Amendment made: 1, page 30, line 17, leave out “in which the tenancy begins” and insert
“falling after the beginning of the tenancy”.—
This amendment makes clear that, where a tenancy begins after part of a relevant year has elapsed, the part of the year in question is the part after the tenancy begins.
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.
The Bill, alongside other measures, including the national living wage and the increase in the personal allowance for income tax, will ensure that the welfare system is fair to taxpayers while supporting the most vulnerable. It will help ensure that work always pays more than life on benefits. It will continue to build an economy based on higher pay, lower taxes and lower welfare.
As a result of these measures, people receiving family tax credits will lose up to £1,300 per annum and 200,000 more children will be pushed into poverty. Can the Minister explain how that is fair?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving me the opportunity to respond once again on that issue and make the case that, first, it pays to be in work, and secondly, through our package of measures, including the national living wage, the increase in the personal allowance and the extra support for tax-free childcare, families will be supported through the changes we are making. That contrasts with the system we inherited from Labour in 2010, which was not fair to the hard-working taxpayers who paid for it, and certainly did not support people trapped in a system of welfare, with no hope for a brighter future. That is why we are continuing to reform welfare so that work pays in the United Kingdom.
After 13 years in government, Labour left a welfare system that failed to reward work. Between 1997 and 2010, spending on tax credits increased by 335%, compared with an increase in average earnings of just 30% over the same period. Despite all the spending, 1.4 million people spent most of the last decade under Labour trapped in out-of-work benefits. [Interruption.] That is not a ridiculous point to make. Over the same period, the number of households in which no member had ever worked nearly doubled and in-work poverty rose, yet Labour has opposed every decision we have taken to fix the welfare system and support people off welfare and into work.
Our welfare reforms are focused on transforming lives by helping people to find and keep work. We are focused on boosting employment and ensuring fairness and affordability, while supporting the most vulnerable, and on making sure that people on benefits face the same choices as those not on benefits and in work. Over the past five years, 2 million more people have entered employment, while 2.3 million people are now in apprenticeships and the number of workless households is at a record low—down by more than 680,000 since 2010. This was achieved in the last Parliament, when welfare spending increased at the lowest rate since the creation of the modern welfare system.
The Bill delivers on our ambitious manifesto commitment to halve the disability employment gap, but we need to be held to account for the progress we make, so will the Minister outline how, through the reporting mechanisms in the Bill, we can show we are delivering on that commitment and build on the good progress we have already made in helping over 200,000 more disabled people into work?
My hon. Friend is right about the Government’s clear desire to support more disabled people into employment, and as we discussed in Committee, we will strive continuously to fulfil that commitment. I can assure him that in everything we do, including through the £100 million of investment to help people with disabilities and health conditions—something that Labour did not do in government—we will share information with the public and report back to the country on our progress. The Government stand by the principle of encouraging and rewarding work, and the Bill builds on that success.
Naturally, we want more people to have the dignity of a job, the pride that comes with earning a pay packet and, importantly, all the wider advantages that come with employment. All those who want to enter employment and contribute to the growth of our economy should be supported to do so, which is why we are committed to full employment. The Bill will support that commitment with a statutory duty to report on our progress towards full employment and our ambition to deliver 3 million new apprenticeships. In addition, it will put in place a statutory duty to report on our progress in supporting troubled families with multiple, highly complex problems, including in helping them to move closer to work. It will encourage parents into work and support those trapped on benefits without the opportunity to move into work, such as those with health conditions or disabilities in particular. As my hon. Friend Mr Burrowes rightly highlighted, we will support them into work.
As a one nation Government, we believe that everyone in the country should have the chance to benefit from the security and sense of purpose that comes from being in work. Work provides purpose, responsibility and, in particular, role models for children, yet getting people into work is about more than earning a salary. Growing evidence shows that work can help people to remain healthy and help to promote recovery where somebody falls ill. It is right, therefore, that we look at how the system supports people with health conditions into work. We know that 61% of those in the work-related activity group want to work, but only 1% come off benefits each month. The system has failed them, and financial disincentives have left them trapped on benefits.
As we discussed in Committee and on Report, the changes in the Bill will apply to new ESA claims and universal credit from April 2017. This will enable us to provide significant new funding for additional support to help claimants with health conditions and disabilities into work and to transform people’s lives. Furthermore, we are providing £60 million of funding in 2017, which will increase to £100 million a year by 2020. That will be direct support to get people into work and provide new employment opportunities for those who want to work but have been unable to do so. We recognise the long-term conditions that some people face and will support them back into work.
That help into work is absolutely vital, but what would the Minister say about those who have been in the work-related activity group for one or two years, or perhaps even longer, and who are unable to get back into work, however hard they try? New claimants will not have that work-related activity group component.
We recognise that there are people who cannot work, as a result of illness, and they will be in the support group. They will absolutely be supported in that group, as is right and proper.
It is our responsibility to ensure that the welfare system is affordable and sustainable. Those on the Opposition Benches who oppose our making difficult decisions on welfare must say what they would cut or which taxes they would put up to pay for their proposals. The Bill will correct many of the unaffordable and disproportionate increases in benefits compared with earnings by freezing most working-age benefits. As we have said throughout the passage of the Bill, this will protect taxpayers from the cost of subsidising increasing social housing rents through housing benefit. Those rents have climbed by 20% since 2010, but we will now act to reduce them by 1% a year for the next four years.
The Bill will continue to restore fairness to the system. We do not think it is fair that someone on benefits should receive more than working households earn, and 77% of the public agree. The benefit cap reintroduced fairness. Reducing the benefit cap to £20,000—and to £23,000 in Greater London—reinforces and strengthens that message. The new cap better aligns the level with the circumstances of hard-working families across the country.
Does the Minister agree that, as well as providing a fairer deal for the taxpayer and introducing a fairer, more sustainable system in order to help to pay off the deficit, this programme will help to encourage, nudge and support people back into work? Is that not better than just wringing our hands?
My hon. Friend is absolutely correct. That is the whole purpose of what we have been doing through our welfare reforms. We are putting people first and providing the support they need to get back into work, in contrast to what we saw during the 13 years of the Labour Government, when people were trapped on benefits in a cycle of dependency, and trapped in poverty while having opportunities denied to them.
This Government are committed to working to eliminate child poverty and to improving life chances. Our new approach focuses on transforming lives, which is what the Labour Government failed to do through their arbitrary measures on poverty. We will tackle the root causes of poverty rather than focusing on the symptoms, as existing measures do. We saw the previous Labour Government’s pursuit of short-term, narrow and expensive policy solutions that attempted to lift incomes above an arbitrary line. They increased welfare spending by 60% in real terms—[Interruption.] That is a fact. They increased spending in an attempt to chase that moving poverty line, without driving any sustainable improvements in children’s lives.
In contrast, the Bill will place a duty on the Government to report annually on the key measures of worklessness and educational attainment. In these new life chances measures, we will focus on the root causes of poverty, rather than on the symptoms. That approach has been seen to fail—[Interruption.] Emily Thornberry can shout all she wants, but these new measures will drive real actions and make the biggest difference to disadvantaged children now and in the future. We have also committed to publishing a life chances strategy—[Interruption.] What is embarrassing is that during 13 years, the Labour Government systematically failed to deal with the root causes of poverty or to change people’s lives by getting them back into work.
I will not give way.
We are committed to publishing a life chances strategy, which will set out a wider set of measures on the root causes of poverty such as family breakdown and the problems of debt, drug addiction and alcohol dependency. We will report to the House on those measures annually. We are absolutely committed to protecting the most vulnerable in society, and the Bill will continue to ensure that the welfare system will support the elderly, the vulnerable and disabled people. We are exempting pensioner benefits, and benefits relating to the additional costs of disability, from the freeze on working-age benefits. We are also exempting the most disabled people from the benefit cap.
I would like to thank all Members on both sides of the House for their contributions on the Bill and on the other important issues that have been raised in our debates in Committee and on the Floor of the House. A number of amendments have been passed so that support for mortgage interest and social rented sector policies are delivered as intended. In the case of the social rents measure, we have been able to reflect comments made to the Government by the social housing sector. We have also added a clause that will enable the Government to recover the expenses they incur from administrating benefit diversions for the Motability scheme. As we agreed on Report, the wishes of the Welsh and Scottish Governments are now also reflected in the life chances measure.
This Bill will establish the principle of economic security, and will ensure that the welfare system is fair to taxpayers while continuing to build an economy based on higher pay, lower taxes and lower welfare. I commend the Bill to the House.
May I start by thanking everybody on our side of the House for all the contributions they have made not just today, but during the passage of this enormously important Bill? May I also thank the Secretary of State for gracing us with his presence today? I would like to be able to thank the Minister for offering some detailed answers to the questions put to her throughout the Committee stage and today, but there were not many answers, so I will not be able to do that, I am afraid.
Labour will be opposing the Third Reading of the Welfare Reform and Work Bill. Combined with the other measures in the summer Budget, this package of tax credit and benefit reforms penalises millions of working families and will risk pushing hundreds of thousands of children into poverty. It is a cruel, pernicious Bill that breaks Tory promises in almost every clause and will hit more than 10 million families in Britain. It is also indiscriminate: it hits the young, the old, those unable to work and those working every hour they can.
I am pleased we will be opposing the Welfare Reform and Work Bill on Third Reading. Is not the real problem for the Government that their record so far on welfare reform has been entirely counterproductive? The facts speak for themselves: on this Government’s watch welfare bills have shot through the roof. They have cut welfare, but the bills have gone up.
This is the first Government who have ever spent more than £1 trillion in a Parliament on social security. That is an extraordinary rise, and it has happened on the watch of the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions.
In this Bill we are seeing the Government break their promises repeatedly. They are breaking their promises to older people, for example. Before the election, the Conservatives’ manifesto said they would “maintain all pensioner benefits”, but after the election it appears that there is a different story. Some senior Conservatives have talked about this being a “great opportunity” for deep cuts to pensioner benefits. The Minister for Community and Social Care said that pensioner benefits should not be cut immediately, but that raises the question: when are they going to cut them?
The answer appears to be that the Government are cutting pensioner benefits now, in this Bill, because 70,000 pensioners are being hit by more than £1,000 a year through the changes to support for mortgage interest. That support is a vital lifeline for many, but through this Bill the Government are chipping away at pensioner benefits and charging a 2.9% interest rate—profiteering from pensioners. By refusing our amendment 24, the Conservative party is breaking its promise to our pensioners. We will act as the watchdog for our older people on that, as we will on pensioner freedoms. A scathing report from the Work and Pensions Committee has warned that the next great mis-selling scandal will be coming soon, after the Tories introduced pension freedoms. We will be watching that, as we are watching tonight.
Just as with older people, the Conservative Government are tonight letting down young people and our children. Before the election the Conservative manifesto spoke of
“boosting the self-esteem of young people”, but after the election the Government are failing our children, failing young people and failing the next generation.
This Bill will push 600,000 children into poverty over the course of the Parliament while fiddling the figures and hiding the Government’s shame by abolishing the child poverty target. It is a scandal that any Government can seek to withdraw income—the money people have—from a measure of poverty. If it were not so disgraceful, it would be laughable. They are stripping housing benefit away from 18 to 21-year-olds, patronising our young people with “earn or learn” boot camps and introducing a so-called living wage that kicks in only when people are 25, and the Business Minister is running down young people, saying that they do not deserve a living wage because they are not as productive.
What about the Tory promises to the sick and disabled people of Britain? Before the election the Tory manifesto said that the Conservatives would
“aim to halve the disability employment gap: we will transform policy…so that hundreds of thousands more disabled people who can and want to be in work find employment.”
£1,500 a year. That will reduce the likelihood of a return to work, increase the number of long-term unemployed and act as a work penalty for sick or disabled people seeking to get back into work.
I was told today by Homeless Link that 50% of the charities providing specialist housing services say they will be forced to close services within one to five years because of the changes in the rent arrangements for housing associations and housing benefits. Does my hon. Friend know what will happen to the vulnerable who depend on those services?
I suspect that their lot will be far worse, as with so many of the groups that I am talking about tonight. We know that young people, older people, disabled people and vulnerable people in our communities are going to be worse off under the Tories, because they always are.
“We’re going to freeze them for two years, we are not going to cut them.”
That was the promise. We know the truth. After the election, the Government are stripping £1,300 out of the pockets of 3.5 million working families—a 10% cut in the incomes of working families, putting an effective 93% tax rate on low and middle-income workers and imposing a work penalty on those families.
The hon. Gentleman is very kind. Will he speak up, loud and clear? He says that he and his party will oppose the Bill, so what are their alternatives? How would they meet the £12 billion savings package? What parts of it will they accept, and what are their alternatives? We want to know the basis of their opposition.
I could, of course, refer, as I have done repeatedly, to not cutting inheritance tax for people passing on million-pound houses; I could talk about not introducing the millionaires’ tax cut; I could talk about clamping down on tax avoidance and evasion. But the real question is for the working families in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency, thousands of whom are going to see 10% of their income carved away at the stroke of a pen, in a letter arriving just before Christmas. It is a disgrace what this Government are doing. We are clear that we are opposing it tonight and will continue to oppose it. Asking working mothers to shoulder 70% of the cuts is no way for any Government to continue.
This Bill is a litany of broken promises. The risk of job loss, sickness, bereavement or retirement faces all of us at some point, yet this is a Tory bid to undermine the basic case for support and security for individuals through the collective pooling of risk. The Bill is a naked attempt to turn people against one another, in order to undermine any concept of a safety net—young against old, disabled people against non-disabled people, those in work against those looking for work.
The Opposition will not play that game. We are not interested in those divisive Tory tactics. We all want to bring down the welfare bill by making work pay, getting the homes we need built, bringing down unemployment and growing our economy, helping our foundation industries, such as the steel industry, which is being abandoned by the Government—[Interruption.]
Order. Mr Bacon, you are getting carried away. That is not like you. You are usually a man who wants to hear both sides of the argument. Don’t spoil it tonight.
I am very grateful to you, Mr Deputy Speaker.
The Tories faced a humiliating and deserved defeat last night in the House of Lords, in part due to their failure to outline where cuts will fall and being less than open about their intentions. Just like their cuts to tax credits, this Bill breaks the Conservatives’ manifesto promises—pledges to protect pensioners, to support the young, to help the disabled into work and to back working families. This is a cruel Bill that shows that the Tory manifesto was not worth the paper it was printed on. It penalises children, takes money from low and middle-income workers, drives families from their homes, punishes disabled people and will push hundreds of thousands of children into poverty. We will oppose it tonight.
It was a pleasure to serve on the Public Bill Committee along with hon. Members from both sides of the House who I can see in the Chamber. I sat through many sittings of the Committee, listening intently to all that was said, and I simply fail to recognise a lot of what Owen Smith said about what the Bill will do. I do not know how much of the Committee he sat through.
We have made great progress on the economy since 2010, and it is worth recording some facts. I stress that they are facts. Employment is now at a record high of more than 31 million, up more than 2 million since 2010. That represents a record employment rate of 73%. I am always proud to talk about my constituency of North Devon, and the JSA claimant rate there is just 0.9%, a record low. Unemployment is almost back to its pre-recession levels—a recession, let us remember, caused by the Labour party—[Interruption.] The number of workless households is at a record low as well, down nearly 700,000—[Interruption.]
Order. I expect the same courtesy from Opposition Members as I expected from Government Members.
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. They do not want to hear the truth, that is the problem.
Our welfare reforms over the last Parliament, every one of which was designed with the aim of supporting those who are able to work in getting closer to employment, were undoubtedly part of achieving the success story I have cited.
Is not the difficulty that the Labour party, in its last year in government, borrowed £150 billion, introduced a tax credit system that started at £4.5 billion and ended at £30 billion, maxed out not only the taxpayers’ credit cards but their children’s and grandchildren’s credit cards, and chained workers to a lower minimum wage instead of a much higher national living wage?
I agree with the powerful point that my hon. Friend makes. In fact, I am about to talk about the benefits cap that the Bill quite rightly introduces. The New Statesman, by any measure the house journal of the Labour party, states:
“Most voters regard a cap of £26,000 as unacceptably high and the move draws a sharp new dividing line with Labour. By pledging to use the money saved to fund apprenticeships, Cameron sends out the message that the Tories support work, not welfare.”
I will not give way, as we are short of time.
Let us look at what happened when the £26,000 cap was introduced: 16,000 households moved back into work, and capped households are 41% more likely to move into work. When asked, 38% of those who had been capped said that they were doing all they could to find more work and being supported by the Government in doing so. Those are important statistics that we must not forget.
I want to talk briefly, if I may, about some of the measures in the Bill on the help that will be given to people with disabilities. I am pleased to see on the Front Bench my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Disabled People. An SNP Member asked earlier where he was, and at that very moment he was in Westminster Hall speaking up for the people he represents, so we will take no lessons about that. I am working with the Minister to hold a Disability Confident event in my own seat of North Devon, because I want to ensure that people with disabilities can get closer to employment.
I am aware of the time, so I will conclude my comments. [Hon. Members: “More!”] I am very happy to provide more. We are moving from a high welfare, high tax, low wage economy to a society where work pays, where people earn more, and where the Government will help them to keep more of the money that they earn. That is the purpose of the Bill. That is why it is important that the House passes it; why it is right for the country; and why we should all support it in the Lobby tonight.
I will keep my remarks brief. This Bill has been the centrepiece of the Government’s austerity agenda, but the Government’s package of proposals was holed below the waterline by the vote in the House of Lords yesterday. The Bill’s measures are characterised by their arbitrary nature, by a total lack of evidence that they will achieve their intended aims and, above all, by the fact that low-income working households and the sick and disabled have been put on the frontline and are shouldering a wholly disproportionate share of the cuts.
Cuts to tax credits are at the heart of that agenda, with 7 million families set to lose an average of £1,300 each.
I will not give way, because time is very short.
Those measures will drive disincentives to work and will compromise economic recovery. Above all, they will push hundreds of thousands of bairns into poverty. The benefit cap fails to tackle the underlying issue of an out-of-control housing market and a lack of affordable housing, and it hits those living in our most expensive urban areas. Cuts to employment and support allowance penalise people with serious and long-term illnesses and disabilities, and, to add insult to injury, stigmatise people for their own poor health. On sanctions, we have heard that the Government’s U-turn fails to address the need for a proper review of the sanctions regime. Those are the wrong choices to make. There is a responsible path to deficit reduction. There is a responsible alternative to austerity, and this Bill is not it.
However, we did not get a chance to debate the amendments in the third group this afternoon, so I wish to put it on the record that I welcome Government amendments 2 to 16, which take into account the concerns raised by the Scottish Government and other devolved Administrations.
This is a deeply regressive Bill. It harms low-income households and makes disadvantaged people carry the can of the Government’s economic failure. The SNP will oppose the Bill tonight.
I regret the fact that, on Report, we have spent a lot of time—about a third of it—on yesterday’s debate. As important as that issue is, it has meant that we did not get to speak about our measures for full employment and for improving people’s life chances, especially with our troubled families programme. What I do not regret—in fact, I positively welcome it—is the clear and direct action taken by the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions and the range of Ministers who have worked incredibly hard so that Britain can deliver this Bill tonight.
The Bill means that, when we are looking at delivering a welfare programme, people who are in work and paying their tax will have the same expectations on housing and other choices when they have children as those who are not in work. The Bill is also for our children. We must pay off the deficit and, ultimately, our debt. By saving £12 billion through our overall package, we will be able to reduce the deficit significantly. Most of all, the Bill is about helping those who are most in need of our support. We have heard a lot of empty rhetoric from the Opposition parties, but what the Secretary of State and his Ministers have done in this Bill is to look at the underlying problems and at the underlying situation so that we can push people towards work. We will nudge, support and help them back into full employment. I very much welcome this transformational Bill.
Like other Opposition Members, I will oppose the Bill, because it does not meet the claims that the Government are making for it about making work pay. It will penalise people in work. Most of all, it will penalise families. It will penalise not just work but parenthood. The Minister told us that it is about making sure that families have to make the same choices as others. However, the two-child rule will not apply to childcare payments, and that means that up to £2,000 per child will be paid to relatively well-off people in employment, who will continue to get those payments for as many as children as they want. Only poorer families will be penalised by the two-child rule. That is just one of the injustices and inequities for which—
Debate interrupted (Programme order, this day).