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Mr. Heppell: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Duncan Smith: No, I am not giving way.

Rather like the Chancellor's 2.25 per cent. projected increase in public spending, the new spending commitment to more than £7 billion appears to be an underestimate, as ever. This is only the beginning of the Government pumping up the whole of the social security budget.

Mr. Hanson rose--

Mr. Heppell rose--

Mr. Duncan Smith: I am not giving way; I intend to conclude shortly.

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Equally serious is that, in spite of the talk about hand up and not hand-out, and getting people off welfare and into work, more people have been brought into the dependency net by extending the tapers and the raising of disregards in the new working families tax credit. Figures show that as many as 400,000 new families will be brought into dependency as a result of the measures announced in the previous Budget. That is an increase in dependency from the party that said that it would not increase dependency, but would cut it. That serious charge is levelled at the Government, and Ministers do not like it, because every single initiative has been a failure.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Social Security (Mr. Keith Bradley): The hon. Gentleman has been given a note--he has been going on for too long.

Mr. Duncan Smith: I asked my hon. Friend the Member for Grantham and Stamford (Mr. Davies) about the time, so the Minister should sit back on his Bench.

Add to all that the fact that a number of reviews are still to report, and the process of reform almost becomes biblical. Today was another example: Green Paper begets Green Paper begets Green Paper. There is not a policy in sight, with endless review after endless review.

Mr. Heppell: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Duncan Smith: No. The hon. Gentleman has nothing else to add.

The real problem that lies behind all that incompetence and policy failure is that, when the Government look back on their first year in office, they will realise that there has been a tragic waste of the best year that any Government since the war have had to reform welfare. On 28 March, The Economist said:


That indictment of the very party that said that it would cut the bills hangs around the Secretary of State's neck.

Mr. Heppell: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman has said quite clearly that he is not giving way. Hon. Members must remain seated.

Mr. Duncan Smith: That indictment is becoming clearer as we head towards a public expenditure statement which has already loosened constraints on public spending without there being any constructive reform policies that might, in the long run, lead to better focus and the reduction of the burden of dependency and, with it, the unnecessary cost to the taxpayer. The Minister for Welfare Reform knows that, because that is why he was brought into the Government. It would have been better if he had been given his head properly to propose measures that could have been implemented.

On 1 January, the Opposition rightly offered the Government the chance of a serious debate on welfare reform. None has been forthcoming. Since then, we have

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been through a series of disappointments, delayed reviews and reviews that seem to point nowhere in particular, with long timetables running out to 2020, as if the next election will not matter. I supported the statement on the Child Support Agency, because it was their only constructive proposal. We have shown that we are prepared to have a serious debate, but the Government are running scared and have not taken up our offer.

During the past year, the Government have had a golden opportunity, but they have wasted it, because they have failed to deal with welfare reform constructively and positively. We charge them with total failure and incompetence, and I am afraid that that charge sticks.

7.39 pm

The Secretary of State for Social Security and Minister for Women (Ms Harriet Harman): I beg to move, To leave out from "House" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof:


One would not think from listening to the hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr. Duncan Smith) that tonight provides an opportunity to debate one of the crucial issues facing the House and the country: welfare reform. The hon. Gentleman failed to address any of the really important questions.

Despite the fact that, according to my hon. Friends, the hon. Gentleman spoke for 26 minutes--it seemed longer--he failed to set out his approach to tackling poverty, worklessness and social exclusion. We heard nothing about his proposals to support children and families. He had nothing to say about proposals to ensure security in retirement for pensioners. He made no suggestions about rooting fraud out of the system or how to tackle the spiralling costs of social and economic failure. He cannot decide whether he thinks that our policies do not work or that we do not have any--he changes from one view to the other.

The hon. Gentleman's so-called allegations--such as the allegation of cronyism--are either untrue or irrelevant. For the record, the company that had the advertising contract to make pensioners aware of the winter fuel payments was on a standing contract initiated by the Conservative Government, so if they are anyone's cronies, they are his. When I took up office as Secretary of State for Social Security, I and my team of Ministers took over a system that was in crying need of reform. Poverty and social exclusion were growing, and yet the costs of social security were rising.

Mr. Duncan Smith: They still are.

Ms Harman: They are not.

The system that we inherited from the Tories left one in five households of working age with no one in work. It left one in four children being brought up on benefits, never seeing the world of work. It left one in four pensioners existing on income support, or, worse, living below the income support level. The Tories wrote off millions of people who wanted to work--wrote them off to a life of dependence on benefits.

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Despite profound social and economic change, the social security system still reflected the assumptions of Beveridge's day rather than the patterns of life today and of the next century. The social security system that we inherited was based on the assumption that men were the breadwinners and were in permanent full-time employment--interrupted only by temporary periods of unemployment--and that disabled people would be supported on benefits.

The Tories had not changed the system from Beveridge's assumption that women would be married and would stay married, that the woman's husband would support her while he was working, that his national insurance contributions would provide for her as well as for him if he was temporarily out of work, that she would depend on his income in retirement, and that his insurance would provide for her after his death. The social security system provided security for the man, and the man provided security for the woman.

Beveridge said that when women get married women, they


Even though half those in employment are women, the system that I and my team of Ministers inherited did not expect women to work. Even if the man was unemployed and the woman had no children, she was classed as dependent on him rather than being available for work.

The Tories did not reform the system from Beveridge's expectation that women would be housewives and mothers, and would not bring up children on their own. Even though one in three marriages now break down and every year 100,000 children are born to couples who do not live together, the system that I and my team of Ministers inherited had not woken up to that, and had simply allowed more than a million lone mothers and their children to drift on to income support. Lone mothers have to bring up their children the hard way--on their own, on income support and with no money coming in from the father. That has resulted in mounting costs to the public purse and spiralling costs of social exclusion.

The Tories did not reform the system from Beveridge's expectation that people with long-term health problems or disabilities would depend on benefits but would not work. In Beveridge's day, most jobs involved heavy manual work. People with physical and mental disability or learning disabilities were beset by prejudice, so disability was synonymous with benefit dependence. Now there are 2 million long-term sick or disabled people who work, and 1 million more people who could work and who want to work. The system that we inherited was simply about classifying them and paying them benefit. It gave them no concerted help to get into work.

Beveridge assumed that people's work would provide the foundation of their income in retirement, and that it would only be a short retirement. Yet the system that we inherited left 1.5 million pensioners claiming income support and a further 1 million living below the breadline--not even getting the income support to which they are entitled.

Despite a revolution in the delivery of services--one can arrange most of one's life over the phone, from shopping to mortgages, 24 hours a day--the social security system that we inherited expected people to turn up at the office, queue, fill in pages and pages of forms

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and ask for the same information three times. No one ever explained or apologised. Few would say that claiming from the social security system was a pleasant experience, and few working in social security would disagree.

After 18 years in government, surely the Tories should have been aware of the profound social and economic changes, and should have understood and acted on them. Instead, the social security system was stuck in the past. The Tories failed to modernise it, and everyone was losing: the people who were written off to benefit dependence and the taxpayer who had to foot the bill.

We promised to modernise the social security system and to make it fair. We set out in our Green Paper the principles underpinning our welfare reform: work for those who can and security for those who cannot. We promised to tackle poverty and inequality, to cut the cost of social and economic failure and to tackle the scourge of fraud. That is what we promised, and that is exactly what we are doing. On the principle of work for those who can, our programme to help the young unemployed into work or training is well under way. Our programme for the long-term unemployed has begun.

But we have done more. The previous Government assumed that there were two groups of people, so only two Government policies were needed. The two groups were, first, people who were required to work and who would be helped to do so--which was considered to be Department of Education and Employment business--and, secondly, people who were not required to work and who were to be paid benefits--which was considered to be Department of Social Security business. They had no programmes for those who were not required to work, but who wanted to work and get off benefits and who could work.

To tackle the problem of workless households, I have looked beyond the employment register and asked who wants to work even though they are not compelled to work, and how we can help them to be better off and lessen their benefit dependence. I have established two completely new programmes, financed by the Chancellor out of the windfall levy: the new deal for lone parents and the new deal for the disabled.

The new deal for lone parents offers lone parents whose children are of school age help and advice into work. The step from the security of income support into work is difficult if they have to do it on their own, even with benefits to back them up in work. They cannot take risks if their children are depending on them. The new deal for lone parents gives them a personal adviser: a friend on the inside track who can advise them about jobs, training, interviews, benefits and child care--all the things a lone parent has to consider when she moves into work. The new deal is making a real difference.


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