Clause 51 — Period of entitlement to contributory allowance

Part of Oral Answers to Questions — Prime Minister – in the House of Commons at 12:41 pm on 1st February 2012.

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Photo of Chris Grayling Chris Grayling The Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions 12:41 pm, 1st February 2012

Throughout the process of the Bill in both this House and the other place, we have listened carefully to the concerns that have been raised. We have taken them on board wherever possible and provided important clarifications on the Government’s position and responses to technical concerns. However, let us be clear that we stand firmly behind the aims and detail of our reforms.

As you indicated, Mr Speaker, Lords amendments 15, 17, 18 and 23 impinge on the financial privileges of this House. I ask the House to disagree to those amendments, and I will ask the Reasons Committee to ascribe financial privilege as the reason for doing so. It cannot be denied that we are in extremely difficult financial times, and that the Government have no choice but to take measures to address the situation. Tackling the unsustainable rise in spending on benefits and tax credits, as part of the Government’s overall deficit reduction strategy, is undeniably important. However, I emphasise that the affordability of the welfare system is just one objective of the reforms being introduced in the Bill.

We are making principled reforms that will finally tackle the trap of welfare dependency. Universal credit will ensure that work always pays, lifting 900,000 individuals out of poverty, including more than 350,000 children and about 550,000 working-age adults. The Bill will also deliver fairness for claimants and for the taxpayers who fund the system. We will discuss the benefit cap in the next group of Lords amendments, but it is clearly not fair, for example, that households on out-of-work benefits should receive a greater income from benefits than the average earnings of working households. Finally, our reforms will radically simplify the system, ensuring that it is easier for claimants to understand and for staff to administer. Hon. Members should be clear that those are vital principles, of which financial considerations are only one part.

I turn specifically to the provisions on employment and support allowance that are dealt with by this group of amendments. I shall set out the Government’s full rationale for rejecting the Lords amendments. First, Lords amendment 15 was simply a paving amendment that had no effect. Lords amendment 17 would increase the time limit for claimants receiving contributory ESA in the work-related activity group from the proposed 365 days to a minimum of 730 days, which would have to be prescribed in regulations.