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MS-10 - Social Security Reforms  

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General Goose
(@general-goose)
Member
Joined: 5 months ago
Posts: 297
29/06/2019 5:11 am  

Mr Speaker,

In our first budget, the government set aside £3 billion for miscellaneous benefits and social security reforms. That increased funding was preserved in the newest budget. Though the rough outlines of how those funds would be spent was provided for in the budget, I believe it is prudent to update the House now on those changes and the details of our implementation strategy. 

Some of the bigger changes we made are already well-known. For example, Mr Speaker, we abolished the under-occupancy penalty, better known as the bedroom tax. The logic behind the under-occupancy penalty was to encourage tenants to downsize, therefore freeing up more appropriate housing stock. Sadly, due to a shortage of housing for affected tenants to downsize to and a lack of sensitivity for families facing bereavement, struggling with specific needs resulting from disability, or otherwise in circumstances not considered when the policy was conceived, its effects were, in practice, rather cruel. As such, we repealed the bedroom tax in our first budget and are proud to have done so. 

We have, as an early step, amended the benefits cap implemented by the last government. While the reasoning behind this policy change - ensuring broader fiscal health and preventing damaging situations where work does not pay - remains intact, we felt that changes were necessary, to better cope with some of the graver challenges families face. We are increasing the cap in line with inflation, and ensuring that Bereavement Allowance, Employment and Support Allowance, Incapacity Benefit, Severe Disablement Allowance, and Widowed Parents’ Allowance do not count towards it. The Child Tax Credit and, if there is a risk of homelessness and no suitable alternative permanent housing in the area can be found, Housing Benefit will count as half as much towards the cap. 

£150 million shall be appropriated, per year, to fight food insecurity. We are setting up a fund to help the long-term food insecure, ending long-term reliance on food banks, ensuring that no family is trapped in a cycle of poor nutrition and missed meals. As part of this programme, we will be ensuring those families using food banks and free school meals are aware of their rights regarding welfare. 

£225 million has been appropriated to increase funding for Access to Work, which helps disabled people take up and remain in work, giving them opportunities and a chance to use their talents and earn independence through steady and meaningful work. This is incredibly important, and we are proud to be increasing funding substantially. An additional £100 million will be used to support small businesses in establishing flexible working and work from home arrangements, and for cost-sharing arrangements for helping medium-sized businesses introduce such plans, when such arrangements will be useful for claimants seeking to find work. An additional £50 million will be used to create a programme akin to Access to Work, for those with both disabilities and serious mental health difficulties, in gaining access to community programmes such as volunteering. 

£150 million has been appropriated, per year, to roll out funding for Individual Placement and Support schemes. IPS is an evidence-based approach to help those with serious mental health difficulties attain steady and meaningful employment in mainstream jobs, providing continuous support as they enter and operate within the competitive labour market, where personalised benefits and the choice of the individual are paramount. 

We do believe that it is important that we continue doing what we can to prevent waste, fraud and abuse, and to ensure that the benefits system remains a safety net and a hand up rather than becoming a perverse system that incentivises people to stay out of work. We are cognizant of both of these dangers and there are good progressive reasons for taking them seriously. 

It is important to keep in mind, however, that it is very easy to exaggerate the scale of these problems and that it would be utterly wrong to return to the days when it is suggested that it is anything other than a small minority that is abusing the system. A vast majority of benefits claimants are honest, hardworking, and need the support provided for genuine reasons. It is for them, as much as anyone else, that we must endeavour for the highest standards of propriety in our system. 

That is why, with a pragmatic and evidence-based approach, we are continuing efforts to promote the integrity of the welfare system. For example, in our latest budget, we reauthorised and refunded the DWP Fraud and Error Reduction Incentive Scheme. This programme consists of grants to help local authorities tackle fraud and error and an incentive scheme that incentivises local authorities to improve their implementation of housing benefit and reduce the error rate in the housing benefit caseload. It is an evidence-based policy that focuses on enabling honest accounting and thorough high standards, rather than pursuing arbitrary targets. It is a model this government is keen to replicate. We have estimated that continuing the scheme saves £50 million per year. 

We are continuing with Universal Credit, too. Universal Credit can help ensure that work always pays, that people are better off financially, as well as socially, when working, and that the process is simplified and transparent for all. We want to make sure that cliff edges - that egregious and perverse situation, whereby a claimant lost more money than they made when they started working - are banished to the history books. 

But we are adopting a new - and again, evidence-based - attitude to implementation. We have set funds aside to ensure that nobody is worse off as a result of these changes - funds provided in our first budget and maintained in this budget - and that sufficient resources exist for implementation. We are increasing Universal Credit - and Jobseekers’ Allowance payments, as they continue to be made - for young people in line with the minimum wage. 

Most importantly, we are modifying the rollout schedule. Instead of aiming to roll it out at set times, regardless of the progress being made, we are slowing the rollout to ensure that each new step of the process is only implemented when the National Audit Office vouches for the efficacy of governance and management structures and a guarantee that nobody will be caught out by administrative errors or endure hardship from unintended benefits cuts that go against the spirit of the reforms. 

Finally, we turn to the issues of benefits sanctions. We have all heard the horror stories - people having sanctions imposed and hardships inflicted due to a sudden illness or a bureaucratic error, sanctions that go far beyond any plausible argument for making work pay or tackling fraud and instead impose unnecessary hardship. These sanctions are injustices. It is right, of course, that we continue to be vigilant against those abusing the system, but this cannot come at the expense of those who are in genuine need. 

We are using the increased funding, then, to enable the following reforms. Firstly, we are ordering complete reviews and replacements of the Work Capability Assessment and the Personal Independence Payment assessment, and other assessment and sanctions methods. We want to replace these tests with real world based and non-intrusive tests, where the assessor visits the claimant rather than the other way round, and are committed to doing what we can to complete this process. Going forward, Mr Speaker, we will consider the case for returning from PIP to the DLA. 

In the interim, we have immediately implemented new rules governing the use of sanctions. The imposition of sanctions has been suspended when done for the purpose of meeting cost-cutting targets or for any reason other than the integrity of the system. Sanctions are now implemented only through a rigorous application of due process, where individuals will be given a chance to review and respond to any claims of impropriety before sanctions are imposed. Where possible, sanctions are implemented in accordance with a ‘yellow card’ system, where sanctions will not be used as a first resort except in the case of provable fraud and sanctions are used, otherwise, only against those who repeatedly and with due culpability violate clearly articulated rules. 

Graham Adiputera (Lib Dem - Sutton and Cheam)
Deputy Prime Minister
Liberal Democrat Leader
Foreign Secretary
Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Climate Change
Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Technology

Parliamentary - 36
Media - 51
Policy - 46


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Eleanor Nerina
(@eleanor-nerina)
Member
Joined: 3 weeks ago
Posts: 51
29/06/2019 8:04 pm  

Mr Speaker,

May I thank the Secretary of State for his update to the House, which I found most informative and reassuring. I am particularly happy to have heard his words on the silent scandal of benefit sanctions that has been such a difficulty facing many of my constituents.

One area that the Secretary of State did not mention was the under-indexation of social security benefits under the previous coalition government. While I believe he has outlined the right immediate priorities, does he agree with me that it would be realistic by the end of this Parliament to restore the real value of those benefits that did not grow in line with prices in recent years?

Her Majesty's Principal Secretary of State for the Home Department
Labour MP for Brent North (2005 - )


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General Goose
(@general-goose)
Member
Joined: 5 months ago
Posts: 297
01/07/2019 11:25 pm  

Mr Speaker,

I thank the Rt Honorable Member for Brent North for her remarks and her insightful comments. Her comments do give me another chance to reiterate just how unfair and arbitrary many of these benefits sanctions systems were, and by imposing a new principled approach to ensuring fairness and integrity, I hope we can put an end to such injustices. We will be monitoring these issues as we go forward to make sure our good intentions are matched with results. 

In response to her question, I will, for the benefit of those watching this debate, indicate that in each budget we have increased benefits in line with inflation, but of course that is not her question. She wants to know if this government will commit to an above-indexation of social security benefits to compensate for the under-indexation. And the answer, as of now, is sadly that I do not know. It will depend on if the budgetary resources exist to allow for such a change. I do, however, sympathise with the principle behind the question and it is something we must look into. 

Graham Adiputera (Lib Dem - Sutton and Cheam)
Deputy Prime Minister
Liberal Democrat Leader
Foreign Secretary
Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Climate Change
Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Technology

Parliamentary - 36
Media - 51
Policy - 46


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Macmillan
(@dylan-macmillan)
MP for North East Bedfordshire
Joined: 5 months ago
Posts: 516
10/07/2019 4:07 pm  

Mr Speaker,

These reforms represent a mixed bag of policy prescriptions which can be seen to be compassionate, a number of these are feasible and self-evident due to the far stronger fiscal condition we find ourselves in relative to when these reforms were introduced under the Conservative Lib Dem coalition, a coalition the Right Honourable Gentleman was a part of as we voted through numerous welfare reforms that he unpicks today. Most of these u-turns are u-turns that can be achieved, as I said, due to the better fiscal position we find ourselves in thanks to the tireless work of the former Right Honourable Member for Tatton, the former Chancellor George Osborne who took many great steps to reduce the deficit by a third in the four years the Conservative Party held office. This Ministerial Statement would not be possible without the difficult decisions that we took whilst in office in conjunction with the Liberal Democrats between 2010 and 2014, the Right Honourable Gentleman should spend less time running from those decisions and more time trying to make similar decisions now so we can reduce the deficit further.

As a general rule Mr Speaker, as I mentioned briefly, I am supportive of these changes due to our stronger fiscal and economic position, an economic position being steadily undermined as inflation rises and growth falls. However there is one aspect I do not agree with, the alterations to the over-occupancy penalty, unhelpfully called the bedroom tax by the Right Honourable Gentleman. It is right that the Government tries to ensure that families move into accommodation which is adequate for their situation. If a large family needs a four bedroom house but that is currently being occupied by a household that only needs a two bedroom household that refuses to move out then this is the sort of situation where our reform is required. The answer to ensure that this penalty is not "arbitrary" as the Right Honourable Gentleman puts it is to ensure that we build more houses. We need to cut building regulations and red tape to allow the private sector to build more, we need to invest in more government built social housing, we need to mandate that when the private sector builds houses a higher percentage are affordable housing for young people who want to move out and that some are built with the aim of allowing those on Housing Benefit or in social housing to live there. These reforms would allow people at risk of being penalised the freedom to move out into something smaller whilst also alleviating the house price bubble and chronic under-supply in the market.

On the whole Mr Speaker I thank the Right Honourable Gentleman for his statement to this House and look forward to working with him in this place as he outlines some of the reforms he proposes in this statement in more detail in the future. These reforms must be handled delicately to ensure that they do not impact the fiscal health of the United Kingdom but I am confident that if the whole House works together in a cross-party manner of consensus and compromise we can create a social security system which both makes work pay but also protects those who cannot work.

Conservative MP for North East Bedfordshire
Leader of the Opposition

Prime Minister (2014)

Parliamentary Experience: Novice (25)
Media Experience: Experienced (62)
Policy Experience: Novice (29)


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General Goose
(@general-goose)
Member
Joined: 5 months ago
Posts: 297
12/07/2019 11:55 pm  

Mr Speaker,

Firstly, the leader of the opposition criticises this government's fiscal record. Though it is repetition to do so, I think it is important to note that this government's fiscal strategy has been reducing the deficit by far more than the Conservative plan would have done - for example, the maths on the last shadow budget only added up because of anti-tax dodging measures and tax reforms that this government introduced. Plus, our economic position remains strong. Our economy is still growing, inflation is still within BoE targets, and, in contrast to the time when his party was in government, employment and wage growth are improving dramatically.

His macroeconomic analysis of these measures, then, must be rejected. The fact is, the money that was gained from these measures was, in terms of the broader fiscal outlook, not crucial and not decisive - that was why, when the implications of them became clear and the flaws of implementation were apparent, the Liberal Democrats tried pushing for changes, changes that the then-government that he headed rejected out of hand.

It is a shame to see him defend the bedroom tax. As I noted, the underlying policy goal was wise - but as a method of achieving that goal, the bedroom tax had failed. Mr Speaker, we can agree on one thing: that the government needs to build more houses. Unlike the manifesto that he stood on, the manifesto I stood on contained a comprehensive plan to build more houses, a plan that I am happy to hear him endorse many of the components of, and by increasing investment in social housing and establishing a British Housing and Infrastructure Development Bank - both measures that his party voted against - this government has already started on those lines. 

Graham Adiputera (Lib Dem - Sutton and Cheam)
Deputy Prime Minister
Liberal Democrat Leader
Foreign Secretary
Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Climate Change
Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Technology

Parliamentary - 36
Media - 51
Policy - 46


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