New Clause 2 — Childcare

Part of Welfare Reform Bill (Programme) (No. 2) – in the House of Commons at 7:00 pm on 13th June 2011.

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Photo of Guto Bebb Guto Bebb Conservative, Aberconwy 7:00 pm, 13th June 2011

My hon. Friend makes an important point. It is something that was reflected in the comments of the hon. Member for Edinburgh East, who, in relation to the aim of our welfare proposals to support people into micro-jobs, was quite disparaging of that type of job. Indeed, she stated on more than one occasion that we should consider the “type” of job that people will be able to take up as part of our reforms. I think that that is a symptom of the problem.

In my constituency of Aberconwy we have worked extremely hard to try to turn the tourism industry from something that is seasonal to something that is year-round. We have put a lot of emphasis on trying to ensure that the seaside resort of Llandudno is no longer somewhere that attracts people only for three months in the summer. By investing in conference facilities and so forth, we have tried to ensure that the hotel and service industries supporting tourism in the town work throughout the year. We have seen a huge growth in employment in the tourism sector in Llandudno over the past 10 years, yet that growth has been filled largely by people from eastern Europe who are willing to work hard.

From my point of view, the incredible sadness is that those individuals who have gone into what some Opposition Members would call “poor jobs” have ended up working themselves into positions of responsibility and management. I despair when I go out knocking on doors during election campaigns and meet people in the town who have lived there all their lives but have not grasped those opportunities. They live in a system that has allowed Opposition Members to forget their consciences because they have been able to say that they are providing money. There is more to the welfare state than providing money: we have to provide aspiration and a concept of self-reliance. We have to send out a message not just as a Government, but as a society, that work not only has to pay, but that it is the route to better oneself and one’s family. That seems to have been missing from the Opposition’s contributions to the whole debate.

Finally, it is also worth making quick reference to the comments made by Mrs Moon, who is no longer in her place. She said that she was sincerely of the view that the Department for Work and Pensions should make no effort to hassle and harass people who are unable to take up opportunities to work because of child care issues and so forth. I was intrigued by the use of the word “harass” in relation to trying to support people back into employment. One aspect of the Bill that we must understand is that it is not happening in isolation, but hand in hand with investment in the Work programme, which will try to ensure that people are not left to fester on benefits or have an existence on welfare. The Government are trying to reform the welfare state, but we are doing so in a way that tries to support people back into employment, and that aspiration should be shared by all Members of the House.

New clause 3 makes an important point. I disagree with it as it has been tabled, but I think that we will need to look very carefully at how we deal with free school meals in the system, because it is an issue of real concern to parents. Yes, of course they want to take the opportunity to have a job, and of course they are reassured by the fact that the reforms we are putting in place will make work pay, but as part of that, if they have three or four children, how we deal with free school meals is clearly appropriate and does not work against the proposals to ensure that work pays.

I fail to understand why the Government are being castigated for not providing enough detail in the legislation. The reason that we have not yet done so is that this is an incredibly difficult proposition to get right, as Members on both sides of the House have agreed. I see nothing wrong with saying that we will endeavour to get it right and that we are going to ask the experts to look at the issue on our behalf. I am reassured by the Minister’s comments in Committee, when he stated categorically that our aim was not to make any family currently in receipt of free school meals worse off.