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Social Security

Part of Rail Update – in the House of Commons at 6:41 pm on 5th February 2018.

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Photo of Stephen Lloyd Stephen Lloyd Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Work and Pensions) 6:41 pm, 5th February 2018

It is a privilege to respond to the social security benefits uprating order on behalf of the Liberal Democrats. As the Minister knows, the Government have been obliged by law since 1992 to increase the value of certain disability benefits in line with inflation, and I am pleased to see that attendance allowance, carers allowance, disability living allowance and the personal independence payment will be going up by 3%. My colleague from the Scottish National party, Neil Gray, also noted that the Government have recognised that they made a tremendous mistake over PIP for people with mental health issues, and I am glad that it is being increased by 3%. However, over the next few months while this absolute shambles is sorted out, I doubt that the many people on PIP who have mental health issues will appreciate that increase as much as they might have done if the Government had not been so foolhardy in the first place.

I value the fact that pension credit is going up by 2.2% and that the widows pension in industrial death benefit is increasing by 3%. To be fair, I also appreciate the fact that the Government have used their discretion to increase working-age benefits for disabled people in line with inflation, particularly around the support group component. As the Minister will be aware, people who are on support group employment and support allowance often have a profundity of disability which means that they cannot work, irrespective of the support they get. I welcome the fact that the Government have increased that by 3%.

It is always good to see the state pension triple lock. The last time I was here, we were in coalition, and I am delighted to see the Government continuing to implement Lib Dem policy by introducing an increase of 3% this year. However, I also want to flag up my disappointment, as other colleagues have done, that the Government have not used this opportunity to give some succour to the many women born in the 1950s and who are part of the Women Against State Pension Inequality campaign. This would have been a good opportunity to send a message that the Government are listening and are prepared to come up with something to salve the frustration and anger of many millions of women across the country. As I have said before in the House, I believe that all the parties are culpable in this regard. The Conservatives originally brought in the changes through the Pensions Act 1995 without telling anyone. Labour did nothing for the 13 years it was in government, and then we had the coalition. As we are all culpable, I hope that we can work together to come up with the kind of transition payment that I profoundly believe the WASPI women deserve. I am disappointed that the Minister has not mentioned this today.

I shall move on to the elements that I am unhappy with. In accordance with the Welfare Reform and Work Act 2016, working-age benefits will be frozen until April 2020. I will not go through the whole list of benefits, but the consequences of this freeze will be absolutely deplorable. I shall give the House an example. The Child Poverty Action Group and the Resolution Foundation have identified that, from this year onwards and for the next four years, single parents stand to lose an average of £2,380 per annum. That is an enormous amount of money for anyone to lose from their annual budget. I am on a very good salary here—we all are—and I would notice if that amount were suddenly taken out of my salary. For single parents to have to suffer that over the next four years is absolutely wrong. I am very disappointed that the Government are continuing with the freeze despite all the evidence from robust, independent and reputable organisations such as the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and the Resolution Foundation. As Kate Green so eloquently said, the impact of the benefits freeze is simply cruel.