All 2 Mims Davies contributions to the Social Security (Additional Payments) Act 2023

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Mon 6th Mar 2023
Social Security (Additional Payments) (No. 2) Bill
Commons Chamber

Committee stage: Committee of the whole House

Social Security (Additional Payments) (No. 2) Bill Debate

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

Social Security (Additional Payments) (No. 2) Bill

Mims Davies Excerpts
Mims Davies Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Mims Davies)
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I begin by thanking all those who have contributed to this debate, which has been, as the hon. Member for Westminster North (Ms Buck) said, short but important. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions has said, the Bill legislates for two key elements of the £26 billion package of further support announced by the Chancellor in November. It builds on last year’s £37 billion package of support to help with the cost of living, and demonstrates our continued commitment to ensuring that people continue to get the help that they need throughout these challenging times.

The Bill plays a vital role in ensuring that, over the next financial year, we can continue to help the most vulnerable to cope with the increased cost of living brought about by global pressures. We look forward to and welcome continued support from hon. Members across the House, including from Front Benchers, to ensure that the legislation progresses quickly. That ensures that we can begin to make the first payments to those people on means-tested benefits in the spring.

The focus of the debate is on the provisions in the Bill that will give additional support of up to £900 to households on means-tested benefits, and on the separate payment of £150 for people on disability extra costs benefits. The Secretary of State already noted that last year we successfully, at unparalleled pace, delivered tens of millions of payments to people across the UK. That was in addition to our normal benefit processing operations. I pay tribute to my officials at the Department for Work and Pensions and all the civil service teams across Government who worked tirelessly to ensure that happened.

We were able to achieve that delivery because we deliberately kept the eligibility criteria for the payments as simple as possible. Let me respond to hon. Members who asked why. We were keen to avoid introducing complexity, which could ultimately lead to delays and unacceptable levels of error or fraud.

Dean Russell Portrait Dean Russell (Watford) (Con)
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I applaud the additional benefits, but how can my constituents in Watford find out about them? Will there be a communications campaign?

Mims Davies Portrait Mims Davies
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I thank my hon. Friend, who is standing up as ever for his constituents. There is a cost of living website, there will be details on gov.uk and of course there is the benefits calculator on gov.uk. Those who are entitled will not need to do anything, because payment will be made to them. I hope that reiterates the point. There will be a rounded communications campaign on that. In fact, I made a video just this morning. I hope that is helpful—I promise the video was on this issue.

The key principle that has guided our approach to the Bill this time is to make those further payments to millions of vulnerable people over the coming year. Keeping the rules simple means that people on a qualifying benefit will receive the cost of living payment. That is why we are introducing the Bill. I reassure hon. Members across the House, including on the Opposition Benches, that we did take our time to look at addressing some of the hard edges. Ultimately, we concluded that introducing any significant policy changes would risk delaying payments to millions of people and introducing unacceptable levels of fraud and error. I will go into detail on that shortly, if I may.

We will be delivering the means-tested cost of living payments in three separate payments in 2023-24, as discussed, reducing the chances of someone’s missing out altogether. For those who miss out on a cost of living payment, and for others who may need further support with the costs of essentials on top of our statutory provision, we are extending the household support fund throughout the next financial year. The details have been confirmed today.

The extension allows local authorities in England to continue to provide discretionary support with the cost of essentials, particularly energy and food. The devolved Administrations will receive consequential funding, as usual, to spend at their discretion and with their expert local knowledge—[Interruption.] Sorry, I thought someone was interrupting there. The household support fund guidance and outlines have been released today. It is our expectation that local authorities will prioritise those in particular need and consider supporting those who may, through no fault of their own, have missed out on those cost of living payments but nevertheless are in need.

There have been a number of contributions to the debate and I will to try to respond to some of the points made in turn. The right hon. Member for Leicester South (Jonathan Ashworth) talked about the energy price cap. He welcomed our uprating, which is significant. I remind him that childcare on universal credit is more generous than on legacy benefits and the way we have drawn the household support fund will cover many of the points he raised; I hope he will have a chance to look at those interventions. The personalised support with the Help to Claim service, working with the supporting families programme from the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, will help the families with complex needs that the right hon. Gentleman spoke about.

The hon. Member for Glasgow East (David Linden) called this “substandard legislation”, which I take severe issue with, but he took the opportunity to make wider points about social security and talked about the “punitive sanctions regime”. I think we will always beg to differ on that. I make the point very strongly that this is a reserved matter. We are delighted to be making the payments for Scotland and today providing the Barnett consequentials in relation to the household support fund and further assistance—[Interruption.] I am sure he cannot resist intervening, so I will let him.

David Linden Portrait David Linden
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Indeed not. I very much enjoyed being told to eat my cereal today. On the question of sanctions, how many people in Mid Sussex tell the Minister how wonderful the sanctions regime is? It is clearly increasing.

Mims Davies Portrait Mims Davies
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I will come onto the point about sanctions shortly. I know there is confusion among those on the Opposition Benches about whether they support sanctions, but this is about a safety net; it is about progressing and supporting people and helping them to go forward. In reality, when people are sanctioned, it does not just happen. There are processes to go through where work coaches try to engage and support people. If people are disconnected and they fail to attend, that is why they are sanctioned, which is often the reason they then re-engage, talk to their work coach and get involved with what is going on. That helps us to get under the skin of what is holding them back, and I think that is important. I assume from his question that there is a fundamental disagreement, but I will not hold it against him.

My hon. Friend the Member for Broadland (Jerome Mayhew) very kindly turned the focus on to employment. Having been Employment Minister for three years, how can I resist responding to that? A dynamic labour market is important, including the work around furlough, the plan for jobs, and the kickstart and restart schemes—I designed many of those programmes, so it is always nice to have a compliment. In reality, our talented new work coaches—those who we found, recruited and brought into the DWP because of the impact of the pandemic—have been transformational. The other side of this debate is important—it is jobs, it is livelihoods, it is careers, it is opportunities, and it is making sure that people, when at their most vulnerable, know that they have that safety net. I wish my hon. Friend good luck with his jobs fair on 10 March. I have my second in Burgess Hill—this is a great opportunity to mention it.

The right hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) spoke up for his constituents and their fuel requirements. Of course, the energy price guarantee will be key to protecting customers and our constituents, and the household support fund will be a key driver as well. It is absolutely right to focus on our constituents. I have worked very strongly on the household support fund to complement this piece of legislation, working with the Local Government Association, to ensure that we support everyone who comes to us in any situation. I was pleased to hear him talk about the rewards of work and why they matter too. We know that it is more than just a pay packet that we are looking for.

My hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Angela Richardson) spoke about households being squeezed, the cost of living website, and, of course, the fact that the help-to-claim service is there and that all constituencies—no matter how leafy and lovely they may seem—have pockets of challenge. It is absolutely right that we act when we see the impact of a global squeeze. That is absolutely the mark of what we stand for at the DWP. There is the £10 million going to Surrey, and the almost £10 million going to West Sussex just next door to my constituency. What has come out of this and the work that we have done during covid? It is our work with local authorities, which I must commend for stepping up and doing a magnificent job in helping people. They know where those pockets of support are needed. I thank those local offices.

I will quickly whip through some of the challenges made about the legislation. On the adequacy point, inflation is forecast to remain high over the next few months, meaning that many people will need this additional support, but it is important to remember that these payments are just one element announced by the Chancellor back in November. The broader uprating will make a difference.

On the points about housing support, I am working with colleagues at the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities on quality and provision. My party strongly continues to focus on opening up the benefits and freedom of home ownership and all that it gives. The 2020 local housing allowance rates were raised to the 30th percentile—a significant investment of £30 billion—and we have since maintained that increase. Of course, we know that housing costs are incredibly challenging, particularly for renters. That is something that we are working on and taking forward in through the housing taskforce.

Debbie Abrahams Portrait Debbie Abrahams
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Can the Minister say to what extent the measures in the Bill will replace or add to the £34 billion that has been taken out of support for working-age people since 2010?

Mims Davies Portrait Mims Davies
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I understand the hon. Lady’s point, but it is not necessarily this Bill that will answer the challenges that some of our constituents face. It deals with issues that they face in skills, progression and other areas that have been holding them back. Tax credits, for example, quite often trap people in 16-hour contracts when they would be much better off moving on to universal credit and taking more hours, training and opportunities. I say to anybody listening: “Take the opportunities to see what is out there.”

The hon. Member for Glasgow East talked about the disability cost of living payments in the Bill. They are not disability benefits themselves, but rather payments relating to the cost of living increases that a disabled person may face. I hope that answers his point. I have covered some of the issues regarding Scotland, so I will move on swiftly, if I may.

In regard to the point from my hon. Friend the Member for Amber Valley (Nigel Mills) about the 1p payment, we successfully delivered tens of millions of payments in 2022 by keeping the rules simple. That included a simple and clear rule that the person must have been entitled to a payment of at least 1p, as he pointed out. That ensures that those with other income sources are not eligible for means-tested benefits and are not included, nor are suspended benefit claims that include risk of fraud.

I reiterate the point around the household support fund and the three payments. They hopefully mean that if people have fluctuating payments, they have a chance to be eligible once again. That was pointed out by the Chair of the Select Committee, the right hon. Member for East Ham (Sir Stephen Timms), who is not in his place, in terms of how we address those hard edges. Extending the eligibility dates would involve making more payments to those who had permanently increased their earnings, and that is the challenge. That is not the intention of the cost of living payments, which are deliberately targeted at those on the lowest incomes.

My hon. Friend the Member for Amber Valley also mentioned making more payments, and I would like to address that these payments are being made outside our usual benefit processing systems, using our ad hoc payment system. That system has a limit on the number of payments it can make each day, and it can only make one type of payment at one time. That means a team of specialists have to extract and clean the data to make the payments. Having three means-tested cost of living payments and a single disability cost of living payment balances the spread of support throughout the year, but it does not compromise the core benefit delivery, and I hope that answers my hon. Friend’s questions.

I will just quickly answer the question on larger families and then conclude. In regard to how we look at supporting larger families, as I hopefully have outlined, families on means-tested benefits will benefit from our planned uprating of 10.1% from April, meaning that families subject to the benefit cap will also see an increase of 10.1%. In reality, for families who need additional help, we are extending the support through the household support fund. Again, that is linked to the issues around the ad hoc payment system.

I think I have covered most of the points in the debate, but I just quickly mention the sanctions point and reiterate my earlier point to the hon. Member for Glasgow East that sanctioned claimants who re-engage will be supported.

I will conclude, because I feel that people are desperate to be in the Lobbies. This Government demonstrate our commitment to supporting those in the greatest need and going through the greatest challenge with the increased cost of living. It is vital that we move ahead quickly with the legislation, so that we can begin to make those first payments in the spring. I look forward to further discussion as the Bill proceeds through its next stages, and I commend it to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Social Security (Additional Payments) (No. 2) Bill (Programme)

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 83A(7)),

That the following provisions shall apply to the Social Security (Additional Payments) (No. 2) Bill:

Committal

(1) The Bill shall be committed to a Committee of the whole House.

Proceedings in Committee, on Consideration and on Third Reading

(2) Proceedings in Committee and any proceedings on Consideration shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion two hours after the commencement of proceedings in Committee of the whole House.

(3) Proceedings on Third Reading shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion three hours after the commencement of proceedings in Committee of the whole House.

(4) Standing Order No. 83B (Programming committees) shall not apply to proceedings in Committee of the whole House, to any proceedings on Consideration or to proceedings on Third Reading.

Other proceedings

(5) Any other proceedings on the Bill may be programmed.—(Mike Wood.)

Question agreed to.

SOCIAL SECURITY (ADDITIONAL PAYMENTS) (NO. 2) BILL (MONEY)

King’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 (Additional Payments) (No. 2) Bill, it is expedient to authorise the payment out of money provided by Parliament of:

(1) a sum not exceeding £301 to anyone who is entitled, in respect of a day (the “first qualifying day”) not later than 30 April 2023, to–

(a) universal credit or state pension credit,

(b) an income-based jobseeker’s allowance, an income-related employment and support allowance or income support, or

(c) working tax credit or child tax credit;

(2) a sum not exceeding £300 to anyone who is entitled, in respect of a day (the “second qualifying day”) after the first qualifying day but not later than 31 October 2023, to a benefit mentioned in paragraph (1);

(3) a sum not exceeding £299 to anyone who is entitled, in respect of a day after the second qualifying day but not later than 29 February 2024, to a benefit mentioned in paragraph (1);

(4) a sum not exceeding £150 to anyone who is entitled, in respect of a day not later than 30 June 2023, to–

(a) a disability living allowance,

(b) a personal independence payment,

(c) an attendance allowance or a constant attendance allowance,

(d) an adult or child disability payment,

(e) an armed forces independence payment, or

(f) a mobility supplement.—(Mike Wood.)

Question agreed to.

Social Security (Additional Payments) (No. 2) Bill Debate

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

Social Security (Additional Payments) (No. 2) Bill

Mims Davies Excerpts
Wendy Chamberlain Portrait Wendy Chamberlain
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It is a pleasure to move amendment 4 on behalf of my party.

Additional support for struggling families is much welcomed, and I am pretty sure that no one in the Committee would oppose the provision of more help through the Bill. What my amendment seeks to do is ensure that those struggling families receive that support now, rather than having to wait. It has been a long cold winter, and we are expecting another cold snap this week, so it certainly is not over yet.

While the energy price guarantee has protected families from the worst increases, some households have seen their bills increase two, three or possibly even four times in the past year. We know from the scandal of the forced instalment of prepayment meters that many people have been unable to keep up with those bills, and that for many of them the debts continue to mount up. Hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of others are walking a tightrope—just managing payments, sometimes late, by making other cutbacks: being cold, eating less, or reducing travel. If we are not just to get those families back on an even keel but to help them to stay there, it is vital for the full cost of living payment that the Government wish to make to be made immediately—especially, I would argue, in the face of the impending increase in the energy price guarantee. We have all seen reports in the media over the last few days that the Government may well choose to extend that guarantee. I am sure you might have some thoughts, Dame Rosie, on whether that announcement ought to be made here before being briefed to the press. We cannot fully assess the impact of this Bill, given that we do not know for definite what is happening with the energy price guarantee, so we are left to make assumptions accordingly.

In any case, whether the guarantee lasts for another month or as, my party wants, for more months than that along with a reduction in the energy price guarantee to the Ofgem cap of £1,971 last April, cost of living support payments must be made now to have any impact. We are seeing a reduction in wholesale gas costs, which is why we argue that the Government can do more than they are outlining because they have the headroom to do so. What is the point in people paying some or even all of their bills, only to start struggling all over again? For people to get all the other benefits of affording the basics—being warm enough and fed enough to work, go to school and stay healthy—support needs to be geared to preventing them from falling below that line in the first place.

Moving on from my amendment 4 to the remainder of the Bill, I am left wondering if this really is it. You do not need to be a politician to know that this country is in crisis, although if you are a politician and have a modicum of responsibility or power, it is critical that you realise the severity of the situation. Just turning on the TV, opening a newspaper, speaking to parents at the school gate or spending any time out and about in our communities makes it very clear what is happening.

The difficulties felt by different communities vary, and that is what the Liberal Democrats’ new clause 8, and to some extent new clause 3, seek to address. For a lot of my constituents living in relatively rural North East Fife, the crisis is exacerbated by their countryside location, without easy access to local services and battling against unrelenting fuel costs. What I hear from them time and again is that they feel they are being let down. Farmers, for example, work long days seven days a week, without let-up and never taking a holiday, to provide the rest of us with the food that goes on our plates, but they are being left with next to no support for their fuel costs, no protection against foreign imports and no ability to plan for the future under the Government’s funding streams.

As has been mentioned many times in this House, many rural households rely on heating oil. I have discussed the price guarantee already, but heating oil is not even covered by that. Costs have almost doubled, yet those households have received just one £200 payment—that is if they have managed to receive it at all. We know that the system has been beset by practical difficulties. We have also seen the continued delays in the roll-out of the alternative fuel payment scheme. Applications are now open, but despite reassurances there has been no support for many until now. And when the shop—or too often now, the food bank—is not just around the corner for those in rural communities, they need to travel just for the basics. They cannot avoid getting into the car and paying for petrol, and although petrol and diesel prices have gone up everywhere this year, we always see much faster increases in rural areas.

Those in rural households are not the only group to suffer because of rising energy costs and fuel poverty. As has been discussed in this place before, disabled people have much higher living costs. I recently met representatives of Disability Rights UK, one of the organisations leading the Disability Poverty Campaign Group, as well as representatives from the Liberal Democrat Disability Association, and their message was clear: the additional £150 payment for people on disability benefits is so lacklustre as to be grotesquely offensive. It shows that the Government are taking no interest in, and making no effort to understand, the reality of the lives and expenses of disabled people.

Disabled people are not all the same: they have a wide variety of unique needs, which I cannot cover here, but I shall give just a few examples. Imagine someone needing a hoist to safely manoeuvre between their bed and their wheelchair, but being unable to charge that hoist and having to watch their family risk their own health by lifting them unsafely. Or perhaps think about someone being unable to charge their electric wheelchair and becoming unable to mobilise even around their home to get to the toilet or to fetch a cup of tea.

Perhaps someone’s partner has a spinal injury and is incontinent, but they cannot afford to run their washing machine every day or to properly heat their water, so they find themselves washing dirty clothes by hand in lukewarm water. Perhaps someone’s child has cystic fibrosis and needs a nutritious high-calorie diet, but with 10% inflation—we know it is worse for food inflation —and shortages, they themselves are having to skip meals to let their child eat instead. It should not take a donation from an international celebrity to reassure families of the disabled that they can keep their homes warm and essential equipment functioning. There are many ways in which disabled people incur additional costs, all of which are incredibly important and all of which demand support additional to what the Government are offering in this Bill.

Unpaid carers, on the other hand, are not even explicitly considered in this package of support. I will not labour the point, as I have said all this before, but not all unpaid carers receive means-tested benefits, and given that the vast majority of them live on or close to the poverty line, they are also badly in need of cost of living support. I would like to say that they are unsung heroes, but I have been singing their praises and calling for more support since the start of the crisis and I am starting to think that the Government do not want to hear it.

Dame Eleanor, it is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, and I am sure that everybody in the Chamber will welcome you back.

Overall, my concern about the Bill, as we consider it clause by clause, is that it is just a sticking plaster that will not truly keep our communities afloat during this crisis. Fuel poverty is widening and deepening; meanwhile, energy companies continue to rake in record profits. The Government must make suppliers act responsibly towards consumers. I acknowledge that it is not just the political response that is causing trouble for my constituents, as an astounding number of them have come to me with problems including being charged incorrectly, often more than they should be, and sometimes by companies that they are not even with. Electricity is a vital service, so surely this type of predatory behaviour cannot be allowed.

Food poverty continues to soar. As early as last April to September, before the worst of this crisis and before winter took hold, the Trussell Trust reported its busiest ever spring and summer, with a 45% increase in the number of families needing its support. The figures will only have gone up since then, and I am not convinced that this package will help, especially with the payments spread out so far. We know that when the £20 universal credit uplift was in place during covid, food bank use went down. How we stop families going hungry or relying on food packages is a vital conversation, and one that needs more time for discussion, so I encourage all Members present to come to the report launch of the all-party parliamentary group on ending the need for food banks on 22 March to hear more on the outcome of our “Cash or Food?” inquiry.

In the long term, to end the need for additional cost of living payments we need economic growth, we need more people able to work and we need a healthier society. Poverty is the enemy of all those things. Poverty breeds worse health outcomes, it makes people cold and hungry and it drives away hope and drive. That is nobody’s fault except those who choose to look away and do nothing, and that is why we need the Government to review reinstating the uplift to universal credit and extending it to legacy benefits. It is why carer’s allowance needs reforming, and it is why we need all the cost of living payments at once, now, as a circuit breaker.

I want to end by reflecting on the words of one of my constituents who got in touch with me over the winter. He is a 79-year-old gentleman who struggles to heat his home and who has a mixture of health difficulties. He said:

“Maybe it would be better if I wasn’t alive, for everyone else’s benefit.”

He cannot wait for April to October and then again for months for additional support, so with him in mind, I urge Members to support amendment 4.

Mims Davies Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Mims Davies)
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It is a pleasure to see you chairing the Committee this afternoon, Dame Eleanor.

I thank hon. Members for the useful debate on Second Reading and I welcome this opportunity for a more detailed examination of the Bill in Committee. Clause 1 enables the Government to make three separate cost of living payments of £301, £300 and £299 to individuals or couples with a qualifying entitlement to an income-related social security benefit or tax credit. I have listened carefully to the hon. Member for North East Fife (Wendy Chamberlain). We have looked in the round at what we have done before, and I want to set out strongly to the Committee that we have worked very hard, whether on the household support fund or on this Bill, to support the most vulnerable through the really tough times that she described. I hope to give the Committee answers that will show that.

To be clear, the clause sets out that the qualifying days for each of the cost of living payments will be specified in secondary regulations, which will help to minimise work disincentives and fraud risks. In response to amendments 4, 5 and 6, it might be helpful if I clarify for the hon. Lady that the dates set out in clause 1 are backstop dates, meaning the latest possible qualification dates that could be set out in regulations. Bringing those dates forward could not achieve the amendment’s desired effect, although I understand the sentiment.

In any event, making all cost of living payments by 1 April 2023 would not support our ambition to spread the support through 2023 and into 2024. In fact, we have increased the number of payments from those made in 2022, having listened and engaged with the feedback from MPs across the land. This ensures that as many people as possible will qualify for a payment at some point, including those who become entitled to a qualifying benefit later in the year and those whose earnings fluctuate from month to month. Making all the payments in one lump sum would mean that more people miss out.

I understand the hon. Lady’s point, but I must be robust in saying that we simply cannot do what she suggests, as it runs contrary to what we should be doing in spreading out support for the most vulnerable. It is also the total opposite of the Select Committee’s request for more payments. I hope she understands that and will withdraw her amendment.

--- Later in debate ---
Hywel Williams Portrait Hywel Williams
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May I state my delight at seeing you back in the Chair, Madam Deputy Speaker? I support new clause 14. My constituency has a very high level of self-employment, as I indicated in my intervention on the hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Sir Robert Neill), but it also has a large and active television industry, surprisingly to some people, considering that it is at the far end of Welsh-speaking Wales. Most of the TV is in Welsh. The new clause is on an issue that has an impact on us.

I mainly want to speak in favour of new clause 2, which is in the name of my hon. Friends in the Scottish National party, and in favour of the amendments that they have proposed. I support the requirement for an assessment of the latest cost of living support package that the Government have announced. The hon. Member for North East Fife (Wendy Chamberlain) said that the cost of living payments, although necessary, are a sticking-plaster, and I would repeat that. The payments are inferior to ensuring that benefits keep up with the real cost of living. The Institute for Fiscal Studies has shown that almost half of all families with three or more children on means-tested benefits would have been better off if the Government had not introduced cost of living payments, but had instead just ensured that benefits kept pace with inflation.

Benefit-receiving households where people were in receipt of disability benefits, or were in paid work, were less likely to have been properly compensated for the failure to uprate flat-rate cost of living payments in good time. That is another matter that needs to be looked at. I understand that the cost of living payments will result in the Government spending around £2 billion more on recipients of means-tested or disability benefits in 2023-24 than would have been needed simply to raise ordinary benefits in line with inflation. We really do need a full, detailed analysis by the Government, showing why they think that these ad-hoc payments are an appropriate way to distribute support fairly.

When it comes to living standards and social security, it is important that we recognise the differential effect across the nations of the UK—a point I referred to earlier. The Bevan Foundation’s latest research shows that even before the pandemic, around one in eight people lived in deep poverty in Wales. Around one in 30 has such low income that they live in destitution. New clause 2, proposed by my hon. Friends in the SNP, would require an analysis of the cost of living payments that considered the differing policy contexts in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

In Wales, we have the shameful record of having the highest proportion of children living in poverty of any nation in the UK. An analysis of how the cost of living payments will play out in Wales might reveal significant differences between the system in my country and the partially devolved benefits systems in Scotland and Northern Ireland. For instance, the Scottish child payment of £25 was a bold step towards tackling child poverty. It was one of the wider reforms that the IFS said was part of a trend in which the Scottish Government are using their devolved income tax and benefits powers to increase the progressivity of the tax and benefit system. That is something that we dearly need in Wales. Had we a similar payment in Wales, our tragically high levels of child poverty would surely be reduced. We also have a higher proportion of disabled people in Wales. An analysis by the disability equality charity Scope estimates that the extra costs faced by disabled people average £583 a month.

These are just a few examples showing why we need a Wales-specific analysis of the cost of living payments and how they interact with wider social security policy. Such an analysis would most certainly strengthen the argument for devolution of social security to Wales, I believe—understandably so, as that is my party’s policy. I am told that new clause 2 will not be pushed to a vote tonight, but I hope that the Government accept its logic, and provide for a proper analysis of changes to social security—an analysis that specifically takes into account the impact in Wales.

Mims Davies Portrait Mims Davies
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It is a pleasure to respond to points made this evening. I thank all hon. Members for their contributions and discussions. I take this opportunity to fully, strongly assure all Members that policy officials in my team at DWP and I have looked roundly at the cliff edges and the challenges in getting these payments out swiftly. This will very much link to the household support fund, and the learnings from that. I can reassure the Chair of the Select Committee, the right hon. Member for East Ham (Sir Stephen Timms), that there will be strong communications and engagement with local authorities for anybody who may be missing out. I hope that reassures my hon. Friends and colleagues.

Clause 2 sets out in more detail the eligibility criteria and the means test for the cost of living payments. I have covered much of clause 1, but I will come back to that briefly, if I may. The eligibility criteria, as we have heard, are similar to those in the Social Security (Additional Payments) Act 2022. We know from making those tens of millions of payments last year that keeping the policy simple is essential to delivering the payments successfully and to those most in need.

--- Later in debate ---
David Linden Portrait David Linden
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Will the Minister give way?

Mims Davies Portrait Mims Davies
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I will just make a little progress, and I am sure the hon. Gentleman will want to jump in again shortly.

Ultimately, this is about parity between taxpayers and those people who are seeking support. As I say, we have targeted communications in place to make it clear to customers that our work coaches are there to help, whatever their circumstances. Whether it is getting advice, boosting people’s skills, or identifying opportunities for progression, anybody looking for support should speak to their work coach to access all the help that the DWP can offer.

David Linden Portrait David Linden
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

On amendment 2, the fact of the matter is that people have already been punished once by being sanctioned. This is a cost of living payment in recognition of inflation and high energy bills. Why on earth does the Minister think it is appropriate for 6,600 households to have been sanctioned and punished twice last year, and why is she allowing legislation to go forward that allows people to be punished twice again? That is the simple question.

Mims Davies Portrait Mims Davies
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I thank the hon. Gentleman for making his points, and I simply do not agree with the point about punishment. Conditionality works on both sides, and I think it is important that people play their part. I will come on to further comments about that shortly.

Sally-Ann Hart Portrait Sally-Ann Hart (Hastings and Rye) (Con)
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I welcome the additional payments, but Conservative Members know that employment is the best way out of poverty, and part of getting people back into employment is the conditionality of universal credit. One key benefit of universal credit is that there is a clear incentive for claimants to get into work, preventing them from becoming trapped in welfare, which then creates a dependency. I know the Minister will explain this to the Committee, but I want to stress the importance of this in Hastings and Rye where, at the moment, one in five people—20%—are on out-of-work benefits by choice. I reiterate the importance of conditionality in gaining employment.

Mims Davies Portrait Mims Davies
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I thank my hon. Friend, and she makes the point extremely eloquently. This is much more about getting people into work and progressing; it is not about some punitive sanctions regime. This is about individuals being supported to best progress. On those people who engage with us during the qualifying period, as long as they attend, we will be supporting them if there is any particular reason that they cannot engage with us, if they have good cause.

Amendment 3 would extend the qualifying period for universal credit over two months rather than one. I understand the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Amber Valley. Keeping the eligibility dates as close as possible to payment reduces administrative challenges such as out-of-date contact or bank details, and including two assessment periods extends the amount of time between eligibility and payment. [Interruption.] Sorry, but the hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire (Amy Callaghan) was speaking. In this time, individuals will have the opportunity to—

Amy Callaghan Portrait Amy Callaghan
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Will the Minister give way?

Mims Davies Portrait Mims Davies
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I will let the hon. Lady intervene, because she is making a racket.

Amy Callaghan Portrait Amy Callaghan
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On sanctions, I appreciate the Minister giving way, and I thought she might enjoy a second just to reflect on some of the guff that she has been spouting. [Interruption.] I would say “guff” is a suitable word. I am absolutely scunnered by what she is saying, and I know my constituents will be too, given the high rate of sanctions in my constituency.

Mims Davies Portrait Mims Davies
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I thank the hon. Lady, and I think the point here is that this is not solely about sanctions. As we heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough (Paul Bristow), this is about getting cost of living payments to the people most in need at this challenging time. SNP Members are continually talking about sanctions, and never talking about getting people into work and progressing. It is a continual bleating, and I think it is right that the hon. Lady reassesses the word “guff” in relation to fairness between the taxpayer and those people who of course need to be engaging with work coaches. It is important that we know what is happening with our claimants. Leaving people to their own devices and not seeing what is going on is no way to support them, and I do hope that SNP Members will look at that.

I am going to talk a little more about sanction cases: 97.6% of sanctions in the quarter up to October 2022 were applied for failing to attend a mandatory appointment at a jobcentre. These cases can often be resolved quickly by engaging with claimants, so that they turn up to the next appointment. If someone with no universal credit award due to sanctions re-engages with us, they could get one of the later cost of living payments. That is why it was so important that we look at those hard edges, and as I have told the Committee, we did look at them.

Clause 3 sets out the eligibility criteria for each cost of living payment, based on the entitlement of child tax credit or working tax credit. This clause ensures that only individuals who have been paid tax credits by HMRC in respect of a day in the qualifying period will receive a cost of living payment. Clause 4 is applicable to those who are entitled to more than one social security benefit or tax credit, so that they do not get duplicate cost of living payments.

Clause 5, on the additional payment for disability, means that there is a cost of living payment of £150 for people who receive an eligible benefit, and this will enable us to make payments to up to 6 million people. I fully recognise that disabled people may be likely to face extra costs to deal with the impact of higher inflation, as we have heard in the Chamber this evening, so I am pleased that we can make this additional payment. I can also confirm that many will qualify for both the disability payment and means-tested benefits, to a maximum of £1,050 in total in what is covered by this Bill.

Let me make a little progress in trying to whip through the clauses. On the administration of the payments, clause 6 makes appropriate arrangements for the recovery of overpaid cost of living payments. This means that, where a cost of living payment is overpaid, including as a result of fraud, recovery rules that apply to its qualifying benefit will apply to the cost of living payment. Cost of living payments are paid automatically, without the need to claim, and there is no separate right of appeal against a decision on entitlement. Individuals can, of course, exercise their right of appeal against the decision on entitlement in relation to the relevant qualifying benefit.

Clause 7, on the co-operation between the Secretary of State and HMRC, allows for relevant data to be shared to ensure that cost of living payments reach the right people, and to avoid the duplication of payments. In the event that a payment is made by HMRC when it should have been made by the DWP, or the other way around, this clause allows us to treat the payment as if it was made by the correct Department, and it avoids the need for recovery of cost of living payments in these circumstances.

I am pleased to confirm to Members that clause 8—on payments to be disregarded for the purpose of tax and social security—ensures that any additional payments made are exempt from tax, will not affect a person’s entitlement to social security benefits or tax credits, and are not subject to the benefit cap. This means that every person who is entitled to a cost of living payment will receive every penny in their pockets.

Clause 9 amends the Social Security (Additional Payments) Act 2022 to ensure that provisions relating to overpayments and recovery of the qualifying disability benefit also apply to disability cost of living payments. This clause also amends regulations made by HMRC to simplify and clarify their position on the recovery of overpaid cost of living payments in the next financial year. These are essentially tidying-up provisions that modify existing legislation to clarify our policy intention.

Clause 10 sets out the definition and interpretation of certain terms used in the Bill. Clause 11 explains the procedure for the laying of regulations. Clause 12 defines the territorial extent of the Bill and specifies that its provisions extend to England, Wales, Scotland and now to Northern Ireland. These are standard clauses.

I will briefly respond to new clauses 1, 2, 3, 7, 8 and 14 laid respectively by the hon. Members for Glasgow East (David Linden), for Oldham East and Saddleworth (Debbie Abrahams) and for North East Fife (Wendy Chamberlain) and my hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Sir Robert Neill).

New clause 1 appears to require the Government to publish analysis of the impact on household incomes of an earlier backstop date for the second and third qualifying day. New clauses 2, 3, 7, 8 and 14 require the Government to publish analysis on the impacts of the Bill on various groups, and I would point to a number of existing analytical publications. The Treasury has already published a distributional analysis of the autumn statement decisions; this shows the impact of the cost of living payments on households across the income distribution. Alongside this Bill, we have published an impact analysis which uses administrative data to look at the characteristics of those receiving the cost of living payments. This includes consideration of different characteristics such as age, gender and geographical location, including England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. My Department’s annual “Household below average income” publication looks at numbers in both relative and absolute low income and covers a wide range of characteristics, as I have mentioned.

I am pleased to say that my Department is planning an evaluation of the cost of living payments. In addition, we will consider what further information we can release in future. I hope, given the amount of data we are making available, hon. Members will withdraw these amendments.

Mims Davies Portrait Mims Davies
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Finally, I would like to mention the minimum income floor, which I think my hon. Friend wants to raise. He has spoken this evening to the Minister for Employment about fluctuating earnings; I entirely understand the challenges that he has set forward in Committee and I know that he will be meeting the Minister. I worked in media where there are fluctuating earnings and fully understand the points he and others have made; we do not think, however, that it is right for the state to provide indefinite support through the welfare system for those who persistently declare low earnings from self-employment.

Robert Neill Portrait Sir Robert Neill
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I am glad that the Minister recognises that that was not the point made in relation to creative industries. I am grateful for the constructive approach by her colleague the Minister for Employment towards a meeting. I hope that we can have a meeting with the relevant all-party groups so that Ministers can directly hear the views of those who work in the sector and, as suggested by the right hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell), find a constructive way forward which we can all sign up to.

Mims Davies Portrait Mims Davies
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I thank my hon. Friend and agree that it is right that we raise the situation of that sector. He has made his point and we have heard from other Members across the House about the same scenarios.

New clause 13 tabled by the hon. Member for North East Fife requires us to make all payments under this Act by 1 April. As I previously stated, we have deliberately staggered payments over the course of the next year to ensure that as many people as possible will qualify for a payment at some point. I therefore ask the hon. Member to withdraw the motion.

I think I have made all my points.

Wendy Chamberlain Portrait Wendy Chamberlain
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I am grateful to the Minister for giving me a short time to reply. I accept that amendments 4, 5 and 6 are fairly blunt instruments, but during the debate I heard from both sides of the Committee, including the Government side, that we want to get money to people as soon as possible. The purpose of our amendments is to ensure we can do that. Giving people in need cash gives them dignity as well; it gives them choice, as I have heard in my role as co-chair of the all-party group on ending the need for food banks. The hon. Member for Glasgow East (David Linden) raised inflation, too, and giving people money now would help them ameliorate that. Amendment 4 merely asks the Government to make a payment at the start, rather than the end, of April, so I will not withdraw it.

Question put, That the amendment be made.

--- Later in debate ---
Mims Davies Portrait Mims Davies
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I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

The Bill legislates for two key elements of the substantial package of further support that the Chancellor announced in November. It builds on our £37 billion package to help with the cost of living last year, demonstrating our continued commitment to the most vulnerable during these challenging times. This hugely important legislation lays the foundations for cost of living payments to millions of households. It underpins the Government’s commitment to supporting people across the country who we know face increased financial pressures over the next year. We have legislated to uprate benefits and pensions by 10.1%, have extended the household support fund and are supporting people with energy costs.

I am delighted by the spirit in which the Bill has been received, for which I thank Members across the House. Frankly, I do not agree with the hon. Member for Glasgow East (David Linden) about sanctions and conditionality, but I appreciate his arguments; I can promise him that we always look at individual circumstances and are fully focused on positive engagement with our claimants and on always being fair to the taxpayer. Despite the spirit in which the hon. Member for North East Fife (Wendy Chamberlain) pressed her amendments in Committee, it simply was not possible to deliver what she asked, so I think we are absolutely right to have moved forward in a different way this evening.

I thank the hon. Member for Westminster North (Ms Buck) for raising issues around larger families. She feels that perhaps there could be a better solution. I can say honestly that we looked very strongly at whether there were any better solutions, but unfortunately we could not find them. I take her point, however, and fully appreciate the points about the flat rate with respect to larger families.

Let me reiterate that these payments are being made through the DWP’s ad hoc payments system, which does have some limitations. For instance, it can only make one type of payment of a single value at a time. However, for the families whom the hon. Lady describes who need additional help, we are extending the household support fund in England throughout 2023-24, while the devolved Administrations will receive Barnett consequentials to spend at their discretion, with the benefit of their local knowledge. I know that Opposition Members feel strongly about that. I ask all Members to look at the benefits calculator on gov.uk and at the Help for Households website, which can help all their constituents.

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has set out the Government’s priority, which is to see inflation halved this year. It is, of course, good news that we have already seen small decreases, with greater decreases forecast for later this year. However, we have recognised the need to act to support people now, which is why, through this Bill alone, we are providing additional support of up to £1,050 for low-income and vulnerable households across the UK. Last year we delivered, successfully and at an unparalleled pace, tens of millions of payments to people throughout the country. We were able to achieve that because we deliberately kept the eligibility criteria for the payments as simple as possible, avoiding the complexity that could lead to delays and unacceptable levels of fraud or, indeed, error. These are the key principles that have guided our approach to the Bill.

I thank all Members for their contributions to, and engagement with, today’s debate and the Second Reading debate last month. I am grateful to Opposition Members who do not agree with the finer detail of the Bill for supporting the overall package that the Government have presented to Parliament. We have looked at all the feedback about how people can best be supported through difficult times. I am grateful, in particular, to the Chair of the Select Committee, the right hon. Member for East Ham (Sir Stephen Timms), for his measured interventions and his scrutiny of the Bill. I pay tribute to my policy officials—the Bill team—for making all these key payments possible, and for all the other work that they have done.

Let me end by underlining the point made earlier by my hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough (Paul Bristow), who is not currently in the Chamber. The Bill will enable the Government to start making additional payments soon to millions of families throughout the country to help them to become better off, and I commend it to the House.