The debate we have had—in Committee and this evening—shows some of the pitfalls of saying, “We are going to simplify benefits.” The Minister and his colleagues have said to the country generally, “We're going to simplify benefits. This is a simpler system, so it must, by definition, be a good thing.” They expected and, indeed, got from many people the answer, “We agree that benefits should be simplified.” The problem is that when dealing with real people and real situations it all becomes much more complicated, as our debates tonight and on previous occasions have demonstrated quite clearly.
The details of issues such as school meals, health charges and the even bigger matter of child care are extremely important, and will have a real impact on whether the new system works for people, will make them better off, and enables them to get into employment, stay in employment, improve their circumstances and get out of poverty. We all agree that, except for those who suffer from real and deep health problems, employment is the best way out of poverty. If, however, such an important element as child care is left so undefined, we cannot know the answer to that question.
Frankly, we are being asked to buy a pig in a poke. We are told, “If you don’t accept it, don’t vote for it or don't agree with it, you are throwing over the whole issue of welfare reform.” I do not accept that. Nor do I accept the Minister’s view that he was given that sort of response by the previous Government and that there should be simply a framework—an empty bookcase, as he was wont to say in Committee—as there was before. It seems to me that if he thought it was wrong then—and it sounds as if he did—it may still be wrong now. As I said in Committee, people should not be asked to buy that empty bookcase without knowing whether it contains classics or cheap comics.