The Labour party had 13 years to do something. Thirteen years ago, Mr Field was asked to think the unthinkable; he did so, and then was promptly removed from office. That shows Labour’s commitment to welfare reform. There will be plenty of time for consultation, and I can promise that plenty of Government Members will be fighting for the rights of these vulnerable constituents.
The detection of fraudulent claimants is key to the success of this Bill. It is inexcusable that the current system is costing the taxpayer in excess of £5.2 billion a year because of welfare error and welfare fraud. There could be a role for credit rating firms in helping to identify households where there is reasonable evidence that a fraudulent claim is perhaps being made. This can be achieved with greater data sharing across Government Departments, and with the credit rating agencies, to ensure that the widest possible range of data are available. We also need to ensure that fraud is indentified at the earliest point of the process; again, the credit rating agencies can play a role. I welcome the development of the single investigation service and the three-strike rule in the Bill. We will see a reduction in fraud only if false claimants have a serious fear of being caught, and of facing a penalty if they are caught.
In conclusion, the Bill gives our country the chance to reverse a benefits culture that has become a huge black hole sucking in large numbers of people and huge amounts of taxpayers’ money. The Bill will release millions of people from the misery of welfare dependency and break the intergenerational cycle of worklessness, which costs this country so much not only financially but socially. The Secretary of State deserves great credit for his relentless work over many years on this issue. The successful passage of the Bill will make welfare a floor on which people can build, rather than a ceiling that it is impossible for them to break through.