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Mrs. Nadine Dorries (Mid-Bedfordshire) (Con): The hon. Gentleman is going back down memory lane, but I have an example of my own. In my constituency, the only people who can see an NHS dentist are those who can afford to pay for one, which means that the people who need treatment most cannot get it. It was not like that in our day.
Steve McCabe: Well, I am not surprised that the hon. Lady does not like to be reminded of the track record with which the Tories have to live. I dare say that she was not in her place for Health questions this afternoon, because if she had been she might not have asked that question.
I contrast the Tories' record with what we have seen with Labour in power, including record levels of employment; the creation of more than 1 million new jobs; a minimum wage, which the Opposition fought tooth and nail to try to prevent; the new deal, which offers hope where none existed; and the education maintenance allowance for youngsters with talent whose only impediment is that their families are not wealthy. Contrast the pension credit, the minimum income guarantee, free eye tests, free television licences and the winter fuel allowance with the recommendation to wear a woolly hat and gloves. That was no doubt exactly the sort of cost-efficient, confidence- boosting measure of which the hon. Member for Witney would approve.
Of course, people are anxious about proposals to reform incapacity benefit. We are talking about people who have suffered illnesses, disability or anxiety attacks and who fear for their long-term security. Our job is to demonstrate that Labour's approach to this is as caring, as determined and as fair as our approach to all the other social justice issues that we have sought to tackle.
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I think that we have a good track record. Only yesterday, the Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, my hon. Friend the Member for Stirling (Mrs. McGuire), announced a further £2.6 million for 13 choice and control pilot schemes across the country, which are designed to give older and disabled people more power over the services they use and control over their social care budgets. It is the same approach of putting the individual first that we need to demonstrate with incapacity benefit. We need to make it clear at the outset that disability does not mean "cannot work". I recall a young man at a place where I worked some years ago. He had a severe sight problem, but with the benefit of an enlarged screen he had no difficulty working with computers. He had been out of work for many yearsin fact, I think that it was his first job. He loved it. He loved being useful. That is the spirit that we should seek to engender.
We need to consider why some people are unable to enter the employment market. I understand that the current incapacity benefit claim form has only one page related to mental health. There are many stress conditions that mean people find particular work environments difficult. I have a friend who had a serious breakdown some years ago and has not worked for a long time. Recently, he started part-time on one of the pathway projects. He told me that he was enjoying it immensely and his confidence was returning. He was grateful for the support that he had received; he was working in an environment where he felt safe and could make a contribution. He is better off under the financial arrangements that we have put in place, and he has an incentive to do well. We need to provide more such help. We need a strong link between the Department of Health and the Department for Work and Pensions to help people get back to work. The choice and control pilots pool the resources and efforts of those two Departments and the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, and the same approach is needed to welfare reform.
Perhaps the greatest fear among people who have lost employment because of illness or disability and found themselves on benefits is that if they return to work and it goes wrong they will end up poorer. If they take a risk, it may threaten their security. We must counter that feeling, and I think that we can. We need a sliding scale of benefit, with protections built into the system that guarantee that we will look after such people.
Mr. McFadden : Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the benefits of the pathways-to-work programme is that the personal adviser not only advises the incapacity benefit claimant in the run up to finding work, but stays with them as they take up work to provide help and support after they have come off benefit?
I want to mention the 16-hour rule. During the MG-Rover crisis, we realised that it could be an impediment to people getting into training or work. I hope that we can learn from that experience when we develop our new rules on incapacity benefit.
What is wrong with aiming for 80 per cent. employment? Unless one is the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe, I can see no problem with that. It is not only good for the economy, but for the dignity of our people. Employment at 80 per cent. is a desirable target. Contrast that to the figure of one in five families where no one was in workthe legacy of the Conservatives.
Let us do the decent thing. Let us do what only Labour can do and get on with reforming the system, giving people the chances they deserve. Let us ignore the humbug that we have had to listen to today.
Mr. David Ruffley (Bury St. Edmunds) (Con): Just over 7.8 million of our fellow citizens are outside the labour market when they could be in it, according to the Office for National Statistics. That demonstrates that welfare under Labour is not working as well as it could.
Eight years of Labour have given us chaos, complacency and false starts. Since 1997, the Department for Work and Pensions has had six Secretaries of State and we have had 28 White or Green papers. Nowhere is the Government's shambolic performance on welfare better demonstrated than in incapacity benefits. There are now 2.74 million people of working age on those benefits, 116,000 more than when Labour came to power.
The Government messed up reform long before their current attempts. They reduced the value of incapacity benefit to new claimants by clumsy means-testing changes in 2001, which merely deterred existing claimants from returning to work because they feared that if they ever had to go back on to benefit they would have to do so at a much lower rate. Another change that year tightened up the IB eligibility criteria by demanding a much tougher national insurance contribution record. What was the result? A perverse effect. Certainly, people came off pure IB, but they then claimed income support with a disability premium, shoving up those numbers.
Since that reform, the proportion of IB claimants who had been receiving incapacity benefit for more than five years rose from 47 to 51 per cent.Members should remember that the duration of the claim is at least as important as the number of claimants. The proportion of new IB claimants coming from the unemployment
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register is up from 46 per cent. in 199798 to a staggering 60 per cent. in 200304. That is despite the Prime Minister rightly saying in 1999 that IB had to be reformed because it was merely
Earlier, it was said that the Conservative party had no positive proposals. Let me set Labour Members straight about that. The modern Conservative party certainly has more thinking to do on welfare reform, and the new leader in December will start that work. It will take time, but we already have positive proposals on the table, specifically those we talked about last May. There should be more payment by results, with contractors paid a fixed amount per claimant on completion of various milestones for putting claimants back into employment. We need more rehabilitation, possibly with spend-to-save measures; for example, an additional fee paid to contractors to cover the cost of expensive medical and vocational rehabilitation, such as higher level physiotherapy. We also need a greatly enhanced role for the voluntary and charitable sector as, by and large, it is more effectivecertainly more so than some of the state functions that I have seen in my constituency.
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