Dame Diana Johnson will be aware that, in recognition of the cost of living challenge, we have announced a new £15 billion support package that is targeted at those who are most in need, bringing the total cost of living support to £37 billion. The extra support should cover every household, but is particularly targeted at helping more than 8 million households in receipt of means-tested benefits. The household support fund, which is delivered through councils, is another way that constituents can access help.
I must say to the Secretary of State that the £20 cut to universal credit seems even meaner now. Even the package of measures that she mentioned is not stopping what the Trussell Trust has announced: an increasing number of people turning up to get food parcels. In my own constituency, Unity in Community and St John’s church, Bransholme, are seeing soaring demand for food packages while their stocks are diminishing. I know that Ministers are occupied with party games today, but when will the Secretary of State get a grip of these benefits and set them at a level that means that people can pay for their everyday essentials?
The Government have always been clear that getting into work and getting on in work is an important way to lift people’s prosperity. That is why we lifted the national living wage from April; why last December we quickly put in place a change in the taper rate so that people keep more of what they earn, while still getting support and benefits; and why we have stepped in with a substantial package of support to help people with this particular challenge of global inflation—caused not only by supply chain challenges after covid, but by Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, which has done a lot to damage to energy costs.
As well as being impacted by the soaring cost of living, two thirds of the near 50,000 children in the Tees valley and families on universal credit are affected by the punitive impact of deductions. That is because most of them are paying back the Department for Work and Pensions advance that is needed to survive the five-week wait for their first universal credit payment. Will the Secretary of State accept that every pound clawed back is a pound not available for families to spend on food and other essential costs? Will she change this cruel policy now, and make a real difference to children and families already living in poverty?
The hon. Gentleman forgets that the advance is there to spread the payment that people are entitled to over a year into 13 payments. We have also enabled people in effect to have that payment spread over two years, with 25 payments. It is about a phasing of how we put into families’ pockets the benefits to which they are entitled, and nothing else.
Among those worst impacted by the cost of living rising is the army of unpaid carers who do so much not only to support their friends and loved ones but to ease the pressure on the NHS. I know that my right hon. Friend understands and appreciates that. This is Carers Week; what thought has she given to increasing unpaid carers allowance to support them and reflect their hard work, sacrifice and need?
The whole House would unite with my hon. Friend in thanking carers, and I am sure we all have lived experiences as well. I think it is fair to say that carers allowance is not intended to be a replacement salary or anything like that; it is a contribution, and a modest contribution, I accept. As with all benefits, we consider the uplift annually, and I will continue to do so.