New Work and Pensions Secretary Thérèse Coffey has refused to commit to ending the benefit freeze, despite her predecessor Amber Rudd saying it is “essential” that the harmful policy comes to end.
In her first meeting with the Work and Pensions Select Committee (WPSC), Thérèse Coffey said she could not give a “definitive outcome” on whether the government would end the benefits freeze in April next year.
Research suggests that ending the freeze could lift as many as 200,000 people out of poverty, including around 100,000 children, according to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.
There is growing evidence that the four-year freeze to working age benefits, which began in 2016, is fuelling the rise in poverty and driving low-income households to food banks.
Recent analysis by Citizens Advice found that 49% of affected households find it difficult to pay essential costs such as rent, household bills and even put food on the table.
Universal Credit claimants have been hit particularly hard, with 55% forced to go without food.
And 44% of households with a disabled person have also been forced to skip meals to make ends meet.
The charity called on the Government to end to the benefits freeze and also reduce the minimum five-week wait for Universal Credit.
Responding to Thérèse Coffey comments, SNP MP and Work and Pensions Committee Member Chris Stephens said: “The benefits freeze is a political choice, not a necessity, and the SNP opposed it from the beginning – the UK government must end the callous policy and lift the freeze immediately before thousands more are plunged into poverty.
“By the end of its final year, the freeze will have affected more than 27 million people – five times the population of Scotland and taken £300 million a year out of Scottish families’ pockets.
“Families with children and people with disabilities will be particularly worse off due to the two-child cap and cuts to disabled benefits, two policies also implemented by the Tories.
“To continue to target austerity at the most disadvantaged and pursue a policy that will plunge thousands into poverty ahead of a Brexit that will hit the poorest the hardest is nothing short of a moral outrage, yet the Tories just keep on going.”
Thérèse Coffey was also confronted about the controversial two-child limit and rising child poverty.
Under fire by visibly angry and frustrated Committee members, Coffey claimed there was “no causal link” between the two-child limit and rising child poverty. Adding that she has no intention of scrapping the “sensible” policy.
Responding to her comments, Labour’s Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary Margaret Greenwood said: “It is breathtaking that against all the evidence Thérèse Coffey refuses to accept the two-child limit is a cause of child poverty and has failed to give any commitment to end the benefits freeze.
“The two-child limit is not ‘sensible’ as the Secretary of State claims, but a cruel policy that sends a message that one child matters more than another because of the order in which they are born.
“Labour will end the benefits freeze, scrap the two-child limit and the benefit cap, and make tackling child poverty the priority it should be once again.”