Social Security | Commons debates

That is a very good point. The Department for Work and Pensions has the largest spending across Government. The state pension accounts for the largest part of the Department’s spending, followed by universal credit, but third on the list is housing benefit and the support provided through the housing element of universal credit. Given that the Government are investing a large amount of taxpayers’ money in housing, one would think there was some way to safeguard its quality.

My hon. Friend the Member for Wirral South made important points about the escalation in the use of food banks. As I have said before, we did not have a food bank in Oldham before 2010; we now have several to meet the need. We are aware of the impact of poverty on the labour market, which I know is of interest to the Minister. We need a healthy labour market to be able to provide the growth we all want to see across the country, but, again, all the evidence suggests that will not happen for the reasons set out by my right hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell).

This is becoming an increasingly unhealthy country. Our healthy life expectancy is declining and our life expectancy is declining, and that has been happening since 2017. At the time, Professor Sir Michael Marmot warned what the consequences would be, and he was right. In the report that he produced at the beginning of the year—I asked the Prime Minister a question about this just last week—he said that

“if everyone had the good health of the least deprived 10% of the population there would have been 1 million fewer deaths in England in the period 2012 to 2019. Of these, 148,000 can be linked to austerity”—

directly linked to austerity.

“In 2020, the first year of the covid pandemic, there were a further 28,000 deaths”

that could have been prevented. Those are the consequences of the poverty and inequality that we have in this country.

The Select Committee is undertaking an inquiry into the adequacy of social security support. With that in mind, I once more commend the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and the Trussell Trust, which have put together some interesting recommendations on the essentials guarantee. They suggest that what we provide should be based on need rather than on some quite subjective view of what the level of support should be. I hope the Work and Pensions Committee can support some aspect of that. Finally, I will just mention that £120 per week for a single person, instead of the £70 currently, would be a good step in the right direction. Thank you for your latitude, Madam Deputy Speaker.

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