Universal Credit debate

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I thank my right hon. Friend the Member for East Ham (Stephen Timms) for his eloquent introduction to the debate and the Backbench Business Committee for bringing it to the main Chamber.

 This debate is of particular concern in my constituency, where there is a high proportion of people claiming welfare benefits. As of April 2015, there were 14,500 people on tax credits, and it is estimated that, by 2020-21, 19,000 people will be on universal credit. According to figures from Child Poverty Action Group, reductions in work allowance under universal credit, introduced in April 2016, will result in a working single parent in rental accommodation losing up to £554 per year and in a working single parent who owns their home losing up to £2,000 per year. In both cases, this is more than double the loss suffered by working couples. The majority of these single parents are women. Once again, this is a cut that comes at the expense of women, who account for 86% of cuts to benefits and tax savings. This is a figure that has increased, not decreased, as a result of the Chancellor’s latest Budget.

A single parent already working full time on the national living wage will have to work an extra 46 days each year—more than two additional working months—to make up what they have lost. While the Government may paint these reductions in income as an incentive to work, for single parents already in full-time work, extra hours are not realistic. Support for childcare might have increased from 70% to 85%, but this will not compensate families for the losses they will suffer as a result of the changes in universal credit. End Child Poverty estimates that 42% of children in my constituency live in relative poverty, which makes it the constituency with the sixth-highest level of child poverty. The four-year freeze on support for children under universal credit is expected to reduce the value of key children’s benefits by 12% by the end of the decade, when creeping inflation will also have added to the cost of living.

In 2011, the Government forecast that universal credit would lift up to 350,000 children out of poverty. In 2013, this figure was amended to 150,000 and the Government today refuse to give a figure. There remain significant gaps between the Government’s aim of making work pay through the new universal credit regime and the reality of families facing huge cuts to their income. I would like to ask the Minister two questions. First, will the Government review the impact of work allowance ​reductions on working families, particularly working single families? Secondly, will they agree to review annually the decision to freeze most key children’s benefits for four years? 

As I have stated, the impact of changing tax credits to universal credits will affect families in my constituency. I am here representing them and trying to get their voices heard in the Chamber, so I ask that the Government take very seriously the effect the changes will have on families and women.

My hon. Friend is making a powerful case. Does she agree that we should be particularly concerned about the plight of the self-employed—an increasingly large group of income-insecure people? Does she share my concern that about 800,000 self-employed people are likely to lose £1,000 a year as a result of the cuts to universal credit?

I totally agree with my hon. Friend. There are many lone workers and people who have their own businesses in my constituency, and they have come to see me in my office to say that they are very concerned because they need to use benefits to top up their salaries. This is an issue that I hope the Government will take into account.

I conclude by asking the Minister to review the impact that work allowance reductions are having on working families, particularly single families. Secondly, will the Government agree to review annually the decision to freeze most key children’s benefits for four years?

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Kate Osamor MP

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