New Clause 2 — Childcare

Part of Welfare Reform Bill (Programme) (No. 2) – in the House of Commons at 5:15 pm on 13th June 2011.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Chris Grayling Chris Grayling The Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions 5:15 pm, 13th June 2011

My hon. Friend makes his point in his usual forceful and inimitable way. He highlighted how Labour Members struggle to move on from traditional ways of things. Listening to the right hon. Member for East Ham, I am still not sure on which side of the argument he falls. Does he think that we are doing the right thing, but want to fine-tune it a bit, or is he trying to distance himself from the Bill, so that on Wednesday the Opposition can vote against it and so say to the pressure and lobby groups, “We are on your side”? I am genuinely not sure which is the case, although if they do vote against it, I will love it. I will look forward to arguing up and down the land that this Government have got it right on welfare reform, and that the Opposition have not. I wait with interest and enthusiasm to discover how they vote.

New clauses 3 and 4 provide an amount for school meals and health costs in universal credit. It is absolutely our objective to ensure that people on universal credit will continue to receive appropriate support for school meals and health costs, and that this support is withdrawn gradually to avoid damaging the incentives to work. However, entitlements to passported benefits are the responsibility of other Departments and devolved Administrations. We have been working closely with those responsible to consider the options, and we have commissioned the Social Security Advisory Committee to review passported benefits and how they interact with universal credit. The review was announced in a written statement on 23 May, and a copy of its terms of reference has been placed in the Library. To answer a question put to me earlier, I should say that the Committee will produce its interim report in September and a final report by January. The Committee provides a good way of considering this challenging and important cross-governmental issue. We are certainly well aware of the potential for a large cliff-edge reduction in a person’s income, if support for school meals is withdrawn completely when they reach a certain level of earnings, and we are working closely with other Departments on the matter, as well as on the review.

On health, we aim to ensure that passported benefits are awarded to broadly the same number of people as now. However, passporting is not the only source of help with health costs. Income-related help is also available through the NHS low-income scheme, which can be claimed by anyone on a low income who has capital of less than £16,000. For people on medication, pre-payment options can also significantly reduce the cost of recurring prescription charges. With a 12-month pre-payment certificate, the maximum cost of a prescription is £2 a week, although of course that is an issue only for England; for those with constituencies in Scotland, there are no prescription charges.