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Mr. Timms: I hope that the hon. Gentleman will support the approach supported by his hon. Friend the shadow Secretary of State in the welfare reform Green Paper. At least 1 million people on incapacity benefits would like to be in work and the changes will help them to make that move. That includes those people who are on DLA, because the great strength of DLA is that it is available to people in work as well as those who are out of work. I do not agree with his figure, because we do not know until someone has completed the assessment process whether they are entitled to DLA. However, the number of people who receive DLA continues to increase, and has gone up again significantly over the past year. That reflects the efforts that we have made to ensure that people receive the benefits to which they are entitled.
Our uprating measures maintain our commitment and continue our progress towards a fair and inclusive society of opportunity and independence for all. They support our programme of radical reform, balancing rights with responsibilities and offering everyone the opportunity to build a decent income in retirement. They also represent another big step away from the legacy of pernicious poverty that we inherited, and that we are determined should never return. I commend the orders to the House.
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Mr. David Ruffley (Bury St. Edmunds) (Con): We welcome this debate, and I am grateful to the Minister for setting out the Government's proposals on the uprating of social security benefits and guaranteed minimum pensions. We shall not oppose the proposals in the Lobby today.
We welcome the extra benefits, but we cannot be satisfied with a welfare system that is increasingly being driven by mass means-testing. There was little in the Minister's statement today about the real need for reform. In his benefits uprating statement on 6 December last year, he said that the changes that he was announcing were in the context of
"By the end of a five-year term of a Labour Government: I vow that we will have reduced the proportion . . . that we spend on the welfare bills of social failure . . . This is my covenant with the British people. Judge me upon it. The buck stops with me."
At least the Minister for Employment and Welfare Reform, the right hon. Member for Barking (Margaret Hodge), who is not in her place today, recently had the honesty to admit that the Government had done "sweet nothing" to tackle this problem until recently. The Conservative Opposition will make constructive proposals finally to get to grips with a social security system that is tragically wasting too much human potential and writing off too many people's lives.
Miss Begg: The Conservatives constantly criticise means-testing and targeting, both of which effectively give more money to those who are poor. How on earth can any political party say that it is going to end poverty if it is also going to abolish means-testing?
Mr. Ruffley: If the hon. Lady looks at Hansard tomorrow, she will see that I referred to "mass means-testing". Of course, any welfare system will require an element of means-testing[Hon. Members: "Ah!"] That is self-evident. Our point is that means-testing is growing and spreading to become mass means-testing. It is going up and up, and the Minister knows exactly why that is happening. It is because of the endless fiddling by Complexity Brown, the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The question that the Secretary of State must answer is whether he is going to engage with us in this process of reform. He hit the heights of uncharity when, on 9 January, he said that he did not believe that we had anything to contribute to the debate on incapacity benefit and welfare reform. Well, we do, and we are going to scrutinise his proposals.
In this debate on social security uprating, delivering more support and help to those in need, and giving support to those who want to work but are being prevented from doing so, it would be appropriate to remind ourselves that the Green Paper on incapacity benefit reformwhich, we hear, is to become a flagship welfare reform Bill in this Sessioncomes from a long line of well-meaning attempts from the Government. I counted them up; since 1997, we have had six Secretaries of State and 28 White or Green Papers.
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On close examination, the Green Paper announced in January was found to contain vagaries and obfuscations that give cause for concern, even for a Green Paper. First, existing benefit claimants will not get the help that they need, because the new measures announced in the Green Paperthe proposed work-focused interviews, for example, and the greater frequency of medical assessmentsare not obviously going to be applied to
Mr. Ruffley: I am grateful for that guidance, Madam Deputy Speaker, but I took the trouble to look up the last four years' debates on the uprating, and it was my understanding that they roved quite widely. However, I shall observe your strictures. We are talking about benefit recipients, and the benefits that they receive, including incapacity benefit, which is the subject of the order. We are also talking about jobseeker's allowance and the allowances available under the new deal, so, if I may, I shall continue with my remarks, but not specifically in relation to the Green Paper.
The proposals for change and reform will affect some of the people who are affected by the order today. It is important to remember that the Green Paper is very slack when it comes to detailed costings. The help that people need is not going to be delivered from existing budgets. Benefit recipientswho are the subject of the first orderwill perhaps benefit under the extension of the pathways to work programme, which will be funded from existing budgets, but from 2008, there is no indication of the commitment of resources that the Government will need to deliver the help and support that benefit recipients need.
Another issue related to those who will be affected by the order is the release of the labour market statistics yesterday by the Office for National Statistics. They showed a sharp rise of 17 per cent. in long-term unemployment over the past 12 months. It was particularly noticeable that 18 to 24-year-olds were the hardest hit, with an increase in youth long-term unemployment of more than 28 per cent. in the past year. The figures also show that the number of economically inactive 18 to 24-year-olds is now more than one fifth higher than it was in May 1997. The Chancellor has claimed that he would not be satisfied until he had
However, yesterday's figures clearly show that he is nowhere near to achieving his goal. His welfare policiesthe present ones and the proposed oneshave a long way to go before they deliver for young people. The Government must re-evaluate their approach to long-term unemployment and the economically inactive.
I must now anticipate the question that I know Labour Members will ask me. It concerns our stance on the new deal. The future loyal Oppositionthe Labour partyare keen on saying that we want to scrap the new deal and all its works. Let me place on record, so that it is absolutely clear and there is no misunderstanding, that the new,
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compassionate Conservative party, under the brilliant leadership of my right hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron), says unambiguously that the Conservatives, now and when in government, believe in active intervention to get people who can work and who want to work back into work. The principle of the new deal, and of a Government backing welfare-to-work policies, is not in doubt, and I hope that Labour Members will be mature enough to accept that we are all on the same page in wanting to help people back into work[Interruption.] Hon. Members ask whether I would keep the new deal. The straightforward answer is that every single commitment made in a manifesto is for the lifetime of a Parliament. If the party that put forward those proposals in the manifesto was not fortunate enough to get into government, the basic laws of politics mean that that manifesto would fall.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Witney has already said that we will be doing patient, long-term policy work on a range of policies over the next 18 months, but let me say that we have grave concerns about how the Labour new deal is configured. Let me tell the House why. We have yet to see any proper evaluation to describe and detail the cost to the taxpayer and to Government budgets for every new job created. Research published by John Van Reenen of the Centre for Economic Performance in April 2004 said:
"The jobs created are much smaller than the total numbers of young people who have gone through the New Deal and into jobs . . . This is mainly because the majority of those people would have attained employment even in the absence of the New Deal."
It is difficult to judge from the evidence available how many people have got jobs because of the new deal and how many would have got jobs in any event. In short, the statistics released by the Department for Work and Pensions in, for instance, "New Deal for Lone Parents: Statistics to end of August 2005" show that 42 per cent. went into employment, either sustained or not sustained; 13 per cent. went into employment and in-work benefit; and 37 per cent. went on to income support.
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