Debbie-Abrahams-WBD-102-scaled

Social Security | Commons debates

I start by welcoming the uprating order, including the uprating of the local housing allowance, which has been frozen for over 10 years now. That is a significant move forward, but as my hon. Friend the Member for Wirral South (Alison McGovern) said, we need to recognise the context in which this apparently positive uprating is being brought in. We need to look at what has happened since 2010, particularly the various cuts and freezes to working-age support over the past 14 years.

I was going through some figures just before the debate started, and I noted that between 2010 and 2012, the uprating was about 1.5%; between 2012 and 2016, it was 1% a year, and between 2016 and 2020 it was zero. Of course, the average annual CPI increase for each of those years was about 3%. That is the context. There has been a steady and consistent erosion in the value of social security, and this has affected universal credit, jobseeker’s allowance, employment and support allowance, income support, housing benefit, child tax credits, working tax credits and child benefits.

The Resolution Foundation estimated at the time that this was the equivalent of a cut of over £20 billion a year. That is £20 billion a year taken out of the support for working-age people. What is not well understood is that these are predominantly people in low-paid work; yes, a small proportion of people are on unemployment support or in long-term unemployment, but they are a tiny fraction of the population. This is predominantly support for people in low-paid work.

The hon. Member for Glasgow East (David Linden), a fellow member of the Select Committee, mentioned the Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s “UK Poverty 2024” report. I invite people to read it, and if they cannot read the whole document, they should read the summary. It is absolutely shocking. The headlines are that levels of relative poverty now are equivalent to those we had before the pandemic. The Government prefer to talk about absolute poverty because that is to their advantage, but in terms of relative poverty, we are back to where we were before the pandemic. So that everyone understands, what happened during the pandemic—who was affected, where was affected—reflected that poverty; those inequalities drove who was going to get ill. They drove what happened during the pandemic, and now we are back there, not having learned very much.

There are 14.5 million people living in relative poverty, of whom 6 million are in deep poverty. Deep poverty describes people who are living on less than 40% of median income. My fellow Select Committee member mentioned another level below that: very deep poverty. That is even worse poverty. The average income of somebody in very deep poverty is 59% below what we recognise as the relative poverty level. How on earth can we think that is acceptable in this country? We heard last year about the increase in destitution, which is another category altogether. There is deep poverty, very deep poverty and—the worst of the worst—destitution. The number of people in destitution has doubled, meaning there are 3.8 million people who cannot afford to meet their basic physical needs to stay warm, dry and clean, and to feed themselves.

My hon. Friend the Member for Wirral South talked about the children in the families who are affected. For every 1% increase in child poverty, 5.8 extra children out of 100,000 live births—I apologise for the fractions—will not reach their first birthday. That is the consequence of poverty. For those who survive, poverty affects every aspect of their development, including how their brains are wired, how they will develop and their attainment at school. It is a disgrace that we have such levels of poverty in this country.

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