Department for Work and Pensions

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:46 pm on 2nd July 2019.

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Photo of Huw Merriman Huw Merriman Conservative, Bexhill and Battle 3:46 pm, 2nd July 2019

I am not going to take any more interventions because, to be fair, those making them have had a lot of time to speak, and I am not going to get much of a chance.

We have seen people moving into work, and that has been a huge success. From listening to Opposition Members, one would think that the benefits system was completely rosy. As I have said, not only were too many people on benefits—trapped on benefits—but if we look at the tax credits system and the attacks on universal credit, we can see that universal credit has been rolled out in a slow, progressive manner, and we have changed it as we have gone along, while tax credits, which were rolled out in one big bang, were overpaid by over £7 billion, and over £2 billion had to be clawed back from those who were actually the poorest. I do not want to take too many lectures on how to introduce a successful benefits system, because we have seen how things have failed before. What has most impressed me about the Department is that it has learned from the failings over the years and has tried to do things better.

I am absolutely passionate about universal credit, because I have spent time with my jobcentre and seen the enthusiasm that the work coaches have for it. When we go into a jobcentre now it is not like going into some cold, austere office where people are too scared to go in and get any help. It feels almost like a recruitment centre to help people. There are help points and people who are passionate about helping people into work.

I am really proud of this Government’s record. I believe that every Government should be judged on what they have done in helping people into work. As I have said before, on every occasion the Labour party has left office, it has done so with unemployment higher than when it entered, which has got to be considered a failure. The Conservative party has been able to secure 3.6 million extra jobs. We have also increased the living wage, taken people out of tax and incentivised them. We have tried to focus on people who need help the most. It is said that all these jobs are low-paid, but 70% of them are highly skilled. It is said that wages are not going up, but for the 15th month in succession wages are going up by more than inflation. The proportion of jobs that are low-paid stands at its lowest level for 20 years as a result of the national living wage. Yes, there is more to do, but let us not knock the record that we have delivered.

I am going to make one suggestion, and I am echoing a point made by Justin Madders, who talked about the Motor Neurone Disease Association. He and I played football against that organisation, and I found it the most extraordinary moment. It was incredibly touching to play alongside them, and I then met that team. The organisation makes the very good point, which is also made by the Marie Curie cancer organisation, that it cannot be right that we have to test those with terminal illnesses for their disability benefit. They are reliant on a doctor saying that they will die within six months, but GPs are not comfortable saying that. The challenge for us as a Government is really to listen, and to look at how much such a change would cost. We know those people are going to be able to claim benefits in the main, so it is only a delay while they have to wait. However, they do not have time to wait, and I would like our Government to look at that. It is not just about those in that period of six months, but also those who have managed to survive their terminal illness three years and then have to be retested.

While I am very proud of the Government for what they have done in putting people into work and in targeting support, with almost an extra 1 million disabled people in work as well—we have record levels—we still have individual policy areas that we need to fix and on which we should do better. We must never rest on our laurels.