New Clause 2 — Childcare

Part of Welfare Reform Bill (Programme) (No. 2) – in the House of Commons at 5:45 pm on 13th June 2011.

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Photo of Chris Grayling Chris Grayling The Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions 5:45 pm, 13th June 2011

Every organisation has to look at how it operates in tougher times financially, and at how best to spend the money that it has available. I am sure that Citizens Advice will be no different in that respect.

Amendments 23 and 24 deal with the capital limit and propose that for claimants who work, the universal credit assessment should ignore savings that they hold in individual savings accounts up to a prescribed maximum of no less than £50,000. We fully understand the importance of saving. Working families should seek to provide for their future needs and larger purchases. However, families with substantial savings should draw on those reserves when their incomes fall, not look to the taxpayer for support. Our analysis suggests that in 2014-15, there will be up to 100,000 households on tax credits with savings over £16,000 who could be affected by the capital rules in universal credit. However, transitional protection will ensure that there are no cash losers at the point of the transition to universal credit where circumstances remain the same.

However, it is important to be fair to the taxpayer. Although nearly one in three pensioner households have savings in excess of £16,000, only 13% of households with a working-age adult in them have that much in savings. A typical working-age household has only £300 in savings. It cannot be right that people with significantly greater savings than the average family can claim universal credit. A maximum limit of at least £50,000 in ISA savings, as proposed by the right hon. Member for East Ham, is a large sum to be excluded from the capital ceiling. We are striking the right balance between protecting people with modest savings and placing responsibility for their own support on those with substantial resources. Once again, we are talking about an uncosted spending commitment. The right hon. Gentleman said that it would cost £70 million a year to uncap totally, but not that many people on universal credit would have savings of more than £50,000, so the majority of that £70 million would be spent on his measure. The reality is that this is a multi-tens-of-millions-of-pounds spending commitment. Once again, we have not heard from the right hon. Gentleman where the money would come from.

Amendment 30 to clause 10 would mean paying at least as much in the additional elements for disabled children as we did in benefits and child tax credit prior to the introduction of universal credit. As we announced in policy briefing note 1, “Additions for longer durations on Universal Credit”, we will retain two levels of payment for disabled children in universal credit. The higher element will be payable to more severely disabled children receiving the highest rate of the care component of disability living allowance. The lower rate will be payable to children receiving the other rates of the disability living allowance care component. The higher rate will be increased by £52 a year, with eligibility extended to children who are severely visually impaired, who currently receive only the lower entitlement.

The key change is that we propose to align the elements for disabled children and disabled adults. That means that the lower rate would be around £26.75 and the upper rate £74.50 a week in current figures. The lower rate for a less severely disabled child in universal credit would be less than now, but we have pledged that where universal credit entitlement is less, transitional protections will be put in place. Our aim is to simplify and align the additional elements for disabled children with those for adults. We do not think it right that when a young person claims benefits in their own right, the extra amounts payable for disability are different. We also want to focus resources on the most severely disabled children and adults. Savings from abolishing the adult disability premiums and changes in the child rate are not going back to the Exchequer. This is not a cutting exercise; it is about recycling that money into higher payments for more severely disabled people.

Amendments 27, 28 and 29 to schedule 1 relate to the regime for self-employment in universal credit. As I told the right hon. Gentleman many times in Committee, we are committed to ensuring that people in self-employment have the financial support that they need. Amendments 27 and 28 would take a power to allow “accruals accounting” of profits and losses from a trade to be used in the reporting of earnings from self-employment. Strictly speaking, that is unnecessary, as the power taken by paragraph 4(1)(b) of schedule 1 already permits such a regulation. Amendment 29 would limit the application of the power taken at paragraph 4(4), which allows for a minimum level of earned income from self-employment to be set. It proposes that the minimum level would not apply where the claimant’s business was conducted on a commercial basis with a view to the realisation of profits.

We recognise that self-employment is a vital element of the economy and will be an important contributor to the sustained recovery from recession that we all want. It is also an important route into work for many people. We are therefore giving careful consideration to the conditions that we set for people claiming universal credit who seek to make their living from self-employment. The enabling framework provided by the Bill allows the treatment of income from self-employment, including the definition of earnings to be taken into account, to be set in regulations. We therefore do not need to decide this question today; we can work to get it right. However, as I have said to the right hon. Gentleman previously, we have to deal with the issue carefully. It is not the intention to make it impossible for people to get into self-employment, particularly in the first few months, when they have difficulties and money does not come easily. However, in the current system, people can report no or very low income from their business activity and continue to receive the bulk of their benefit or tax credits entitlement. We want people to become progressively less reliant on benefits and universal credit. At the end of the day, we cannot have the taxpayer funding someone who is notionally self-employed—and on whom there is no job search requirement—but who generates little or perhaps no income at all from that self-employment. We have to apply a threshold to determine whether someone is credibly in self-employment or whether they are using self-employment as a reason for not looking for other job alternatives. We have to get this right.