THE WORK AND PENSIONS COMMITTEE has published the UK government’s response to its report on the cost of living and the support measures available for people claiming benefits and the state pension.

The report, published in July, called on the UK government to put on hold automatic repayments from benefits, to help households currently struggling with huge financial pressures during the cost of living crisis.

The report also called for the DWP to work to increase the speed with which changes can be made to legacy benefit and state pension rates, with the uprating mechanism for benefits having fallen out of step with spiralling inflation.

Speaking when the report was published, Sir Stephen Timms MP, Chair of the Committee, said: “Inflation is at a 40 year high, with spiralling energy, food and fuel prices adding up to a cost of living crisis not seen for a generation and a bleak outlook for many families. Deductions by DWP from benefits are contributing to the hardship and the Government should give those struggling some much needed breathing space by following its own advice to other creditors and pausing repayments until the threat of inflation recedes.

“Ministers also need to urgently review and uprate the benefit cap. The decision to exempt cost of living payments from the cap suggests the Government knows it is set too low to effectively cover households’ now rapidly rising costs.

“A properly functioning social security safety net should be agile enough to respond to worsening economic conditions, but the high levels of inflation have laid bare the dysfunctional nature of parts of the system – not least that any increase in benefits is already seven months out of date when it takes effect.

“While the Government’s emergency measures and one-off payments are welcome, there is no substitute for regular, predictable income when it comes to households trying to get by. Lump sum payments may not be needed if uprating was not so impotent in the face of rising prices. The Government must urgently increase the speed with which the DWP’s systems can make changes to benefit and pension rates to make sure the social security safety net lives up to its name for the most vulnerable people in our society.”

The Government response to the report, published on 8 September, states that pausing deductions would not necessarily be in the best interests of claimants and that there are no plans to change the uprating period.

Stephen Timms said: “The Government’s rejection of our recommendations at a time when so many families are continuing to feel real pain from rising prices is disappointing. While a package of support on energy bills is promised, the appointment of a new Secretary of State presents a fresh opportunity to consider whether a change of approach at the DWP could also offer extra help for people through the benefits system.

“We look forward to questioning the new Secretary of State in the coming weeks and hope she can use this autumn’s annual statutory review of benefits and state pensions to make the social security system more agile in adapting to turbulent economic times.”

Dan White, Disability Rights UK policy and Campaigns officer, and one of the leads at the Disability Poverty Campaign Group (DPCG) said: “For the Government to reject the Work and Pensions Committee suggestions for a benefit uplift now is staggering. The DPCG had called for an immediate benefit uplift and now this response. Benefits are far below the current rate of inflation, and this means the money received does not cover the basics that a human life needs to survive.

“This announcement is breath-taking and will do no nothing to alleviate the entrenched suffering that Disabled people and carers are spiralling deeper into. For humanities [sic] sake this must be readdressed, and the Government have to realise that they are condemning millions of families and individuals to unnecessary destitution.”

* Read the Committee’s report here.

* Read the Government’s response in full here.

* Source: Work and Pensions Committee and Disability Rights UK