Inequality and Social Mobility

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:23 pm on 12th June 2019.

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Photo of Neil Gray Neil Gray Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Work and Pensions) 5:23 pm, 12th June 2019

I absolutely agree, and that is clearly impossible. Policies such as the two-child limit, on which my hon. Friend has been a doughty campaigner—she has led the campaign against that pernicious policy—affect the life chances of all members of the family. For the parents, it may mean increased focus only on finding the bare essentials, which for the children means less money and less time for sports, travelling, holidays, extracurricular activities and other factors that play an often unacknowledged or underplayed role in equipping children with the skills and experiences that will prove useful later in life. Often, the focus in these debates is solely on the income side of the equation, and less attention is given to those extracurricular activities and the often-ignored life-chances elements, but it is worth noting that the Child Poverty Action Group’s most recent report said that the removal of the two-child limit or the benefit freeze would be the best way to stop any increased rises in child poverty.

Housing costs have become the biggest worry for many up and down these isles, which is why the Scottish Government have embarked on an ambitious programme of council house building. Since 2007, some 86,000 affordable homes have been built and 59,000 homes have been built for social rent, and they are on course to reach their target of 50,000 in the lifetime of this Holyrood Parliament. The Scottish Government have also ensured that discretionary housing payments are available for those impacted by the bedroom tax and that the housing element of universal credit can be paid direct to the landlord. Although that is beneficial for those who choose that option, one problem I have been made aware of from recent casework is that when the landlord is the local authority, the Department for Work and Pensions takes no cognisance of when the rent is due to the council, meaning that housing payments are often made after the rent was due, leading to constituents being threatened with eviction proceedings by the landlord. I have raised that issue previously and hope that Ministers will look into it.

If we look at those approaching retirement age, or who are already there, we see that the Government’s recent announcement of changes to pension credit entitlement mean that some couples could lose out on up to £7,000 a year, because if one partner is under 65 they will have to claim universal credit instead. The longest running issue in this policy area, and on which the Government have shown little sign of wishing to help, is that of women born in the 1950s and the delays and changes, with little or no notice, to their pension entitlement. The issue has been debated many times in the Chamber already, and I do not wish to go over that ground in any great detail, but such policies mean that inequality is being exacerbated for people at a time of their life when they are least able or likely to be able to rely on work or education to assist them. I hope that we will have a chance to discuss Mr Alston’s report in more detail, but it would have been remiss of me not to highlight some of the aspects I have raised today.