Economy, Pensions and Welfare

Part of Debate on the Address – in the House of Commons at 6:38 pm on 15th December 2008.

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Photo of Malcolm Wicks Malcolm Wicks Labour, Croydon North 6:38 pm, 15th December 2008

I do not have the time to, sir; I am sure that we can debate these matters later in a prominent London borough.

Some of the people who feel that they have a right to stay on benefits have little understanding of the effect of that on their fellow citizens; those who pay for benefits include people on low wages, and their circumstances are often little different from those of people on benefit.

In conclusion, although I support the broad thrust of what the Government are doing on what we now call—copying the Americans, for some reason—welfare reform, we need to approach the task sensitively. The Government are doing that. I always thought it nonsense that until very recently we were telling lone parents that they could stay on benefit until their youngest child was 16. That was nonsense, given that many other parents in two-parent families were working when their children were far younger. The policy did not do the lone mother or her children any good.

I like the direction in which we are moving now; we are being more realistic about the issue. However, we need to be sensitive, and Ministers are being so. There is some talk that people should be in work when their child is one year old. Let us be sensible. By all means, we should encourage such parents to go on training and enhance their skills and the rest, but such children are so preciously young and we should not spoil a good policy by appearing to be too tough-minded and too negative about those caring for the youngest child.

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