The United Kingdom represents 1% of the world’s population; it also has 4% of the world’s wealth and accounts for 7% of the world’s welfare. That is clearly not sustainable. During the last Parliament, I had the honour of sitting on the Work and Pensions Committee. We conducted several investigations and produced reports on Jobcentre Plus, the Work programme, universal credit, benefit sanctions and pensions reform. The Bill improves on the work done in the last Parliament.
Everyone with the ability to work should be given the support and opportunity to do so. The previous system wrote off too many people and left too many trapped in a cycle of welfare dependency. Over the past five years, the number of people in Weaver Vale claiming jobseeker’s allowance and universal credit while not in employment fell by more than 1,000—a 51% drop. This Government’s long-term economic plan is clearly working for Weaver Vale by getting people off a life on benefits and back into work.
Welfare reform is not just about saving money; it is about transforming lives. Employment has been this Government’s real success, with 2 million more jobs, and with 1,000 jobs created each and every day during the last Parliament. We understand that the route out of poverty is not through welfare; poverty can be left behind only through work. The Office for Budget Responsibility has predicted that a further 1 million jobs will be created over the next five years, but we are the party of ambition and we want to go further. The Bill is working to a target of full employment.
I have held four annual jobs and apprenticeship fairs in Weaver Vale, and I have plans for more. The fairs involve bringing together local and national employers to showcase the job and apprenticeship opportunities they have available. Hundreds of jobseekers attend the events and benefit from seeing what is on offer and hearing first-hand accounts of how others have managed to get off welfare and into work.
The Jobcentre Plus and employment support schemes that were introduced in the last Parliament, which are being expanded in the Bill, underpin our success in getting people off benefits. With the jobcentre’s help and guidance, most people move off jobseeker’s allowance quickly, with more than 75% of people ending their claim within six months. The minority of people who have been on jobseeker’s allowance for a longer time finish the Work programme and move on to the help to work scheme, in which they have to take up one of three different types of intensive support depending on what is preventing them from finding work. That could involve a daily meeting with their jobcentre adviser or taking up a new activity to improve their skills base. Previously, a claimant needed to attend only once or twice a week. Claimants whose lack of work experience is felt to be holding them back from finding a job might be asked to undertake a placement in their local community.
For jobseekers with multiple or complex barriers to work, the Jobcentre Plus advisers spend more time with the claimant looking at how to tailor back to work support. The help to work scheme is rightly mandatory, and those who fail to participate face financial sanctions. Conditionality remains a necessary part of the benefits system and is still one of the most effective tools for encouraging engagement with the employment support programmes at Jobcentre Plus.
The Bill continues the work of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State in the last Parliament on restoring to the core of Britain’s welfare system the ethos that it always pays to work. The reforms are transforming the lives of some of the poorest families in our communities and giving people the skills and opportunities to get on in life and stand on their own two feet.