On 16th December 2020 the Bishop of Durham received a written answer to two questions of Government on making permanent the temporary increase to Universal Credit and legacy benefits:
The Lord Bishop of Durham: To ask Her Majesty’s Government what factors they will consider in their review of whether to make permanent the temporary Universal Credit uplift; and when they plan to announce the outcome of that review. [HL11202]
The Lord Bishop of Durham: To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the statement by more than 60 organisations and bishops on 29 November on the Universal Credit uplift and legacy benefits; and what plans they have to extend the uplift to legacy benefits. [HL11203]
On 13th October 2020 the House of Lords considered the Government’s Social Security (Up-rating of Benefits) Bill at its Second Reading. The Bishop of St Albans spoke in the debate:
The Lord Bishop of St Albans [V]: My Lords, I add my words of welcome to the noble Lord, Lord Field of Birkenhead, and the noble Baroness, Lady Stuart of Edgbaston, and look forward to their maiden speeches.
I welcome the Social Security (Up-rating of Benefits) Bill. Pension credits are vital for the welfare of low-income retirees and it is right that measures are taken to support them in this challenging time. However, there is certainly scope for going further.
On 8th October 2020 Baroness Sherlock asked the Government “what assessment they have made of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on (1) low-income families with children, and (2) the support provided to them by the social security system.” The Bishop of Blackburn asked a further question:
The Lord Bishop of Blackburn: My Lords, a recent report by the Church of England and the Child Poverty Action Group highlighted the “disproportionate impact” of the pandemic on low-income families with children, saying that:
“Without a radical change in policy direction, the prospects for many families are likely to deteriorate further through the remainder of this year as unemployment rises”
On 6th July the Rt Revd Paul Butler, Bishop of Durham, received a written answer to a question from Baroness Stedman-Scott on social security benefits for children.
The Lord Bishop of Durham: HL5845 To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the call by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and Save the Children to increase the child component of Universal Credit and Child Tax Credits by £20 a week, following their research showing that 7 in 10 families with children in receipt of Universal Credit are cutting back on essentials as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
On 2nd June 2020 Baroness Sherlock asked Her Majesty’s Government “What steps they are taking to remove the five week wait for Universal Credit payments”. The Rt Revd Stephen Cottrell, Bishop of Chelmsford, asked a follow up question, focusing on an increase in universal credit.
The Lord Bishop of Chelmsford: My Lords, the problems of the five-week wait have already been highlighted by other noble friends, and we should not underestimate their seriousness, but perhaps I may draw attention to some other temporary changes in universal credit. There has been an increase of £20 per week, which Ministers have stressed is a temporary, emergency measure, but the IPPR has calculated that if this had been in place since 2015, the UK would have entered this crisis with a pretty staggering 500,000 fewer people in poverty. Do Her Majesty’s Government plan to make this increase in universal credit a permanent feature, particularly as it would be such a help to children?
On 4th February 2020 the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Baroness Stedman-Scott, repeated a Government statement made in the House of Commons on the extension to the universal credit implementation date. The Bishop of Durham, Rt Revd Paul Butler, asked a follow-up question:
The Lord Bishop of Durham: My Lords, can we honour the DWP staff for allowing the BBC in? Many of us look forward to seeing what comes out. They have been very brave; many departments do not do that. I understand that the Minister does listen but some of these things have now been going on since the system’s very inception. Yes, many people at food banks and people who talk locally say that the work coaches are doing a wonderful job. That is great, but it is the most vulnerable who are suffering. Could we please listen to their voice and make some changes very rapidly? Continue reading “Bishop of Durham asks for rapid changes to universal credit to help most vulnerable”
On 3rd October 2019 Lord McNicol of West Kilbride asked the Government “what steps they have taken to reduce inequality in the United Kingdom.” The Bishop of Newcastle, Rt Revd Christine Hardman, asked a further question about people in poverty as a result of early pilots of universal credit.
The Lord Bishop of Newcastle: My Lords, Newcastle was one of the pilot areas for the rollout of universal credit. It also has one of the largest food banks in the United Kingdom. I have warmly welcomed the changes to universal credit that have ameliorated some of the terrible things that happened in the beginning. However, is anything being done to help those people who were the guinea pigs, who were plunged into poverty and have not managed to come out of it? I would be grateful to know whether anything is being done. Continue reading “Bishop of Newcastle asks Government about help for ‘universal credit guinea pigs’ in poverty”
The Lord Bishop of Durham: My Lords, I thank the Minister for all she said and look back several months to how she involved us and engaged with a group of us in a range of helpful ways. The regulations that have been laid show evidence of the Government having listened. I am deeply grateful for the ongoing engagement with stakeholder groups. However, along with my noble friends who have already spoken, I wish to highlight that this House and the other place, not the stakeholder groups, have to scrutinise the regulations, so to land them on us at this point in a negative form seems quite hard to take, if I am being honest.
On 10th July 2019 the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Work and Pensions made a statement on universal credit fraud. The Bishop of Chelmsford, Rt Revd Stephen Cottrell, asked a question:
Lord Bishop of Chelmsford: I ask the Minister for a bit of clarification. I do not pretend to understand all the ins and outs of this, but I see a lot of suffering, which now seems to be added to by crime. On the one hand, it is good to hear that it is less than 1%, but that would be no consolation for me if I was one of those people who now has to pay back for the fraud perpetrated against me by someone else. I am sorry if I did not understand the answer. I suppose I am asking the Minister to explain what help those victims will get in the terrible situation they find themselves in.