Department for Work and Pensions

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:08 pm on 2nd July 2019.

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Photo of Alison McGovern Alison McGovern Chair, Speaker's Advisory Committee on Works of Art 2:08 pm, 2nd July 2019

I thank the hon. Lady for making that important point, and that is the entire point of the welfare state at all: our circumstances can change overnight through no fault of our own. And the idea that the Government have set up this arrangement of the two-child policy because they want to send some sort of political message to people about having children or not is crazy; there is absolutely no evidence that it works.

The second thing that has to change immediately is the benefits freeze for working-age people, specifically families. We know the cost to families of the four-year freeze that people have already lived through. That should come to an end this year, but who knows—who knows what the next Tory Prime Minister will choose to do; who knows if they will still choose to punish families. But we know that the reality is that working-age families have not had that lock that pensioners have had; they have not had that connection between the wages going up for everybody else in society and the money that they have to support them. It is simply neither fair nor effective to have a welfare state that does not help families grow up with enough to get by. We are simply undermining the ability of our next generation to contribute to the welfare state when it is their turn.

Thirdly, we need to reappraise the welfare state and find a balanced approach of universal benefits and targeted benefits. We do not have time to go into the intricacies of the ways in which universal credit has failed, but we know that it has. We know that the sanctions regime has caused destitution, and we know that so many of the ways in which UC was supposed to make life easier for people have not turned out to work like that in practice, which is why the Government are yet to deliver the UC roll-out; we know it and they know it. That is why for the future we need a range of benefits, some of which are simpler to claim, like child benefit. Child benefit is easy. Those who have a child are, by and large, apart from the highest earners, entitled to it; it is easy and straightforward, and it would be an excellent way to stop child poverty rising if we were prepared to invest in child benefit while we also still use targeted means-tested benefits to get money to the poorest.

Finally, we need a mix of the work that the DWP does through the welfare state and through cash transfers to deal with poverty with all the other things that we know help families to get along and move forward, whether that is services for early years, nursery school, childcare or skills development, so that people can move on and move up. We know that the problem is not just low pay; it is also families being able to have enough time to build up their skills so that they can move on to the next job and get higher wages. So we need that balanced approach of universal benefits, targeted benefits and a balanced mix of the welfare state and other services that the Government can provide to help families.

But in the end my point here today is really very simple: the DWP has failed in its purpose of helping people balance their incomes throughout their lives simply because it decided that families in the UK would carry the burden of the cuts they wanted to see to the state. It has failed to adhere to that simple Beveridge principle that we pay in when we can and we take out when we need, because if we cannot fund children who really need help and support, how on earth will they grow up to be able to pay in when they can? The DWP under this Conservative Government is a failure; it is time that changed.