I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his experience and insight. I have met the ministerial disability champions already to ensure: that disability inclusion is a priority and is ultimately delivered in their Departments’ work; that they continue to be accountable for their contribution to the development and delivery of the national disability strategy and the disability action plan; and that they continue to show their commitment to disabled people by creating opportunities, protecting their rights and ensuring action on everything that we have spoken about today, in terms of contributions to society.
On making playgrounds more accessible and my hon. Friend’s impeccable work in his constituency, there is a lot of information on disability inclusion in organised sport, physical activity and exercise, but information on making playgrounds accessible is unfortunately not easily available. We want to make it available, work with the partners he mentioned and achieve best practice among local authorities. That will be part of this plan, and we will measure its delivery in six months and 12 months.
I have huge regard for the Minister, but I gently say to her that we must recognise the context of this disability action plan. Between 2011 and 2020, the equivalent of £20 billion was cut from working-age people, predominantly disabled people. Individually, they lost thousands of pounds every year, as my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Vicky Foxcroft) pointed out. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s “UK Poverty 2024” report identified that disabled people have been disproportionately impacted by that, and are likely to suffer deep poverty and destitution. On the Government’s commitment, I hope that the Minister can reassure me: it is approaching two years since the Equality and Human Rights Commission found that the Department was discriminating against disabled people and issued a section 23 notice, and we still have heard nothing from the Department on that. Could the Minister reassure us that it will publish something on that in the next few weeks, and certainly before the second anniversary of that notice?
I thank the hon. Lady for her points. I know that she has long been pushing for a response, and I will write to her further on that matter. As I said to the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Vicky Foxcroft), there has been substantial cost of living support, but I understand the point about disability costs that has been made today. Again, I point people towards the household support fund, which is there for exactly those additional costs. In fact, we are doing research and evaluation on where that support is going, and it is making a difference to people’s daily lives. I want those people to know that, beyond the cost of living payments, which start again tomorrow, further support is available through their local authorities or from devolved moneys.
I thank my hon. Friend for making that point. We are legislating this afternoon for the three further cost of living payments for the next financial year, ensuring that more people are eligible for support and that we are reaching the most vulnerable. The payments will be worth up to £900, with a further £300 for pensioners and £150 for those with a disability. In Rother Valley, we estimate that 10,600 households will be eligible for means-tested cost of living payments, and that 11,800 households will be eligible for disability cost of living support.
It has been nearly 12 months since the Equality and Human Rights Commission issued a section 23 notice against the Department for Work and Pensions, following concerns about the deaths of and discrimination against disabled claimants. Has an agreement yet been reached, and, if not, when will it be?
I thank the hon. Lady for her point. I am assured by the Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work that constructive conversations are ongoing and that this matter is being taken seriously. I am sure that he will have the hon. Lady’s question.
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.
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:
(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.
(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,
That the Committee has considered the Health and Safety and Nuclear (Fees) Regulations 2022 (S.I. 2022, No. 1378).
It is a real pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. The regulations were laid before Parliament on 20 December 2022 and came into force on 21 December 2022.
The regulations correct an error in the powers used to make the Health and Safety and Nuclear (Fees) Regulations 2021. The error was an unfortunate oversight, whereby pressures on the Government Legal Department, or GLD, due to the volume of covid, Brexit and trade agreement work resulted in a referencing error not being picked up in the checks. The HSE and the GLD regret the error and are taking suitable steps to reduce the risk of this happening again. The error was identified by the GLD in a recent review.
The urgency to make the regulations arose from the need to use the powers in the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 before they expired on 31 December 2022, thereby avoiding the requirement for primary legislation. This instrument has had to be made by the affirmative procedure and debated in both Houses, because that is what the 2018 Act specifies.
I hope the hon. Member for Bradford East will agree that the instrument in non-contentious—[Interruption.] We will find out. It repeats the previous regulations, with some minor technical changes. The preamble to the Health and Safety and Nuclear (Fees) Regulations 2021 did not cite one of the enabling powers, and was not made with the consent of the Treasury, for certain fees for chemical regulation functions transferred from the EU. Vitally, the correction ensures that the HSE can continue to recover its costs for those functions.
The preamble in the 2021 regulations refers to paragraph 7 of schedule 4 to the 2018 Act, but it should have also referenced paragraph 1 of schedule 4, to give the powers for the provisions that allow charging for certain regulatory activity around biocides and classification labelling and packaging, or CLP. In addition, the same error was repeated in later regulations, which contained a series of amendments to the mirrored powers in the 2021 regulations. This instrument simply corrects that error.
Biocides and the CLP provisions—the classification, labelling and packaging provisions—in the fees regulations of 2022 rely on paragraph 1 of schedule 4, so consent from Her Majesty’s Treasury is required, as referenced in paragraph 3 of that schedule. I can assure my fellow Members of Parliament that consent for this has indeed been given and that a rigorous checking process is now in place, which would normally ensure that errors are identified before instruments are laid. I am keen to rectify the error and do not want to detain the Committee.
I re-emphasise that the instrument is a restatement of the fees regulations of 2021—with the correct powers cited in the preamble—for which Her Majesty’s Treasury’s consent has now been obtained. These changes put beyond doubt the ability for HSE to charge fees for certain biocides and CLP regulatory activity. I stress to the Committee that the instrument makes no changes to policy or duties.
I do not believe that to be the case. There has always been a cost-recovery scheme, which is the reason that the HSE is so eminent in the field and able to work globally to share its ability to lead. I am happy to write directly to the hon. Lady, because that might be helpful, and I can also put a copy of the letter in the Library to be helpful.
I must say, it is not Her Majesty’s Treasury—I apologise to the Committee. The Vice-Chamberlain of His Majesty’s Household, my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St Edmunds, who is sitting next to me, pointed that out. I am sure my team will be rewriting any future speeches accordingly, and I will be checking them even more thoroughly.
The instrument makes no changes to policy or duties although, as explained in the explanatory memorandum, it corrects some minor technical errors. I hope that my colleagues in all parties join me in supporting the new regulations, which I commend to the Committee.
I thank hon. Members for their comments. I will come on to the points made by the hon. Member for Hemsworth after I cover some of the questions from the hon. Member for Bradford East.
As for why the new statutory instrument is required, the 2022 fees regulations correct an error in the powers used to make the fees regulations in 2021. Indeed, that error needed to be corrected urgently, before the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 power expired on 31 December 2022.
To explain why the error occurred, it simply was an unfortunate oversight due to the pressures and volume of work, and it was not picked up as a result. I reassure the hon. Gentleman that the lessons are being learned, which I am sure that he was asking me about.
On what is being done more widely, to ensure that such errors do not happen again, the HSE and the GLD have completed a full review of the lessons learned. The Committee will perhaps be pleased to know that that has identified some practical actions that can be taken for better ways of working between the GLD and HSE policy officials. I have had the honour of being the HSE Minister twice, and I can say that it is a very complicated area, and I have always looked to my officials and the experts in regard to this, so it is important that we strengthen that relationship.
On the sufficiency of resourcing, we know that that was a particularly acute area of demand and—I have done quite a few Committees myself—it is a rarity that we have to have a Committee for an exceptional case like this. I welcome the new Members, the hon. Member for City of Chester and the hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston to our Committee; this is not an often-undertaken issue.
The GLD will also undertake rigorous prioritisation of its work to mitigate that increased demand. Hopefully, that should reassure the Committee. We are ensuring that we understand the impact of the error.
The hon. Member for Oldham East and Saddleworth asked about the impact on one particular area. About £25,000 was charged across the industry under the powers related to the error. However, HSE judged that there is a low chance of any case being brought, due to the amount of money involved. That is why we are rectifying it extremely quickly. HSE will continue to manage any legal implications on a case-by-case basis.
I am grateful to the Minister for that response. Members here will be aware of yesterday’s report from Western Australia about Rio Tinto losing a radioactive capsule. Does the Minister have confidence, given these drafting errors about something that is quite important and relates to a key industry, that that sort of thing could not happen in the UK?
I undertake to learn from the lessons that the hon. Lady pointed to. I have a lot of work to scrutinise in this area. The hon. Member for Bradford East laid down the gauntlet to ensure that we get things right, and that has been squarely held and heard in this Committee.
The charges range from £500 to £5,000 per company involved. It is important for us to reiterate that the HSE as a whole operates a cost-recovery funding model, which we are building on. That financial model is an integral part of keeping the HSE sustainable. Being unable to recoup costs is a challenge for its regulatory work around biocides and other matters, which is why we are fixing this.
It is important that we ensure an effective regime. Members are right to challenge that today. We have an incredibly good and clear strategy for the next 10 years to address any risks related to charging work in a changing world. Just before the Committee, I was discussing this matter and wider matters with HSE leadership.
The hon. Member for Hemsworth made points around the Office for Nuclear Regulation. To be clear to the Committee, that is a totally separate public corporation and it is outside the remit of HSE. It is not HSE’s responsibility and it sits with another Minister, but I will ensure that those points that are on the record are responded to, as they have been made in the Committee.
This is a very successful programme, helping jobseekers, including in my right hon. Friend’s constituency, get an opportunity to develop the key new skills that employers are looking for, including through training and work experience, and a guaranteed job interview in that new sector. I am delighted to be able to say that we have surpassed our delivery goal, with over 146,000 SWAPs having been started since April 2020.
The hon. Lady makes an important point about progressing; there is a focus on that at DWP and I hope the Select Committee she serves on will have a look at it, because we have just mentioned two areas where this is working for people and filling vacancies that need to be filled. We will be filling half a million new jobs by the summer through our Way to Work campaign; that will help people progress, and I hope the hon. Lady will welcome it.
I, too, congratulate the hon. Member for Motherwell and Wishaw (Marion Fellows) on securing this debate on the importance of the United Nations convention on the rights of persons with disabilities. It is a pleasure to respond, and I thank all hon. Members for their insightful contributions. I am here on behalf of the Minister for Disabled People, who is disappointed that she cannot be here today, due to a medical appointment.
The principles in the UN convention are at the heart of the Government’s approach. We remain fully committed to the treaty, which we ratified in 2009, as has been mentioned, and to our obligations under it. No one wants to see any of their constituents held back from fulfilling their potential. I reassure all hon. Members that the UK Government and the devolved Administrations share the common goal to improve the lives of disabled people in the UK.
I will just make some progress, if I may. I would also like to share with the House that for nearly 30 years, my father lived with an acquired brain injury due to a criminal incident at work. It turned us into a family who cared, and I applaud all unpaid and family carers for all they do with the utmost love and care.
First, I will speak to the action we are taking as a Government to improve the lives of disabled people. In July 2021, we published the national disability strategy. Of course, we have sought permission to appeal and cannot comment further on any legal proceedings, but it is really important to highlight the five essential elements of that strategy, which complement those of the UN convention and underpin how we will continue to implement it in the UK. Those elements are to ensure fairness and equality; to consider disability from the outset; to support independent living; to work to increase participation by disabled people in all aspects of society; and to recognise that complex challenges will very often require joined-up local solutions.
I extend my best wishes to the Minister’s father. What she has said about what he went through was very moving, and reminds us that eight out of 10 disabilities are acquired—that most disabled people have lived lives without disability. The Minister started by saying that we want disabled people to fulfil their potential. Do the Government believe that there is a social model of disability, in that society puts up barriers that prevent disabled people from living their lives? It is not up to disabled people to enable themselves; it is also about society, via the Government, ensuring that those barriers are not there.
The Government are committed to supporting disabled people affected by the covid-19 outbreak. As part of Access to Work, we have introduced a more blended offer to help disabled people find and stay in work, including prioritising applications from disabled people in the clinically extremely vulnerable group.
The UK’s high and unequal covid death toll includes disabled people, who account for six out of 10 covid deaths. Last month’s Office for National Statistics data showed that both disabled men and women are more than three times more likely to die if they contract covid than non-disabled people. Even when we adjust for various factors including age or pre-existing health conditions, there is still an additional covid risk associated with disability. So I repeat my question from last June: what assessment have the Government undertaken of the covid deaths of working-age disabled social security claimants? Given their additional risk, what are the Government doing to protect them?
I know that the hon. Lady is very passionate about making sure that anybody with barriers, anybody impacted on by this pandemic, is absolutely supported, and that is something that we have been doing at DWP. Through our Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work, we are listening to and engaging with charities and hearing from those people who are working, those with learning disabilities, autistic people, and people with complex needs. Of course, this is an incredibly worrying time for people with disabilities. The Minister is looking at this very carefully and will keep it under review.
We remain committed to ensuring that the benefit system is effective and positive in supporting disabled people. That includes several measures, such as suspending face-to-face assessments, extending personal independence payment awards where necessary, and increasing the universal credit standard allowance and local housing allowance rates.
We know that people with existing health conditions are more likely to become seriously ill with or succumb to covid-19 than the population as a whole. For example, more than one in four of all people who have died of covid in hospital in England also had diabetes. What assessment have the Government undertaken of the proportion of people with health conditions in receipt of social security support who have also died of covid?
I thank the hon. Lady for raising an important issue. The Department for Work and Pensions looks to identify and learn lessons swiftly. The Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work, my hon. Friend the Member for North Swindon is engaging extensively and holding conversations with charities and stakeholders on exactly these kinds of issues so that we can understand the impact on the most vulnerable.
I thank my hon. Friend for raising this issue. Under this Government, ensuring opportunities for women’s progression is an absolute priority for me, the Secretary of State and the Department for Work and Pensions. The fact that women get more childcare costs under universal credit is really important. Under the legacy system the figure was 70%, and under universal credit it is 85%. People should not forget the flexible support fund, which means that they can return to work at any time. If they talk to their jobcentre, it can help them with that.
Ensuring opportunities for women’s progression absolutely is a priority, as I have already said at the Dispatch Box this morning. We need to see what the barriers are. Sometimes confidence about returning opportunities is minimal. We are using our fuller working lives policy and strategy. Tomorrow I will be in Newcastle talking to women returners to see what is holding them back. It is about time that women got the progression and the pay rises they deserve.
I thank my hon. Friend for his question and welcome him to his place. I am delighted that more than 5 million people are now self-employed; that is fantastic news. This issue is the priority for me, alongside progression and youth opportunity. The Chancellor has announced a consultation in January and I urge all Members to take part; it concludes in the middle of February. We are keeping a close eye on this sector, and it is absolutely right that we should stand up for the self-employed.