7 February 2022
Cost of living crisis: Aldous calls for targeted support to protect the most vulnerable

Peter Aldous takes the opportunity of a debate on the annual up-rating of social security benefits and state pension increases to call for more support for the most vulnerable as we face the challenges of the cost of living crisis, specifically we need targeted assistance to protect those for whom the most immediate outlook is bleak.

Peter Aldous (Waveney) (Con)

Although it is necessary to approve the orders before the House, this debate also provides the opportunity for us to highlight the serious challenges that currently face the most vulnerable in society as a result of inflation rising to levels we have not seen for decades.

Back in September, there was a recognition that the consumer prices index would probably rise above 3.1%, but not that it would rise to 5.4% in three months or to the 7% currently predicted and that may be reached in the next few months. At that time, there was probably a consensus view that the significant rise in earnings, of the order of 8%, was an anomaly resulting from the reopening of the economy and the relaxing of covid restrictions. Set in that context, one could understand why it was financially prudent to suspend the triple lock for one year. Five months on, it appears not to be an anomaly and not to be a one-off.

I recognise the measures in place to support the poorest pensioners that my hon. Friend the Minister outlined, but the Government must be prepared to provide more targeted assistance. Back in September, I supported the retention of the £20 universal credit uplift. I feared that covid would have a long and vicious tail and was concerned that the withdrawal of the uplift would hit a lot of people very hard. Subsequent events have shown that the uplift should have been retained. Universal credit has the advantage that its infrastructure is in place and up and running, and that it is targeted at the poorest and helps people to stay afloat and not spiral into destitution.

In the context of the annual uprating of universal credit having been frozen for four years prior to the pandemic, the increase before us is helpful, but it neither makes up for the ground lost in the past nor provides adequate support for the most vulnerable in the immediate future. Again, I recognise the other support measures that the Government have introduced—including the increase in the UC taper rate, the increase in the work allowance and the household support fund—but the cost of living crisis is currently the most serious challenge the UK faces and the Government must do more in terms of targeted assistance to protect those for whom the most immediate outlook is bleak. In that context, I welcome the Minister’s assurance that the Government are keeping the situation under close review. Last week’s announcements were welcome, but I sense that they were too broad and too shallow, and that more deep and carefully directed support will be required.