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

I heartily agree with the hon. Lady. There are more than 2 million single parent families, which must involve many millions of children, and the effect on them will be devastating if the Government do not address this matter very quickly. If they leave it for another four years, I can barely comprehend the damage that it will do to many of those children.

I am also disappointed about the employment and support allowance work-related activity group benefit—the WRAG—which is for disabled people whom the DWP recognises as having the capacity to work but who need a certain amount of support in order to get back into work as a consequence of their disability. This is an area that I have been supporting for many years before I came into politics, because I totally share the view of many others in the Chamber that work is the best way out of poverty and the best way to boost self-respect. However, after the coalition—the Liberals would never have allowed this—the Government cut the WRAG payment by 30%. I see that that has not changed. In fact, the Government are looking at removing it completely.

I ask hon. Members to imagine that they have a disability, that they have been unemployed for six or seven years, and that they want to get back into work. They will be supported by their local Jobcentre Plus and by the DWP, but because they have been away from work for a long time, they might lack confidence. They will therefore be gently directed, guided, assisted and mentored into work. I now ask them to imagine what would happen if the DWP then said, “Oh, by the way, we are going to reduce your income by 30%.” What would that do to their self-confidence, and to their determination to stay in the work-related activity group? I can tell them that because human nature is what it is, more and more disabled people will try to move into the support group as a result of this cut, and that will cost the state more. This shows the Government’s complete lack of understanding of disability and of human nature. Bad move!

Turning to the work allowance, one of the first things that George Osborne, now editor of the Evening Standard, did after the Liberals were defenestrated in 2015 was to slash £3 billion per annum from the work allowance. When I was on the Work and Pensions Committee, along with the hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston, I was so supportive of universal credit because, despite all its clunky bits, the work allowance meant that work really did pay. By removing £3 billion per annum since then, which will continue for the next four years, work no longer pays, which is completely counterproductive. The Government have kept all the worst elements of universal credit and have dumped the best element: the work allowance.

I pointed out in DWP questions earlier that universal credit is not working for the self-employed due to the minimum income floor. People who are self-employed may earn x amount of money one month and y the next—it could be less or more—but the way that universal credit is designed can mean that, at the end of 12 months, someone who is self-employed and earned £15,000 will have received less in benefits than someone who is employed and earns £15,000 or £20,000. The Conservative party, which always trumpets itself as the aspirational party, is specifically working against the self-employed, which is absolutely daft. As we know, the Government have abolished housing benefit for 18 to 21-year-olds, and housing benefit payments in the private rented sector have been frozen since 2016.