Will Quince is Minister for Welfare Delivery, and is MP for Colchester.
This pandemic has asked searching questions of us all. On my brief as Minister for Welfare Delivery, initially it was all about making sure the welfare safety net was there to catch the many people who turned to us in their time of need.
And thanks to Universal Credit – and the thousands of dedicated staff in jobcentres across the country who made helping those in need their mission – it was. Over the course of the pandemic so far, millions of new claims have been processed, nine in 10 paid in full and on time – money in the hands of families in urgent need.
Indeed, this Government has spent over £280 billion to support peoples jobs and incomes through this emergency. Around £7.4 billion has been spent on a package of welfare measures including a temporary uplift in Universal Credit and Working Tax Credits, which has seen people’s standard allowance increase by around £1,000 for 12 months until the end of March 2021. Decisions on further spending are normally decided at budgets, so any decision on the £20 uplift will come in due course.
This is a system that has stood up to the unprecedented pressures of this unprecedented last year. A system that Sir Kier and the Labour Party has publically committed to scrapping, with no alternative plan on how to support those in need.
This emergency has lasted longer than any of us wanted, but with hundreds of thousands of jabs being administered each and every day our emergence from our Covid cocoon is within reach.
While Labour look to play politics and scaremonger at a time of a public health emergency, we will be there to wrap our arms around the British people, and hold on for better days to come.
As a father myself, I know that my first waking thought and my last every night is about making sure my children are happy and healthy, and so I stand with every parent who experiences the same angst.
It is because the times are incredibly tough that we have established a £170 million Covid Winter Grant Scheme, to help with household costs through the coldest months. And we will continue to do so through the February half-term and beyond until the end of March.
Councils and charitable organisations rightly pride themselves on knowing the challenges communities are facing ‘on the ground’, and so we worked very closely with them to design a flexible scheme, allowing them to deliver for real people and tackle the issues they face.
For many, that can be as fundamental as putting food on the table or money in the meter. We have therefore ring-fenced 80 per cent of the funding to support vulnerable families with food and bills.
But we’ve deliberately given space for other causes, such as helping those moving into emergency accommodation or buying coats for children without one.
I am pleased that, when the scheme was announced last year, it was welcomed by campaigners, unions, councils and that it has been working well including over the festive period.
Even before a vaccine was approved giving us all new hope, we were thinking beyond the current emergency to ensure vulnerable children are supported. From Easter, we are expanding the hugely successful Holiday Activities and Food programme, providing enriching activities alongside nutritious meals to help level up learning and life outcomes.
Throughout this crisis, this is a government which has put families first. And coming out of it, that’s what we’ll continue to do – truly levelling up opportunity, building back better, fairer and stronger.