Supporting Disadvantaged Families

– in the House of Commons at 5:17 pm on 9th November 2020.

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Photo of Therese Coffey Therese Coffey The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions 5:17 pm, 9th November 2020

Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, this Government have put an unprecedented package of support in place to strengthen the safety net for individuals, families, communities and businesses who need help at this critical time. We recognise that this has been a challenging year for everyone, especially for those who have lost their jobs and those families who are feeling the extra strain, worrying about putting food on the table or money in the meter. The Prime Minister has been clear that this Government will use all their efforts to make sure that no child should go hungry this winter. This Government also want to ensure that every child reaches their full potential. That is why I am announcing a comprehensive package of support to see these families through the winter months and beyond, through the new covid winter grant scheme, increasing the value of Healthy Start vouchers, and the national roll-out of the holiday activities and food programme for the longer holidays in 2021.

With Christmas coming, we want to give disadvantaged families peace of mind and help those who need it to have food on the table and other essentials so that every child will be warm and well fed this winter. Through the covid winter grant scheme, we are delivering £170 million to local authorities in England, starting next month, to cover the period until the end of March. That fund builds on the £63 million already distributed earlier this year and, as then, funding will be disbursed according to an authority’s population, weighted by a function of the English index of multiple deprivation. Any Barnett consequentials are already included in the guaranteed £16 billion funding for the devolved Administrations, so there is funding available for every child in the UK, and I hope that the devolved Administrations will play their part in this mission.

Local councils have the local ties and knowledge, making them best placed to identify and help those children and families most in need, and it is important to stress that the scheme covers children of pre-school age, too. Targeting this money effectively will ease the burden faced by those families across the country worrying about the next bill coming through the letterbox or the next food shop. Grants will be made under section 31 of the Local Government Act 2003, and different from earlier in the year, they will carry conditions and reporting requirements to ensure that the scheme is focused on providing support with food and utility costs to vulnerable families with children who are affected by the pandemic. We will require that at least 80% of the grant is spent on children with their families, providing some flexibility for councils to help other vulnerable people. We will also require councils to spend at least 80% on food and key utilities, again providing some flexibility for other essentials.

In trying to give children the best start in life, it is important that food for young children and expectant mothers should be nutritious, as that will help in their future health and educational attainment. That is why we are increasing the value of Healthy Start vouchers by more than a third, helping low-income families to buy fresh milk and fruit and vegetables, and helping to boost their health and readiness for school. From April 2021, the value of vouchers will rise from £3.10 to £4.25.

The third part of our comprehensive package is the extra support we will be giving children and families during the longer school holidays. After successful pilots of our holiday activities and food programme, I am pleased to let the House know that it will be expanded and rolled out across the country starting from Easter next year, through the summer and the Christmas holidays, supported by £220 million of funding.

Our manifesto set out our commitment to flexible childcare, and the expansion of the holiday activities and food programme has always been part of that commitment. We are building on the learning from the successful delivery of the programme over the past three years to expand it across England, as we had set out to do. The programme, which is being extended to all disadvantaged children, offers that vital connection for children during the longer school holidays to enriching activities such as arts and sport which will help them perform better in school, as well as a free, nutritious meal while they are there.

In May, the Government provided £16 million to charities to provide food for those struggling due to the immediate impacts of the pandemic. I announce today that we will match that figure again, making a further £16 million available to fund local charities through well-established networks and provide immediate support to frontline food aid charities, who have a vital role to play in supporting people of all ages. The package taken as a whole will make a big difference to families and children throughout the country as we continue to fight the virus.

We are taking a long-term, holistic approach, looking at health, education and hunger in the round, not just over the Christmas period but throughout the winter and beyond. This is not just about responding to the pressures of winter and covid but about further rolling out the holiday activities fund, which is an established part of the Government’s approach to helping children reach their full potential. With this announcement, we are ensuring that as well as taking unprecedented action to protect jobs and livelihoods, we are protecting younger generations.

We are living under extraordinary circumstances, which require an extraordinary response, but I am steadfast in taking action to support all children to fulfil their potential long after we have beaten the pandemic. Social justice has been at the heart of every decision this compassionate Conservative Government have made, whether that be protecting over 12 million jobs through our income support schemes, injecting over £9 billion into the welfare system or providing over 4 million food boxes to those shielding. This is yet another example of how the Government have supported people throughout the pandemic.

Photo of Jonathan Reynolds Jonathan Reynolds Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions 5:23 pm, 9th November 2020

I thank the Secretary of State for advance sight of her statement. The Opposition welcome any move that will stop children from going hungry over the tough months that lie ahead. I would hope that that is true of everyone elected to this Parliament, so I still cannot believe that the Government have had to be dragged kicking and screaming to the right place and to acknowledge that, in this country, in this day and age, no child should be going hungry. I am astonished that the Government can somehow pretend that we did not all hear hours and hours of justification from them, in this House just a fortnight ago, for why they thought the absolute opposite of what has been announced today.

In my 10 years in Parliament, I have never been so depressed as I was when I listened to the comments made on the Conservative Benches during the holiday hunger debate and on social media afterwards. That was not because of the disagreement on policy; debate and disagreement are what Parliament is all about. What I could not stand was the toxic commentary and the stigmatising of good people in hardship due to the economic mess this Government are themselves responsible for. I am talking about the unacceptable insinuations about money for children’s food being spent on brothels and drugs, with no evidence to back that up. I am talking about Tory MPs attacking businesses in their own constituencies that had stepped up when the Government would not do so, and using that compassion as evidence that financial support was no longer required for those businesses. I am talking about the same tired old clichés about state dependency at a time when it is the state itself that has had to close businesses and workplaces to deal with the virus. People who themselves have only ever known privilege were showing us that they did not even know how poverty was measured in this country, and in one case did not know the difference between the calculation of a median wage and an average wage. It was unedifying, it was ignorant and it was insulting to British families, so I ask the Secretary of State to start with an apology for that debate and that vote, because the tone of her statement today does not match the tenor of the debate.

Welcome as this statement is, the Government have, as at every stage of the pandemic, acted too late. Half term has been and gone, so let me thank the real hero of the hour: Marcus Rashford. I think the Secretary of State might have forgotten to mention him, but Marcus deserves immense credit for his campaign and for what he has achieved in such a short space of time. The depression that I and many others felt when we listened to the debate here in Parliament turned to joy when his activism unleashed the most incredible response from UK businesses over the half-term holiday. Even though they are facing extremely tough times themselves, they stepped up. That is because in a compassionate society it is a given that children should not go hungry, but why did it take that extraordinary outpouring of community support to make the Government see that?

Let us get to the heart of the issue. All of this is so important because the social security system in this country does not give people the support they need when they hit hard times. That is why this announcement matters so much. That is why furlough had to be invented. That is why the self-employed and contractors are in such a precarious position. In her announcement today, the Secretary of State once again referenced the £9.3 billion that the Government have put into social security since the beginning of the crisis. I ask the Government and all Conservative MPs to reflect on this question: if, after they have spent an additional £10 billion, there is still so much incredible hardship and unmet need out there, what does that say about the system that they have created over the 10 years preceding the crisis? I note, by the way, that there is still no sign of the Department for Work and Pensions’ review of food bank use, which was due out on 19 October, but we all know what it will say.

At the beginning of this crisis, the Opposition asked for five urgent measures to stop families falling into significant hardship: sharing the £20 increase in universal credit across legacy benefits; scrapping the savings threshold so that savers would not be punished; ending the punitive two-child limit; ending the benefit cap so that people could receive what the Government had already announced; and turning the universal credit advance into a grant, rather than a loan. Those five measures would have been a big step towards alleviating child poverty and giving people the support they need, and they are still required. Yet, unbelievably, instead of acting, the Government are still on course to cut universal credit by £20 in April next year, when we know the pandemic will still be affecting people’s livelihoods. That will be a cut for 6 million families. I ask the Secretary of State to spare Britain’s families that brinkmanship and spare us the inevitable U-turn after the event. On top of the announcement today, will the Government commit to not cutting universal credit in six months’ time? For once, will they make the right decision before it is too late?

Photo of Therese Coffey Therese Coffey The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

I welcome the hon. Gentleman’s support for these measures, but I am somewhat disappointed by his approach. It is quite simply false to label this as anything other than a significant expansion of existing support measures and delivering on our manifesto commitments to support disadvantaged children and families. This summer alone, 50,000 children benefited from the holidays and activities fund and, as we have said, next Easter, summer and Christmas, that will be open to all eligible children who want to take part in it. Also, I think that an additional 2,500 breakfast clubs have been started during covid.

I would remind Labour Members that their proposal simply to extend vouchers for free school meals recipients over Christmas would have cost £40 million for the two-week period, and that only school-age children would have been eligible. By contrast, our new package of support, building on the £63 million earlier in the year for the local welfare assistance fund, is £170 million. It will last 12 weeks and support thousands more disadvantaged children and families. That is not to mention the commitment to extend the holiday activities and food programme, the Healthy Start vouchers and food redistribution charities. Recognising the Barnett consequentials, this represents more than half a billion pounds of support for children and families. That is happening in a much more targeted way, trusting our local councils, which can draw on the variety of information they have to ensure that we help the most disadvantaged and vulnerable people at this time.

It is that targeted approach that really sets this policy apart. We will work with councils up and down the country to ensure that every child is warm and well fed this winter.

Photo of Paul Maynard Paul Maynard Conservative, Blackpool North and Cleveleys

As someone who did not support the Government in the Lobby a fortnight ago, I none the less welcome this announcement by the Secretary of State. It will make a difference to literally tens of thousands of people in my constituency. I praise Ministers, who have been working on this package not just over the past fortnight but for many months, for their perseverance through the political maelstrom. Will the Secretary of State say a little more about how, when the project is delivered by local councils, we will ensure that the money is spent not just on meeting immediate need, but on improving the life chances of young people for the long run?

Photo of Therese Coffey Therese Coffey The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

I thank my hon. Friend. We wanted to ensure that this was a comprehensive package, and we said in the debate a couple of weeks ago that we wanted to ensure there was targeted intervention. He is right that, as a Government, we want to make sure that every child can fulfil their potential. I hope he will recognise that the schemes we are announcing today, with the extended funding and extended coverage, are among the most important things we can do to make a difference to a young child’s future life.

Photo of Neil Gray Neil Gray Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Work and Pensions)

I thank the Secretary of State for advance sight of the statement. I am just sorry to say that as welcome as some of these measures are, they are just not enough. They will serve only to partially catch up with where Scotland has been for some time. When the Scottish Government introduced their Best Start Foods payment last year—the equivalent of the Healthy Start payment—they had already increased it to £4.25. The Scottish Government have also gone beyond their £70 million food fund commitment and made over £130 million available to tackle food insecurity caused by the pandemic.

On free school meals, I am delighted that the UK Government appear finally to be relenting to the incredible campaign run by Marcus Rashford. The decision today will no doubt be welcomed by the same Scottish Tories who failed to support it only two weeks ago. The UK Government are only starting to give free school meals in the holidays from next year, whereas the Scottish Government committed last month to making £10 million available to extend free school meals into the Christmas holidays and Easter. The need is now. That is why it is so welcome that the new Scottish child payment, described as game-changing by anti-poverty campaigners, opens for applications today, with payments starting early in the new year.

There has been nothing on the two-child cap, nothing on the five-week wait—those advances should be made into grants—and nothing on the temporary uplift to universal credit. In response to the significant campaign led by the Scottish National party, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, Save the Children and others, which is now supported by the Secretary of State’s predecessors at the DWP and the leader of the Scottish Conservatives, the Treasury has been flirting with extending the much-needed increase to universal credit—and no wonder. Even with the temporary £20 a week extra, the Secretary of State knows that those who are out of work are £1,000 worse off today compared with 2011.

Will the Secretary of State put it on the record today that she expects the temporary uplift to universal credit to be made permanent and, so that there is no longer the unfairness of sick and disabled people on legacy benefits not getting the same, will she finally commit to extending the uplift to legacy benefits?

Photo of Therese Coffey Therese Coffey The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

I am not sure whether the hon. Gentleman welcomed these measures or not. He will see that the Barnett consequentials will feed through to the Scottish Government. I do not think the Scottish Government provided support over half-term, but I am conscious that future support is part of their legacy already.

In terms of moving forward, I remind the hon. Gentleman of aspects such as the fact that advances are actual grants to people—they are just the phasing of universal credit payments over the year, and soon to be over two years if that is what claimants want. As a consequence, we need to make sure that we continue to manage, with our customers, to make sure that they are financially resilient. We will continue to try to support them in that endeavour.

In terms of recognition, as I say, I am sure that the Scottish Government will take full advantage of the money they receive as part of that £16 billion between the three devolved Administrations and make sure that they use it best and ensure that no child in Scotland goes without warmth and food this winter.

Photo of Dean Russell Dean Russell Conservative, Watford

I completely understand the strength of feeling in the country in respect of supporting children and families at this really difficult time. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the measures announced rightly go far beyond any of the provisions that were recently called for on free school meals? Will she please assure me that this measure will provide the right support, targeted in the right way and in a sustainable way, long-term, as we laid out in our manifesto last year?

Photo of Therese Coffey Therese Coffey The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

First, I congratulate my hon. Friend: he has been exemplary in volunteering in his in Watford constituency throughout the pandemic. I know that he will continue to serve his constituents well.

I believe that this approach is far more comprehensive in the number of children it will help, particularly by focusing on using local expertise. One thing that people may not be aware of is that councils have access to information on people who are on benefits, and of course councils in the upper tier will hold information on who is on free school meals if they wish to decide that that is the best way to target support. I want to make sure that every child who is vulnerable this winter is supported, and I believe that our councils are well placed to make sure that that happens, alongside the ongoing activity for a child’s future potential.

Photo of Stephen Timms Stephen Timms Chair, Work and Pensions Committee, Chair, Work and Pensions Committee

I do hope that the Secretary of State will have the good grace to acknowledge and thank Marcus Rashford for his campaign, as I certainly do.

I welcome the additional support that the Secretary of State has announced today. Will she outline how the funding is going to be allocated among all the local authorities in England? What will the basis for that allocation be? I welcome her reference to

“funding available for every child in the UK”; will she confirm that families with no recourse to public funds will be eligible for help from the funding she has announced?

Photo of Therese Coffey Therese Coffey The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

I thank the Chairman of the Work and Pensions Committee for his comments. In answer to his first question, the approach is the same as that taken earlier in the year, using the index of multiple deprivation. A letter should go out to colleagues today setting out the amount of money that every council gets, but, candidly, the right hon. Gentleman can take the amount that was distributed earlier in the year, which was intended to spread over three months from the beginning of August, and divide it by 63 and multiply it by 170.

Yes, of course I congratulate Marcus Rashford. He has shown his passion for wanting to make sure that no child goes hungry. That is a passion that I share, and I think it is a passion that everybody in this House shares, which is why we are working on it right across Government, as we are today. We have been working with other Departments to get this package together—it has not just arrived by magic; it is part of an ongoing plan to support families to support children so that they can do better in life. That is why the package takes a holistic approach, looking at health and education. We will continue to make sure that we have a family strategy—which, again, I am working on with a variety of Departments —to really try to make sure that families, including every child, are well and truly supported.

Photo of Steve Double Steve Double Conservative, St Austell and Newquay

I thank the Secretary of State for this announcement, which is clearly an extension of our policy of making sure that help is targeted at those who need it most. Will she confirm that we have given the additional funding for this winter to councils because they are best placed to understand the needs of their communities and to get the support to the families that need it most? Does she share my view that this support should not just be used to support those who qualify for free school meals? Many families are not eligible for free school meals and it is important that they get the support that is available as well.

Photo of Therese Coffey Therese Coffey The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

Indeed, my hon. Friend is right. Using councils is probably the best way because they have the variety of information that I referring to earlier, but we can also use social services and health visitors. This goes beyond just children at school, and we need to make sure that all the information is well considered, in the round, so that the children who need help this winter get it.

I am conscious that people have asked why this is going to a variety of councils in the upper tier. It is because those councils generally have a statutory duty towards children. However, the best councils I have seen are working together right across their counties to make sure they make full use of the levers of local government to help children, an aim we share in this House, along with our councillors up and down the country, regardless of what party they represent.

Photo of Sarah Owen Sarah Owen Labour, Luton North

Nearly 4,000 children in Luton North and 8,000 children across the whole of Luton did not know where their next meal was coming from last half-term. Yet again, our wonderful community stepped up when the Government stepped back. When the Prime Minister chose to ignore Marcus Rashford’s campaign, it revealed a moral and compassion deficit that runs rife throughout his Government. Does the Minister agree that she should ensure that no child faces holiday hunger again, not just for the winter months but beyond this pandemic, and that she should start by paying workers a real living wage and ending in-work poverty?

Photo of Therese Coffey Therese Coffey The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

The universal credit system is designed to ensure that people are better off working than not working, and this Government introduced the national living wage, which has seen a huge uplift for a lot of people. In addition, by raising the personal tax allowance to more than £12,000 we have lifted at least 4 million people out of paying tax altogether. So people’s take-home pay has risen thanks to the actions of this Government, and we will continue to support families. However, under the In-Work Progression Commission, I want to go further, and Baroness Ruby McGregor-Smith is working on that because we want to make sure people can continue up the career ladder as well.

Photo of Steve Brine Steve Brine Conservative, Winchester

I really welcome this package today, most of all because it is a comprehensive, coherent and funded plan. We are spending our constituents’ money, and this plan has been put together outside a political storm, which has to be the right way to proceed. Will the Secretary of State confirm that support with food costs will not just be confined to families with school-age children, but will extend to all eligible pre-school children? We have to make sure we look after pre-school meals as well as free school meals.

Photo of Therese Coffey Therese Coffey The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

My hon. Friend is absolutely right on that, and I welcome his support for this package. We are taking that comprehensive, holistic approach, trusting our local councils to target the people who need that support. Commendable as people may have thought the motion discussed in the House a few weeks ago was, we wanted to make sure that every child at risk of going hungry this winter would be helped. This is also why we want to continue this approach with councils, whereby with these additions to their welfare funds they can really try to ensure that people have the money, if necessary, to heat their homes and prepare good nutritious meals.

Photo of Wendy Chamberlain Wendy Chamberlain Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Wales), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Scotland), Liberal Democrat Chief Whip, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Work and Pensions)

I join other Opposition Members in welcoming the Government’s movement on the issue, and I am pleased that they finally agree that no child should go hungry in the UK, but the devolved Administrations had their priorities on this issue right from the outset. Just moments ago, we heard that this is a significant expansion in England but that the devolved Administrations are to make do with moneys already announced last week. So will the Secretary of State explain why the devolved Administrations are arguably being penalised for having not only their priorities right on this issue, but their sums right?

Photo of Therese Coffey Therese Coffey The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

I am afraid that the hon. Lady is completely wrong on that. One thing the Chancellor set out last week was a recognition that, through the Barnett formula, every time we do certain different policies the devolved Administrations want to do additional things. We have a mature relationship with the devolved Administrations. They have been set a guaranteed amount of funding, and I assure her that there is still more room in terms of Barnett consequentials. The Chancellor was right to make the decision he did, and she should welcome it.

Photo of Christian Wakeford Christian Wakeford Conservative, Bury South

Although I did not support the Government in the vote a few weeks ago, like all in this Chamber I welcome the announcement of the covid winter grant scheme, especially with the inclusion of pre-school children. However, there is much more we can be doing, such as implementing the School Breakfast Bill, which stands in the name of Mrs Lewell-Buck—I look forward to working with my right hon. Friend on achieving that. Does she agree that putting on enriching activities through the holiday activities fund is a great way of both helping disadvantaged children in closing the attainment gap and ensuring they get a healthy meal?

Photo of Therese Coffey Therese Coffey The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

My hon. Friend is absolutely right about the purpose of the holiday activities fund. I do not want to call it a summer school because it is not, and we certainly do not want to put children off from attending because they have the idea that that is what it is. It is this element of enriching activities that keeps children involved. When they are away from school for longer than a week, we start to see them dropping away potentially, so it is really important that we have that engaging element where they can have fun and enjoy themselves. Certainly, it is my understanding from my hon. Friends at the Department for Education that the programme will help, and it is helping, children improve their educational attainment, which is so important for their future lives.

Photo of Andrew Gwynne Andrew Gwynne Labour, Denton and Reddish

I welcome the package of support for tackling child hunger over Christmas. As a Manchester City fan, let me pay tribute to that United hero, because without him, I do not believe that this Government would have done anything here, so thank you Marcus Rashford. Child poverty is serious. It is not just about free school meals; it is also about the proposed cut to universal credit in April and the inadequacy of the local housing allowance that is pushing too many children and families into poverty at this time. Rather than U-turning again next spring, which is probably inevitable, why will the Secretary of State not do the right thing now?

Photo of Therese Coffey Therese Coffey The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

I am conscious that we did boost the local housing allowance to the 30th percentile, which cost more than £1 billion, and I am sure that that may have helped some of the hon. Gentleman’s constituents. One thing we must recognise—we are working across Government on this—is what we can do to try to help reduce the cost of living. An interesting paper by the University of Bristol talks about the poverty premium, half of which is energy related—about £250 out of the £490 it identified. That is why I am working with people such as the Under-Secretary of State for Education, my hon. Friend Vicky Ford, the Minister for Business, Energy and Clean Growth, my right hon. Friend Kwasi Kwarteng and a wide range of people in this Government to tackle issues that face not only the poorest in society, but other households as well. We will continue to do that and I look forward to ongoing activity in and out of Government in order to ensure that we reach as many people as possible and make their lives better.

Photo of Damian Hinds Damian Hinds Conservative, East Hampshire

I particularly welcome this very large extension of the holiday activities programme. Will my right hon. Friend assure me that, in rolling it out, the Government will learn from some of the best deployments such as Connect4Summer in Hampshire, with a focus not only on a nutritious meal, on the daily mile, and on purposeful activity to address the holiday learning loss to which she has just alluded, but on things such as cooking from scratch workshops, first aid, and whole family sessions?

Photo of Therese Coffey Therese Coffey The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

Indeed, my right hon. Friend, a former Secretary of State for Education—a notable one at that—is right to put his finger on this and say that it is a comprehensive approach. I am aware that some of the best courses have included the whole family, which ensures that we can help them build that sustainable and resilient future. They also include some basic elements as well as some really sophisticated ways to try to improve these enriching activities, which I am sure they will enjoy.

Photo of Mohammad Yasin Mohammad Yasin Labour, Bedford

I have had many heartfelt letters from directors of small and medium-sized enterprises who have received no financial assistance from the Chancellor, despite running successful businesses. Many have no idea how they will make ends meet for their families this Christmas—the families that this Government have forgotten about. Universal credit is not the answer. When will the Government do the right thing and support these businesses through the crisis, so that they can be there to support the economic recovery?

Photo of Therese Coffey Therese Coffey The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

The Chancellor has appeared before this House on several occasions, as have other Treasury Ministers, setting out how we are supporting self-employed people. I am very conscious that there is access to help, whether it is through business loans, or, for those people who do not have savings that are not business assets, universal credit, but one thing about this particular scheme is that it will be for local councils to identify and decide who is eligible for support. I am conscious that the hon. Gentleman wishes to see other elements, but this is a comprehensive package from which many of the people he refers to may well benefit.

Photo of Robert Halfon Robert Halfon Chair, Education Committee, Chair, Education Committee

I strongly welcome the announcement, which shows a Government who are committed to social justice. I particularly welcome the holiday activities programme. Will my right hon. Friend give guidance to councils to ensure that access to the £170 million covid winter grant is as unbureaucratic as possible for families? Will she also confirm when Healthy Start vouchers will be digitised? We know that national uptake in October was just over 50%, partly due to the paper application form and voucher system.

Photo of Therese Coffey Therese Coffey The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

I welcome my right hon. Friend’s support for the scheme, particularly the holiday activities fund. On guidance to councils about the winter grant, I am sure that they will work with a number of public sector organisations in their areas, and get valuable knowledge from schools. I am conscious that take-up of the Healthy Start voucher is not 100%, but I will ask the Health Secretary to write to him about that particular issue.

Photo of Holly Lynch Holly Lynch Shadow Minister (Home Office)

Like everybody in the Chamber today, I very much welcome this announcement. But will the Secretary of State join me in paying tribute to Calderdale Council, the Community Foundation for Calderdale, the Piece Hall and so many others in Halifax that came together to launch the Never Hungry Again campaign, which was made possible by donations from the general public and plugged the gap of free school meals over the recent half-term? Following her announcement today, will the Secretary of State commit to reimbursing Calderdale Council for the resources it had to invest to ensure that no child went hungry over the recent half-term?

Photo of Therese Coffey Therese Coffey The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

Throughout this pandemic, we have seen communities and councils come together to support those in more difficulty than themselves. It has been a tremendous response by the people of this country. I think it is fair to say that the £63 million of funding allocated to councils earlier in the year was designed to extend from the beginning of August through to October. Of course, councils used it in a variety of ways. My own council—Suffolk County Council—was allocated £700,000 and added another £800,000 itself, and it has used £600,000 of the funds in total. It wanted to ensure that it was using the best knowledge to reach the most vulnerable people, and I am sure that Calderdale Council can be congratulated on ensuring that it has done that too.

Photo of Heather Wheeler Heather Wheeler Conservative, South Derbyshire

I thank my right hon. Friend for her statement. Does she agree that putting on enriching activities through their holiday activities fund, especially in South Derbyshire, is a great way of helping disadvantaged children and ensuring that they get a free and healthy meal, about which many of my constituents are so concerned?

Photo of Therese Coffey Therese Coffey The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

I am sure that the holiday activities fund will be a huge success in my hon. Friend’s constituency, as it will have her full support. I am conscious that having a nutritious meal is part of that, but I am also sure that the enriching elements that children will enjoy over the longer holidays will be a welcome relief both for parents and their children, and will keep them connected to the ongoing progress that they can make in their educational attainment.

Photo of Chris Stephens Chris Stephens Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Fair Work and Employment)

The Secretary of State said earlier that advances are grants. That, of course, is not the view shared by the cross-party Work and Pensions Committee, which describes advances as loans that should be replaced by grants. Will the Secretary of State tell us when she will be in a position to respond to that report, and whether she is considering making the £20 uplift to universal credit permanent, as Feeding Britain estimates this would prevent 300,000 children from going into poverty?

Photo of Therese Coffey Therese Coffey The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

The universal credit that is given out every month to benefit recipients is a grant. The advances are simply an early payment of that grant, and then the total amount is spread over the year. I have been asked about the report a few times; as I have said to the Select Committee previously, we have ongoing discussions with the Treasury about aspects of welfare support and those discussions are continuing.

Photo of Barry Sheerman Barry Sheerman Labour/Co-operative, Huddersfield

I know the Secretary of State to be a very pleasant colleague and woman, but I have to tell her that I have never seen such poverty in our land in all my 40 years in Parliament. What she has announced today is too little, too late. She talks about working across Government—I remember how they got rid of Sure Start and children’s centres. Early years provision, which so many working families depend on, is in deep financial trouble. When is she going to do something across Government to tackle the family poverty that stalks this land right now?

Photo of Therese Coffey Therese Coffey The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

The hon. Gentleman is a long-standing Member of the House, and I am conscious that he will be seeing things exacerbated in his constituency by the issues that we face in tackling coronavirus. It is a great sadness that so many people have lost their work or are on reduced hours, and that is why we put in the extra injection of more than £9 billion of welfare support, to help people through this time.

In terms of helping young children, the Under-Secretary of State for Education, my hon. Friend Vicky Ford, has just reminded me that we have the most generous support for pre-school children ever undertaken by a Government. We continue to want to ensure that every child reaches their potential. While I am conscious of how proud the Labour party was of Sure Start, the key difference is that we wanted to ensure that the interventions we undertook were exceptionally targeted, so that every child was able to fulfil their potential. I am confident that the measures in place will continue to accelerate that, because that is the right thing to do.

Photo of Margaret Greenwood Margaret Greenwood Labour, Wirral West

People who have already had a mortgage holiday for six months are not eligible for another one under the Government’s scheme, so many people will be worrying about how they will keep a roof over their heads this winter. Furthermore, the scheme does not cover mortgage interest, so that will still accrue during any payment holiday. Back in April 2018, the Government scrapped the support for mortgage interest payment and replaced it with a loan, despite warnings from Labour that that would put low-income households at risk. What consideration has the Secretary of State given to reinstating SMI, and will she abolish the nine-month waiting period, which renders the scheme unfit for purpose?

Photo of Therese Coffey Therese Coffey The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

One of the things the hon. Lady fails to mention is that if those who are new to benefits have had full contributions over the last nine months, there is no cap on the benefits that they may receive. The support for mortgage interest is continuing. She is right to say that the Government changed that from a grant to a loan. That was the right thing to do, because people have an asset, and we are helping them to keep it. I am conscious of the extensive work undertaken by the Chancellor on ensuring that mortgages could be rearranged or that payments could be made. I am also conscious of the excellent work done by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government on ensuring that no evictions would happen as a result of the issues we are facing, except, more recently, for people who are nuisance neighbours. We have done a lot to ensure that people can stay in their homes and keep a roof over their heads.

Photo of Maria Miller Maria Miller Conservative, Basingstoke

I warmly welcome this package of measures to support families through what will undoubtedly be a very hard winter. My right hon. Friend will be aware that, in constituencies such as mine, more than half of the people on low incomes are in single-person households, and they face a very different set of issues this winter. Can she confirm that funding for programmes that help people through homelessness, support rough sleepers and provide support on issues around mental health will not be diminished by the package of measures announced today?

Photo of Therese Coffey Therese Coffey The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

I know Basingstoke well, because that is where I worked for many years, and I am conscious of the wide variety of communities there that are supportive of one another. I hope my right hon. Friend will be aware of the £700 million package announced by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government last week, to ensure that rough sleeping really does become history.

Photo of Neil Coyle Neil Coyle Labour, Bermondsey and Old Southwark

Today’s measures are reactive; they have been forced out of this Government by the covid pandemic and the epic campaign of Marcus Rashford. The truth is that last year, the Trussell Trust had to provide 720,000 emergency packages of support to children in this country. That is more than 700,000 higher than when Labour left office in 2010. All we are asking today is for the Secretary of State to be proactive—scrap the benefit cap, scrap the universal credit delay and scrap the “no recourse to public funds” restrictions, which will all leave children hungry across this country if the Government continue to fail to listen.

Photo of Therese Coffey Therese Coffey The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

This is a massive expansion of the holiday activities fund that we have been running for the past three years, and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will welcome that. In terms of building on what we distributed earlier in the year—£63 million, as well as the covid summer scheme—£170 million will be there to make sure that every child has no need to go hungry in this country. I am sure that he will welcome that too. We will continue to work on helping people to try to get ready to get back into work as and when the economy recovers. We are doing that through our plan for jobs, which I am sure he will welcome too.

Photo of Tom Hunt Tom Hunt Conservative, Ipswich

Over the summer, the Under-Secretary of State for Education, my hon. Friend Vicky Ford, visited me in Ipswich because we were one of the pilots where the holiday food and activities fund was in operation. I can tell everyone in this House that this has been a long time coming—it has been worked on by Government for a very long period and was very much a plan that they hoped to extend across the country. This is far more ambitious than what was proposed in terms of simply extending the school meal vouchers into the holidays; this is an unprecedented intervention to help those who need the help the most, and I fundamentally welcome it. But does my right hon. Friend agree with me that we all have a big job to do, both in this place but also as Government and as councils, to make sure that before December everyone is aware of this fund and the profile is raised so that we can ensure that those who are vulnerable and need the help the most get access to it in a timely way?

Photo of Therese Coffey Therese Coffey The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

I completely agree with my hon. Friend and neighbour on the excellent work that was done through the holiday activities fund in the summer in Ipswich. He will be conscious of the diverse community that he represents, but also the excellent work undertaken by Suffolk County Council, and indeed all public sector leaders, in trying to make sure that they have distributed the funds that were allocated to them earlier in the year and have added money on top. I am convinced that the £2 million, I think it is, that will be going to Suffolk will really go a long way towards making sure that children in Ipswich, in my constituency, in Lowestoft and right across the county will be sure of getting the help that they need.

Photo of David Johnston David Johnston Conservative, Wantage

I very much welcome this package of support today, which will rightly tackle more aspects of poverty than efforts with vouchers could have done. Regarding the additional support for FareShare, we have in my constituency one of its regional partners, SOFEA, which I volunteered for regularly in lockdown, seeing first-hand what a great job it does. Does my right hon. Friend agree that charities such as this are often better placed to understand the needs of their communities than central Government are?

Photo of Therese Coffey Therese Coffey The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

I congratulate my hon. Friend. I know how dedicated he was, before entering this House, to social mobility and tackling poverty, and he continues to be so. I fully agree that a lot of local charities have a particular insight into their communities and are often helped by more national organisations such as FareShare. However, they are not the only ones out there. There are plenty of others trying to make sure that we help people in different ways: not only help to get food on the table but help through some of the wraparound care that is so important for families at this time.

Photo of Barbara Keeley Barbara Keeley Labour, Worsley and Eccles South

I want to raise the issue of carers and financial disadvantage. During this crisis, millions of unpaid carers have taken on more caring duties or started caring for a family member for the first time, and many of them are struggling to make ends meet. Although universal credit was uplifted during the crisis to provide people with more support, there was no change to the level of carers allowance, despite it being the lowest benefit of its kind. Will the Secretary of State recognise the monumental impact that the pandemic has had on carers’ lives and introduce an equivalent uplift payment to that for universal credit for carers in receipt of carers allowance?

Photo of Therese Coffey Therese Coffey The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

I heard part of the hon. Lady’s question and I think the whole House can agree how much we value carers not only as a Government but often through experiences in our own individual lives. I am conscious that carers allowance is not a salary—it is there as a benefit to help people who undertake that duty. I continue to make sure that we try to offer as much help as we can, as a Government, not only to social services but through how we can help people to undertake these caring responsibilities in as flexible a way as possible.

Photo of Andy Carter Andy Carter Conservative, Warrington South

Can I welcome the statement today from the Secretary of State? It is very much an extension to our policy, and it is adapting to the extraordinary circumstances we find ourselves in in this country. Can she confirm that the £170 million scheme builds on the £63 million already announced earlier this year, and as with previous funding allocations, it is local councils that get that cash—in my constituency, it is Warrington Borough Council—because they are best placed to be able to deliver the support that local disadvantaged families need in this time of extraordinary circumstance?

Photo of Therese Coffey Therese Coffey The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The people in Warrington will benefit significantly from this addition to what is—in effect, through the covid winter grant—an extension of the local welfare fund, which we had already given money to earlier in the year, as he identifies. I think it is important that we continue to use the strengths of local councils in order to make sure that the help goes to those who need it the most and is really well targeted. I am sure that they will draw on every capability and insight in order to make sure that no child in Warrington will go cold or hungry this winter.

Photo of Mary Foy Mary Foy Labour, City of Durham

Last month, Conservative Members took to social media to claim that free school meal vouchers were being spent on prostitution and drugs, as well as to criticise selfless business owners who stepped in to provide the support that the Government refused to. Will the Secretary of State condemn these comments by MPs as not only false, but as yet more demonisation of those in poverty by the Conservative Government?

Photo of Therese Coffey Therese Coffey The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

This Government continue to strive to help people who are vulnerable and disadvantaged, and we will continue to do that. I welcome any support given in order to help local communities. I am conscious that we need to continue to try to make sure we reach people of all ages; in particular, this grant is focused on children. There will be flexibility in supporting local organisations to do the right thing, but I also continue to welcome other organisations, such as businesses in the hon. Member’s constituency, that also reach out to help.

Photo of Jonathan Gullis Jonathan Gullis Conservative, Stoke-on-Trent North

Obviously, this is a very welcome package, and I thank the Secretary of State for giving this much-needed money—over £1 million for Stoke-on-Trent City Council and over £2 million for Staffordshire County Council. The Hubb Foundation in Stoke-on-Trent, in the mother town of Burslem, is an amazing holiday club, run by Carol Shanahan. I really implore the Minister and ask the Minister to meet me and Ms Shanahan to discuss how its holiday programme is one of those exemplary holiday programmes not just locally but nationally, and to ensure that it gets funding for the Christmas and Easter period coming up?

Photo of Therese Coffey Therese Coffey The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

My hon. Friend, with his vast educational experience, will have been a true witness to the benefits that activities like the holiday activity fund can really bring to the future potential of children. I am very happy to say that my hon. Friend the Minister for children will be leading on this programme, with support from the welfare delivery Minister—the Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, my hon. Friend Will Quince—and I am sure that they will both be delighted to meet him and the lady to whom he refers, because we want to keep learning from success to make sure that every child who is eligible for that support will get equally excellent educational and enriching activities over the coming holidays.

Photo of Naseem Shah Naseem Shah Shadow Minister (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

I came into politics because I had this feeling that politics was broken and today’s example of the Secretary of State coming in here and using the words of social justice when announcing this package is just absolutely shocking. But I do welcome—I genuinely welcome—anything that helps my constituents, when I have in my constituency the fastest growing rate of child poverty in the whole of Yorkshire and Humber. The country’s compassion shone through. It filled the gaps where the Government failed, and I just want to say thank you to the council, Cafe West in Lower Grange, the churches, the Bradford Foundation Trust and Bradford Central food bank, which really stepped up. But what an insult to all these businesses came from Selaine Saxby, who suggested that she was delighted that businesses had bounced back from the pandemic to offer this support and should no longer receive Government help. Does the Minister agree with me that that was a shameful comment?

Photo of Therese Coffey Therese Coffey The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

To be honest, I do not really know what the hon. Lady is talking about and I reject her assertion—[Interruption.] I reject her assertion and the comments that she made. I think she should consider them carefully. Hon. Members right across this House want to do the right thing by children. We have been particularly affected as a country and as a nation by the coronavirus pandemic. She should not—[Interruption.] She should not underestimate what has happened over the last 10 years. This Government are in a place to actually extend the financial support that we have offered to families, businesses and other organisations—to many charities—across the country. Frankly, it may have happened 10 years ago, but when Labour left government, it left nothing; there was no money left. It has taken 10 years of hard work, the ongoing support to this country and the passion of this country in order to recover from the horrific economic deficit. It is through that that we continue to be able to borrow to make sure the issues today can be addressed and we continue to bounce back. Things such as the furlough scheme will have helped the hon. Lady’s constituents get through this difficult time, and I am sad that she seems to have just dismissed it entirely.

Photo of Miriam Cates Miriam Cates Conservative, Penistone and Stocksbridge

I thank my right hon. Friend for her statement. I am delighted that, in my constituency, Barnsley Council will be receiving more than £900,000 and Sheffield will be receiving more than £2 million from the covid winter support grant, which will go to support our most vulnerable families this winter.

There has been a huge amount of coverage in the past few weeks about free school meals, but of course this has never been a debate about school meals, which by definition are provided in school in term time and have never been intended to support families in crisis. So I welcome this comprehensive approach to supporting the families who have been most affected by this pandemic. This year more than any other year, families’ circumstances have changed so quickly. So can my right hon. Friend confirm that local authorities will be able to use this to support all families, not just those who have previously registered for support?

Photo of Therese Coffey Therese Coffey The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to welcome the funding, which will support her constituents. Working with local councils, we want to ensure that money reaches the people who really need it, and there will not be pre-qualification through other ways. Councils are well placed with sources of information to make sure they help children not just at school age but before that. They will have access to benefits data. They have access to other data from social services and health visitors —the list goes on—so they can really target their support. I am sure they will also be helped by many local charities and organisations, such as those in my hon. Friend’s constituency.

Photo of Beth Winter Beth Winter Labour, Cynon Valley

Research by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation has found significant increases in poverty rates as a result of the covid pandemic. Local and devolved Governments in every country of the UK have now democratically called for pilots of universal basic income. There is a clear will across political parties and among the public for such pilots to go ahead. Will the Secretary of State agree to meet me and the other co-chairs of the cross-party group on UBI to discuss what support her Department can provide for that important initiative?

Photo of Therese Coffey Therese Coffey The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

I know that the hon. Lady is interested in universal basic income. She once asked me a question in this House that took more than a minute. The answer was no then and it is no now to UBI. I am conscious that she is being tenacious on this matter, but she will not make UBI happen under this Government.

Photo of Jack Brereton Jack Brereton Conservative, Stoke-on-Trent South

I join my hon. Friends the Members for Stoke-on-Trent North (Jonathan Gullis) and for Stoke-on-Trent Central (Jo Gideon) in fully supporting this announcement. Unemployment is above the UK average in Stoke-on-Trent, so schemes to help low-income families and get people into work are vital. What steps is my right hon. Friend’s Department taking to support those who have found themselves out of work to find new employment opportunities?

Photo of Therese Coffey Therese Coffey The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

My hon. Friend is right to point out that, while we continue to support people through the welfare system, we know that the best way ultimately for people to get out of poverty is to work. That is why, through our plan for jobs, we have been extending the number of training courses that people can do. In particular, a new scheme called JETS—job entry targeted support—tries to get people ready to go back into work. The jobs finding support scheme is particularly tailored to help people who had been in work for a long time; to try to find work is a new experience for them. There are also swaps: in some sectors, the future does not look quite so bright for the next few years, and we want to encourage people to consider swapping careers, even if it is just in the short term, to ensure they can try to get back into work. That is a successful programme for which there is huge demand. We are seeing huge delivery of these programmes.

Photo of Yvonne Fovargue Yvonne Fovargue Labour, Makerfield

I welcome the expansion of grants, but can I urge the Secretary of State to scrap the five-week delay in claiming universal credit? An advance that has to be repaid over whatever period is a loan. There is increasing evidence from debt charities that that is pushing vulnerable families further into debt.

Photo of Therese Coffey Therese Coffey The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

If somebody comes to make a universal credit claim, they can get money pretty quickly—within about three or four days. Yes, that is an advance but there is an earlier payment of the sum that would generally be available over the year. Instead of getting 12 payments, a recipient will get 13. It is important that if people need help, they get it, but then the payment will be spread over the rest of the year.

Photo of Kevin Hollinrake Kevin Hollinrake Conservative, Thirsk and Malton

As co-chair of the all-party group on poverty, may I welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement? Despite protestations from the Opposition, I do not remember any similar package of support being available in 2008-09, when millions of people faced similar hardship. It is important to take a strategic approach, so will my right hon. Friend outline how this strategy will dovetail with the national food strategy, which was commissioned by this Government in 2019 and has made similar recommendations?

Photo of Therese Coffey Therese Coffey The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

My hon. Friend is right to point out that the Government continue to try to support people through this challenging time. They have put their money where their mouth is to get that direct support to families, as well as to businesses and communities more generally. On the national food strategy, Henry Dimbleby has produced his initial review, and once we get phase 2 of his work and suggestions, the Government will develop a food strategy. We are united in ensuring, particularly through Healthy Start vouchers, that the food that young children and expectant mothers have is nutritious, because that is important for the development of our young children.

Photo of Philippa Whitford Philippa Whitford Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Health and Social Care), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Europe)

Last year, the UN special rapporteur on poverty highlighted that disabled people have been among the hardest hit by 10 years of this Government’s austerity agenda. They are particularly reliant on legacy benefits which, unlike universal credit, have not been increased by £20 a week during the covid crisis. Will the Secretary of State commit to a permanent increase in universal credit, and support disabled people by extending the uplift to all legacy benefits?

Photo of Therese Coffey Therese Coffey The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

People can move to universal credit, apart from that small cohort of people who currently receive the severe disability premium, and they will be able to make that move from January. It is important that people check to see whether they will be better off, but we think that the vast majority of recipients will be better off on universal credit than they are on legacy benefits, and we will do what we can to help them in that journey.

Photo of Caroline Ansell Caroline Ansell Conservative, Eastbourne

I sincerely thank my right hon. Friend and the Ministers who have worked intensively during this period to bring these measures to the House today. They are incredibly welcome and will make a real difference to children in Eastbourne and Willingdon. I recognise that they go further, wider and deeper than the motion I supported two weeks ago. I particularly welcome the extension of the holiday and food activities programme, not least because we have seen schools close this year, and the learning gap has widened. These measures will help with that and be impactful. The programme is new to Eastbourne. I have seen the success of pilot schemes in other areas, and it is something I hugely welcome. Will my right hon. Friend assure me that good practice in other areas will be shared with county councils that do not have experience of delivering these programmes, to ensure that every child benefits to the maximum?

Photo of Therese Coffey Therese Coffey The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

I thank my hon. Friend for her remarks, and she is right to recognise that this support package is much more comprehensive in reaching disadvantaged children. I particularly welcome her support for the national roll-out of the holiday activities programme. Not only will there be guidance, but I genuinely hope that we can do something innovative regarding how we share best practice between the most successful schemes. We must encourage charities, in a covid-secure way, to find out what is happening in different parts of the country, so that they will be well prepared when these programmes start at Easter.

Photo of Christine Jardine Christine Jardine Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (International Trade), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Exiting the European Union), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Treasury)

While I welcome this latest U-turn from the Government on supporting children,  I ask them to consider the fact that there are still millions of people in this country, like the constituent I spoke to on Wednesday who was at her wits’ end, who have had no help, no support, no finance from the Government at all since March. Will the Government reconsider? Will they consider universal basic income? Will they extend the help we have at the moment to the excluded?

Photo of Therese Coffey Therese Coffey The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

No, we will not be doing universal basic income.

Photo of Siobhan Baillie Siobhan Baillie Conservative, Stroud

A long-term and local approach was always going to be the best thing to help families. I feel quite emotional about this, because I was told that I was starving children and that I was killing children—I had the worst abuse ever. I abstained because I wanted to help the Government to look at that long-term approach. If Opposition Members really thought that children would be starving over the half-term holidays, they would not have brought that just before the half-term holidays. The local approach is working and I ask the Secretary of State to give praise to charities such as The Long Table, the Freezers of Love initiative and Paganhill community groups, and say to them that the money and the funding will be there, because they know where the families are who they can help.

Photo of Therese Coffey Therese Coffey The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

It is nice to see my hon. Friend back in the House after her maternity leave. She speaks with appropriate compassion and she recognises some of the local organisations in her area. I encourage her to work with them and her council to help to ensure that the £170 million funding can be effectively distributed, so that the most disadvantaged children and families are truly helped. We want to make sure that that activity continues to support similar children through the holiday activity fund.

Photo of Rosie Winterton Rosie Winterton Deputy Speaker (First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

In order to allow the safe exit of hon. Members participating in this item of business and the safe arrival of those participating in the next, I am suspending the House for a few minutes.

Sitting suspended.

Virtual participation in proceedings concluded (Order, 4 June).