Housing and Social Security

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:58 pm on 22nd June 2017.

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Photo of Stephen Lloyd Stephen Lloyd Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Work and Pensions) 2:58 pm, 22nd June 2017

I wish to associate myself with the earlier comments from the Front Benchers on the Grenfell Tower tragedy. I also wish to congratulate Mr Gauke on his appointment as Secretary of State for Work and Pensions. I am glad to be back, and, as I have been appointed the Liberal Democrat spokesman on work and pensions, I shall be having numerous conversations with him. Today, there are four particular aspects of social services on which I want to focus. There is an awful lot to cover, but I shall restrict myself to four: universal credit, WRAG, WASPI and PIP.

When I was thinking of those four this morning in preparation for my speech—I was involved with all of them during the coalition, to a greater or lesser extent, often trying to improve or change things—I saw that they were shocking combinations of poor quality. Universal credit has poor-quality policy. I remember years ago, under the coalition Government, when it was first mooted, that I supported the concept of bringing all benefits together to one point of contact. That would be more sensible for the recipient. The key, though, was the taper. I was very disappointed that the former Chancellor of the Exchequer, who now edits the Evening Standard, insisted on an absolutely ludicrous taper that means that people on universal credit are barely better off in a low-paid job than they are on benefit, which defeats the whole purpose of universal credit. I look forward to the new Secretary of State using his charm with his close colleague, the current Chancellor, to get a more intelligent taper. Without that, universal credit is doomed to fail, and we all know in this Chamber the problems people already face with its delivery. The taper was bad policy.

WRAG is an acronym for work-related activity group, and is meant for disabled people who have had a disability or have had a disability for quite some time and believe that they can—and the DWP believes that they can—get back into jobs, with the correct levels of support. That is something that I am passionate about, and that I was passionate about when I was last in this House. From April this year, the Government took a decision to reduce the income of those in the WRAG by almost 30%. Anyone with any experience of disability at all will know that if someone has been disabled for quite some time, they can get out of the habit of getting into work. It takes a bit of support to get them back into employment, so they go into the WRAG. To then cut their income by 30%—folks, we know what will happen. People will do their darnedest to stay in the support group, which means that they do not get back into jobs. I think that that was a stupid decision by the Government.

Thirdly, on the Women Against State Pension Inequality Campaign, this decision was profoundly unfair. My partner, if she will forgive me for giving her broad age to the Chamber, is one of those affected. Many women between 55 and 58 across the United Kingdom are affected and it is profoundly unfair. We hear that under the new consensual approach to government the Conservatives are ready to loosen the austerity strings, to listen more to people and to be fairer, and I would urge them to have the WASPI women at the top of the list for reconsideration.

Last but not least is PIP, or the personal independence payment. Again, I am very frustrated because I worked hard with Lord Freud in the other place to try to get PIP to work. The concept is about individual personal income, allowing people with disabilities to control the money they have and use it in the right way. The concept is good, but then guess what happens? I go and lose the election in 2015—I am sure that I am far too insignificant to have made any difference at all, but PIP has not improved things. We are still getting a high rate of people failing the work capability assessment and going to tribunal; more than 80% of them are winning, which means that PIP is not working and the delivery of PIP is not working.

Over the coming years—however long this Parliament lasts—I am looking forward to working with the Government in a spirit of compromise to improve these areas of the DWP and its remit so that it delivers what it is supposed to deliver: fairness, equity and ease of access. The latter is terribly important when someone has been on benefits for a long time, as there must be a smooth transition of funds.

On the pension side, I am delighted that the Conservative manifesto pledge to get rid of the triple lock was dropped in the Queen’s Speech. I remind the House that it was the Liberal Democrats in coalition who brought in the triple lock pension, so I am glad that despite those halcyon days the Conservatives are finally listening to the Lib Dems and have retained the triple lock.

Most importantly of all, it is good to be back. I pay tribute to my predecessor, who I know fought valiantly for Eastbourne. For me, it is a pleasure.