Topical Questions

Work and Pensions – in the House of Commons am ar 13 Mai 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Chris Clarkson Chris Clarkson Ceidwadwyr, Heywood and Middleton

If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities.

Photo of Mel Stride Mel Stride Chair, Treasury Committee, The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

May I first extend my best wishes to my opposite number the shadow Secretary of State, Liz Kendall, and wish her a speedy recovery? Since my last appearance at the Dispatch Box, we have announced the areas for the WorkWell pilot, which will cover about a third of England. I am extremely pleased that we have also gone out for consultation and a call for evidence on fit note reform. That will feature within it the 15 pilots I have just referred to. On 8 May, we announced that Access to Work has gone digital. Finally, I congratulate the Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work, my hon. Friend Mims Davies on her elevation to Minister of State, which reflects both the seriousness with which we take her portfolio and, of course, her undoubted abilities and contribution to my Department.

Photo of Chris Clarkson Chris Clarkson Ceidwadwyr, Heywood and Middleton

I join the Secretary of State in congratulating the Minister on her elevation—it is not before time.

This Conservative Government have an enviable record when it comes to employment, with 4 million more people in work since 2010. I was pleased to hear that one of the integrated care boards involved in the WorkWell scheme, which my right hon. Friend has just mentioned, will be Greater Manchester ICB, which means that my constituents will have access to integrated health and employment support from October. [Interruption.] Alison McGovern is heckling from a sedentary position; the only job that she has created recently has been one for a couple of clowns. [Interruption.] To be fair, that is topical, Mr Speaker.

Will my right hon. Friend explain how the WorkWell scheme will benefit people in my constituency and throughout Greater Manchester by ensuring that they can access work?

Photo of Mel Stride Mel Stride Chair, Treasury Committee, The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

My hon. Friend is right. The scheme is being rolled out in Greater Manchester, in parts of London, in Cambridgeshire and all the way to the Isles of Scilly and parts of Cornwall. It brings together healthcare support and work coach support to ensure that we do everything we can to help into work those who face barriers to work.

Photo of Neale Hanvey Neale Hanvey Alba, Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath

It is an unavoidable fact that the United Kingdom has one of the lowest pensions in the developed world, and pensioner poverty is a very real issue. I meet constituents who are pensioners reasonably frequently, and all the increases that the Government have provided for them have been lost through taxation. For example, Peter’s private pension will be cut by £681 a year, while Mr and Mrs Clark’s modest private pension has been slashed by nearly 50%. They did the right thing and put away a little extra for their retirement; will the Government now do the right thing and correct the position so that they can enjoy it?

Photo of Paul Maynard Paul Maynard The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

Let me simply point to what the Resolution Foundation had to say in its Living Standards Outlook: pensioner poverty is forecast to fall.

Photo of Desmond Swayne Desmond Swayne Ceidwadwyr, New Forest West

Given that it would not survive under Labour, just how vital is the work plan?

Photo of Mel Stride Mel Stride Chair, Treasury Committee, The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

My right hon. Friend is entirely right to raise that point: in the absence of this Government, the work plan will be no more. The problem is that we do not know exactly what will replace it, because there is no plan from the party opposite—no plan on work capability assessments, no plan on personal independence payments, no plan on fit notes. We do not know what Labour stands for, so let us stick with the plan, and let us elect a Conservative Government at the next election.

Photo of Stephen Morgan Stephen Morgan Shadow Minister (Defence) (Armed Forces and Defence Procurement), Shadow Minister (Transport)

A recent report from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation revealed, shockingly, that 1 million children experienced destitution in the UK last year. Is it not the case that the Government have completely failed the most vulnerable children in our society?

Photo of Jo Churchill Jo Churchill The Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions

No, not at all. We are providing significant support through the welfare system and expect to spend about £306 billion in the current financial year, including £138 billion on children and those of working age. We are focused on targeting cost of living support to the most vulnerable families. The local housing allowance, for instance, helped 1.6 million families in that bracket.

Photo of David Evennett David Evennett Ceidwadwyr, Bexleyheath and Crayford

Let me begin by praising my local jobcentre in Bexleyheath for the tremendous work it is doing to get people into employment. I visited it on Friday and was very impressed. Our welfare system should always be there to protect the most vulnerable in our society, but new challenges are threatening its sustainability and preventing it from working as intended. I therefore welcome my right hon. Friend’s plans to target the system better towards those who need it most, by controlling spiralling costs and ensuring that it is fair to the taxpayer.

Photo of Mel Stride Mel Stride Chair, Treasury Committee, The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

My right hon. Friend is, as always, absolutely right. We must have a system that targets the most vulnerable in society, and it must also be fair to the taxpayer, because that is part of what underpins the confidence that the public have in our welfare state—and that is worth preserving.

Photo of Cat Smith Cat Smith Chair, Petitions Committee, Chair, Petitions Committee

During the time for which the ombudsman’s report has been ongoing, 270,000 WASPI women have already passed away. How many more 1950s-born women in Lancashire will die before the Government finally act on the report’s recommendations?

Photo of Mel Stride Mel Stride Chair, Treasury Committee, The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

I have already replied to questions on that matter in this session. To reiterate, we are looking extremely carefully at what is a very complex report. It took the ombudsman five years or thereabouts to compile, and there will be no undue delay in our responding to it.

Photo of Jack Brereton Jack Brereton Ceidwadwyr, Stoke-on-Trent South

I commend the Secretary of State for his efforts to make work pay, but for many of those in work, a lot of the excellent support available in jobcentres is currently voluntary. Will my right hon. Friend look at what more he can do to encourage people in Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire to upskill in order to take on more well-paid work, and to reduce dependency on benefits?

Photo of Jo Churchill Jo Churchill The Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions

Happy birthday! I am sure my hon. Friend’s family and small children will be wishing him well from Stoke.

As has been outlined, there is great work going on. I met the Skills Minister only last week to discuss the better join-up that is happening, and we are really focused on allowing people to progress in work. Allowing them to move up and move on, and to stay and succeed in work, is just as important as getting that first job.

Photo of Ian Blackford Ian Blackford Scottish National Party, Ross, Skye and Lochaber

On 14 September 2023, I led a Backbench Business debate in this House, supported by the hon. Members for Moray (Douglas Ross) and for Easington (Grahame Morris). We asked the Government to take action on footballers with brain-related injuries. The Minister who responded spoke warmly, and the then Minister at DWP, Tom Pursglove, indicated that there would be a meeting for the three of us, on a cross-party basis, with the Industrial Injuries Advisory Council. I wrote to the Minister on 18 January and 13 March, and there was a Westminster Hall debate on 24 April, but nothing has yet happened. Can we get that meeting with the Industrial Injuries Advisory Council to make sure that we get footballers with brain injuries the support they need?

Photo of Mims Davies Mims Davies The Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions

I have already met the chair of the Industrial Injuries Advisory Council in my role as the Minister for Disabled People, and I will continue to engage on whatever is required. To be clear, the council is considering any connection between neurodegenerative diseases and professional sportspeople, and will publish its findings once the investigation is complete. I have also met the Sports Minister and will be keen to share this issue with colleagues. I will come back to the right hon. Gentleman.

Photo of Steve Tuckwell Steve Tuckwell Ceidwadwyr, Uxbridge and South Ruislip

This Conservative Government’s next generation of welfare reforms are to be warmly welcomed. The NHS North West London ICB, which covers Uxbridge and South Ruislip, has been selected as a lead partner for one of the new WorkWell pilot areas. Will my hon. Friend meet me to discuss how we can maximise the programme’s effectiveness in integrating health advice for my constituents?

Photo of Mims Davies Mims Davies The Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions

I welcome my hon. Friend’s interest in WorkWell, which is a significant intervention. I am not sure about the Secretary of State’s diary or mine, but we are keen to meet and to highlight the work of the NHS North West London ICB. It is one of 15 partnerships, which are backed by £64 million-worth of investment. It will design integrated WorkWell services and deliver them to around 59,000 disabled people so that they can start, stay and succeed in work.

Photo of Jeff Smith Jeff Smith Opposition Whip (Commons), Shadow Minister (Clean Power and Consumers)

New statistics show that there are 4.3 million children living in relative poverty in the UK, with, as we have heard, 1 million children experiencing destitution, including in Manchester, which has the second highest levels of destitution in the country. What impact does the Minister think the Government crashing the economy and unleashing a cost of living crisis has had on those figures?

Photo of Jo Churchill Jo Churchill The Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions

I laid that out in replying to a previous question. Our economy is going gangbusters, and inflation is down to 3.2%. I gently point the hon. Gentleman to the additional support delivered through the household support fund, which we have extended for another six months. I might gently ask him to press the Mayor of Greater Manchester on where the £32.3 million for his area has gone.

Photo of Suella Braverman Suella Braverman Ceidwadwyr, Fareham

I warmly welcome the Government’s reforms to welfare and put on record my thanks to the great team at the Fareham jobcentre, with whom I have worked to organise jobs, apprenticeships and skills fairs. A child growing up in poverty is more likely to have worse literacy, numeracy, health and job outcomes, and a shorter life expectancy than the national average. Is it not right that the single biggest and most effective thing the Government could do now would be to scrap the two-child benefit cap?

Photo of Jo Churchill Jo Churchill The Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions

I gently say to my right hon. and learned Friend that I am sure she would agree that any system has to be balanced and fair for the taxpayer, but also for those who need it most. Many working families do not see their incomes rise when they have to make choices, and we have to make the system fair. I would be more than happy to sit down with her and explain how we do that.

Photo of Andrew Gwynne Andrew Gwynne Shadow Minister (Social Care)

Maternity allowance, contribution-based jobseeker’s allowance, contribution-based employment and support allowance, bereavement benefits, basic state pension and the new state pension: these are all calculated using our contributions to national insurance. Given the Chancellor’s announcement of his desire to abolish national insurance, costing £46 billion, what discussions has the Secretary of State’s Department had with the Treasury about how he is going to fund it?

Photo of Mel Stride Mel Stride Chair, Treasury Committee, The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

This scaremongering about the state pension and the £46 billion on the back of what is an aspiration through time—maybe more than one Parliament—to abolish national insurance is frankly disgraceful, particularly from a party that gave us the 75p increase in 1999 and, on its watch, saw us have the fourth highest rate of pensioner poverty in Europe.

Photo of Katherine Fletcher Katherine Fletcher Ceidwadwyr, South Ribble

Thanks to scientific research, there is an emerging picture of the biological causes of common mental health conditions. Given the Secretary of State’s extremely welcome WorkWell announcement, questions have been raised about how the individuals implementing it can not only understand the diagnostic pathways that they will need to go through, but improve the evidence base for treatment, specifically with solid science to support this Government policy delivery. Will he work with his colleagues in the Department of Health and Social Care and the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology to help academic research to provide the evidence that we need to deliver positive outcomes for people with mental health conditions?

Photo of Mel Stride Mel Stride Chair, Treasury Committee, The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

I thank my hon. Friend for her pertinent question. That is exactly why we are piloting these measures, and we want to make sure that we get it right. I am interested in her suggestions, and I would be happy to consider them in greater detail.

Photo of Ruth Cadbury Ruth Cadbury Shadow Minister (Justice)

The Government have been talking a lot about sick note culture. As this is Mental Health Awareness Week, does the Minister agree the record long waits that many people face in getting adequate mental healthcare is delaying their return to work and keeping them on benefits longer?

Photo of Mel Stride Mel Stride Chair, Treasury Committee, The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

The approach we are taking with our call for evidence is to try to find a system in which the fit note approach is improved, and part of that must mean getting treatment to people earlier rather than later. That is exactly why my right hon. Friend the Chancellor came forward with 400,000 additional talking therapies within the NHS for exactly that purpose.

Photo of Simon Fell Simon Fell Ceidwadwyr, Barrow and Furness

May I put on record my thanks to Barrow jobcentre and to the central DWP team for the work they have been doing to support the community through the Team Barrow project? I was also delighted to find out that we are going to be a WorkWell pilot area in south Cumbria. Could my right hon. Friend outline the difference that will make to local small and medium-sized enterprises and to people looking to get into the jobs market?

Photo of Mel Stride Mel Stride Chair, Treasury Committee, The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

It will intervene at a very early stage of the health journey for those falling out of work and going into long-term sickness and disability benefits. We want to stop that journey by helping people and, through WorkWell, bringing together healthcare assistants and work coach assistants to make sure that we retain people in work or, if they are not far from the labour market, bring them into employment.

Photo of Dave Doogan Dave Doogan Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Energy Security and Net Zero)

Since we began this question session a little over an hour ago, four WASPI women have died while we debate the challenges of their pensions. The Secretary of State talks about the great sums involved, but can I remind him that those sums belong to the women affected? This Government showed no lack of haste in penalising those women. Will they show the same eagerness to compensate them?

Photo of Mel Stride Mel Stride Chair, Treasury Committee, The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

It is important that all Government policies are properly costed and that their cost to the taxpayer and the economy are taken into account. I have given the House an assurance that we are looking in great detail at the report. There will be no undue delay, and we will come to our conclusions at the earliest possible moment.

Photo of Virginia Crosbie Virginia Crosbie Ceidwadwyr, Ynys Môn

I have visited the old Rehau building in Amlwch, which is being repurposed with business units and a new jobcentre for the north of the island. Will the Minister visit Amlwch, meet some of my constituents and personally thank the team who have worked so hard to find a suitable building?

Photo of Mims Davies Mims Davies The Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions

Diolch yn fawr to the team in Ynys Môn! We have been searching for a building for a number of years to go to the added youth offer, and I would be delighted to join my hon. Friend in Ynys Môn and to thank the team.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health)

I will get it right this time, Mr Speaker.

What discussions has the Minister had with the Department for Communities, back home in the Northern Ireland Executive, in relation to the extreme poverty surges witnessed in the winters of 2022 and 2023?

Photo of Mel Stride Mel Stride Chair, Treasury Committee, The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

As the hon. Gentleman will know, the Northern Ireland Executive are at liberty to make their own arrangements on most of the benefits for which the Department for Work and Pensions is responsible. However, they generally choose to go with our decisions. I assure him that officials work very closely with their counterparts in Northern Ireland to make sure that we take the needs of the Northern Irish people into account when we take those decisions.