Department for Work and Pensions

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:49 pm on 26th February 2019.

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Photo of Justin Tomlinson Justin Tomlinson The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions 6:49 pm, 26th February 2019

It is a pleasure to respond to this debate—a vital discussion on how this Government, and our Department in particular, support people across society. I wish to pay tribute to Ruth George. We have not always agreed on every single issue, but it is clear that she is a tireless campaigner in this area. Her speech was particularly measured. She highlighted some genuine concerns that she has been pushing on in the years since she was elected. She should be proud that, in some of those areas, she has already effected change, and I know that she is an incredibly valuable member of the Work and Pensions Committee. I had the pleasure of joining her for about four weeks. Securing this debate is a tribute to her efforts.

There have been some very good speeches. In the limited time that I have, I will not be able to cover all of them, but I and my ministerial colleagues have taken note of everything that has been said and, where relevant, we will make direct contact.

Last year, the Department supported 20 million people—more than half of the adult population. We spend somewhere in the region of £190 billion, slightly more than a quarter of Government spending, and the equivalent to the GDP of Portugal. We have always been proud to share the proceeds of our growing economy with, often, some of the most vulnerable people in society.

My hon. Friend Alex Burghart made a powerful point about the impact on workless households and what an enormous difference that work can make. My hon. Friend Huw Merriman said that, probably, the Government’s greatest achievement is our record on employment. Since 2010, the employment rate has increased to a joint record high. Youth unemployment has almost halved; the female unemployment rate is at a record low; and nearly 1 million more disabled people are in work than in 2013.

Last year, wages grew at their fastest rate in a decade at 3.4%. We are going further to support those in work, with the introduction of the national living wage, which is worth £2,000 a year. The changes to the income tax threshold are worth £1,200 a year. We have seen the doubling of free childcare and the extension of childcare cost support through universal credit. Money being spent on childcare support has risen from £4 billion in 2010 to £6 billion today—a 50% increase. However, this jobs miracle is not a given. Our labour market is outperforming many other developed countries: more people have moved into work in the UK since 2010 than in France, Spain, Ireland, the Netherlands, Austria and Norway combined. What a stark contrast that is to the previous Labour Government, and every other Labour Government who have always left office with higher unemployment.

Many of the speeches have understandably focused on universal credit. We are creating a welfare system in which it pays to work. It simplifies a complex legacy benefits system that too often thwarted opportunities to work. I was heartened that my hon. Friend the Member for Bexhill and Battle highlighted the huge amounts of great work done by individual work coaches. One thing that most impresses me when I go on visits to jobcentres is the enthusiasm that work coaches have for universal credit, giving them, for the first time in a generation, the tools to provide personalised and tailored support. For the first time, claimants have a named work coach who helps them navigate the support for housing, training and childcare, leaving up to 50% more time for them to find work. In addition, they get the support of universal support partnerships, which responds in real time. This contrasts with the legacy benefits, which were hugely complex, with six different benefits across three different agencies: Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, DWP and local authorities. We saw from our own pieces of casework just how some of the most vulnerable people fell through the system. It is estimated that £2.4 billion of financial support was left unclaimed a year.