Department for Work and Pensions

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:23 pm on 26th February 2019.

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Photo of Huw Merriman Huw Merriman Conservative, Bexhill and Battle 5:23 pm, 26th February 2019

It is a pleasure to speak in this debate on the spending of the Department for Work and Pensions. I thank Ruth George for leading the debate and for her speech.

I understand the issues that the hon. Lady raises, but, as a Conservative Member, I want to try to make a case for the positives since 2010. In doing so, I would not want it to be thought that I do not have constituents who have been let down by the system. We must always strive to do more and to learn from such issues, but the situation has existed for years under every Government—it has not only existed under this present Government.

I will touch on employment, universal credit and our work to help those with disabilities, sicknesses and impairments, all of which are so important because the Department is responsible for a quarter of all Government spending. A vast £215 billion is spent on benefits and pensions.

Employment is the greatest success of the Government that I have been supporting since 2010, as the unemployment rate has halved since then. The most important thing to me in my role of being an MP is to help people to find work, find hope over despair, find something to feel proud about and find something where they really contribute. It is about taking them from being people who rely on the benefits system when they do not want to do so and giving them a position where they are paying in to help others.

This has been a great success: we now have the highest numbers in employment since records began; we also have an unemployment level at 4%, which is as low as it has been since the early 1970s; youth unemployment has halved; female unemployment is at its lowest rate; and wages are now growing at their joint fastest rate in a decade.

I am particularly proud that our unemployment rate is half that of Eurozone countries. It is important to say that every Labour Government have left office with unemployment higher than when they took office. The unemployment rate rose from 2.1 million in 1997 to 2.5 million in 2010, whereas it has now fallen to 1.36 million. Although there may still be matters that need addressing, this Government have reduced unemployment by 1 million and helped those people to find work and hope, so there is not that much of a stick to beat us with.

Let us look at universal credit, because it is part of our mantra of helping people into work.