Amendment of the Law

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:41 pm on 23rd March 2015.

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Photo of Rachel Reeves Rachel Reeves Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions 5:41 pm, 23rd March 2015

My hon. Friend speaks powerfully about something she knows a lot about. The number of zero-hours contracts in the social care sector, and more widely across the economy, has grown. It is incredibly difficult to plan from week to week if someone does not know how much money they will take home or whether they can afford to pay the rent and bills and put food on the table. That is why more people in work are having to rely on food banks to make ends meet.

I move now to key reforms that have spun out of control under the Government. Universal credit was supposed to cut fraud and make work pay, but after five wasted years of this Government and more than half a billion pounds of taxpayers’ money spent, it is being paid to just 41,000 of the 1 million people who were supposed to be receiving it last April. The National Audit Office has identified a fortress mentality and a “good news” reporting culture in the Department as key factors behind this fiasco. Last summer, the Secretary of State promised an accelerated roll-out plan, but we have yet to see much evidence of it—things could not be going much slower.

The Work programme—another failed programme—was the Government’s belated and inadequate replacement for the future jobs fund they scrapped, but it has failed to tackle long-term unemployment. Indeed, the number of long-term unemployed people has risen by a staggering 49% since 2010. It still sends more people back to sign on at the jobcentre after two years than it places in a job and has made no impact on the disadvantaged and high-risk unemployment faced by over-50s and disabled people. The introduction of personal independence payments has also been a complete and utter shambles, leaving sick and disabled people waiting months on end for support, while total spending has gone over budget by more than £2 billion. The roll-out of employment and support allowance was supposed to deliver big savings by helping more disabled people into work, but just 8% of people on ESA have been helped into work by the Work programme. Furthermore, analysis by the House of Commons Library shows that the Secretary of State has spent £8.6 billion more than he said he would on ESA. What a mess and what a waste—five years of Tory welfare waste we needed this Budget to put an end to.

The Budget was a wasted opportunity. We needed a better plan to make work pay and get social security spending under control, but instead the report of the independent OBR confirmed that all we could expect from the Government in the future was more of the same: more unplanned spending on social security and more failure to deliver promised savings on disability and sickness benefits, with the OBR noting on page 143 that

“projected spending on incapacity benefits, DLA and PIP is up by £0.2 billion a year on average between 2014-15 and 2019-20”; more failure to deliver promised savings on fraud, with the OBR reporting on page 191 that it had

“revised down the savings associated with tax credits operational measures. These increase spending by £0.2 billion a year between 2015-16 and 2019-20”; and more of the “good news” culture on welfare reform, with the OBR noting on page 192 that

“we have noted a history of optimism bias relating to reforms to incapacity benefits, disability benefits and universal credit.”

“Optimism bias” is a polite way of saying that we cannot trust a word the Government say.

In a moment of optimism bias, the Secretary of State promised that 1 million people would be on universal credit by April 2014, but one year on, fewer than 41,000 people are claiming it. In another moment of optimism bias, he promised that universal credit would be on time and on budget, but with delay after delay and millions of pounds written off, everyone knows that it is neither on time nor on budget. In yet another case of the Government’s optimism bias, they promised to back carers but then forced 60,000 households with carers to pay the bedroom tax, as my hon. Friend Barbara Keeley mentioned. Was it not optimism bias that led the Chancellor to promise to reduce the benefit bill, only for the Government to spend £25 billion more on social security than they set out to spend? And perhaps optimism bias is why the Chancellor broke his promise to clear the deficit by the end of this Parliament.