Social Security

Part of Rail Update – in the House of Commons at 6:24 pm on 5th February 2018.

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Photo of Neil Gray Neil Gray Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Social Justice) 6:24 pm, 5th February 2018

I entirely concur with the hon. Gentleman. He is right to draw attention to one of the Government’s most iniquitous and disgraceful policies. As he has said, no action has been forthcoming to address it.

The End Child Poverty coalition has said that it is because of the four-year benefit freeze that more than 50% of children in the UK’s poorest areas are growing up in poverty. Earlier today, at Question Time, the Minister defended the freeze, saying that overturning it would require primary legislation. I say, “Bring us that legislation and let us vote on it.” The evidence clearly shows the damage that is being done, and I would challenge any Government Back Bencher to vote for its continuation in the face of such evidence. It is time to end the freeze and lift children out of poverty.

Apart from anything else, the Government do not need to continue this, even by their own reasoning. Figures obtained by the SNP from the House of Commons Library show that while the four-year benefit freeze introduced by the Tory Government in April 2016 was intended to result in £3.5 billion of cuts by 2019-20, that figure could now be £5.2 billion owing to rising inflation. The decision not to uprate the bereavement support payment in line with inflation is completely unacceptable while the cost of funerals continues to rise at an incredible rate. What is worst is that the DWP’s own statistics show that 75% of recipients of the new combined payment who have children will be worse off, and that the figure rises to 88% for those who are bereaved with children and in work. The resignation of the entire board of the Social Mobility Commission in December should have been seen as the climax of the Government-driven poverty crisis, but today we see it being driven on.

There are some welcome elements in the order. I am glad that Ministers have used their discretion to uprate statutory sick pay, statutory maternity and paternity pay, adoption pay and statutory shared parental pay, all of which will rise by 3%. They may have done so in the light of a report from the European Committee of Social Rights. I quizzed Ministers about that report earlier, but they appeared to know little about what I was talking about. It states that social security provisions for the self-employed, the sick and the unemployed in the UK are “manifestly inadequate”. The UK is now “not in conformity” with a number of legal obligations in the European social charter, which is a legally binding economic and social counterpart of the European convention on human rights.