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Tom Blenkinsop: I thank the Minister for his response. The future jobs fund affirms the right to work, and it has done that for young people in Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland. Does he share the view of previous Tory Governments that there is a natural level of unemployment?
Chris Grayling: Our job is to get as many young people, indeed people of all ages, as possible back into government- [ Interruption. ] I mean back into employment. Well, our manifesto did say that we wanted everyone to be part of the task of trying to make things work. We need to get every young person we possibly can back into the workplace, and we need to get as many people as possible off benefits and into the workplace. That will be the purpose of the single Work programme, our apprenticeships plans and of the reductions that we are going to make in taxation on small business employers; and it is the reason we are not going ahead with the Labour party's job tax, which would have damaged employment in the hon. Gentleman's area and other parts of the country. Those differences of approach are what the country really needs.
Duncan Hames (Chippenham) (LD): Is the Minister aware that many employees in future jobs fund placements, especially part-time workers on the minimum wage, took home less each month than their placement cost the fund? In future, will he ask for fairer partnerships with employers that provide better value for money for the taxpayer?
Chris Grayling: I can confirm that we will look for better value for money for the taxpayer and the maximum possible effectiveness in getting people into work; not work that lasts just six months, but work that gets them into sustainable, long-term careers that can make a difference to them-not the sort of short-term scheme that characterised the previous Government's last few months.
Yvette Cooper (Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford) (Lab): The Office for Budget Responsibility has found that unemployment would have fallen under Labour's plans. The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development survey in April also said that unemployment was close to its peak. However, the Minister will know that it has recently revised its forecast and, as a result of the change in policies by the new Conservative-Liberal Government, it predicts that public sector jobs will be cut by 750,000 and unemployment will increase to nearly 3 million. Does the Minister think that it is talking nonsense or does he agree that his proposals for cuts will hit jobs hard?
Chris Grayling: I am afraid that Labour Front Benchers remain in fantasy land about the current financial position. They left a huge debt overhang for the country that will do long-term, lasting damage to every single person in the country if it is not addressed. They themselves had prepared plans for big public spending cuts, but they are now pretending that they never planned those cuts. They should look at the books and in the mirror and ask themselves why the country is in the current financial mess. It is their fault.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Maria Miller): I refer my hon. Friends to the answer I gave my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch) earlier.
Chris Skidmore: Many charities and voluntary organisations act as a mainstay for many people with long-term disabilities who are unable to work. Near my constituency, the superb Vassall centre and the excellent disability action group come to mind. What measures will my hon. Friend take to empower those organisations to have a greater say and play a greater role in supporting those with disabilities?
Maria Miller: I thank my hon. Friend for his question. He is right that the Vassall centre plays a pivotal role in Gloucestershire in bringing together many different organisations, which provide support for some of the disabled people most in need of it. As I said previously, the Work programme will offer such organisations the opportunity to bring local expertise and knowledge to supporting disabled people into employment or in other ways. I also hope that, through other specialist programmes, we can continue to harness that expertise.
Nicola Blackwood: As the Under-Secretary knows, many people with disabilities depend heavily on carers. During a visit in carers week to the Oxfordshire carers forum, it became abundantly obvious that, despite the drunken spending spree to which the Secretary of State referred, carers remain chronically under-supported. Will the Under-Secretary please comment on the Government's plans to improve support for carers and to reduce the bureaucracy, which too often prevents them from accessing the help that is available?
Maria Miller: I am also delighted to support in carers week the work that carers do. I am particularly looking forward to visiting Barnet carers centre on Thursday as part of that. Obviously, carers receive benefits through carer's allowance, and important support through Jobcentre Plus in partnership management. However, I reassure my hon. Friend that the Government are committed to widening the support available to family carers, and will establish an independent commission on funding long-term care this year.
Kevin Brennan (Cardiff West) (Lab): Conservative Members are right to highlight the work of voluntary groups in supporting disabled people. Is the Under-Secretary also aware of organisations such as Pedal Power in my constituency, a voluntary group that works with disabled people, which recently relied heavily on the future jobs fund for support for its work? What estimate has she made of the impact of the decision to cut the future jobs fund on the very organisations that she thinks can help build a big society?
Maria Miller: If the hon. Gentleman had listened to some of the earlier exchanges, he would have known that we feel strongly that we need to have proper, long-term jobs in place. We will achieve that better through our apprenticeship announcements than through the future jobs fund. However, it is important that organisations such as Pedal Power-which, I am sure, supports disabled people in the hon. Gentleman's constituency-get the support that they need. I am happy to talk to him about that if he has concerns.
Dr Eilidh Whiteford (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): On the subject of carers week, will the Under-Secretary assure us that carer's premium will be protected for those who are unable to find work or need support to stay in work as a result of looking after severely disabled relatives?
The Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Steve Webb): The Government want to see all pensioners have a decent and secure income in retirement. We will restore the earnings link for the basic state pension from April 2011, with a triple guarantee that pensions are raised by the highest of earnings, prices or 2.5%. We will also protect key benefits for older people.
Annette Brooke: I thank my hon. Friend for his answer. What action, if any, is he able to take on a problem he himself identified, namely, the cliff-edge situation of women who have completed 30 years employment and who have made the necessary national insurance contributions, but who were born one or two days too early to get the pension that they deserve?
Steve Webb: My hon. Friend raises an important point-in fact, it sounds vaguely familiar-and she is quite right that introducing changes in a cliff-edge manner, as the previous Government did, creates unfairnesses of the sort that she identifies. As she will know, when women are short of the necessary number of years, they can buy voluntary contributions, under a fairly restricted set of circumstances. That will allow some women to get closer to the full pension than they would otherwise have been able to get. However, she is absolutely right that the way in which the scheme was implemented by the previous Government creates an unfair cliff edge.
Mr Kevan Jones (North Durham) (Lab): Many elderly people rely on services from local councils. Can the hon. Gentleman tell the House how the cuts imposed on Durham county council last week will affect, and reduce poverty for, pensioners in the county of Durham?
Steve Webb: The hon. Gentleman is quite right to point out that when public finances are tight, all sectors of society risk having services threatened in the way that he describes. One of the incoming Government's concerns was the huge hole in the public finances, which a Labour Government would also have had to fill. It would be interesting to know which cuts he thinks should be made, because there has been a silence from the Labour party on that very subject.
The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Mr Iain Duncan Smith): Today in Britain, nearly one in five pensioners is living in poverty, and as I said earlier, more than 5 million people are on working-age benefits, and the country has one of the highest proportions of workless households in the European Union. Therefore, the case for radical welfare reform is clear. That is why this Government will establish a new Work programme and simplify our complex benefits system to provide greater support for the poorest.
At the same time, we are rising to the challenge of long-term demographic change in how we support an ageing society. It is more important than ever that we build strong foundations for the future of the basic state pension, which is why, for the first time, as the Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions, my hon. Friend the Member for Thornbury and Yate (Steve Webb) just said, this Government will introduce the triple guarantee for the basic state pension with immediate effect. That guarantee will restore the earnings link and ensure that any future uprating is set at the highest of earnings, prices or 2.5%. I am enormously proud that this coalition Government are doing that. Those are important first steps towards the reform of the whole system.
Mr Timpson: Last week, one of my constituents in Crewe told me how exasperated she had become after wading through the application form for her pension credit, because of the complexities within it and the never-ending series of phone calls that seemed to follow. With one in three pensioners who are entitled to claim pension credit still not doing so, in part owing to the major administrative barriers in their way, what does the Secretary of State propose to do to simplify the system, and to make it fairer and more transparent?
Mr Duncan Smith:
First, I say to my hon. Friend that one of the most important steps that we will be taking towards helping those pensioners is re-linking the basic state pension to earnings. That will hugely improve take-up, because that money will go to everybody and people will not be required to claim for it. The other thing that my hon. Friend the Minister will be doing is reviewing the complexity and looking for ways in which
we can simplify the process and make it easier, so that the take-up for those who need it-this point is critical-is better. I can assure my hon. Friend that we will do that.
T2.  John Robertson (Glasgow North West) (Lab): Did the right hon. Gentleman have many constituents, including people from young families who do not have a lot of money and who need the extra money to get by, coming up to him during his general election campaign to tell him that they were worried about working tax credits? What will he do to ensure that the working tax credit is maintained and that the ravages of the cuts are taken care of for the people who need that cover more than anybody else.
Mr Duncan Smith: The purpose of this Administration is not to penalise those in most need. We will do our level best to ensure that during these changes-and given the necessity of reducing the budget-we try to protect as many of those people as possible. Ultimately the best thing that we can do for them across the board is to simplify the benefit system so that the take-up is greater and ensure that going to work pays, with people retaining more of what they earn when they go to work than they do at the moment.
The Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Steve Webb): Our colleagues in the Treasury are establishing a commission to look at public sector pensions, and we have already had a meeting with our colleagues to try to ensure a fair deal both for the hard-working people who work in the public sector and for the taxpayers who are making a very large contribution to those pensions. It is important that the true cost is made transparent, which it clearly is not at present.
T5.  Mr Andrew Love (Edmonton) (Lab/Co-op): At a time when unemployment is forecast to increase to 3 million, this so-called coalition Government have decided to cut 100,000 jobs from the future jobs fund, but will not replace them until next summer. Is that just another example of unemployment being a price worth paying for this Government?
The Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Chris Grayling): I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman has not been listening. There will be tens of thousands of new jobs created under the future jobs fund in the months ahead. However, we have changed the priorities, because we believe that long-term, sustainable employment is better supported by a programme of extra apprenticeships than by a short-term job creation measure of the kind envisaged by the previous Government.
T4.  Richard Harrington (Watford) (Con): Given the shocking number of young unemployed people in my constituency and in the country as a whole, I welcome the proposals for mentoring schemes, whereby young people spend time with the self-employed and other business people. Will those schemes be introduced quickly and efficiently, because they will be very important?
Chris Grayling: I agree with my hon. Friend. The use of mentoring, both to encourage young people into the workplace and to create a sense of belief in their ability to build their own businesses, will be central parts of the Work programme. We are working on the details as rapidly as we can, and I can give him an assurance that mentoring will be a central part of the way in which the Work programme works.
T9.  Chi Onwurah (Newcastle upon Tyne Central) (Lab): The cuts to the future jobs fund are causing real concern in my constituency. From listening to Ministers this afternoon, I understand that the expectation is that these job losses will be replaced by a growing private sector. Can the Minister share with me the detailed analysis that the Government have undertaken that shows that these jobs will be created, when they will be created and that they will be created in the north-east?
Mr Duncan Smith: The cuts to the future jobs fund are not cuts. We have stuck to the contracted jobs already in existence, which will run until next year. We are talking about the notional jobs that might have been created but were not contracted for, so we are dealing with a game of vague figures. The best thing that we can do for the hon. Lady's constituents is to ensure that the cost of employing people does not rise, which was the plan of the previous Government in raising national insurance. Most of all, the 50,000 apprenticeships that we will create will provide long-term jobs for all her constituents.
T6.  David Tredinnick (Bosworth) (Con): Will my hon. Friend be reviewing the rule on annuities? Many people with occupational pensions resent the fact that they have to invest 75% of their accumulated funds in that way and would prefer to put some in other places.
Steve Webb: The coalition Government are sympathetic to the idea of giving people greater choice over annuities. We already have a commitment to scrapping the rule that forces people to annuitise at 75. We also want to look at how people can achieve better value for money from the annuities that they buy, and possibly also have earlier access to accrued pension funds. We take the view that it is their money, not the Government's money.
T10.  Mr Jim Cunningham (Coventry South) (Lab): Has the Minister had any discussions with the Treasury regarding the pay-out for Equitable Life, bearing in mind that when they were in opposition, that crowd over there on the Government Benches hounded us week in and week out about a pay-out? Now can they deliver?
Steve Webb: The hon. Gentleman will know that Sir John Chadwick will produce his report in July. I understand from discussions with the Treasury that a compensation package will be produced on the basis of that, and legislation to bring that forward was included in the Queen's Speech.
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