Poverty

Oral Answers to Questions — Work and Pensions – in the House of Commons on 18th March 2019.

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Photo of Brendan O'Hara Brendan O'Hara Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Inclusive Society)

What recent assessment she has made of the effect of her Department’s policies on levels of poverty.

Photo of Drew Hendry Drew Hendry Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy)

What recent assessment she has made of the effect of her Department’s policies on levels of poverty.

Photo of Justin Tomlinson Justin Tomlinson The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

Household incomes have never been higher. In 2016-17, there were 1 million fewer people living in absolute poverty than in 2010. In Scotland, whichever way we look at poverty—relative or absolute, and before or after housing costs—in the three years to 2016-17, no measures are higher than in the three years to 2009-10; in fact, three are lower.

Photo of Brendan O'Hara Brendan O'Hara Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Inclusive Society)

A few weeks ago, a young family with a newborn baby appeared at my constituency office in Helensburgh. They were halfway through their four-week universal credit assessment period. This was a family in crisis. They were penniless, and the father had not eaten for three days. They did not even have enough money to buy baby milk and had been refused healthy start vouchers because they ticked the wrong box. Is that not the reality of the poverty being created by the Government?

Photo of Justin Tomlinson Justin Tomlinson The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

I am sorry to hear about the circumstances of that case, and I am happy to look into it further. One of the recent announcements we have made is that there will be Citizens Advice support within every jobcentre from April onwards. That is the sort of case where Citizens Advice can step in and provide independent support and advice, to ensure that people get their full entitlement.

Photo of Drew Hendry Drew Hendry Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy)

Be it universal credit, the benefit freeze or Brexit, the poor are being hit the hardest at the moment, yet according to research from the Resolution Foundation, overall tax and benefit changes will take £100 from families in the bottom fifth of income distribution and give £280 to those in the top 10. Does the Minister think that that is fair?

Photo of Justin Tomlinson Justin Tomlinson The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

That is not something I recognise. Through the additional money being put into universal credit, record employment, the changes to the income tax personal threshold and rising wages, the poorest fifth in society are now £400 better off in real terms than in 2010.

Photo of Stephen Kerr Stephen Kerr Conservative, Stirling

Does the Minister agree that, with employment at record levels and wages rising in real terms, the best approach to helping people out of poverty is the one that this Government are delivering?

Photo of Justin Tomlinson Justin Tomlinson The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

My hon. Friend is spot on. Only 5% of children whose parents work full time are in poverty, against 63% for families where there is only part-time work, which is why our delivering record employment in all regions of the UK is making a real difference.

Photo of Margaret Greenwood Margaret Greenwood Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

Next year, the benefit freeze will leave the poorest 20% of families with children £900 worse off on average. In January, the Secretary of State said that the benefit freeze was the right policy at the time, but both she and the Chancellor have signalled that it will not be renewed in 2020. If it is not the right policy now, why are the Government continuing with the freeze for another year?

Photo of Justin Tomlinson Justin Tomlinson The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

The hon. Lady continues to object to any measures to restore fairness to the benefits system. Under the last Labour Government, we saw welfare spending increase by £84 billion and an additional tax burden of £3,000 per hard-working household. This is about fairness and supporting people, while having a good safety net for those most in need.