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Work and Pensions Committee calls for reversal of benefit freeze

Ahead of the dissolution of Parliament, the House of Commons Work and Pensions Committee has published two reports highly critical of welfare policy and has called for the reversal of the benefit freeze by increasing levels by CPI + 2% for the next four years.

The first of the two reports considered claims by specialist organisations that some Universal Credit claimants were being forced to resort to ‘survival sex’ in order to feed themselves and their children. The initial Government response, criticised by Committee Chair Frank Field as “defensive, dismissive and trite”, was reversed following evidence of victims heard by the Committee, which was also heard by Will Quince, the Minister for Family Support, Housing and Child Maintenance. Frank Field said:
“The women who gave evidence to us were courageous enough to share some enormously difficult and distressing experiences, in the hope of helping us and the Department to better understand this issue. We are grateful for the Minister's intervention, which helped to ensure that we, and more importantly the people who bravely gave their evidence to us, got a more meaningful response. Welcome though that was, that cannot be the end of it. The Department, having belatedly acknowledged that there is a problem, must take the steps to resolve it.”
The second report condemned the Government rationale for the two child limit, that having a third child was a matter of choice. It pointed out that the limit failed to take into account the risk of unplanned pregnancies and argued that the social security system should be there to protect working families, should they encounter an adverse change of circumstance. The report also challenged the assumption that the policy encourages households to increase their income from work.
The committee, in considering the Government’s recently released response to its report on the Welfare Safety net, which was published back in July, called for a reversal to the benefit freeze, stating that, simply halting the freeze in April 2020 was not enough, citing the Institute for Fiscal Studies prediction  of a 7% rise in child poverty between 2015 and 2022 and the concerns that as many as 40% of children could be living in poverty. It recommended that benefit rates needed to be increased by CPI + 2% a year for the next four years. It also lamented the decision of the Government not to develop a measure of destitution.

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