The Economy and Work

Part of Debate on the Address – in the House of Commons at 4:18 pm on 26th May 2016.

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Photo of Heidi Allen Heidi Allen Conservative, South Cambridgeshire 4:18 pm, 26th May 2016

Somebody once told me that there is no such thing as luck. Luck, they said, is a place where opportunity and preparation meet. Many of us in this Chamber will have grown up with everything pretty much sorted: a stable family, a decent household income, a great education and good health—that perfect mix that prepared us to control our lives and to make use of opportunities that came our way.

When we talk about a life chances strategy, therefore, we are talking about identifying the things the Government can do to plug the gaps for individuals who are not as fortunate as us and for whom one of those key ingredients is missing. I applaud the Prime Minister for making this one of the essential themes in his work. It is certainly why I came into politics. Now we have the challenge of translating that policy aspiration into detail. That challenge is huge, not just because we are still recovering from economic turbulence, but because one of the solutions cannot be so easily measured, nor have metrics attached. People transform the lives of others, with hearts, heads, promises, support, mistakes sometimes, but above all trust.

Returning to my premise that this is all about opportunity and preparation, Government can certainly develop policy to provide the opportunities, and they have done that very well already, with an improving economy, record levels of employment, an increase in the minimum wage, transformation of the benefits system, investment in the NHS, and help-to-buy schemes. Admittedly, we would all agree that we have much more to do on affordable housing, especially in constituencies like mine, and we are still uncovering the enormity of the mental health challenge, but overall those policies will provide those essential opportunities, and many millions of people are benefiting from them already. Focusing on the preparation part of the luck equation, how do we help those who do not have those building blocks? When I think of all the people I know who have transformed their lives, the single common denominator has, without fail, been another person. There may have been Government interventions in the mix somewhere—a grant to set up a business, perhaps—but alone that would not have been enough. When you really need to turn your life around, you need another human being to help you.

Every Government Department has a role to play. Ministers need to identify where people touch their Departments and embed the big society in their areas of responsibility. The Department for Communities and Local Government has been fantastic on troubled families. Croydon Council is doing amazing work to break down internal silos to put the best interests and potential of its residents at the heart of everything it does. I applaud the Department for Education for its work on local employees being mentors for children. What about the parents, too? Think of Billy Elliot’s father! Our GPs are also at the heart of this support, but Lord knows, they are at breaking point and they may need the extra funding to be provided now.

Another army of mentors and champions is desperate to help this revolution—those in the third sector, almost totally frozen out of the Work programme but desperate to get involved. We should bite their hands off and bring their expertise to the centre of this debate. One thing they have in abundance, far more than any politician or Government, is trust in the people they want to help.