I rise to speak against new clause 2. One of the major achievements of the reform of introducing universal credit is enabling people to have greater flexibility in taking on part-time jobs—so-called mini-jobs. I have made the point several times in interventions that it is critical that we enable people with child care responsibilities to have the maximum flexibility in how they organise their child care and for how long they wish to work, so that they are reintroduced to the world of work.
I praise the Government particularly for making the effort to consult all parties in their recent seminar. It was not just members of the Public Bill Committee who were there, but members of the Work and Pensions Committee. Such engagement is important, because it enables us to get everything right. The Government have introduced a Bill that is a bookcase into which the books will later be slotted, and they are making an effort to ensure that the books read well and effectively.
One of the most telling parts of the briefing that we were given in the seminar was about what parents had told the DWP that they wanted. It informs the decision on whether new clause 2 is right. The DWP publication—“briefing” is probably a better description—is entitled “Childcare support in Universal Credit” and dated May 2011. It states:
“Recent findings from a survey of lone parents on Income support and with a child aged 5-6 found a strong preference for working part-time.”
Among those looking for work or expecting to do so in future, the majority stated a preference for 16 to 29 hours’ work a week, with 45% giving a preference of exactly 16 hours. Why exactly 16 hours? It has been drummed into everyone that they have to go out and work for 16 hours, not a moment less, or they will not get any help with child care. Subsection (5) of new clause 2 makes it clear that the Opposition want that prescribed minimum number of hours a week to remain. In other words, they do not want the mini-job, and yet we know that lone parents show a strong preference for working part-time, which should be respected. People are not here to dance to the Government’s tune: Governments should dance to the tune of the people, and be as flexible, helpful and enabling as people wish.