.5 million will disappear from the spending capacity in our local economy when more than 10,000 people and working families lose access to this benefit. Does my hon. Friend agree that that will have a tremendously bad effect on local spending power?

Jonathan Reynolds Portrait Jonathan Reynolds
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My hon. Friend is exactly right. The reduction of £20 a week for 6 million low-income families will be the single biggest overnight cut in the history of the welfare state—bigger even than the cut to unemployment benefit in 1931 that caused the Government of the day to collapse. The scope of the cut, affecting one in 14 British workers, is also unprecedented. For those reasons alone, it is right that we are having this debate and that our constituents know where we stand.

James Cartlidge Portrait James Cartlidge (South Suffolk) (Con)
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The hon. Member is courteous in giving way, but his proposal would cost £6 billion. Which tax would he raise to pay for that?

Jonathan Reynolds Portrait Jonathan Reynolds
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Will the hon. Member tell me how many households in his constituency are in receipt of universal credit? I am giving him a chance to put on the record how many of his constituents are affected. There is a whole section of my speech in which I will tell him how the Government can afford to pay for this.

I did not know that the hon. Member did not know the figure for his constituency—I promise that I was not trying to catch him out. I was simply trying to make the point that the recovery of his local economy would be adversely affected by taking that spending power away, as my hon. Friend the Member for Wallasey (Dame Angela Eagle) made clear for her constituency.

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP)
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I thank the shadow Secretary of State for introducing this important debate. Northern Ireland has the highest levels of child poverty in United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. My mailbag, like everyone’s, is full of real-life stories of people worried sick about how they will be affected. Does he agree that the removal of the £20 universal credit payment will plunge even more people into food poverty and have a detrimental effect not just on their pockets financially but on their health? It is a double whammy, and they just cannot take it.

Jonathan Reynolds Portrait Jonathan Reynolds
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I agree with the hon. Member. Opposition to the cut is truly universal, for those reasons. It includes MPs, charities, unions and six former Conservative Secretaries of State for Work and Pensions. If we are being honest, I think several serving Conservative Ministers also share that view. In this debate, I want to knock down the fiction that there is somehow a choice to be made between cancelling the cut and getting people back into work. I want to talk about what the cut will mean for the families affected and the impact that it will have on all our local economies and the national resilience necessary to meet future challenges. I also want to talk about how the Government could easily fund universal credit at its current rate without making this counterproductive and harsh cut.

Desmond Swayne Portrait Sir Desmond Swayne (New Forest West) (Con)
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I am inundated every week by employers who simply cannot get workers. Should we not be seeking to raise the sights of many working people to get another, better-paid job? They are out there.

Jonathan Reynolds Portrait Jonathan Reynolds
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In the right hon. Member’s constituency, 4,000 households are in receipt of universal credit. I want to ensure that, at the beginning of the debate, we knock down the argument, which we have also heard from the Prime Minister, that a focus on jobs will somehow mean that we do not need to keep universal credit at its current level. Of course we should get people back into jobs, but it is simply false to say that the choice is between keeping the uplift and doing that.

Let me remind the House again that universal credit is an in-work benefit. Almost half of the incomes that Government Members wish to cut are of people in work. Either the Prime Minister, the Cabinet and several Conservative MPs do not know how universal credit works or they are being wilfully misleading. I do not know which is worse. Let us have a real debate rather than this ignorant rhetoric about work or welfare, because—this is the crucial point—if as a country we could get the people affected into better-paying jobs, the cost of keeping universal credit at its current level would go down automatically. That is exactly how the system is designed to work. Anyone saying that the cut needs to happen to get people back into work, or to get them working more hours, does not know what they are talking about.

Jonathan Reynolds Portrait Jonathan Reynolds
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I will give way to the hon. Member one more time.

James Cartlidge Portrait James Cartlidge
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The hon. Member is kind. I hope he will answer my intervention rather than re-intervene on me; I found that very odd earlier. Is it better in principle that people receive £20 through the benefits system or through going into longer hours, with more progress in work and building up a career where there is no limit on what they achieve?

Jonathan Reynolds Portrait Jonathan Reynolds
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Of course it is better that people are in work, but the whole point of reform in this area over the last decade and a half has been to try to create a system that integrates with the world of work. I cannot see how the hon. Member does not understand that. I cannot see the logic in his argument that a cliff edge is necessary for the outcome that he wishes to see.

Ellie Reeves Portrait Ellie Reeves (Lewisham West and Penge) (Lab)
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My hon. Friend makes a compelling argument about universal credit being an in-work benefit for many people. I have been inundated with calls from constituents who are supermarket workers, teaching assistants and carers. They are already working long hours and they have gone above and beyond during the pandemic. Does he agree that this is not the way to thank those hard-working key workers for everything that they have done for this country?

Jonathan Reynolds Portrait Jonathan Reynolds
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I agree absolutely; that is the point. We saw in the exchanges between the Secretary of State and me on Monday, as well as in Prime Minister’s questions, that the Government’s proposition is that somehow people working full time will be able to work 50 or 55 hours a week, on top of what they are already doing. The Opposition are more than happy to have a discussion about raising pay—we have plenty of ideas. Let us discuss raising the minimum wage to at least £10 an hour now or reducing the universal credit taper rate so that people keep more of what they earn. To dress up this devastating cut as a choice between supporting jobs and supporting families is an insult to the millions of working people who will see their incomes drop. Hon. Members who support the cut should at least have the decency to stand up and say so rather than hide behind straw men.

Alex Cunningham Portrait Alex Cunningham (Stockton North) (Lab)
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I will give my hon. Friend some statistics from my constituency, where 37% of all children—that is 6,802—are living in poverty, a figure that has increased considerably under the Tories. Thousands of them and their families rely on universal credit to put food on their tables. With the latest figures showing inflation rocketing, and that is very much on food, does my hon. Friend agree that adults and children will go hungry if the Government do not do the right thing?

Jonathan Reynolds Portrait Jonathan Reynolds
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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)
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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?

Jonathan Reynolds Portrait Jonathan Reynolds
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I am grateful to the hon. Member, who makes two points: first, if the Government believed this level of need was evident during the pandemic, the crisis that people face—whether that is illness or redundancy—does not change whether or not there is a global pandemic; and crucially, yes, he is right that fuel costs are going up. We had the announcement this morning that inflation is over 3%. Anyone who has been to a British supermarket in the last few months knows how much food is going up, so the need is absolutely there. Frankly, the Government’s case that somehow this support was needed in the pandemic and can be taken away has absolutely nothing to it.

That brings me to one more point I want to raise before I talk about the impact on people. I want to highlight again the situation for people on legacy benefits, such as employment and support allowance and jobseeker’s allowance, who never had this uplift to begin with. I believe, and I have said so many times, that these people are the victims of discrimination. Universal credit is the clear successor benefit to these benefits, and the decision to not uprate them was initially presented to this House as a technical problem, rather than a policy choice. The situation they have been put in is grossly unfair, and we will continue to keep raising this. The only reason I did not include those benefits in the wording of this motion today is that I did not want any Conservative MP to be able to cite that as a reason to refuse to back this motion.

It is the impact on people that should be paramount in our minds. I am sure all hon. Members, whichever side they are on, have been inundated with people getting in touch to tell them exactly how much this money means to them. The leaked internal analysis from the Government that appeared in the Financial Times last week described the cut, in the Government’s own term, as “catastrophic”. The human cost of taking this money away cannot be overstated: £20 may not seem like much to some people, but it is makes the difference of having food in the fridge and still being able to put the heating on, or being able to get the kids new school shoes without worrying how to pay for them.

Debbie Abrahams Portrait Debbie Abrahams (Oldham East and Saddleworth) (Lab)
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My hon. Friend is making a very powerful speech. In Oldham, there are over 11,000 people in work reliant on universal credit with 22,000 children. Is he as concerned as I am that the long-lasting impacts of driving these children into further poverty—as we saw, for example, in the Nuffield Foundation report yesterday—are going to be detrimental not just for those families, but for society as a whole?

Jonathan Reynolds Portrait Jonathan Reynolds
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My hon. Friend is my constituency neighbour, and she knows that her constituency is very much like mine. We have seen the impact of the austerity years and what that has meant, not just in terms of the impact on people, but with how much need that has pushed on to other services—the NHS, the police force—and, frankly, with how so many of the preventive services that were once there have had to go from local authorities. The position people are in, as things stand today, is not one in which anyone could reasonably say that there is capacity to further reduce support and take so much money out of local economies.

Margaret Greenwood Portrait Margaret Greenwood (Wirral West) (Lab)
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According to the Resolution Foundation, over 40% of people on universal credit were food-insecure before the Government introduced the £20 uplift, so does my hon. Friend agree that by cancelling the uplift and cutting universal credit by £20 a week, the Government are taking the money from people that they need to put food on their tables and to support their families?

Jonathan Reynolds Portrait Jonathan Reynolds
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Again, no one could dispute that case. Last week I went on a visit to Peterborough, which is the Conservative constituency most affected by this cut, and I went to volunteer in a local food bank. Anyone volunteering in that situation and simply observing the level of need coming through the front door could not in any good conscience say that the people going there could sustain themselves if this cut were to take place. Some of the volunteers there are people who work for the NHS, who in their spare time are volunteering on the vaccine programme and, in their spare time from that, are volunteering at the local food bank. That is what the people of this country are doing, and if only they had a Government who were willing to give the same level of commitment, how much better things would be.

Clive Efford Portrait Clive Efford (Eltham) (Lab)
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My hon. Friend is making an extremely powerful speech. We have been through a period when communities have come together, and he has just talked about volunteering and the way that communities have come together to deal with food poverty in particular. Children have been involved in that, and this is the Government who failed to feed our children during holiday time, so it is no surprise that they are bringing in this cut. Even in a constituency such as mine in London, over 5,000 children live in households that receive universal credit and are going to face a cut on top of what we have all been through over the last 18 months. It really is time that this Government started to think about the consequences of what they do to the poorest people in our communities.

Jonathan Reynolds Portrait Jonathan Reynolds
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Again, I think the case my hon. Friend has made is self-evident. I would also say that if we look at the moments of national crisis in British history and at how the country has responded to those, we see that we have always sought to learn from those crises and to take the best bits of our response to them. This announcement from the Government—the debate today—is their saying, “There’s nothing to take from this; there is nothing to keep that sense of solidarity or that action to try to improve things for people, and we are walking away from it.” I think that that, perhaps more than anything else, is what makes so many people frustrated with the tin ear the Government are showing.

Jack Dromey Portrait Jack Dromey (Birmingham, Erdington) (Lab)
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Erdington may be rich in talent, but it is one of the poorest constituencies in the country. Some 63% of working age families with children in my constituency face a £1,040 cut in the biggest overnight cut to social security in the history of the welfare state. Does my hon. Friend agree with me that the Government seem to be oblivious to the despair of mums and dads who are wondering how they are going to be able to feed their kids as a consequence of soaring bills—electricity, gas—and prices in supermarkets, and that at a time like this this cut is truly the cruellest cut of all?

Jonathan Reynolds Portrait Jonathan Reynolds
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Again, I am pleased my hon. Friend has been able to place this on the record for his constituency, because that is how everybody sees it.

Last week I met some of the families who gave evidence at the Work and Pensions Committee—great people, real people—and they told it exactly how it is. On Monday, the Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, the hon. Member for Colchester (Will Quince), tried to say this actually is not a cut because the Treasury never budgeted to keep the uplift in place. Let me tell him that it is a cut to those families who came here to give evidence in the session last Wednesday, and it is a cut, as hon. Members have said, at a time when other things—the cost of heating, the cost of food, the rate of inflation—are already going up in real terms. Let us in this debate deal with the reality of people’s lives, not with Treasury fictions.

Andy Carter Portrait Andy Carter (Warrington South) (Con)
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I took a moment to look back at some of the calls the hon. Gentleman has made over the last couple of weeks to increase benefits. When I added them all up, I found that there is not just the £6 billion for this benefit, but a total of about £15 billion that the Labour Front Bench has called for. Can he tell us how we are going to pay for that, because it is real people who will be paying for those benefits?

Jonathan Reynolds Portrait Jonathan Reynolds
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I will tell the hon. Member about the real people. There are 7,700 families in his constituency whom this cut will affect, and the decisions the Government will make—[Interruption.] I am not going along with Conservative Back Benchers trying to tot things up and coming out with them in the middle of a debate. No, let us talk about the real impact on the 7,700 families in his constituency. The message he should be considering is: what will happen to his local economy and what will happen to national finances by taking that money away from them? This is a very important point.

Rachael Maskell Portrait Rachael Maskell (York Central) (Lab/Co-op)
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Some 7,850 of my constituents will in three weeks’ time also lose £20 a week. Does my hon. Friend agree that the real cost will be the impact on people’s lives—the lost opportunities for those children’s futures and the hopes we all carry? Is it not right that we invest in people, not see this as a cut in itself?

Jonathan Reynolds Portrait Jonathan Reynolds
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Absolutely. That investment in people is essential, and this uplift that we are talking about today cannot be considered without remembering the benefits freeze that lasted for four years prior to 2020. As the former Secretary of State, the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Sir Iain Duncan Smith), has said, the uplift only really restored what the value of UC would and should have been.

The pandemic exposed what many of us already knew: that social security in this country had become so threadbare it simply would not have got us through the pandemic. Since 2010 there has been unprecedented growth in in-work poverty in the UK, and food banks have become the norm in every town and city. No constituency has been exempt from that, and, most of all, one in eight working people in the UK is currently living in poverty. So the Government should not be seeking to congratulate themselves on making this uplift during the pandemic; they should ask themselves why they let things get so bad to begin with.

There was another laughable moment in Question Time on Monday when the Secretary of State compared the Government’s response to that of the Labour Government after the global financial crisis. Back in 2008 there was a functioning and supportive welfare state: tax credits acted as a superb automatic stabiliser; Jobcentre Plus had already been created, bringing together the old social security offices with the jobcentres, which all Governments since have recognised as a huge strength; unemployment did not hit 3 million, as initially predicted; and initiatives such as the future jobs fund played their role. So that Government had already done the hard work back then, and that is the lesson this Government need to learn.

As many Members have said, great as the impact on families is, we also have a responsibility to consider the impact of this on the country as a whole. The money we are talking about is spent in local shops and on local services, the very businesses that have had such a tough time because of the necessary public health restrictions most of us here backed for good reasons.

The recovery is promising, but it is not a done deal and there is a lot of ground to make up. This is the wrong decision for the economy and it also fails to learn the lessons from the pandemic and build the resilience we need as a country to face future challenges.

Catherine McKinnell Portrait Catherine McKinnell (Newcastle upon Tyne North) (Lab)
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I absolutely support everything my hon. Friend is saying in his speech, and the Government should listen hard, because we have all lived through a very difficult 18 months and there are increasingly difficult times ahead as well. We have learned many lessons during this period, such as that we should invest more in the things we value most. This money is targeted at families; 40% of families with children in my constituency will lose out as a result of this decision, and that will have an impact on those children. We have one of the most expensive childcare systems in the world and we know that working families are struggling. The Government can do something simple to support those families by changing their direction on this cut today.

Jonathan Reynolds Portrait Jonathan Reynolds
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My hon. Friend is right. The lever the Government have to alleviate this basket of problems—childcare costs, fuel costs, food costs—is to not go ahead with this decision.

My hon. Friend’s intervention brings me to my next point. If it really is the Government’s ambition to level up the UK, it is hard to see how that can mean anything when this cut disproportionately affects the places the Government say they want to boost. Despite all the rhetoric, this cut will take £2.5 billon out of local economies in the north and the midlands, including Stoke-on-Trent which would lose over £32 million and Blackpool which would see £23 million cut.

We all know this money is not being invested or hidden away; it is being spent. It is being spent in shops and restaurants in local high streets that desperately need a boost after last year. After the last week, it seems that the Government are keener on taxes up than levelling up.

Gagan Mohindra Portrait Mr Gagan Mohindra (South West Hertfordshire) (Con)
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On the hon. Gentleman’s comments about the last Labour Government and the 2008 financial crisis, what support did that last Labour Government give to those families?

Jonathan Reynolds Portrait Jonathan Reynolds
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I addressed that in an entire section of the speech so I refer the hon. Gentleman to Hansard.

Stephen Crabb Portrait Stephen Crabb (Preseli Pembrokeshire) (Con)
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Actually, that is a really important point because the hon. Gentleman was guilty in his comments on the previous welfare system of looking at it through rose-tinted lenses. There were huge problems with the previous welfare system. It caught hundreds of thousands of families in poverty traps, and at every opportunity since 2010 the Labour party resisted our efforts to reform welfare, to make work pay and to provide better financial support for families in Britain.

Jonathan Reynolds Portrait Jonathan Reynolds
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I have a lot of time for the right hon. Gentleman, as he knows, and he has been vocal in opposing the Government and we all have respect for that, but I must put a few things on the record in response to his intervention. The reductions in poverty under the last Labour Government were tremendous, and we did not even know how good they were until we got the evaluation, sadly a few years later when already so much of that had been taken apart. Of course there were problems with the previous system, but no one should try to claim that the last Labour Government were not a reforming Labour Government. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, after that Labour Government came to power a single parent did not have to go out and look for work until their eldest child was 16—there was no regime in the world like that—and Jobcentre Plus did not exist. So there was a lot of reform and the system was improved, but crucially—this is the big difference from the reforms of this Government—our reforms brought poverty down, brought more people into the workplace, and made this country stronger, more resilient and a better place for everyone. That is why, sadly, our record is overwhelmingly better than this Government’s.

John Stevenson Portrait John Stevenson (Carlisle) (Con)
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Everybody acknowledges that the way out of poverty is employment; why when a Labour Government leave office is unemployment always higher than when they first went into office?

Jonathan Reynolds Portrait Jonathan Reynolds
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I have dealt with this intervention before—being involved in so many Finance Bills does give that experience—and that is false; a quick Google search will put the record straight for the hon. Gentleman.

The great Labour Government after the second world war who created the welfare state, built 1 million council houses and created the national parks while having to deal with demobilisation after the war are not hugely relevant to people who want to cut £20 a week from 6 million families today. But I will always defend the post-war Labour Government, the greatest Government in the history of this country.

James Cartlidge Portrait James Cartlidge
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Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Jonathan Reynolds Portrait Jonathan Reynolds
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No, we have had enough history and the hon. Gentleman has intervened twice; we can look forward to his speech.

In relation to the tax rises announced last week, the combination of this cut and the rise in national insurance is absolutely outrageous. As many as 2.5 million families will lose £1,300 a year. This Government are already a high tax Government, and due to that and the decision to freeze personal allowances and hike council tax combined with the much lower than expected Government borrowing costs, projections are already coming in for the October spending review suggesting that there is far more room for manoeuvre than anyone previously thought.

The Resolution Foundation, the most respected analyst of the labour market and welfare state in the country, said last week that the Chancellor

“will be significantly boosted by the good news the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) will deliver within its updated forecasts on 27 October. Borrowing this year is likely to come in several tens of billions lower than expected, having already borrowed £26 billion less than previously forecast in the first four months of 2021-22. More importantly, if the OBR moves its forecast for the long-term scarring effect of the pandemic on the British economy (currently 3 per cent of GDP) into line with the more optimistic consensus (the Bank of England now expects scarring of just 1 per cent) he will have a windfall that lasts, possibly to the tune of around £25 billion a year.”

I believe the final forecast might be slightly less generous than that, but the point remains that a decision to keep UC and working tax credit at the current levels could be made within the fiscal headroom the Chancellor already has when the spending review takes place.

As the Resolution Foundation made clear,

“To govern is to choose”,

and the question for hon. Members today is do they really believe that those on the lowest incomes, in some of the hardest jobs in the country, who got us through the pandemic, should take a disproportionate share of the burden going forward? Is that fair, is that a recipe for national success and is that ensuring our country is as resilient as it needs to be to meet future challenges? No, no, and no again.

Looking to the future, I want to replace UC with a better system because I recognise that the argument we are having today over the core amount is not the only problem: the five-week wait is a huge issue for people; the level the taper rate is set at is wholly wrong; and people should be able to keep more of the money they earn. Fundamentally, the Treasury caused a huge problem by causing UC to be associated for many of our constituents with austerity, cuts and sanctions, but that is an argument for another day. The choice we have to make right now is whether to proceed with this cut and, whichever way we look at it, we should not. I hear there are rumours that a reshuffle is under way. As Members will know, if a Cabinet Minister were to lose their job today and return to the Back Benches, they would receive a pay-off of £15,000. Will anyone in this debate say that that is unaffordable? It always seems to be a different rule for the people we are talking about than for everyone else in the country.

I implore Members to think about the wide-ranging effects of their decision in this place today. Charities say that the cut will cut a lifeline to millions. Economists say it will suck spending from our local high streets. Even the Government’s own internal analysis makes it clear that it will be catastrophic. No one in this House can say they did not know. No one will be able to say they were not warned. The effects of this cut are clear as day. It is wrong for our constituents, wrong for the British economy; quite simply, it is wrong for Britain. Conservative Members have a choice to make. I, and the millions this cut will hit, implore them to see sense, back the families who sent them here, and cancel the cut.

Thérèse Coffey Portrait The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Dr Thérèse Coffey)
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Just this week, the official jobs statistics showed that more people are getting back into work and there is a record number of vacancies. That is a tribute to the British people and businesses. It shows that our plan for jobs is working. It shows that our comprehensive and unprecedented support for citizens and corporations as well as the NHS, in trying to protect lives and livelihoods, has worked. After the terrible personal and economic impact of covid, boosted by the successful vaccination roll-out, Britain is now rebounding.

It was right that we took prompt and decisive action to support our nation during this challenging time. We had the job retention scheme, the self-employment grants, the VAT changes, the business rates relief, the suspension of evictions for people and businesses who were renting—I could go on. We could only do that, though, because we went into the global pandemic with strong economic foundations built as a result of 10 years of Conservative measures to restore the nation’s finances after the financial crisis on Labour’s watch, when, memorably, there was no money left. Those measures included a sustained focus on supporting people to move into and progress in work through universal credit, with the highest level of employment ever seen in this country just before covid hit.

--- Later in debate ---
Thérèse Coffey Portrait Dr Coffey
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I will not, because I am conscious that we are nearly an hour into this debate and many hon. Members will want to speak about this important matter.

Right across Government, we are investing to help people to get better-paid jobs, whether that is through digital boot camps, the lifetime skills guarantee, the £650 billion infrastructure programme that will generate 425,000 jobs, the £8.7 billion affordable homes programme expected to support up to 370,000 jobs, and the green jobs taskforce, which goes from strength to strength as we work our way towards net zero. I have referred to the extra funding through the health and social care levy, which will include support for care workers, but we will not stop as we help people to progress in work. This Conservative Government and Conservative party want people to prosper as we build back better and level up opportunity across the country.

Tackling poverty through boosting income is one element and we will continue to support people with the cost of living. We have kept the uplift in housing support through the local housing allowance rates, as I mentioned to the hon. Member for York Central (Rachael Maskell), maintaining it in cash terms this financial year. We spend over £6 billion on supporting childcare, which is equivalent overall to about £5,000 per family. As I said to the House, that can be up to £13,000 per family for people on universal credit.

We have increased the automation of matching benefit recipients with energy suppliers to make it easier for the warm home discount to be awarded almost automatically. I was very pleased to see that more mobile and broadband suppliers stepped forward with social tariffs for people, which is why I am delighted to let the House know that we are working with those suppliers to make it easier for them to verify the identity of people seeking those special discounts. I am also leading cross-Government action to do more on tackling poverty and the cost of living, which will help many families with their day-to-day costs.

We have heard that universal credit is flexible and that people are treated individually. I am very aware of the challenges on food insecurity. That is why we included the questions we did in the family resources survey so that we can start to think about how we can direct our policies specifically to those people. As my hon. Friend the Member for South West Hertfordshire (Mr Mohindra) was trying to get out of the shadow Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Jonathan Reynolds), what is accurate—I am pretty sure to say—is that, in 2008, tax credits may have changed, but that was effectively for people in work. What we did not see was a boost in the unemployment benefits, so when the shadow Secretary of State criticises us for putting an extra £20 a week in the pockets of people who were newly unemployed, I do not think that his assertion is defensible.

One thing that the House may see in a couple of years is that, although in the last year of the last Labour Government we saw a reduction in relative poverty, that was largely driven by the fact that higher-paid people were unemployed—we saw a shrink in relative poverty simply because of a statistical anomaly. We have to deal with real-world facts and make sure that the provision of cash, by helping people with their income, is really the way to help them to get on in work but also to help them with the cost of living.

Jonathan Reynolds Portrait Jonathan Reynolds
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It is incredibly generous of the Secretary of State to take an intervention from me on the Front Bench, but if relative poverty is what we are measuring—although Conservative MPs have broadly run away from that measure since saying that they would accept it—I have to say that child poverty in the UK is heading towards 5 million under this Government.

If the Secretary of State wants a discussion about the legacy of 2008, rather than about what is happening today, let me say first that benefits had not been frozen for four years under the Labour Government, so they kept their real-terms value. Secondly, the Secretary of State says that she has put more money into the system, but take the money for housing that she mentioned on Monday. That was not more generosity; it was not a boost; it was funding the level of policy that the Government already had with the 30th percentile. They were not improving on it; they were simply putting in the money that should have been there from the beginning. That is the crucial difference.

Thérèse Coffey Portrait Dr Coffey
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The last Labour Government—admittedly that was quite a long time ago and many Members of this House will not have been serving here then—did not build enough homes. Prices were not tackled, money was not well spent and we were left with no money.

The shadow Secretary of State will be aware that I am not a fan of talking about relative poverty, because it is simply a statistical element. However, since 2010, there have been 60,000 fewer children in absolute poverty before housing costs. Children living in workless households were around five times more likely to be in absolute poverty last year than those in households in which all adults worked. We know that full-time work reduces the chance of being in poverty. Overall, there are also 220,000 fewer pensioners in absolute poverty.