It is a pleasure to respond to a vital discussion of how the Department for Work and Pensions supports the 22 million people who rely on our services.
We have heard a huge number of valuable contributions, including those of Alison McGovern—whom I congratulate on opening the debate—and my hon. Friend Trudy Harrison, Debbie Abrahams, my hon. Friend Sarah Newton, Justin Madders, my hon. Friend Mr Clarke, Alison Thewliss, my hon. Friend Alex Burghart, Ruth George, and my hon. Friend Huw Merriman. Later in my speech, I will respond to some of the key points that have been raised.
I have been in my post for three months, and over that time my key focus has been on supporting the most vulnerable in our society. No one in the Government wants to see poverty rising, and, while the latest “Households below average income” statistics, from 2017-18, do not reflect the £1.7 billion-a-year cash boost for our welfare system that was announced in the Budget, the Secretary of State and I recognise that there is more to do.
We know that children in households in which no one works are about five times more likely to be in poverty than those in households in which all adults work. We are committed to helping lone parents into jobs that are flexible in relation to their caring responsibilities, and more than 1.2 million are now in work. To help parents into work, the Government spend £6 billion on childcare each year. We are able to do that because we have doubled the number of free childcare hours to 30 a week for nearly 400,000 working parents of three and four-year-olds; introduced tax-free childcare which is worth up to £2,000 per child per year; and made changes in the flexible support fund to help people to pay up-front childcare costs. However, we recognise that we need to continue our work in this area. That is why the Secretary of State and I have publicly committed ourselves to tackling poverty, and child poverty in particular.
As we get closer to the spending review discussions, my ministerial colleagues and I are reviewing our bids, in collaboration with other Departments, to ensure that those who can work do work, and that those who cannot are supported. I can confirm that there are no plans to extend, or maintain, the benefit freeze after March 2020.