Clause 8 - Review of benefit cap

Welfare Reform and Work Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 4:00 pm on 17th September 2015.

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Photo of Emily Thornberry Emily Thornberry Labour, Islington South and Finsbury 4:00 pm, 17th September 2015

I beg to move amendment 12, in clause 8, page 10, line 22, leave out “in each Parliament” and insert “a year”.

To require the Secretary of State to review the level of the benefit cap every year to determine whether it is appropriate to change the level of the cap.

Photo of Albert Owen Albert Owen Labour, Ynys Môn

With this it will be convenient to discuss new clause 1—Report on impact of benefit cap reductions —

“(1) The Secretary of State must publish and lay before Parliament before the end of the financial year ending with 31 March 2017 a report on the impact of the benefit cap reductions introduced by this Bill.

(2) The report must include an assessment of the impact on each of the measures of child poverty defined in the Child Poverty Act 2010.”

This new clause requires the Secretary of State to review impact of lower benefit cap after 12 months.

Photo of Emily Thornberry Emily Thornberry Labour, Islington South and Finsbury

Amendment 12 would leave out the provision that the benefit cap should be reviewed in each Parliament and instead state that it should be reviewed each year. The reason for that is obvious. We hear from the Government all the time about how well they are doing, how many people are getting into work and how well the economy is doing. If all of that is true, the level of inflation may well go up. For that reason, it seems entirely reasonable, responsible and fair to review the benefit cap every year. There has been a tradition of benefits being reviewed every year. The amendment would be consistent with what has been settled practice in terms of fairness in the past. If the benefit cap really is about fairness, surely there should be no problem with ensuring that the benefit cap is reviewed each year instead of in each Parliament.

That brings me to new clause 1, which states that the Secretary of State must report to Parliament by 31 March 2017 on the impact of the benefit cap reductions introduced in the Bill and that the report must include an assessment of the impact on each measure of child poverty, as defined by the Child Poverty Act 2010. That takes us back to the mantra that Ministers will hear throughout the parliamentary debate on this Bill, which is evidence, evidence, evidence. Not prejudice, not Daily Mail headlines but evidence.

If the alleged high-minded principles behind the Bill are a true ambition, the Government will not be frightened of an assessment to ensure that they are not being cruel, or randomly dishing out unfairness, but are truly pursuing the policies they claim to be trying to promote. If they are truly confident that their ambitions will be fulfilled as a result of the Bill, they will not run away from new clause 1 but embrace it. As they come up to the next general election, they will want to say, “Thanks to the Labour party, we have been able to measure the real success of our Bill. We have not been unfair on anyone. Everyone is back in work. Look at the way in which the streets of London flow with milk and honey.” Indeed, we will support them, and applaud them, if what they say they want to do really happens, but we will not know what has happened, other than from the weeping people coming into our surgeries, if we do not measure it properly.

The Government have resources to measure this properly, so why run away? Why not go ahead and measure the so-called success that will result from the Bill? If the Government are not prepared to measure it, those watching the debate will know that the reason they do not want to measure it is because they know what is really going to happen: the poor are going to get poorer. The Government are picking on the poorest in order to pay off the deficit, which is unfair.

Photo of Priti Patel Priti Patel Minister of State (Department for Work and Pensions)

This group contains two proposals. As we have heard, amendment 12 would introduce a requirement for the Secretary of State to review the level of the benefit cap annually, and new clause 1 would require the Secretary of State to publish and lay before Parliament a report on the impact of the changes.

On amendment 12, the Bill requires the Secretary of State to review the level of the cap at least once in every Parliament, but it also provides him with powers to review the benefit cap at any other time he considers appropriate. That provides the most effective means of ensuring that the cap stays at the appropriate level while  providing the stability that households on benefits require. The cap’s current provisions require the level to be reviewed annually, but that is specifically to review the relationship with average earnings, on which the level of the current cap is based. To date, there has been no need to change the level of the cap following those annual reviews.

Earlier, we touched on some of the evidence showing that households affected by the cap are 41% more likely to go into work. Our provisions already include powers allowing the Secretary of State, if appropriate, to review the cap at any time in the Parliament, which means that the Government will not be constrained from reviewing the cap, particularly in light of any significant economic events. The clause, as drafted, will therefore provide a sufficient safeguard, and the level of the cap remains at the appropriate level.

On new clause 1, during the passage of the Welfare Reform Act 2012, the Government committed to a full evaluation of the benefit cap to explore its effectiveness. The then Minister with responsibility for employment announced that DWP would publish a review of the cap after its first year of operation. The review was published in December 2014 and explored the progress from policy development to implementation and delivery. The report evaluated the effectiveness of three specific aims that underpinned the introduction of the benefit cap. These were to focus on work incentives, introduce greater fairness and, of course, to make the system more affordable by encouraging positive support for individuals who needed it, particularly in getting back to work.

The cap has been in place for about two years, and evidence shows that it has been successful. We intend to build on that success. Since its introduction, more than 16,000 capped households have moved into work. As I mentioned, capped households are more likely to go into work than those that are uncapped. This has been achieved without a legislative requirement for reports and evaluations. We do not feel that it is necessary to commit in legislation to delivering any future evaluations. We have not decided on approaches yet but, as before, an evaluation of the new cap would be most appropriate after implementation, when we can see the cap’s full effect and the behavioural changes it causes, and they can be reviewed accordingly.

The Government’s record on providing a review of the cap should be recognised. Also, a number of independently commissioned pieces of research and analysis, peer reviewed by a range of organisations, has been published. That, with the introduction of the life chances measures, means that, contrary to what is suggested in the amendment, we do not need legislation to report on the impact of the benefit cap. I urge the hon. Member for Islington South and Finsbury to withdraw the amendment.

Photo of Albert Owen Albert Owen Labour, Ynys Môn

We will deal with new clause 1 later.

Question put, That the amendment be made.

The Committee divided: Ayes 5, Noes 10.

Division number 22 Decision Time — Clause 8 - Review of benefit cap

Aye: 5 MPs

No: 10 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Nos: A-Z by last name

Question accordingly negatived.

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

I beg to move amendment 94, in clause  8, page 10, line 30, at end insert—

“(aa) the impact of the benefit cap on disabled persons and carers.”

This amendment requires the Secretary of State to consider the impact of the benefit cap on disabled people, and carers, when reviewing the level of the benefit cap.

Photo of Albert Owen Albert Owen Labour, Ynys Môn

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Amendment 73, in clause 8, page 10, line 31, leave out paragraph (b) and insert—

“(b) The relationship between the level of the cap and average earnings, and

(c) Regional variations in the cost of housing.”

To remove the provision allowing the Secretary of State to set the level of the benefit cap by reference to “any other matters [he] considers relevant” and to instead require that the cap should be set by reference to average earnings and regional variations to adjust for differences in the cost of housing.

Amendment 13, in clause 8, page 10, line 31, at end insert—

“(c) an annual report made by the Social Security Advisory Committee on the level of the benefit cap.”

To require the Secretary of State to take into account an annual report by the Social Security Advisory Committee on the level of the benefit cap when undertaking his review of the benefit cap.

Amendment 14, in clause 8, page 10, line 31, at end insert—

“(3A) The report made by the Social Security Advisory Committee on the level of benefit cap, under subsection 3c, must include an assessment of the impact of the benefit cap on the Discretionary Housing Payments Funds administered by local authorities.”

To require the Social Security Advisory Committee’s annual report on the level of the benefit cap to include an assessment of the impact of the benefit cap on Discretionary Housing Payments.

Amendment 105, in clause 8, page 10, line 31, at end insert—

“(c) any reports on the impact of the benefit cap on the wellbeing of children made by the:

(i) Children’s Commissioners for England;

(ii) Children’s Commissioner for Wales;

(iii) Scotland’s Commissioner for Children and Young People; and

(iv) Commissioner for Children and Young People, Northern Ireland, following the introduction of the benefit cap in Northern Ireland.”

To require the Secretary of State, when reviewing the level of the benefit cap, to take into account any reports made by the Children’s Commissioners for England, Scotland, Wales on the impact of the benefit cap on the wellbeing of children. Should the benefit cap be introduced in Northern Ireland the Secretary of State shall also be required to take account of any similar reports made by the Children’s Commissioner for Northern Ireland. This amendment does not require the Children’s Commissioners to make such report but does require the Secretary of State to consider any such reports if they are made.

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

I rise to speak to amendment 94, which is in my name; the consequential amendment 13, which focuses on the Social Security Advisory Committee and its reports; amendment 14, on the effect on discretionary housing payments; and amendment 105 on reports by the Children’s Commissioners. We support the amendments.

Amendment 94 would require the Secretary of State to assess the impact on disabled people and their carers when considering the cap threshold. This comes back to the earlier discussion about the fault-line between the parties on this issue. Our party believes that disabled people and carers should be protected, and that, as a minimum, the Government should be monitoring the impact of their policies on these significantly disadvantaged groups. Our policy comes from an evidence base, and it reflects the fact that, over the past few years, whether deliberately or by accident, the Government have penalised disabled people and carers.

I should like to give a personal example relating to the amendment before going into detail. My mum has schizophrenia. She is fortunate now, in that she is over state retirement age and so exempt, and has adequate treatment that sustains her mental health. Had this Government’s policy been in place before she was adequately treated, before adequate schizophrenia treatment was available, she might have been forced into homelessness or into being sectioned, at considerable additional cost to the state. She would have been trying to manage the side effects of poor medication, which at times caused vomiting so severe it contributed to loss of teeth. As that was happening, if this policy had been in place, she would also have been losing income and being made even more vulnerable. That is why the Government’s proposals are so dangerous and difficult for so many disabled people and their carers and families.

In the last five years, the Government have been either unaware of or uncaring about the cumulative effects of their policies on disabled people and carers. A massive grassroots movement of disabled people in particular and carers as well has put forward the WOW petition asking the Government to assess the impact of their policies on disabled people and carers. The petition secured 104,818 supporters and resulted in a debate in the House. During the debate, a previous Minister undertook to carry out several actions, including asking officials in the Department for Work and Pensions to work closely with Dr Simon Duffy of the Centre for Welfare Reform to make the independent cumulative impact assessment carried out by him as accurate as possible.

Unfortunately, since that debate, the Government have not worked with Dr Duffy to ensure that. The amendment would help address some of the frustration that disabled people and carers feel about the impact of Government policy and about not being taken more seriously. The Government’s Social Security Advisory  Committee concluded that the Government could and should provide an analysis of the cumulative impact of their welfare reforms on disabled people, and the Equality and Human Rights Commission and the National Institute of Economic and Social Research recommended that Her Majesty’s Treasury

“incorporates breakdowns of the cumulative impact of tax and social security measures according to protected characteristics into its distributional analysis as a matter of course.”

The amendment would support the Government in meeting that requirement. I should add that the WOW petition is up and running again in light of the Government’s inaction, despite previous commitments, to ensure that policies are better assessed for their impact on disabled people and carers.

During the last Parliament, we saw the rise of the Hardest Hit campaign, a combination of disability, carer and advice and welfare organisations working to ensure that the Government focus better on the impact of their policies. The campaign remains active and concerned about the impact of continued Government policy and reductions in support to disabled people and carers. The Government have continued to claim that disabled people are protected. That is untrue, and increasingly untrue. Of particular concern is the fact that, from October this year, the number of people on disability living allowance being pushed through personal independence payments assessments will increase. As the Government’s objective is to remove support from about 600,000 disabled people, it will mean that those disabled people will no longer be exempt from the benefit cap, adding additional weight to the importance of the amendment.

Witnesses to the Committee, including Parkinson’s UK, have suggested monitoring the impact of further changes and have said it would be welcome. I am grateful to the Disability Benefits Consortium for supporting my contribution to this debate. The DBC consists of about 60 different disability advice and welfare organisations active on and expert in these issues. It has no ulterior motive other than ensuring that the welfare system works adequately to support disabled people and carers.

The Disability Benefits Consortium has said in briefings to the Committee:

“A third of disabled people live below the poverty line, around 3.7 million people. Furthermore, DWP figures published in June show the number of disabled people living in poverty has increased by 2% over the last year equating to a further 300,000 disabled people living in poverty.”

The benefit cap, combined with freezes and cuts to ESA for those in the work-related activity group, will reduce disabled people’s incomes significantly. It needs measuring. There are additional costs to Government of getting the policy wrong, and that also needs measuring. The impact on disabled people and carers is not only a human one. The Government must be responsible and consider that. Has a policy had the desired effect? For example, has it had consequences for local authority spending, NHS spending or mental health spending?

In addition, while those in receipt of the support component of employment and support allowance are exempt from the cap, those in the WRAG are not, which we discussed earlier today. That means that about half a million disabled people are affected, and I hope that Members are clear about who is affected and who we are talking about in these groups.

The statistics on these people are from February this year and they are the Department’s own. I will not list them all, Chair; I know that we are tight for time. But 3,420 of these people have infectious and parasitic diseases. That is who we are talking about. In addition, 770 people have diseases of the blood and blood-forming organs, and certain diseases involving the immune mechanism; 244,000 have mental and behavioural disorders, which include learning disabilities; 26,000 have diseases of the nervous system; 2,990 have diseases of the eye and adnexa, which I am sure everyone knows about; 8,110 have diseases of the respiratory system; 2,930 have diseases of the skin and subcutaneous system; and 22,000 have injury, poisoning and certain other consequences or external causes. They are the disabled people who this Government policy would affect directly; they are not protected under the Government’s current policy. All that the amendment seeks to do is to ensure that the impact on those people is at least measured and monitored.

The current impact assessment suggests that a new lower-tiered cap has been designed to strengthen work incentives for those on benefits. The Government have yet to provide evidence to back up the claim that cutting the benefits that disabled people receive will incentivise them to work.

The Minister suggested in Tuesday’s discussions that there would be additional measures. We would welcome knowing what additional measures are being considered to reassure disabled people, their organisations and their carers that the Government are focusing on their concerns.

The majority of disabled people want to work, but they face substantial barriers, including attitudinal barriers from employers and wider society. We discussed the figures the other day; 48% of working-age disabled people are in work, but only about 10% of those with learning disabilities and 5% of those with significant mental health conditions, such as schizophrenia, are in work.

I will just give a quick example. The impact assessment provides no detail about the impact of lowering the cap on disabled people who are not in receipt of DLA or PIP. That point was made by the National AIDS Trust and HIV Scotland in their briefing for this specific amendment. Amendment 94 would address this issue, and I hope that it will be welcomed by all members of the Committee.

I come to my final comments, Chair. Scope has provided analysis of the estimated higher costs of living with a disability. Baroness Campbell of Surbiton has made the point that the additional costs that she incurs are for things such as coffee, to make sure that her carers and support workers can have a cup of coffee, as well as things such as loo roll and carpet, and costs to cover wear and tear as people sit down on her sofa. Those are additional costs that disabled people have, which go well beyond the perception of disability costs as the cost of a wheelchair or medication.

I hope that hon. Members will have the Scope research in their minds when they consider the high costs of disabled people, as well as the higher incidence of poverty that already exists among disabled people, and  the incidence of low income among disabled people. Low income is a direct result of not being able to work full-time hours.

In ensuring that these measures do not disadvantage disabled people further, it would be worth the Government at least describing how they believe that they are meeting their responsibilities under the Equality Act not to disadvantage these disabled people further. A failure to monitor or impact-assess this policy would be an acknowledgement that the Government know that disabled people and their carers will be made explicitly worse off by their measures.

Photo of Emily Thornberry Emily Thornberry Labour, Islington South and Finsbury

If one looks at clause 8 in the round, it is about the review of the benefit cap. It says:

“The Secretary of State must at least once in each Parliament review the sums specified” and:

“The Secretary of State may, at any other time the Secretary of State considers appropriate, review the sums specified…to determine whether it is appropriate to increase or decrease any one or more of those sums.”

In deciding when to review, at some random time that he thinks appropriate, the Secretary of State can consider “other matters” he sees as “relevant”. That seems to give him absolute carte blanche to do what he likes with the benefit cap, whenever he likes and for whatever reason he likes. Does the Minister wish to give us some idea of what other matters the Secretary of State might consider relevant, what he might think appropriate or when he might decide to review the benefit cap?

Sceptics—obviously, I do not include myself in this—might say that if, for example, the Government were behind in the polls and believed it popular enough, one thing that they could do to increase their popularity would be for the Prime Minister to come to the House once more and claim that they were penalising only people who refused to work, when actually they are lowering the cap and kicking the poorest and most marginalised once more. Frankly, if this Parliament stands for anything, we ought to be defending such people—certainly the Labour party ought to be.

Amendments 73, 13, 14 and 105 seek to flesh out the Secretary of State’s ultimate discretion, because he is not God, and he ought to be exercising discretion within categories that make some sense. Obviously, the numbering would need to be amended if our amendment were successful this afternoon. We live in hope.

Amendment 73 would remove the provision allowing the Secretary of State to set the benefit level by reference to any other matters he considers relevant without giving us any idea of what that is, and instead require him to ensure that the benefit cap be set by reference to average earnings and regional variations, to adjust for differences in the cost of housing. That makes sense. It sounds fair to me, and that is why the amendment has been tabled.

The Members who support the amendment all belong to the executive of the London group of Labour MPs. They live with the problems of the current benefit cap on a day-to-day basis when they hear about it in their surgeries and are frightened that under the Bill, the Secretary of State could lower the benefit cap whenever  he wanted. This also raises the question of why such matters are in primary legislation. Of course, it could be argued that one reason is that it is more court-proof and cannot be challenged in the way that it otherwise would be.

Amendment 13 would require the Social Security Advisory Committee to make an annual report on the level of the benefit cap. Again, that would allow someone who is independent of politicians to look at what is fair and not fair. If the Government are so confident that they are being fair, why would they be afraid to hand this over to an independent body that could decide on an appropriate level? Amendment 14 also relates to the Social Security Advisory Committee.

Finally, amendment 105 refers to

“reports on the impact of the benefit cap on the wellbeing of children” made by the different Children’s Commissioners. This aspect of the benefit cap has been taken as far as the Supreme Court due to our obligations under the UN convention on the rights of the child. The difficulty is that it is an unincorporated treaty. Baroness Hale, for example, said:

“It cannot possibly be in the best interests of the children affected by the cap to deprive them of the means to provide them with adequate food, clothing, warmth and housing, the basic necessities of life.”

However, a majority in the Supreme Court decided that the cap was not in breach of our obligations under the convention, because it is unincorporated.

At the Joint Committee on Human Rights earlier this year, the Minister for Children and Families insisted that the Government were not opposed in principle to the incorporation of the UNCRC into domestic law, but felt that it was unnecessary because he was

“confident that the laws and policies that” the Government

“has in place already are strong enough to comply with the Convention.”

If the Government are so confident that the policies are in line with our obligations under the treaty, I am sure that they will have no problem at all taking into account reports from the Children’s Commissioners of England, Scotland and Wales on the impact of the benefit caps on the wellbeing of children. If they do have a problem with that, it would be interesting to hear why.

Photo of Corri Wilson Corri Wilson Scottish National Party, Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock 4:30 pm, 17th September 2015

The amendments in this group are intended to limit the scope of the Secretary of State’s power to adjust what is, and what is not, in the review, to ensure that the Government review the impact on disabled people and carers as well as using reports from important organisations tasked with children’s rights on the impact of the cap.

Amendment 94 would require the Secretary of State to consider the impact of the cap on disabled people and carers, because the impact assessment that accompanies the Bill contains no detail about the possible impact on disabled people who are not in receipt of disability living allowance or personal independence payment. We support the amendment, because it would ensure that the Government carry out further assessment of the impact on disabled people, carers and their families.

The disability benefits consortium has called for the Government to review the impact prior to the lowering  of the cap. Those on disability benefits face daily struggles with their health, mobility and wellbeing, and the last thing they need is the prospect of financial hardship, too. I do not believe that anyone chooses to be on benefits, but for those with disabilities, they can be a lifeline, and the means to a better quality of life and independence. Many carers also face daily struggles to make ends meet, as a result of the additional costs of caring combined with the loss of income from giving up work or reducing working hours. What assessment have the Government made of the number of families who will no longer be able to care as a result of the lowering of the cap?

Amendment 73 would remove the provision allowing the Secretary of State to set the cap by reference to any other matters that he considers relevant. Clause 8 does not provide enough assurance that the Government will review the benefits cap with all due process and consideration. The national economic situation and “any other matters” are not exactly the building blocks of a robust and watertight reporting obligation on a matter that establishes the income of hundreds of thousands of people. These factors are too broad to be meaningful, and they run the risk of decision making that is based on political expediency rather than need for some of the most vulnerable households in our community.

We support amendment 13, because the Social Security Advisory Committee would be looking closely at the impact of the changes in the welfare system. Amendment 14 would require the Social Security Advisory Committee to report annually on the level of benefits, and to include an assessment of the impact of the cap on discretionary housing payment, which bridges the gaps that low-income families face because of welfare changes. We support the amendment, because it would ensure close monitoring of the impact of the cap on housing for families across the UK.

The DWP estimates that as many as 90,000 additional households across the UK are subject to the new cap, and vulnerable households, despite already being deemed to be in need of state support, could have their housing benefit substantially reduced even though they do not live in areas considered atypically expensive. Such a policy needlessly risks causing homelessness. Those affected by the cap will increasingly be ordinary-sized families in average-priced areas, who are simply struggling to make ends meet. The new cap will move those families closer to losing their homes.

We welcome amendment 105, which relates to the need for any reports on the impact of the benefit cap on children to be considered in the review of the benefit cap. With 210,000 children in Scotland living in relative poverty after housing costs, we must ensure that any review carried out by the Tory Government looks closely at the impact felt in Scotland by many families and their children. The Child Poverty Action Group has estimated that Scotland’s child poverty rate will increase by up to 100,000 by 2020 as a direct result of the UK Government’s tax and benefit policies. There is real concern that the further reduction of the benefit cap will compromise the wellbeing of more children as housing security is threatened, school life is disrupted and community links are broken. To date, twice as many children have been hurt by the current cap than adults. We do not support the benefit cap as it will cause increased hardship  for people and we believe that the legislation does not come close to providing protection for our children from poverty.

Photo of Priti Patel Priti Patel Minister of State (Department for Work and Pensions)

The clause introduces new provisions for how the Secretary of State should review the level of the cap in future and what factors he needs to take into account when undertaking such a review. The Bill prescribes that, when reviewing the level of the benefit cap, the Secretary of State must take into account the national economic situation. It also allows him to take into account any other matter he might consider relevant. The amendments would introduce a number of additional specific factors that the Secretary of State would have to take into account when undertaking that review.

On amendment 94, in the course of the debate we touched on specific aspects of support for disabled people and carers. We are mindful of the impacts of policies on those vulnerable groups, and I outlined some of the support in particular that the welfare continues to provide to protect the poorest and most vulnerable members of society. I remind the Committee that there are exemptions from the cap for households where there is a claimant in receipt of DLA, PIP, attendance allowance or the support component of ESA. I will follow up some of the points made by the hon. Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark and drop him a line.

Amendment 73 would require the Secretary of State, when reviewing the level of the benefit cap, to take into account the national economic situation and add average earnings, regional variations and the cost of housing. It would also omit the provision that allows him to take into account any other matters that he considers relevant. I think it is fair to say that the proposed powers drawn up are broad, but we do not think it is possible to stipulate in advance the specific economic factors and developments most suitable to set the appropriate level for the cap at the time the review is undertaken.

Photo of Emily Thornberry Emily Thornberry Labour, Islington South and Finsbury

The Minister admits that the powers are broad and, therefore, presumably she will concede that it is difficult for us to hold the Government to account for what they are doing. In those circumstances, it is difficult for us to be clear. For anyone who may wish to scrutinise this legislation in future, when we as Members of Parliament were scrutinising this legislation, we were unaware and not told in which circumstances the Secretary of State would change the benefit cap. I want to spell that out, because people will read the transcript and we want to be completely clear in case this matter is to go before the courts.

Photo of Priti Patel Priti Patel Minister of State (Department for Work and Pensions)

The hon. Lady specifically mentions the benefit cap in relation to going to the courts. The Supreme Court has confirmed that the benefit cap is lawful. With regard to work required on reporting the benefit cap, the cap has been reviewed annually since its introduction as per current legislation, and those reviews found that no change was required. Obviously, a review of the national economic situation must be thorough, and regular annual reviews could result in the cap being unduly affected by a range of short-term economic fluctuations. At worst, that could lead to significant variations and cap yo-yoing, which would provide no  stability for those in receipt of benefits and those who rely on that income in particular. There will be occasions when economic developments mean that a review of the cap must be undertaken more than once in a Parliament. We have seen considerable changes in recent years through changes to the economy as a whole.

Comments were made about the Social Security Advisory Committee, the long-standing and respected body that has provided an independent voice for many years and many detailed and informed reports on matters across the broad spectrum of welfare and social security. The Government value many of its opinions and the work that it undertakes. The committee already has well-established engagement with a full range of stakeholders with interests in this area on welfare reforms and it ensures that any advice that it provides encompasses a broad range of views. Obviously, we place a great deal of value on the work of the committee, but we do not necessarily think that it is right that in undertaking a review of the level of the cap, the Secretary of State has a statutory requirement to take account of the report of the committee, or that it is appropriate for the Secretary of State to be bound to consult an individual body when reviewing the cap.

I will conclude on the amendments by reiterating that any review of a reduction in cap levels would be subject to a regulation passed under the affirmative procedure. Therefore, Parliament would have the opportunity to debate any revisions of the cap, providing further checks and balances in the process. I remind the Committee that the benefit cap is a key part of wider welfare reforms, so there is extensive debate on welfare reform. The revised cap levels are being set to create the work incentive that we have spoken about. The clause as drafted provides a better approach than that in the amendments and will allow for any future level of the cap to be set at an appropriate level. I ask the hon. Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark to withdraw the amendment.

Photo of Neil Coyle Neil Coyle Labour, Bermondsey and Old Southwark 4:45 pm, 17th September 2015

In light of the Minister’s commitment to provide more information, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendment proposed: 73, in clause 8, page 10, line 31, leave out paragraph (b) and insert—

“(b) The relationship between the level of the cap and average earnings, and

(c) Regional variations in the cost of housing.”—(Emily Thornberry.)

To remove the provision allowing the Secretary of State to set the level of the benefit cap by reference to “any other matters [he] considers relevant” and to instead require that the cap should be set by reference to average earnings and regional variations to adjust for differences in the cost of housing.

Question put, That the amendment be made.

The Committee divided: Ayes 5, Noes 10.

Division number 23 Decision Time — Clause 8 - Review of benefit cap

Aye: 5 MPs

No: 10 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Nos: A-Z by last name

Question accordingly negatived.

Photo of Priti Patel Priti Patel Minister of State (Department for Work and Pensions)

I beg to move amendment 91, in clause 8, page 11, line 13, at end insert—

“( ) Section 176 of the Social Security Administration Act 1992 (consultation with representative organisations) does not apply in relation to regulations under subsection (4).”

This amendment provides that regulations that change the level of the benefit cap do not require consultation with local authority associations under section 176(1) of the Social Security.

The amendment aims to replicate a similar provision that has been inserted into clause 7, carrying forward the existing arrangements under which my Department is not required to consult with local authority associations on the commencement of housing benefit regulations, specifically in this case when the revised benefit cap is introduced. Historically, commencement orders have not been consulted on and have not been caught by consultation obligations regarding housing benefit regulations. However, commencement orders in the Bill have been superseded by commencement regulations.

As mentioned, to maintain the status quo, a provision in clause 7 has been inserted into the Bill to remove any new requirement for the Department for Work and Pensions to consult with local authority associations on the commencement regulations for introducing the benefit cap. The amendment inserts a similar provision into clause 8, so that there is no obligation to consult on commencement regulations should the benefit cap be changed in future.

The Committee should be aware that any change to lower the benefit cap will be subject to debate.

Photo of Hannah Bardell Hannah Bardell Shadow SNP Westminster Group Leader (Fair Work and Employment)

I would like clarification, if possible. Will the amendment restrict any previous consulting powers that the Government have with Scotland?

Photo of Priti Patel Priti Patel Minister of State (Department for Work and Pensions)

I will provide the hon. Lady with full clarification on that point.

Any change to lower the benefit cap will still be subject to debate under the affirmative procedure in both Houses of Parliament.

The Department will continue to liaise with local authority associations to ensure the successful implementation of the new cap and that claimants are fully supported ahead of the introduction from around autumn next year.

Amendment 91 agreed to.

Question put,That the clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill.

The Committee divided: Ayes 10, Noes 5.

Division number 24 Decision Time — Clause 8 - Review of benefit cap

Aye: 10 MPs

No: 5 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Nos: A-Z by last name

Question accordingly agreed to.

Clause 8, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.