Previous Section Index Home Page

Angela Watkinson: One third of incidents of violence against women are domestic, and the period between reporting a crime and the conclusion of a court case is often very long and one of increased risk. Too often the perpetrator of the violence remains in the family home and the mother and children are removed to a hostel. What more can be done to introduce justice into the system so that women can have the courage to report
25 Nov 2008 : Column 615
such violence and are not faced with having to take their children out of the family home while the proceedings are going on?

Ms Harman: I agree that across the board, whether it is the police, local government, prosecutors or courts, we still have a long way to go, but we seem to be making real and substantial progress on tackling incidents of domestic violence. The British crime survey, in which women report to a confidential survey rather than to the police, shows that in the last 10 years the incidence of domestic violence has fallen by 58 per cent. We still need to tackle the great deal of suffering caused by domestic violence, but by working together and challenging the myths that domestic violence is just one of those things and that nothing can be done about it, we are making real progress.

Mr. Virendra Sharma (Ealing, Southall) (Lab): Does the Minister agree that in the light of the experiences of Southall Black Sisters in my constituency, more needs to be done to support specialist domestic violence support services, especially those helping black, Asian, minority ethic and refugee communities?

Ms Harman: Across the board, support for victims of domestic violence, as well as for its prevention, is very important and I pay tribute to Southall Black Sisters, an organisation that I know my hon. Friend has supported and worked closely with over the years. If someone does not speak English, is thousands of miles away from their family and is not working outside the home, it might be even more difficult for that person to escape from violence. We need to have the right support services on the ground and, once again, I pay tribute to the National Federation of Women’s Institutes, which is looking at how it can tackle domestic violence in rural areas. Whether it is in Southall or in a rural area, we need to make sure that victims have the right support so that women do not have to put up with violence and children do not have to live in fear of it.

Mrs. Madeleine Moon (Bridgend) (Lab): I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for the support that I received in making sure that the new court in Bridgend had a domestic violence court. As the three years of funding for the independent domestic violence adviser ends in March 2009, what help will Bridgend get to ensure that that invaluable help for women going through court proceedings is still available?

Ms Harman: A lot of lessons have been learned from the pilot projects that have taken place in many courts—including at my hon. Friend’s—which show how we can ensure that the perpetrators of domestic violence are brought to justice. Just a few years ago, only half of all domestic violence cases brought to court resulted in a conviction. That is now up to three quarters, and all courts, prosecutors and police recognise that it is important to bring offenders to justice so the level of violence does not escalate.

Greg Mulholland (Leeds, North-West) (LD): The cost of domestic violence is huge; in Leeds, it is estimated at £332 million a year. That is often not reflected in the funding from central and local government and the charitable sector that goes to domestic violence
25 Nov 2008 : Column 616
organisations, such as Behind Closed Doors in my constituency, which does a wonderful job in helping women in this very difficult situation. Does the right hon. and learned Lady agree that this issue should be looked at across the piece, and does she also agree that there is concern that some funding organisations do not prioritise domestic violence charities and organisations, because that is not seen as high profile or fashionable?

Ms Harman: For the Government’s part, we have backed the campaign against domestic violence at national level. We have supported the police in expanding their work on domestic violence, and over the past decade there has been a transformation in how they respond to domestic violence. We have backed up specialist prosecutors—and I pay tribute to prosecutors for now taking cases that might previously have been dropped—and we work across the health and education services as well. On delivery of local services, however, it is important that local authorities fund local organisations. For our part at national level, we have made this a priority. It is down to local authorities to recognise the scale of the problem in their area, and to make sure there are local services for local women.

Fiona Mactaggart (Slough) (Lab): But does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that in societies where women can be bought and sold like objects there is a greater risk of violence towards women, and what is she doing to try to combat this kind of exploitation of women and the consequent violence which leads to prostitutes, for example, being 40 times more at risk of a violent death than the rest of us?

Ms Harman: My hon. Friend might well be referring to the fact that in local newspapers across the country we see women for sale for sex. It is important that we do not accept that as inevitable. Who wants to see in the back of their local newspaper, alongside “skip hire” and “lost pets”, advertisements such as, “New Thai girls. Choice of two avail., satisfaction Jct 11 M4, parking,” or, “Brazilian girls. Barkingside...£60 Full Service”? These are exploited women being sold for sex, and it is about time that local newspapers stopped taking advertisements from sleazy gangs exploiting women.

Mrs. Theresa May (Maidenhead) (Con): I welcome the Government’s commitment to publishing a consultation on a Government strategy on violence against women, but I regret the delay in bringing this forward. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition called for such a cross-cutting Government strategy more than a year ago. All the groups involved in this area—including, so it would seem from the question of my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Sir Nicholas Winterton), the Prestbury branch of the Women’s Institute—have been calling for such a strategy for some time now. Indeed, the End Violence Against Women coalition has even published a blueprint for such a cross-cutting Government strategy. Following the consultation, when will this Government strategy be put in place, and what on earth has taken the Government so long?

Ms Harman: There has been no delay. We have been taking action across the piece, whether on domestic violence, sexual assault or human trafficking. We have
25 Nov 2008 : Column 617
been tightening the law, we have been backing up the police and we have been changing the court processes. That is producing results; now, for example, 45 per cent. more men are convicted of rape than 10 years ago. We are also challenging the myths and assumptions that go along with that. After 10 years of hard work on the issue—work which has made a difference in both rape convictions and in protecting women from domestic
25 Nov 2008 : Column 618
violence, and has highlighted the new threats such as human trafficking—the Home Secretary will launch a consultation in January on how we can make yet further progress. I urge the right hon. Lady not to undermine, or deny, the progress that has already been made, because we should be building the confidence of women in the criminal justice system, and we should be saying, “Yes we will take action, and it will make a difference.”

25 Nov 2008 : Column 619


3.34 pm

The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (James Purnell): With permission, Mr. Speaker, I would like to make a statement on employment. Unemployment began rising in January, as this country, like so many others, began to feel the shockwaves of the credit crunch rippling out from the banking system in the United States. Each and every job lost is a personal tragedy. Our goal is to ensure that newly unemployed people do not fall out of touch with the labour market, and we will do everything we can to bring those who have been out of a job for some time back closer to the world of work. So, we will continue to reform the welfare state to help people back into work now and to prepare them for the upturn.

Britain starts from a strong position. The number of people in work reached its highest ever level this summer—29.5 million; earlier this year, we experienced the lowest claimant unemployment level since the 1970s; and there are more than 500,000 vacancies in the economy. By contrast, in the 1980s and 1990s, claimant unemployment twice hit 3 million, and between 1979 and 1997 the number of people on incapacity benefits trebled to more than 2.5 million. We all know the human cost that lies behind those figures: communities were scarred, and still carry those scars today; and whole families were left without work, not just for years, but for generations.

For the first time since 1945, the global economy is predicted to shrink next year. No country can be immune, but all Governments have the same goal: to make the downturn as shallow and as short as possible. If this had been done in the 1990s, the recession then would have been less costly to communities, less costly for individuals and less costly for the economy as a whole. Yesterday, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor set out details of a £20 billion fiscal stimulus package to support our economy—it is the right action to reduce, as far as possible, the human and financial cost of the downturn. The money means help for small business, a timely boost to the economy and capital projects to maintain employment.

The money also means a significant boost for older people in this country; we are putting in place a basic state pension of £95.25 and an increase to the guaranteed credit, which will ensure that no pensioner need live on less than £130 a week. My right hon. Friend said yesterday that he wants pensioners to benefit as quickly as possible. As we are not able to increase the pension and pension credit rates before April, we therefore announced that an additional £60 payment will be made to 15 million people from January. That is in addition to the £10 Christmas bonus, which will be paid as normal. The measures represent a significant increase in Government support for older people, which will really make a difference to pensioners, particularly if prices fall as expected next year.

The Chancellor also announced extra help for my Department next year. That £1.3 billion package will ensure that we can respond to the higher number of people claiming benefits. Over the past decade, we have reformed the welfare state to match more support with more responsibility. Yesterday’s announcement will enable us to continue our reform of welfare, to offer real
25 Nov 2008 : Column 620
help to people in these tough times. We will be able to maintain the service we provide, and strengthen our response in three ways.

First, we need to make the right support and conditionality available. We need to ensure that Jobcentre Plus can deliver as good a service as it does today to more people tomorrow. In the past, Governments have cut back on support and conditionality as the claimant count has risen. We want to do the opposite, and do more to help people, rather than less. Over the past 10 years, we have modernised our employment services almost beyond recognition. People used to get benefits from one agency and job advice from another—now someone cannot sign on without looking for work. Jobcentre Plus takes 80,000 calls a week, and its website gets 350,000 visits a day. The National Audit Office reports that

Therefore, our first priority remains to ensure that everyone continues to receive this top quality service, and I am pleased to say that the system is coping well. Our target for jobseeker’s allowance is to process all new claims within 111/2 days—in the year to date, we are processing them within an average of 10. For our crisis loans, demand has gone up, but processing times continue to fall, and budgeting loans are being dealt with 20 per cent. quicker than their target time.

But with higher levels of claimant count, we need further investment. The extra money that the Chancellor announced yesterday will ensure that we are able to maintain and expand our offer during a time of increased pressure on our services—help with CV-writing and job search, and time with personal advisers to develop action plans; to identify skills needs; and to get support with training, child care and interview techniques.

We need to ensure we have the right capacity. In the last spending round the Department reduced its staffing by 31,000 and has increased productivity overall by 12 per cent., as confirmed by the National Audit Office. We have saved money in back office processing and used that to invest in the front line. So there are now 1,500 more personal advisers in Jobcentre Plus than there were two years ago. But we need to recognise that in the current economic circumstances, we need to invest more in our front-line services, so we are today announcing a moratorium on Jobcentre Plus closures, and I can also confirm that the pre-Budget report will mean 6,000 more front-line staff in place in Jobcentre Plus next year.

Secondly, we need to ensure that we reach people facing redundancy as early as possible. The Insolvency Service now informs Jobcentre Plus immediately of redundancy notifications it receives. We had already doubled the funding for our rapid response service. Yesterday, the money available was doubled again, allowing us to help all companies facing 20 or more redundancies. That service will bring people swift access to the £100 million that the Department for Work and Pensions and the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills announced last month to help people retrain and develop their skills, so that they can move quickly back into sustainable work, like the workers at Butler and Tanner in Frome, Somerset, nearly 300 of whom lost their job
25 Nov 2008 : Column 621
when the printers closed in April this year. With the help of the rapid response service, it is estimated that 90 per cent. have now found new jobs.

We know that local employment partnerships, which help match the unemployed to employers looking to hire, have been successful. Already more than 70,000 of our most disadvantaged customers have started work under the initiative. Now we will be able to extend that to include those who are newly redundant, too.

We have also announced the national employment partnership. This group will be chaired by the Prime Minister and will include the heads of business and public sector bodies, with a remit to ensure that employers work with the Government to enable people facing redundancy to be moved as quickly as possible into new jobs.

Thirdly, over the past 10 years, we have also opened up our service to private and voluntary sector providers. As David Freud recognised, that allows us to get the best of both worlds with Jobcentre Plus providing the core support and processing, and specialist providers helping those who find it hardest to get back into work.

Despite opposition to them from some parts of this House, the new deals have been successful, but they need to become more personal to the individual rather than being based on age, so we are introducing the flexible new deal. Some concerns have been expressed about the viability of these contracts in new economic circumstances. I am glad to report that we have compliant bids from 24 organisations and we have a minimum of four organisations competing for each of the contracts on offer. But it is important that we do invest more in the flexible new deal, both to give providers confidence but also to make sure that this time people who are further from the labour market are not abandoned. Some people say that there is no point helping people furthest from the labour market in the current circumstances. We say the opposite: when times are harder, we should be giving people more help, not less.

This Government are taking action, including action on the economy and action to help people face the effects of the global crisis. That is the right thing to do for this country, for individuals and for jobs. The £1.3 billion will help those who are newly facing redundancy and those who have been out of work for longer: more front-line staff, and more money for our private and voluntary providers, so that we can maintain our active regime. For those who have been out of work for some time, we will maintain and accelerate our overhaul of the welfare system to do everything we can to bring them back closer to the world of work. We will give more help now, to prevent individual tragedies today from becoming the scars on communities tomorrow. I commend this statement to the House.

Chris Grayling (Epsom and Ewell) (Con): May I start by thanking the Secretary of State for an advance copy of his statement? I listened with astonishment as he kept on trotting out all the old, discredited claims about the Government’s record on employment. Before the recession even started, their record was lamentable, despite all the boasts and all the misleading statements, such as the Secretary of State’s claim that Britain has had record levels of employment. That is just not true. Britain had a higher proportion of people in work in both the 1970s and 1980s.

25 Nov 2008 : Column 622

The past decade has been one of wasted money and wasted opportunities. The vast majority of new jobs have been in the public sector, and not the private sector. Most new jobs have gone to migrant workers and not to British-born benefit claimants. The number of young people who are not in education or employment is 20 per cent. higher than a decade ago, despite the billions of pounds that have been spent on the Government’s mostly ineffective new deal programmes, described recently as a “calamity” by the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field).

Before the recession started, the number of British people in work had already fallen by more than 300,000 in three years, so things were already getting worse. The number of people claiming incapacity benefit has barely changed for a decade and tens of thousands of unemployed people were excluded from the statistics because of clever manipulation of the figures by Ministers. For 10 years, the Government did not fix the roof when the sun was shining. Ministers have left themselves to run a marathon with holes in their shoes before they have even crossed the starting line.

We are now seeing jobs axed at a rate of more than 2,000 a day and we have the fastest rising unemployment since 1992. The OECD says that that will get worse and that unemployment will rise faster in Britain than in any other G7 country. Even the pre-Budget report yesterday forecast steeply rising unemployment—small wonder that the DWP needs more money to cope with the challenge.

No doubt that will help with the moratorium on jobcentre closures—what a farcical announcement that was. The Government have closed 492 jobcentres since 2002, and since unemployment started to rise in January they have closed a jobcentre a week. Guess how many they were planning to close next year? Three. Some moratorium. They have already nearly finished the closure programme.

With what else does the Secretary of State meet this tremendous challenge? Another committee, chaired by the Prime Minister. What a relief that will be to the thousands of people who are nervous about their jobs. There is no help for the large numbers of people in our smaller firms who face redundancy. The business tax cuts, designed to help smaller companies, are due to last for one year, even though the Government say that unemployment will continue to rise into 2010.

The Secretary of State boasts about the flexible new deal without saying that it will not even start for another year. Will he confirm that under the flexible new deal young people will have to wait 12 months and not six before they are eligible for new deal help? He could have announced the suspension of the rules that stop people retraining. We asked for that two weeks ago, so will he now take up our proposal to allow all jobseekers to train immediately rather than having to wait to be referred to the new deal? Have the employers joining the national economic partnership specifically committed to creating new jobs? If so, how many have done so? How will the Government ensure that small businesses that are considering making redundancies are aware of the rapid response service and will make use of it?

Why did yesterday’s statement not contain a real employment programme with incentives to employers to take on new staff of the kind for which we have
25 Nov 2008 : Column 623
called? When we launched our proposals, the CBI described them as “imaginative” and said that they would help

Next Section Index Home Page