Thank you for calling me to speak this afternoon, Madam Deputy Speaker. It is a great pleasure and honour to follow Mr Blunkett, who spoke so well from his own experience, as did my hon. Friends the Members for Wolverhampton South West (Paul Uppal) and for Thurrock (Jackie Doyle-Price). The debate has been enlightening.
Those of us who have worked as either paid employees or volunteers on behalf of people who come into contact with the benefit system know that reform is overdue. The overhaul enabled by the Bill, and by other actions that the coalition is taking to integrate and localise services, is most welcome for people in our society who need help. The daily battles of trying to claim benefits, appeal against decisions and fight through expensive bureaucracy are draining on the human spirit, let alone the taxpayer’s purse.
The practical improvements and efficiency savings that will come with benefit simplification are important. However, I believe that the importance of the Bill goes well beyond that vital endeavour. The contract between people in our society is expressed, in part, in our provision of welfare. That is part of our expression of the responsibility that we have for each other. I like the conditionality in the Bill, which underscores the principle of the contract that people in our society have. It is built on the clear and settled view that as British people, we are all responsible for ourselves and our families. Just as importantly, it is also our responsibility to care for our neighbours and our communities to the extent that we can. We are each responsible for doing all we can to provide for our own needs and those of our family and community.
Our social contract is also built on an understanding that not all people are able to look after themselves at all times throughout their lives. Sometimes individuals and their families need emotional and practical support to meet their needs, including financial support.
That contract has made us a progressive society. However, over the course of my lifetime, as overall standards of living have risen considerably, I have seen well-intentioned but unwelcome consequences of the development of that fundamental social contract into a welfare state. For too many people it has created a culture of dependency and robbed them of a sense of worth, well-being and good health. It has also brought into question the fundamental principle of fairness that is so characteristic of Britishness.