Food Poverty: Scotland

Part of Delegated Legislation – in the House of Commons at 8:24 pm on 7th May 2019.

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Photo of Will Quince Will Quince The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions 8:24 pm, 7th May 2019

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his further intervention. As I said, we have made improvements to the initial UC assessment period, including the removal of waiting days and advances of up to 100% of the indicative first payment. It is important to say that the advances are 100% interest-free, and people only have to pay them back over 12 months; as of 2021, it will be over 16 months. However, he makes a fair point. We need to ensure that claimants are working with their coaches and are absolutely clear about what they are taking on. It is not a loan; it is an advance. We have to ensure that work coaches are advising appropriately and ensuring that options are available to the claimant. They do not have to take it all in one go, for example; they can take a small amount as per their needs at the time. I am willing to discuss that with him in further detail.

I mentioned the concerns that were raised and the changes that were made in the last Budget. In particular, we have put an extra £1.7 billion a year into work allowances, increasing the amount that hard-working families can earn before the taper is applied. That is an extra £630 a year for 2.4 million families, many of them in Scotland.

We are also working in partnership with Citizens Advice Scotland to provide a consistent UK-wide service and assist claimants to successfully make their universal credit claim. The Citizens Advice Help to Claim service offers tailored, practical support to help people make their claim and receive their first full payment on time. That service is available online, over the telephone and face to face through local Citizens Advice services. We are also working closely with the Scottish Government to help them achieve their goals on UC flexibilities. For example, UC Scottish choices are now available to all claimants in Scotland on full service who are not in receipt of a DWP alternative arrangement plan.

No one in the Government wants to see poverty increasing or reported increases in food bank use. The recent poverty statistics are, of course, disappointing. However, child poverty in Scotland has remained the same or decreased across all four of the main measures in the three years to 2017-18, compared with the three years to 2009-10. The statistics published in March this year represent a year—2017-18—when some families struggled to keep pace with rising costs, including a higher level of inflation, which Chris Stephens referred to, but since then, there has been a year of real wage growth. Earnings have outpaced inflation for 13 months in a row, with real wages growing 1.6% on the year. The statistics do not reflect the substantial additional funding for our welfare system announced in the last financial year, which are only just beginning to take effect.

Increasing the rate of employment is not, however, the limit of our ambition. The Government have gone much further than previous Government to support working people and have set out their ambition in the Chancellor’s spring statement to end low pay across the UK. UC works alongside other policies introduced by this Government to promote full-time employment as a way out of poverty and towards financial independence. In particular, it offers smooth incentives for people to increase their hours, and we are confident that as UC reaches more working families, we will see more working full time.

Our national living wage, which is among the highest in the world, is expected to benefit more than 1.7 million people; and the increase to £8.21 from April this year will increase a full-time worker’s annual pay by more than £2,750 since 2016.