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Benefit Cap (Employment)

Oral Answers to Questions — Work and Pensions – in the House of Commons at 2:30 pm on 9th March 2015.

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Photo of Adam Afriyie Adam Afriyie Chair, Members' Expenses Committee, Chair, Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology 2:30 pm, 9th March 2015

What assessment he has made of the effect of the benefit cap on long-term unemployment.

Photo of David Davies David Davies Chair, Welsh Affairs Committee

What assessment he has made of the effect of the benefit cap on rates of employment.

Photo of Iain Duncan Smith Iain Duncan Smith The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

The benefit cap is having a positive impact on people’s lives. I believe it is encouraging them to find work. The statistics show that. [Interruption.] Yes, they do. Those affected by the cap are 41% more likely to go into work than a similar uncapped group. It is under this Government that we are seeing long-term unemployment fall to its lowest level since 2009. The employment rate, at 73.2%, has never been higher.

Photo of Adam Afriyie Adam Afriyie Chair, Members' Expenses Committee, Chair, Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology

I had good cause this weekend to reflect on where I grew up. It breaks my heart to think that so many people spend such a long time on long-term welfare and state handouts. In Windsor, the number of people claiming benefits for more than a year has fallen by almost two-thirds, to just 70 people. That lifts my heart. Does the Secretary of State agree that we have a moral and social imperative to ensure that people are able to make their way from welfare to work and have a meaningful life?

Photo of Iain Duncan Smith Iain Duncan Smith The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

I agree with my hon. Friend. There is an element about fairness: before we introduced the cap, about £9 million a year was being spent on fewer than 300 families. When asked, 73% of the public support the benefit cap and 77% agree it is fair for no household to get more than the average working household after tax. It seems like the only group that absolutely opposes the cap is the Labour party.

Photo of David Davies David Davies Chair, Welsh Affairs Committee

Does my right hon. Friend agree that our changes to benefits regulations have ensured that record numbers of people are now in work, and that this coalition Government are delivering jobs, prosperity and growth and that the only alternative from Labour Members is more debt, deficit and dole queues?

Photo of Iain Duncan Smith Iain Duncan Smith The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

As ever, my hon. Friend puts it succinctly—but that does not stop me answering his question. He is right. There are three figures that are really important. The Minister for Employment, my right hon. Friend Esther McVey, talked about bringing down unemployment. Under this Government, the International Labour Organisation 12-month-plus employment rate for 16 to 24-year-olds—the hardest to help—is down 59,000 on the year and 16,000 on the election; the 24-month-plus rate is down 30,000 on the year and 2,000 on the quarter; and of those in social housing, never, since records began, have we had so many households in work. That is the real reason for the Government’s long-term economic plan.

Photo of Meg Hillier Meg Hillier Labour, Hackney South and Shoreditch

Those on both sides of the House agree that it is important to encourage and support people into work, but under the new benefit cap announced by the Prime Minister, there is not a single three or four-bedroom property that somebody could rent when they need that safety net.

Photo of Iain Duncan Smith Iain Duncan Smith The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

I think the hon. Lady is talking about the Conservative manifesto proposal—I am not sure what other cap she could be talking about.

Photo of Iain Duncan Smith Iain Duncan Smith The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

She is nodding, but that proposal only brings the benefit cap back in line with average earnings, which are £23,000.

Through the cap, the Government have delivered fairness to the system and an incentive to go back to work, and as a direct result, more people are going back to work than ever before. We are asking people to take responsibility for their lives, just as those who are working and are not within the cap take responsibility for their lives.

Photo of Emily Thornberry Emily Thornberry Labour, Islington South and Finsbury

Would the right hon. Gentleman like to meet a constituent of mine whom I met last week? She has polio, she fell down the stairs and broke her leg, and now she has to have a knee replacement. She is on benefits and has two children. The rent on their property is £400, and the benefit cap is £500, which means they are living on £100 a week. Would he like to meet them?

Photo of Iain Duncan Smith Iain Duncan Smith The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

I am happy to speak to anybody the hon. Lady wants me to speak to about this matter. I believe that the benefits system in the UK helps those in the greatest difficulty—there is plenty of access to things such as hardship funds if that lady is having difficulty temporarily after breaking her leg—but if it is the hon. Lady’s belief that a Labour Government would increase spending on welfare, perhaps she could encourage those on her Front Bench to be honest about it and say so.

C

I think this speech fits the description of "washing the hands". It is despicable in its attitude to somebody who is in dire need.

Submitted by Chris Beazer