House of Commons
Monday 14 October 2013
The House met at half-past Two o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
Work and Pensions
The Secretary of State was asked—
First, I am pleased to inform the House that the Work programme is working, and that its performance has significantly improved since being launched in June 2011. By the end of June 2012, 24,000 people had found lasting work. By June 2013, there had been a dramatic increase to 168,000. I should like to put on the record that credit must go to my predecessor, my hon. Friend the Member for Fareham (Mr Hoban), for his rigorous and meticulous work, which brought about that dramatic increase.
Of the 10 worst constituencies for longer-term unemployment, seven have seen the number of people out of work for more than 12 months increase, and that includes my own town of Middlesbrough. Why are the Minister’s policies failing so badly among the people and in the places that most need help?
I am pleased to inform the hon. Gentleman that, actually, despite the picture he portrays, work is improving. There have been significant job outcomes across the country—they are up 1 million—and the claimant count is down. Inactivity is at record low levels and the number of households where someone is in work is higher now under this Government than it was in any year under the previous Labour Government.
Can my hon. Friend confirm that tackling youth unemployment is a major priority for the Government, and that young people—18 to 24-year-olds—have benefited from the Work programme, with more than 100,000 finding some sort of work through it? Does she agree that the Work programme is working?
I agree with my hon. Friend that the Work programme is working. In particular, let us look at the figures for youth unemployment. The number of 18 to 24-year-olds on jobseeker’s allowance has fallen for 15 consecutive months. It is now 60,000 less than in May 2010. Youth unemployment is down from the numbers we inherited from Labour, and the number of young people not in education, employment or training is at its lowest for a decade.
For the first time in history, we are dealing with the people the hon. Lady—the Chair of the Select Committee on Work and Pensions—is talking about. Labour Members shake their heads, but I am afraid that they abandoned those 1.4 million people; we are supporting them. Of those on the Work programme, more than 380,000 are in work, and 168,000 have found lasting work. Ninety per cent. of those have been in employment for nine months or more. We are working on and dealing with that matter, but Labour abandoned it.
I welcome the Minister to her new brief, and the Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions, the hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mike Penning), to his.
The invitation to tender for the Work programme said that, if there was no programme at all, 15% of people on employment and support allowance, to whom my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen South (Dame Anne Begg) has just referred, would be in a sustained job outcome within two years. With the Work programme, the number has been about one third of that. Surely that underperformance is unacceptable.
That is not true at all. We have reached out and supported people who were never supported under the Labour Government. Equally, I would like to separate those on JSA, who have exceeded targets, and those on ESA who must move closer to the workplace, which is what we are statutorily obliged to do, but not to put them in a job. We are doing that. Because of that, we are looking at the programme as a whole and putting further support in for those people. It is successful and, as I have said, Labour failed to do it.
The Minister should ask her civil servants about pathways to work.
In his spending review on 26 June, the Chancellor of the Exchequer called on the Secretary of State to make a hard-headed assessment of underperforming programmes in his Department. What progress is there with the hard-headed assessment of the Work programme?
The Work programme is not an underperforming programme: 60% of people are off benefits. We continue to modify and improve it, which is only right. We have set up a best practice committee so that people can get even better. There is no underperformance. We are proud of the record. I will tell the right hon. Gentleman one thing: those people who have got jobs, whom he dismisses so discourteously, are very proud of what we have done.
Strangely, I was not asked to discuss the removal of the spare room subsidy, or any other matter, with the UN representative.
Does my right hon. Friend share my concern that the UN housing expert made no reference to the 250,000 households living in overcrowded accommodation or the efforts that the Government are making to bring fairness and respect to the welfare system after the mess that lot left it in?
Mrs Rolnik from the UN appeared over here, seemingly at the invitation of those opposed to all our policies, the Labour, or welfare, party included. I was interested in the notes that came back from the UN after she left. Some of the officials said,
“who is that strange woman; why is she talking about bedrooms and why on earth do we have a UN Housing Rapporteur.”
My thoughts entirely.
The statement from the United Nations not only reveals that Mrs Rolnik visited the Department for Communities and Local Government, the Department for Work and Pensions, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the Ministry of Justice, the Homes and Community Agency and Manchester city council, but gives a statement of housing need in this country to which most serious commentators would wholly subscribe. Will the Secretary of State now stop his delusional approach to a scheme that cannot work because there is an inadequate supply of smaller accommodation for people to move into?
It was the right hon. Gentleman’s Government who left office with the lowest level of house building since the 1920s—[Interruption.] It is higher now than it was under them—nearly 1.8 million on waiting lists in England and 250,000 tenants in overcrowded accommodation. The Opposition never talk about that. Never do we hear them say they were sorry for the overcrowded mess they left behind them. Instead of little gimmicks with people from Brazil, they would be better off apologising for the mess they left us in in the first place.
I commend my right hon. Friend’s robust approach. Does he agree that it cannot be part of any responsible welfare system to support people in accommodation of a size that they do not need when so many families have no proper accommodation at all?
I agree with my hon. Friend. It is also worth reminding the Opposition that they introduced a policy for social tenants in the private sector that does not allow housing benefit recipients to have spare rooms. So they are being hypocritical in saying that they are against one and in favour of the other.
How can the Secretary of State continue to defend the bedroom tax when there are not enough smaller properties for people to move into, even if it were the right thing to do?
I keep reminding the Opposition—and this may be the real reason why they got in such a mess over the economy—that a subsidy is not a tax. They need to understand that a tax is something that the Government take away from people, but this is money that the taxpayers have given to people to subsidise them to have spare rooms. We simply cannot go on like that. I remind the hon. Lady that the Government she was a member of nearly doubled the housing benefit bill in the 10 years they were in power, and that is why we have to take action.
Is my hon. Friend aware that there are 4,000 people in Harlow on the council house waiting list, many of whom are not on benefits? Does he agree that the single room supplement will free up housing so that some of those people can get the housing that they rightly deserve?
I agree with my hon. Friend. The coalition is concerned about people who have to live in overcrowded accommodation. Never do we hear one single comment from the welfare party about people living desperately in the overcrowded accommodation that they left them in.
The Secretary of State is so out of touch he is even out of touch with his own Minister, Lloyd Freud—[Hon. Members: “Lloyd?”] Lord Freud. It was a Freudian slip.
Last week, Lord Freud admitted that there are not enough one-bedroom properties in this country. How would the Secretary of State describe a Government who tell the poorest in the land that they have to move into a one-bedroom property or pay a substantial penalty when they know that there are not enough one-bedroom properties? Is that perniciously cruel or utterly incompetent?
I am not closely associated with Lloyd George, but I am always ready to read what he has to say. I welcome the hon. Gentleman to his post, but he is completely wrong. My noble Friend Lord Freud chastised housing associations and others for continuing to build houses that are not required when there is a demand for single bedroom accommodation.
New Enterprise Allowance
The new enterprise allowance offers support for people of all ages who want to start a business—to date, more than 1,700 young people have done so. We now have an additional 60,000 mentoring places available, so many more will be helped in the future. This is a very successful programme.
My constituent Paul Williams recently received help from the new enterprise allowance to start up his business, Choc Amor. He has twice moved to larger premises, has recently opened a new tea room and now employs nine people. Does my right hon. Friend agree that Paul Williams is a great example of why we should extend the scheme further, so that other hard-working people with drive and determination can get on in life, start a business and support our recovering economy?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The example she gives is one of many that prove the programme is working. The scheme was due to end in September 2013, but now, as a result of its success, referrals will extend to 2014. More than 54,000 have taken up the mentoring offer and there is an extra £35 million for an additional 60,000 mentoring places. I hope my hon. Friend, and all hon. Members, will ensure that many more people know about the scheme and have the same opportunity as her constituent.
Last month, I organised a small business fair in Chester. We had the support of the local provider, Blue Orchid, which seems to be doing an excellent job of helping people to start businesses in Cheshire. There are a large number of providers across the country. What assessment has my right hon. Friend made of their effectiveness?
For the most part they provide a good service to all constituents and have been successful in all parts of the country. They operate within Jobcentre Plus districts and are monitored locally. If there are concerns, they are raised with the Jobcentre Plus. Their monthly management information flow gives us a very good overview of the scheme. In the north-west, my hon. Friend’s region, 8,000 have started working with a mentor and 4,420 have started claiming the weekly allowance—a big success.
Most businesses do not survive beyond the first year, and failing generally leaves their owners significantly out of pocket. Would it not be better to concentrate on boosting the economy to create jobs for young people, rather than recommending self-employment which, sadly, may make matters worse for the vast majority?
I am sorry to hear the hon. Gentleman cavil about this programme. The reality is that the two are not mutually exclusive. For those who have a good idea and want to start a business, the scheme provides an opportunity that otherwise would not be there. I remind him that approximately 1,800 18 to 24-year-olds, 18,000 25 to 49-year-olds, 6,000 aged 50-plus, who may well have had difficulty getting a job later on, and 4,800 with disabilities who would have been written off under the old scheme, have now started a business.
Will the Secretary of State look at the problems people are having in making the transition from jobseeker’s allowance to the new enterprise allowance regime, particularly with regard to housing benefit? A constituent, who is keen to set up his own business, came to see me the other day, but immediately found that his housing benefit had been stopped. He is of course still entitled to it in the early stages of claiming NEA.
25. As Essex has a long and rich tradition of enterprise and entrepreneurial endeavour, I thank the Government for introducing the scheme to support the next generation of business leaders in Basildon and Thurrock. Will the Secretary of State tell the House how many businesses have been started with the support of the allowance in Essex, preferably in south Essex? (900457)
I will get back to my hon. Friend about the more specific details, if he wants. About 26,000 new businesses have started already and the target is to get 40,000 going by December 2013. There are about 2,000 start-ups every single month under this scheme. Out of the first 3,000 people on it, 85% are still off benefit a year later. That is a successful scheme.
Is the Secretary of State aware that many Labour Members support this measure, but we are careful about ensuring that the quality of mentoring is good, that the evaluation of the likelihood of success be built on initiatives such as the new scheme of Hertfordshire university and that the scheme leads to long-term sustainable businesses?
As the hon. Gentleman knows, I have great deal of respect for him, and he is right that much depends on the quality of the mentoring; we are doing our level best to make sure that it is as good it could possibly be. If he has any suggestions about how to improve it further, the door is open and I am always happy to see him and discuss them with him. I would revisit any project he would like to nominate if he wanted us to look at any difficulties and I would consider looking at any improvements that might be worth making.
The Chancellor and I of course discuss these matters quite regularly, and the reality is that he is very interested in this scheme. The truth is that a successful economy relies on new business start-ups. This plays exactly into the right arena. In comparison with competitors all over the world, new business start-ups and new businesses are providing the way for us to be successful. I am sure that the Chancellor will readily take my hon. Friend’s suggestions.
Atos Healthcare (Occupational Health Assessments)
In the last week, I have looked carefully at the key performance indicators for delivery times, which have been met or exceeded. In the last 12 months, they have gone from 93% to the contracted target of 97%.
Last year, my constituent Alan Johnson, a dedicated paramedic, was diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome. At 55 years of age, he was advised to retire early. Atos went on to ignore the advice of his GP and his specialist, refused him a medical and told him that he had not had the condition long enough to qualify, and then forced him to return to work. Will the Minister meet me to discuss this appalling case so that Mr Johnson can receive the pension he is due?
Of course I will meet the hon. Lady, but there is an appeals process, and I suggest her constituent goes through that full process—in case he has not—before we meet, as we do not want jeopardise an appeal in any way. This was a problem we inherited from the previous Administration. Occupational health assessments were set up under Atos in 2008; it was not great, but we are working hard to sort it out.
It is my strong belief that there is a connection between what is happening with the benefit cap and getting people into work. The findings of polls we conducted show that of those notified or aware that they would be affected by the cap, three in 10 then took action to find work. To date, Jobcentre Plus has helped some 16,500 potentially capped claimants back into work.
Some of the few families in my constituency affected by the benefit cap have particular issues in accessing employment. Does my right hon. Friend feel that the Work programme has the specialist knowledge required to deal with some of the difficulties that this group sometimes encounter in accessing employment?
It does, which is the whole point of the Work programme—to get more individuals to involve themselves and to help such people find the right courses, the right application and then the right skilling. The Work programme is able to do that in a more intense way than Jobcentre Plus is, so it should provide enormous help. The reality is that the benefit cap is enormously popular, which may account for why the welfare party opposite has come and gone on this issue from the beginning. First, Labour Members say they are opposed to it; then they say they are for it: we have no idea what they will do about it.
A new report by the New Policy Institute and Trust for London shows that 57% of working-age adults and children living in poverty in London are in households that work. That work is almost inevitably low paid and increasingly part time. Will the Secretary of State drop this mantra of making work pay and begin perhaps to discuss with his colleagues the possibility of encouraging a living wage?
I am always very willing to discuss issues relating to the living wage with the hon. Lady or with anyone else. However, I hope that when the hon. Lady talks to her constituents she is honest enough to tell them that the reason they find themselves in so much difficulty is that the last Government made such a mess of the economy, and caused so many people to collapse into low incomes and very poor jobs. It was the Labour party that caused that. We are changing it, and restoring the previous position.
The European Commission said this morning that more than 600,000 EU migrants live in this country without working. Does my right hon. Friend agree that we could cap the benefits paid to those individuals by introducing a more stringent residence requirement, and by insisting that they have a longer social security contribution record?
I have not read the report in any detail, but I do know that the 600,000 figure does not necessarily refer to people of working age who could be working. There is a big question mark over the number of people to whom it relates. I do not want to find myself in the middle of a debate between some of the media and the European Union, so let me simply say that our own assessment—our habitual residency test—currently prevents people who could be working and not on benefits from claiming those benefits. It is the Commission that is trying to get us to change that, and I am utterly refusing to do so.
The unemployment rate in my constituency is nearly 9%. One mother whose benefits have been capped has little opportunity of getting a job, especially as she has several small children to look after. She is putting feeding and clothing them and paying bills ahead of paying her rent, so her landlord, Miguel Contreres, is receiving just £30 a week. Can the Secretary of State provide a fair alternative to the landlord’s throwing that mother and her children out on to the street?
Can we please return to reality? [Interruption.] I love the fact that my new shadow, the hon. Member for Leeds West (Rachel Reeves)—whom I welcome to her position—was out over the weekend saying “We are going to get really tough on benefits”, and at the first opportunity Labour Members are carping about the cap and the spare room subsidy. The truth is that the cap applies to people with average earnings. May I ask the hon. Gentleman what he might like to say to those who are trying and working hard, and who wonder why people on benefits are earning more than they are?
Child Support Agency
Out of 1.1 million cases registered with the Child Support Agency, hon. Members raised 7,540 with the agency. That is still too many, but I am pleased to tell my hon. Friend that 12% fewer letters were received in 2012 than in 2011.
I think that that is a bit of an underestimate. The figure is certainly lower than I expected it to be, given that the hon. Member for Colchester has raised more than 1,000 cases in the past 16 years. Does the Minister agree that if a Member of Parliament is having to make representations to the CSA, those cases constitute failures?
I do not have figures showing how many of the 7,000 or so letters came from my hon. Friend, but I suspect that a fair proportion of them did. However, he is right to say that matters should not have to reach the stage at which a Member of Parliament has to raise a case. We are reforming the CSA for that reason, and we believe that the new 2012 system will provide much better customer service.
When dealing with CSA cases raised by constituents, one is left with the feeling that the CSA has strayed from its original remit, which was to chase absent fathers. It seems that the agency has filed that under “too difficult”, and is now pursuing people who are already paying in an attempt to extract more money from them. Can the Minister find a way of restoring the CSA’s original purpose, which was to chase absent fathers rather than hounding people who are already trying to do the right thing?
My hon. Friend will be pleased to know that the thinking behind our reforms is to ensure that when families can sort things out for themselves, they do so. That will enable the CSA to pursue the remaining cases involving absent fathers—or mothers—much more vigorously, so that those who are refusing to pay feel the full force of our enforcement action.
Work Capability Assessments
The work capability process was introduced by the previous Labour Administration in 2008. We are committed to ensuring that work capability assessments are as fair and accurate as possible in determining who is fit to work and when they can return to work. The Department has instructed Atos to introduce a quality improvement plan, as was announced in this House by written statement.
No one will be worse off. Quality is very important, so as to ensure that when the assessments are done the first time, they are done accurately and do not have to go back on appeal. If there is an overpayment to someone because they are assessed at a lower rate, they will be able to keep that payment.
The Minister’s predecessor, who is in his place, previously said from the Dispatch Box that one reason for the number of incorrect decisions was people not providing the right medical evidence. May I invite the new Minister to have a look at the wording of the ESA50 form? It states:
“If you have any medical documents that you think will support your claim, send them in with your questionnaire. For example, this could be a medical report from your doctor, consultant or support worker.”
It then says, immediately afterwards:
“Please do not send medical statements”.
It is little wonder there is confusion.
I think we all accept that the delays are unacceptable. We need to ensure that the assessments are done correctly when they are first done, and the Department is working closely now to make sure that they are assessed before they get to the referral situation.
The changes to the WCA appeals process that are due to come into effect later this month will put some very sick and disabled people in a dreadful position, whereby those who are clearly unfit for work and are appealing a bad decision by Atos will be unable to claim any replacement benefits for the duration of the reconsideration process because being able to work is a prerequisite for claiming jobseeker’s allowance. What assessment has the Minister made of the impact that these changes will have on local authorities, housing associations and primary health care?
As the Minister of State for disabled people—a brand new role, with not a junior Minister but a senior Minister—it is my role, across government and including local authorities, to make sure that the system is working. Where there are problems, I will look at them. I will be working closely with all the authorities that the hon. Lady has suggested, but I do not accept her premise as to how many of them will be worse off.
Former Remploy Workers
At 4 October 2013 1,326 disabled former Remploy workers are engaging with personal case workers to find jobs; 535 are in work, and 390 are on Work Choice and training, which makes a total of 925 in work or training.
Notwithstanding that answer, more than 93% of disabled people on the Work programme are simply failing to find work. I put it to the Minister that the Government’s record on disability employment is simply a disgrace and is another example of the Government talking big and tough but failing to deliver.
The hon. Lady has bounced across various subjects there, but may I just put on the record the fact that the Remploy factories had faced an uncertain future since 2008 and that her Government closed 29? We have sought to support the people involved in the best way possible, and so 925 out of the 1,325 are in work or training. We are talking about significant support and significant movement into work; the rate is higher than the one relating to regular redundancies. As I said before, the Work programme is working. It has significantly improved under my predecessor and we will continue that.
I welcome the information that the Minister has given about the role that Work Choice has played in helping former Remploy employees. Will she confirm that we have no plans, despite rumours I am hearing, to roll Work Choice up into the Work programme? Such an approach would lose the specialisation that has made Work Choice the success it has been so far.
My hon. Friend is right. Work Choice has been a success. We are looking at the disability employment strategy. For the first time ever we are considering greater segmentation and greater differentiation, and the greater support that is needed. We have also engaged with business as never before. We have started a two-year disability confident programme, engaging with 430 businesses and 35 of the FTSE 100. We need employers to work with us to give these people jobs.
19. In the same way that the miners’ buy-out of Tower colliery succeeded in sustaining well-paid jobs and exposed the lie that every pit was uneconomic, does the reopening this week of the former Forestfach Remploy site in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea West (Geraint Davies) with workers’ redundancy money give the lie to the need to shut so many viable Remploy factories, such as that in Bridgend, where the workers and management had both the business case and the burning desire to keep the factory open? (900451)
I think that the hon. Gentleman does not really understand what happened with the whole set of Remploy factories. In 2008, the Labour party put in £555 million for a modernisation plan that failed. Those factories that can exist as viable businesses are doing so. We have helped them in that. We have supported them, and more than nine have reopened. Of those that could not, we have got some of the employees into work and others are opening up as social enterprises. The Opposition tried and failed. We are doing something about this and supporting those people.
From next April, those hardest to help jobseekers returning from the Work programme will get the intensive support they need to get a job. A third will sign on every day; a third will go on community work placements for six months; and a third will receive intensive support from Jobcentre Plus.
Research for the Institute for Fiscal Studies shows that since 2010, the Government’s welfare reforms have already increased tax incentives to work and cut welfare disincentives by 6%. Does my hon. Friend agree that we must continue this recalibration of the system to end the dependency culture that the last Government left behind and ensure that hard work pays?
My hon. Friend is spot-on. That is exactly what we said we would do—a recalibration; a rebalancing of the economy—to get more people into private enterprise and to make fewer people state dependent. We have done that with 1.4 million jobs in the private sector. Opposition Members said that it was not possible. This is down to an environment that we have set and the great British businesses that have provided this employment.
It is good to be back. The Minister will be aware that a key barrier to many long-term unemployed women returning to work is the prohibitively high cost of child care. What is she doing to ensure that work will always pay once universal credit is implemented, given the concerning findings of the Resolution Foundation published yesterday showing the opposite to be the case?
I am very proud of our Government’s policies, which have got a record number of women into work and supported them into businesses and in setting up their own businesses. Of those in part-time work, 80% have chosen that work, some of which fits in with their life balance. We are supporting women with child care. That is a difficult job, especially as the price of child care went through the roof under Labour. We are particularly supporting them under universal credit, and, as I said, all credit to this Government.
I welcome the Minister to her place and encourage her to come to Norwich to see the steps that I and a really great team of volunteers are taking to get Norwich’s youth unemployment down. We call it Norwich for Jobs and we have already got literally hundreds of young people into work. Her predecessor had kindly agreed to visit the team; would she like to do the same?
Is it not the case that the Secretary of State has been rebuked not once but twice by the chair of the UK Statistics Authority for the misleading, if not false, claims that he is making about the welfare reform programme? Will he take the opportunity to apologise to the House and to the public at large, not least to those on social security, whom the Government continue to denigrate?
I will not be taking this moment to apologise, but I hope that those on the Labour Benches will apologise for the mess they left us, which we have corrected. Employment is up by 1 million since the election and unemployment is down by 400,000. Inactivity records are at an all-time low and the number of people not in employment, education or training is at the lowest rate for a decade. That is what we are doing, and the statistics we are putting out are correct. I am really disappointed that we cannot all celebrate the great work this Government have done.
Housing Benefit Changes (Scotland)
All the Government’s housing benefit changes have been subject to full impact and equality impact assessments. We have closely monitored the implementation of the measures and commissioned independent evaluations of the local housing allowance reforms and the removal of the spare room subsidy.
Alex Salmond is coming down from Edinburgh on Wednesday to ask the Prime Minister to scrap the bedroom tax, and the Scottish Labour party is putting a Bill before the Scottish Parliament to stop evictions and provide funding to councils and housing associations for discretionary housing payments. Does the Minister accept that in the meantime, councils and housing associations are under huge pressure to raise rents because of the massive rent arrears resulting from the introduction of the bedroom tax?
What I will say is that we are putting in place support for those housing associations and local authorities that are finding that they cannot come to terms with the issue, although they have had three years to do something and have failed to do so. I would like to talk about the 1.8 million people on housing waiting lists and the 250,000 people in overcrowded accommodation, whom nobody had looked after. We are looking after everybody and supporting them as best we can with discretionary housing payments.
Tenants who are not on housing benefits and pensioners are now being affected by the bedroom tax, because councils such as mine are being forced to look at either rent rises or cutting their modernisation programmes because of the impact of the bedroom tax. Will the Minister now look at that again and stop this nonsense, which is not even saving money overall?
14. What steps the Government are taking on pension charges. (900446)
We have already banned consultancy charges in automatic enrolment schemes and, in the light of the recent report by the Office of Fair Trading, we will shortly be publishing a consultation setting out plans for a cap on pension scheme charges.
It is extremely difficult for pensioners, and indeed fund trustees, to obtain accurate and timely data about transaction costs, which can have an enormous impact on fund performance. Does the Minister share my view that managers of both private and public funds should be required to publish that information?
My hon. Friend highlights the important point that we need a great deal more transparency about the many different pension scheme charges—the OFT report identified 18 different sorts of charges. We will be looking at its recommendation that the fees he refers to should be reported to governance committees, which will be best placed to act upon them.
It was the Leader of the Opposition who led the way in exposing the pension charges rip-off, only for the Minister to respond—I have the press cutting to hand—by accusing Labour 15 months ago of scaremongering. Now that the OFT has published its damning report, does he not accept that Labour was right all along and that pension charges must be tackled in a serious and timely fashion?
May I first congratulate the hon. Gentleman on keeping his post in the Labour reshuffle, which I understand was codenamed the Blair Ditch project? He says that we need to cap pension scheme charges. What I do not understand is why they were not capped at any point when Labour was in office. Why has it decided to cap them only now? The OFT did not recommend a cap on pension scheme charges. I am sure he was disappointed when he read its report, because he thought that it would. That is why we are now consulting and gathering evidence. We will act where the previous Government did not.
Departmental Programmes (Performance)
I am cutting the running costs of my Department from what I inherited from the last Government of £9 billion in 2009-10 to less than £6 billion by the end of this Parliament. What is more, by 2016-17 spending on out-of-work benefits will be back at 2008-09 levels. Working with the Treasury, we are always looking to drive down costs further still, and we will make further announcements.
I thank the Secretary of State for that answer. The Chancellor of the Exchequer called in his spending review statement for a hard-hearted assessment of underperforming programmes in the DWP. Does the Secretary of State accept this review, and what steps is he taking to tackle underperformance in his Department?
The No. 1 thing we could do was to get rid of Labour—a great move to get more performance and not underperformance, and judging by the performance of its Front-Bench team, that is one of the areas where we ought to start straight away—but I must say to the hon. Lady that we are driving costs down and making savings in every programme. I would love to know this: out of the £80 billion plus we will save as a result of our welfare changes, which the Chancellor welcomes, which ones does she welcome?
Universal credit will roll out very well and it will be on time and within budget. We should consider the reality of the record of the right hon. Gentleman’s Government on Departments and the mess they got into. They left us with IT blunders of over £26 billion. With respect to him, as he was not always involved, but the others were, I therefore think they should apologise first.
Personal Independence Payment
DWP Ministers have regularly met the management of Motability to ensure that they are well placed to manage the introduction of personal independence payments and are able to effectively support their customers through this transitional period.
We are working very closely with Motability, and if someone does lose their Motability vehicle and they were in the scheme prior to January 2013 there will be a £2,000 lump sum to help. I must say to the hon. Lady that only 30% of people on the higher rate take Motability, but we will work very closely to ensure those who deserve it continue to get it.
Today I welcomed the national roll-out of the claimant commitment across around 100 jobcentres a month from now, mirroring a contract of employment. These contracts are about a cultural shift making it easier for claimants to understand what they must do in return for benefits and that they are in work now to find work. During the pathfinder both claimants and staff have found this helps enormously in focusing people on their requirements and the consequences if they do not meet them. This now marks the next stage of delivery.
One of my constituents who is still without a job after his involvement in the Work programme came to one of the public consultation meetings I organised during the recess because he was angered by his experience of the programme. Bright and articulate with a postgraduate degree from Oxford, he had been sent on an eight-week employability course that included the completion of questions by ticking boxes with smiley faces or sad faces. Does the Secretary of State understand why he and others on the course angrily felt it was a waste of time, and does his experience explain why the Work programme has failed the overwhelming majority of people who have been sent on it?
I just do not agree with that because the reality is that the Work programme figures show that it is performing incredibly well and it will just get better: some 72% of the first tranche or cohort are off benefits; 380,000 people who before were written off by the last Government are now in work; 168,000 are now in sustained employment; and we now know that 90% of those who are in sustained employment go on to another year at least of employment, which is better than any of the last Government’s programmes—cheaper, more effective and better for those trying to get into work.
Yes, as my hon. Friend says, it has been a year since the first firm automatically enrolled. This has been a striking success. Over 1.5 million employees have been automatically enrolled and the staying-in rates have been far higher, with over 90% of employees who have been placed in a workplace pension remaining in it. It is a superb start and I congratulate all those who played a part in it.
Labour Members support the principle of universal credit, but we have repeatedly raised concerns about the Secretary of State’s ability to deliver it. Since 2011 he has consistently promised that 1 million people will be claiming universal credit by April 2014. Will he now tell the House how many people he expects actually to be claiming universal credit by then, and whether he will proceed with the previously announced plans to close down new claims for tax credits by that date?
May I start by welcoming the hon. Lady to her position? As I told the Committee and have said consistently, universal credit will be rolled out within the time scales we set, and we are planning very clearly to enrol as many people in it as possible. This will be a success. As she says she is in favour of universal credit, perhaps she can explain why Labour Members voted against it at the start and continue to do so.
Despite what the Secretary of State says, the truth is that by April next year it will be possible to claim universal credit at just 10 jobcentres out of a total of 772. Meanwhile, the National Audit Office says that £34 million has already had to be written off, £303 million is now at risk, and Ministers have failed to set out how the policy will work. It is a catalogue of errors. Will the Secretary of State tell us how much money spent on the project will be money down the drain? Instead of blaming everybody but himself, would it not be better for him to turn down the volume on off-the-record briefings against his own permanent secretary and start taking responsibility for his own failed policy?
Just in case the hon. Lady does not realise it, I should point out that this is not a failed policy: it will roll out successfully on time and within budget. Where does the word “failure” apply to that? She is part of a party whose time in office saw more than £28 billion wasted on IT programmes, with complete chaos most of the time it was there. This will roll out on time and within budget. At any time when we announce the new reset, she can, if she would like, come and talk to us about it. Perhaps for once, instead of voting against stuff and then saying she supports it, she might tell us how many of the benefit cuts Labour Members voted against they are now in favour of.
I will indeed do that. Although my hon. Friend talks about an average of 14% fewer people claiming in his constituency, across the country the average is 11%, and 400,000 fewer people are claiming since 2010, so it is success all round for this Government.
T2. With well over 1 million unemployment benefit claimants being sanctioned since 2010, rumours abounding that targets are in place for sanctioning, and all of us facing many desperate people in our surgeries, will the Secretary of State tell us when we will see the results of his investigation into sanctioning? (900409)
It is obvious and clear that Labour Members do not support sanctioning. The reality is that they spend their whole time saying that they are in favour of benefit changes and at every single turn they oppose them. People who deserve sanctions deserve sanctions, and we impose them on those who do not play a part in the system.
People with autism and mental health problems have particular problems with the work capability assessment, and the courts recently found that the test put people with mental health problems at a substantial disadvantage. Will the Minister or the Secretary of State rethink the work capability assessment for those people and pause the process, for which Rethink Mental Illness called?
I have looked at this very closely in the past week. Of course, lots of groups would want us to look at individual cases. The way the assessment is done is not rigid, and it will evolve. We will look at this carefully, but I cannot make promises on individual groups today.
T3. Will the Secretary of State confirm whether benefits officers been have told not to sanction people when the only job offered is on a zero-hours contract? Do Ministers recognise that the new claimant commitments mean that people will not actually be able to sign zero-hours contracts without risking losing their in-work benefits? (900410)
The claimant commitment is about people’s obligations under the existing terms. They will have to seek work, attend interviews and try to get a job, and once they are offered a job they must take it. Those are the sanctions coming up under universal credit. People will lose benefits for three months for a first offence, six months for a second offence and three years for a third offence. Right now, zero-hours contracts are legal. If Labour wants to change the law, we want to hear that from the hon. Gentleman.
This is money designed to help and support separated families. We have spent £6.5 million so far on seven projects in the voluntary and private sector designed to help with things such as mediation. Although it is early days, we have anecdotal examples whereby we have enabled families to function together for the benefit of the child, and whereby the child’s performance at school is improving as well as maintenance flowing.
T4. Housing associations in Ogmore are carrying a rising level of debt on their balance sheets as a result of rent arrears. They have a desperate scarcity of one and two-bedroom properties to rent, and yet they have three-bedroom properties lying empty. Is this just a necessary but painful adjustment to the Secretary of State’s benefit and bedroom tax changes? (900411)
This is something we have to do. I have answered this before: how many people we have to look at who are on waiting lists, how many are in overcrowded housing, and how the bill doubled under Labour. The hon. Gentleman is quite right—we have to get the stock right: the fact that there are three-bedroom houses and why in the last three years they have not been modified into one and two-bedroom houses. Those questions have to be asked. That is what we have to do: get the stock right and support people as best we can.
The pensions Minister mentioned earlier that the Office of Fair Trading report highlighted some of the abusive practices in the private pensions industry, such as active member discount and charges of up to 3% on many schemes. I welcome his consultation, but does he agree that it will be important to put a cap in place before auto-enrolment is rolled out at volume?
My hon. Friend raises the crucial issue that, while the largest firms have been able to negotiate very good charging levels, we cannot be certain that the smaller firms will even be offered them or, indeed, that employers will necessarily be interested in charging levels when it is the employees, rather than the employers, who pay them. Our consultation will touch on that issue and on that of active member discounts.
T5. The Government continue to disregard warnings from the likes of Oxfam and Church Action on Poverty that many of the 500,000 people being forced to use food banks are doing so because of delayed, reduced or withdrawn benefits. The Department seems not to be interested in collecting any statistics behind the reasons for that referral. Will the Secretary of State look into this to see what impact his benefit changes are having on people who simply cannot afford to feed themselves? (900412)
We do spend our time looking carefully to see whether the effects of our policies are negative on some families and how we can best support them. We have localised to local authorities the support for things such as crisis loans. Local authorities are now much better at focusing on what people really need. Our general view is that there are people in some difficulty, but lots of people are taking some of this food because it is available and it makes sense to do so. We are working with local authorities to ensure that those in real need get support.
As my hon. Friend knows, our data on the pension rights of people in civil partnerships are very patchy, but I can tell him that, in response to the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013, we have committed to a statutory review. We are gathering data as we speak and we will report back on our proposals by next July.
T8. Given the woeful performance of the Work programme in Hull and local job losses, does the Secretary of State agree with The Economist that Hull’s long-term jobseekers should give up looking for jobs in Hull and travel elsewhere in the country? (900415)
The roll-out of universal credit will be complete by 2017, yet the contract for the Post Office card account will be up for renewal in 18 months. What assurance can the Secretary of State give that people will still be able to access their benefits through their post offices?
I have looked at this matter carefully. The Post Office contract is due to expire in 2015, but there is the option to extend it and we will keep the matter under review. The Post Office is piloting a new current account and we hope that many people will transfer on to that. I assure the hon. Gentleman that we will ensure that those who are in the circumstances that he describes will always be properly supported.
Every single week, constituents tell me that Atos claims that it has not received the forms that they have completed. Last week, a young disabled constituent told me that that had happened on several occasions, leaving him penniless for weeks at a time. Why can the Secretary of State not sort this shambles out?
The personal circumstances that the hon. Gentleman has described are completely unacceptable. If he gives me the details of the case, I will look at it. The performance of Atos is ever so important and it was an issue for the previous Administration. We are working on it, but those circumstances are not acceptable and I will look at the matter.
Will the Secretary of State confirm that since the benefit cap was introduced, his Department has helped more than 16,000 people who would have been affected by it into work? Does that not show that those who voted against the benefit cap cannot be trusted on welfare reform?
My hon. Friend is right that the benefit cap is popular and effective. Although the new shadow Secretary of State said that Labour would be tougher on welfare, we have all noticed throughout questions that the only thing we have heard from Labour is opposition to every single spending reduction and welfare reform. That party is not fit for government.
I am entirely grateful, Mr Speaker, but my dolefulness has more to do with the responses from the Government than with my not catching your eye.
The Government’s main reason for denying women born between 1951 and 1953 the option of receiving the single-tier pension if that means a higher weekly income appears to be the uncertainty about when their husbands will die. That is irrelevant for single, unmarried female pensioners—the poorest of all groups in retirement—who know that they would be better off with a choice. Will the Minister reconsider his policy so that the Government can help my constituents and others like them?
Secondary Schools (Accountability)
With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement on the future of secondary school accountability, following our recent consultation. May I first welcome the new shadow Secretary of State for Education and express our best wishes to his predecessor, the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg), with whom we always had a very constructive relationship?
Until now, secondary schools have been judged by the proportion of their pupils who are awarded five GCSEs at grade C or better, including in English and maths. Schools currently improve their league table position if pupils move over the C/D borderline. That gives schools a huge incentive to focus excessively on the small number of pupils around the five Cs borderline. In our view, that is unfair to pupils with the potential to move from E grades to D grades or from B grades to A grades. It is also, paradoxically, unfair to those on the C/D borderline because it leads schools to teach to the test. Ofqual, the Chairman of the Select Committee on Education and others have warned about those adverse incentives.
Indeed, all five of the maths organisations that responded to the consultation said that the current approach harmed the teaching of mathematics. The Association of Teachers of Mathematics said:
“Teaching to the test…results in superficial skills development which means that students are ill prepared for adult life”.
Furthermore, as Chris Paterson at CentreForum has shown, the current accountability framework discourages schools from focusing on the lowest-attaining pupils. In a recently published book, “The Tail”, the authors argue that the past 15 years have seen rises in average attainment in our schools, but not in the attainment of those at the bottom. International surveys such as the trends in international mathematics and science study confirm that position. We need a secondary school accountability system that gives more attention to pupils who are falling behind.
The current measure also permits many schools, particularly in affluent areas, to coast. Those schools find it easy to hit targets based only on five C grades. Although those schools may look successful, C grades are not a measure of success if pupils are actually capable of achieving far more. The accountability system must set challenging but fair expectations for every school, whatever its intake.
The five A* to C grades measure also encourages schools to offer a narrow curriculum. Mastery of just five subjects is not enough for most pupils at age 16. Furthermore, the use of equivalent qualifications means that some students have not been offered a rigorous academic curriculum, which would have served them well. Until this year, a school could offer English, maths and only one BTEC and still have the pupil count as having achieved five Cs or better.
We believe that the system can do much better than that, so we will require all schools to publish core information on their website in a standard format. From now on, there will be four key measures that must be published. The first is pupils’ progress across eight subjects, so a parent will see whether pupils at a school typically achieve one grade higher than expected or one grade lower. The second is the average grade that a pupil achieves in those same best eight subjects. That will show, for example, that pupils in a particular school average a high B grade or a low D grade in their GCSEs. The third is the percentage of pupils achieving a C grade in English and maths. The fourth is the proportion of pupils gaining the EBacc, which will continue in its current form. We will also look at developing a destination measure to show the percentage of pupils in any school who move on to further study or employment, including further training.
We are proposing an important change to how we measure underperformance, and to our floor targets. Rather than the five A* to C GCSEs threshold measure, we will use the new progress measure for the floor targets. That will be much fairer, because it will take into account a school’s intake. A pupil’s key stage 2 results, achieved at the end of primary school, will be used to set a reasonable expectation of what they should achieve at GCSE, and schools will get credit when pupils outperform those expectations. A child who gets an A when they were expected to get a B, or a D when they were expected to get an E, will effectively score points for their school. That approach will ensure that all pupils matter, and matter equally. It will be fairer for schools and fairer for pupils.
Coasting schools will no longer be let off the hook. Equally, head teachers will no longer feel penalised when they have actually performed well with a challenging intake. We must not deter the best head teachers and teachers from working in challenging schools.
Pupils’ progress and attainment will be assessed in eight subjects: English and maths, three further EBacc subjects and three other high-value qualifications. That final group can include further traditional academic subjects such as art, music and drama, and vocational subjects such as engineering and business. English and maths will be double-weighted to reflect their importance. That will encourage schools to offer all pupils a broad curriculum, but with a strong academic core.
We will define the new floor standard as progress half a grade lower than reasonable expectations. So if pupils at a school are expected to average a B in their eight subjects, the school will be below the floor if they average less than four Bs and four Cs. At present, there are 195 schools below the existing floor standard. Using existing figures, we estimate that about twice as many schools would be below the new floor standard. However, as schools will adjust their curriculum offer to the new framework, the actual number is likely to be significantly lower.
We also want to recognise schools in which pupils make exceptional progress. Therefore, a school in which pupils average a full grade above reasonable expectations will not be inspected by Ofsted the following year. This is the first time the accountability regime has offered schools a carrot as well as a stick. Schools have planned their current curriculum for years 10 and 11 on the basis of the existing accountability system, so for that reason, the new system will begin in 2016 for students currently in year 9. We will, however, allow schools to opt into the new system from 2015 if they wish.
The Government response to the consultation also describes how we will publish information we hold about secondary schools through a new data portal. That builds on our existing performance tables, and will allow all interested groups—governors, parents, academics and civil society more widely—to analyse aspects of school performance. Our full response to the consultation is available on the Department for Education’s website, and a copy will be placed in the Library of the House.
Through these changes, we are removing the perverse incentives for schools to act in a way that is not in the best interests of their pupils. More pupils will get the teaching they require and obtain the valuable qualifications they need. The proposals will have a major and positive effect on our education system, and we hope they will secure support from across the political spectrum.
I thank the Minister for his kind words for the shadow Secretary of State and the former shadow Secretary of State, which he gave in his usual courteous way at the beginning of his statement. I also thank him for advance sight of the statement. Labour will study closely the details of the changes he proposes, and if it transpires that they will incentivise rich, broad and balanced curricula in our schools, we will welcome them. There are, however, some important tests that the changes must pass.
Anyone watching last week’s “Educating Yorkshire” will have seen the extraordinary efforts that teachers go to—sometimes including risking their health—to help pupils pass their GCSEs. It is sad that these days that is sometimes known in Government as “gaming the system”. How will the Minister ensure that the new arrangements will allow teachers to help pupils of all abilities to achieve their best, and can he be sure that they will not throw up their own new perverse incentives?
The Labour party, backed by the CBI, is committed to ensuring that all young people continue to study maths and English to 18, although so far the Government have failed to support Labour’s plan. Will the Minister think again about that? As the participation age rises to 18, and with challenges for us all in the OECD report, does he not want all young people to continue studying maths and English to 18? We also need more detail about how the changes will impact on technical and vocational education which, once again, seems to be a bit of an afterthought. He referred to progression post-16, but why are the Government watering down the important requirement on schools to ensure that young people are ready for the world of work, through the provision of work experience and independent careers advice and guidance?
The central problem with the announcement is that parents, pupils and teachers no longer trust the Government not to tinker. When it comes to accountability measures, the Government behave a little like the badgers, moving the goalposts halfway through the school year. Will the Minister guarantee that the proposal will not be subject to the mood swings of the Secretary of State and his infamous friend Dominic Cummings? Parents, pupils, teachers and head teachers are livid about the latest knee-jerk announcement via the press, when pupils are already preparing for exams and only days away from the deadline for exam entry, that only first entry into GCSE can be counted in the school accountability measure. If the badgers are moving the goalposts, Ministers are changing the rules in the middle of the match. Will the Minister promise to meet with heads to discuss their concerns about this change being implemented in such a way?
Will this change to the accountability system make any real difference to children if their schools are vulnerable to—I quote the Secretary of State’s special adviser— “disastrous teaching” and “fraudulent activity”? That is the view of Dominic Cummings, who says that it is inevitable, because of the lack of grip the Secretary of State has on his free schools policy, that some will fail for those reasons. That is what he said.
We are already seeing the fruit of that failure in the scandal at Al-Madinah school in Derby, which left 400 children without schooling for an entire week and whose approach to women staff and female students has caused such controversy. What will the right hon. Gentleman do to ensure that school accountability extends beyond today’s measure and includes ensuring that all taxpayer-funded schools have qualified teaching staff, are monitored for financial fraud, have proper child protection measures in place and are adhering to basic British values of tolerance and respect for all, regardless of gender, sexuality or religious belief?
I think I welcome the shadow Minister’s response to our statement. By the end of it, it was difficult to know whether he was supporting the statement or not. We will come to that in a moment. I think I welcome the hon. Gentleman’s relatively cautious approach because, from him, I take that as a sign of support, whereas from other people it might qualify as anything other than that.
I hope the hon. Gentleman will accept that we have taken time to get this right. Nobody can accuse us of rushing into the proposals. After all, we announced a consultation in this area in February. We have taken a great deal of time to get our proposals right. We have listened very carefully, including to the Chairman of the Select Committee, to a lot of the mathematics, to organisations that made representations, and to hon. Members on both sides of the House. As a consequence, the Secretary of State and I have changed the proposals that we first made. We have moved away from a threshold measure to a greater extent than was originally planned, precisely because of the perverse incentive effects that the hon. Gentleman talked about, and we think we have now got the balance right between having a proper accountability system and ensuring that that system embeds the right incentives. By having a number of key measures, we will ensure that it is not possible to game one of those and ignore all the other things that matter.
The hon. Gentleman is right that we need to encourage young people who have not mastered maths and English at 16 to go on studying those subjects, and we have announced a new core maths qualification beyond the age of 16 to ensure that young people have the opportunity to do that. We have also, through our 16-to-19 accountability consultation, paid a great deal of attention to the incentives that educational institutions will have to keep young people on course after the age of 16 and to create the right incentives. The destination measure that I have talked about today will give all educational institutions an interest in the qualifications that young people secure not only at age 16, but beyond that.
On the issue of early entries for GCSEs, I do understand that this has been controversial, but the hon. Gentleman will understand that we must pay attention to the serious warnings that we have received from Ofsted and others about the scale of increase of early entry. This summer almost a quarter of maths entries—170,000 entries —were from young people who were not at the end of key stage 4 study. Ofsted said that it found no evidence that such approaches on their own served the best interests of students in the long term. Indeed, Sir Michael Wilshaw has said that he thinks early entry hurts the chances of some children, who are not able to go on to get the best grades that they are capable of.
On future uncertainty about these frameworks, we hope very much indeed that we will be able to secure support from across the House for the proposals that we have made today, and I take the hon. Gentleman’s comments as a modest step in that direction. However, in terms of getting certainty about the degree of cross-party co-operation, it would be helpful if he could clarify some of divisions that there are now on his own side about some of the key issues. For example, one of the measures that we have said we would publish is the EBacc, and we believe we should continue to do so. The former education spokesman for the Labour party opposed the EBacc and said that it was at best an irrelevance and in some cases distorted young people’s choices. The new spokesman for the Labour party said that he supports the English baccalaureate. We want to hear from the Opposition some clarity about Labour’s position on these issues; otherwise, that will be a source of confusion.
This announcement is extremely welcome, as the best eight measure will be an educational breakthrough in improving the accountability of secondary schools by, as the Minister rightly said, ensuring a focus on improving the education of the lowest-achieving, as well as stretching those at the top. It is to the credit of the Secretary of State and the Minister for Schools that they have listened to the submissions, that they have been prepared to take their time and that they have got this right. How will the floor target work? It is rightly based on progression, but how will it ensure that progression is fairly measured between those who serve the more able and typically prosperous parts of the population and those in the most deprived areas?
I am grateful to the Chair of the Select Committee for his kind comments about the proposals we have announced today. I am happy to pay tribute to him for the role he has played in ensuring the improvement of the proposals between the original announcement and consultation in February and today, when the final proposals were made. He is right that the new progress measure will ensure that the attention and focus is not only, as it was in the past, on the schools with the lowest levels of attainment, but on schools that appear to have high levels of attainment but where levels of progress are extremely low. Schools have been able to coast over the past decade because their overall levels of attainment look all right, when they have actually been failing young people by not getting much better results from them.
This is probably the best statement I have heard from a Minister since 2010, when the Government were formed. It is not all perfect, but the Government have listened and have modified the proposals. They should be congratulated on that. If they listened to last week’s debate on adult literacy and numeracy, will they take the lesson that the one area in which we still underachieve is the failure of at least 25% of our young people coming through education to get almost any qualification at 16? That is where the concentration must be and we need action soon.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, the former Chair of the Select Committee, for his kind comments. He is absolutely right that one of the big challenges we must address in education is the very large number of young people who are not getting through GCSEs with decent qualifications in English and maths. Shockingly, at the moment the overwhelming majority of those young people continue to fail beyond the age of 16. Many do not even attempt to retake those subjects to get that basic level of literacy and numeracy, and we must address that.
I warmly welcome the Minister’s statement. It is clear that the Government are absolutely committed to tackling underachievement among children from poorer backgrounds. Will he undertake not to lose sight of the importance of English as an additional language as a factor in educational attainment? Will he look at the subject in the round when going forward with these welcome education reforms?
Many schools in and around Sheffield no longer offer three separate science subjects at GCSE, which is blocking young people from being able to go on to careers in engineering and other related subjects. Given the changes that have been announced, how does the Minister see things developing? In particular, will he support the development of separate sciences so that young people go into such areas, where we have skills shortages?
The hon. Lady makes a good point. Sadly, over the past decade or so there was a movement by students away from taking serious single-science subjects towards broader subjects that sometimes had an unrealistic equivalence. I am pleased to say that since the changes made by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State in that area, we have seen a big increase in students taking some of those subjects at GCSE and A-level. We need to ensure that the number goes up even further in the future.
What discussions has the Minister had with the private sector? Is there not a danger that in moving to a progress measure we are moving from absolute standards to relative standards because we are taking account of where people come from as opposed to where they are? Parents want a measure of how good a school is now and the rigid academic standards it is achieving, and nothing else.
We have had a broad welcome for the proposals in the consultation and the statement, including from many employer organisations, but my hon. Friend is right to highlight that, ultimately, results and attainment are crucial to any young person doing well in future. I believe that, through the best eight measure—an average we will publish as part of the new accountability framework —we will send out the clearest signal ever about how a school is performing in a large range of subjects and for every single student in the school. I believe that that will improve the focus on attainment in every school in the country.
I congratulate the Minister on his announcement. I particularly welcome the destinations measure, which I argued for as a Minister —I was not successful in persuading the Department to do it. How will it affect schools that go up to age 16, as opposed to schools that go up to age 18, which often place a greater emphasis on universities, including Russell group universities?
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his comments. We would expect such a measure to apply both to schools that go up to age 16 and to those that go up to age 18. Looking at what happens to people afterwards is relevant in giving both a powerful incentive. Clearly, the pathway in each situation would, for many students, be slightly different, but we believe that taking an interest in what students go on to do beyond age 16 makes sense in giving a powerful incentive to the many schools in the country that go up to age 16.
I very much welcome the proposals on increasing the reward for schools that add attainment for all pupils, irrespective of their backgrounds, and the proposals on adding value and support for schools that seek to boost attainment for all pupils, and not just those on the key dividing lines between specific grade boundaries. I am also happy to hear the Minister’s reference to having more carrots than sticks. In that sense, could we offer more carrots than sticks to the teaching profession with reference to Ofsted? Few Ofsted inspectors are currently teachers. Could Ofsted become more supportive and developmental rather than, say, threatening and limiting?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his comments. He is right that we need to guarantee confidence in the schools system about the job Ofsted does. I believe that, on the whole, it does an excellent job. He will be interested to know that, since the new chief inspector took over at Ofsted a couple of years ago, he has very significantly increased not only the number of former head teachers who work for it, but the number of existing senior school staff who act as Ofsted inspectors. I would be happy to write to my hon. Friend to update him on that information, because there has been a radical change in a short period.
I wish the Minister well in developing his destination measures, particularly on employment. If he wants to know how schools can prepare, I invite him to come to Birmingham to see how the Birmingham baccalaureate brings the world of work and schools together. That might give him a pathway to copy elsewhere.
Following that same point, in warmly welcoming the Minister’s statement, I urge him to accelerate the inclusion of a destination measure as an assessment criterion. What really matters is how a school prepares its pupils to succeed either in further education or in finding a job.
I agree with my hon. Friend that the destination measure is extremely important. I assure him that we will act swiftly to seek to introduce the measure. Getting the data to the standard at which they are accurate and useful, which is crucial because we want an accountability measure that is taken seriously by schools, is important as the first step. However, as soon as we do it, we will move towards publishing the measure.
Brookfield school in Chesterfield recently wrote to all parents to let them know that year 11 pupils whom the school believes might not get a C will not do maths until May or June, whereas previously they would have done it in November. Alongside schools accountability, is the Minister concerned that one impact could be that children on the borderline might not have the same chance that children higher up have, because the children who are higher up have the chance to do it in November and do it again in May if they are not happy with their original result? Is there a danger that schools will change the way in which they operate to the disadvantage of some pupils?
We were concerned by what was happening in increasing numbers in some schools before the announcement was made. I draw the hon. Gentleman’s attention back to the massive expansion in the last couple of years in the number of students doing multiple GSCE entries—170,000 in summer 2013. Almost a quarter of maths entries were multiple entries from students who had not reached the end of key stage 4. Several bodies have expressed concern that some of the youngsters might get a C when they could go on to get a B, an A or an A*, and they are potentially being let down. It also means that teaching in those subjects ends at a much earlier stage than it should, with a year only of preparation in the subject rather than the full two years. It is crucial that we have a school system that acts in the best interests of the students, not simply of the schools.
Employers will tell the Minister that it did not need an OECD report to show that England has—shockingly—some of the least literate students, because they only have to look at job applications to see that. Will he ensure that his system will have widespread effect, especially on literacy and numeracy, as opposed to focusing on a few?
I agree entirely with my hon. Friend. The new system will reduce the amount of gaming behaviour across the C/D borderline and the amount of teaching for the test, which often distorts our appreciation of educational standards, and all of the changes go hand in glove with the further changes to GCSEs that were announced by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State earlier this year, which will try to ensure that GSCEs in English, maths and other subjects are fit for purpose and will ensure that young people in this country are as well prepared as those in other top education countries.
The Minister’s announcement on early entry—made to the media, it has to be said, not to the House—has created huge anger and great disruption to pupils and schools in my constituency. Did he talk to head teachers about why they do early entry, and will he commit to giving longer notice periods and to stop announcing changes that have immediate detrimental effects on pupils in the middle of their courses and exam preparation?
I do not think we can be accused of leaping too rapidly to conclusions when we have just completed an eight-month consultation process on the changes that we are discussing today. It would be negligent of us to stand back and ignore the recommendations being made by Ofsted and others, and the dramatic figures that we have seen in the past year or so, which suggest that a vast amount of money is being sunk into exam fees rather than into teaching—behaviour that is not potentially in the best interests of some of the most disadvantaged youngsters. We have spoken to many head teachers and head teachers’ bodies about this. The timing has been controversial, but many head teachers have told us that there were problems and abuses in this area and that these changes are sensible,
The Minister visited Hexham schools this summer, for which I am grateful. He will know that they are outstanding and that they will welcome these accountability reforms, including the destination measures that he outlined. Could he give the House a little more explanation of how, through over-achievement, a school can avoid the next year’s Ofsted inspection?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for arranging the visit to his constituency some months ago. I very much enjoyed visiting a couple of schools in his part of the country. Those schools that achieve a particularly high level of progress—one grade more than expected—will have that exemption from Ofsted inspection, and that will send out a clear signal to those schools that we are rewarding the extraordinary progress that they are making.
I am sure the Minister is an avid reader of ConservativeHome, so he will have seen the blog post by the hon. Member for Kingswood (Chris Skidmore) in August in which he talked about
“a new social divide in subject choices.”
He said that pupils from state schools, in particular pupils on free school meals, often went for the softer options. Will the Minister confirm what I think he said in his statement: that arts and vocational subjects are considered high value, and that performance and attainment in those subjects will be rewarded?
Yes, I certainly can. In the best eight measure there will be three spaces reserved for subjects that can include arts, music, and vocational and other subjects. One of the great benefits of today’s announcement is that there will not be the pressure on schools, which was there in the past, to focus only on five GCSE subjects. For many students that created far too narrow a curriculum at the age of 16.
I welcome the Minister’s statement, which will help parents to make an informed judgment when exercising choice for their children’s education. A great deal of emphasis has been placed on the progress from the outcomes of key stage 2 to expectations at key stage 3. What consideration has he given to consistency across different educational institutions?
We want to see consistency right across educational institutions. The changes we have announced today will create much better consistency in accountability measures, and will not focus only on those institutions with lower attainment and lower prior achievement. This will be a fairer way of judging every single educational institution in the country.
The issue of multiple exam entries—in particular in maths—has been raised with me by a number of constituents. In September, pupils were told that they would be entered for an exam in November. A few days later, as a result of the Government’s announcement, schools had to make the decision that that would not be right because of the impact it would have on league tables. Would it not be better to consider the impact on students—given the very high numbers involved, which the Minister has mentioned a couple of times—rather than timing the announcement for party conference season?
This announcement was not timed for the party conference season; it was timed on the basis of the evidence available to us. If schools believe that young people should be entered in November, they are perfectly at liberty to do that—we have done nothing to stop them. Indeed, if they are confident that students will be able to secure their best grades at that time, they should put the students in for the exam. If, however, the students will achieve only a C grade when they could have achieved a B or an A later, schools should think twice.
I warmly welcome the Minister’s statement. As the father of three children in a state school, I have always been frustrated by the smoke and mirrors used by some state schools. Does the Minister agree with exposing coasting schools, rather than rewarding them like the previous Labour Government did?
This information will expose coasting schools. It will also expose any school that has been focusing its curriculum offer in a narrow way and not delivering the breadth that young people need. The data based on the new accountability measures will shine an interesting light both on schools that are perhaps not as good as they thought they were, and on schools that looked like they were at the bottom of the table but are actually achieving good results given the prior attainment of their students.
The Public Accounts Committee has been calling for greater financial accountability of schools and it is not clear from the Minister’s statement whether the new data portal will include that, or how open the data will be. Will he come to Shoreditch and allow some of our tech businesses to work with him and the Department on that data so that we have a telephone app that tells parents about the quality of the schools they are choosing?
As a former pupil of St Helena secondary modern school for boys, I thank the Minister for taking the first step in 50 years to address the educational imbalance between academic and non-academic subjects. The Minister mentioned vocational subjects, one of which was engineering, but he was silent on building trade skills and motor mechanic skills. Will he give an assurance that they will form part of the vocational subjects, and with the holistic approach of “schools for life”, does he agree that first aid should be part of the curriculum?
I welcome my hon. Friend’s welcome for these announcements, but I fear that on the issue of first aid, I will be unable to give him a different answer from the one given on previous occasions by the Secretary of State. On my hon. Friend’s wider point, it is important for all serious, high-value vocational qualifications to be accessible through this route. He will know that we have taken a close look at the whole suite of vocational qualifications to make sure that there are serious equivalents because of some of the problems that arose under the last Government. If he is concerned about particular qualifications, he should write to me and I will respond in detail.
I am honoured to be mentioned by my constituency neighbour, the hon. Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy). I absolutely welcome the progress measure, but on its detail, will the key stage floor target be taken at the end of year 6 or the beginning of year 7, given the overwhelming evidence and research showing that achievement at key stage 2 drops over the summer before they arrive at secondary school?
My hon. Friend raises a very good point. We will use the end of key stage 2 data. As an expert on these matters, he may want to probe annexe B of our consultation response, which sets out in some detail how this aspect will work. We will also make sure that proper credibility pertains to all the key stage 2 data. Because it will be used to measure secondary schools’ achievement, it is even more important than it is now for this data to be fully credible and properly stress-tested.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that, at a time of declining social mobility, it is important to tackle coasting schools to make sure that they do not fail the brightest pupils from the most modest backgrounds and that all schools have a responsibility to have a programme for talented children, which should not be just an optional extra?
I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. One of the deficiencies of the existing accountability regime is that it is too easy for schools in comfortable catchment areas to coast and to fail to deliver for many of their pupils. They are not in the spotlight at present; they will be in the future.
Of all this Government’s school reforms, is this perhaps the most significant in terms of its breadth of impact right across education, ensuring that teachers’ efforts on behalf of all pupils are fully recognised? Does the Minister anticipate a warm welcome from teachers, who will be able to do what they entered this noble profession to do: to deliver a broad education free from the artificial constraints of the C/D borderline?
I agree with my hon. Friend. I believe that today’s announcement has so far been warmly welcomed by teachers’ organisations and others. It will allow a good measure of accountability—an intelligent accountability that drives the right results and the right behaviours at all schools.
I welcome the statement. Pursuant to the point about key stage 2 raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood (Chris Skidmore), may we use this opportunity to encourage greater integration between secondary and primary schools? All too many students go to secondary school at the age of 11 with a reading age of 7, and many of them are condemned to fail at GCSE the moment they walk through the door of their secondary school. We need to see greater linkage between secondaries and primaries, so that those secondaries are able to identify potential challenges in their future cohorts as early as possible.
I agree with my hon. Friend, who makes an extremely important point. He will know that as part of our proposals on primary accountability, we are significantly increasing the bar for what success looks like at the end of primary school. We are doing that because pupils at the end of primary school who achieve only the level of attainment set as a measure of achievement by the previous Government overwhelmingly go on to fail even the existing five good GCSE measure. We cannot possibly allow a level of success at the end of primary school that prepares students for failure rather than success in secondary school.
Effective implementation is likely to require accountability to run both ways. Head teachers who are inspired by this and other measures to tackle educational underachievement have the right to know that the Department for Education, the Education Funding Agency and Ofsted are there to help them, and that their interactions with those agencies will be courteous, open and effective. Will the Minister do his part, in respect of accountability, to ensure that those agencies support the head teachers who are in the front line when it comes to making these changes happen?
I will certainly do that. Head teachers want to feel that they are supported by all parts of the education system, including our Department, and they want an accountability system which they see as fair and which drives the right incentives. I believe that what I have announced today will give them that.
I welcome the statement, and particularly the fact that English and maths will be given double weighting in the new table. I am sure that that will lead to a greater quality, if not quantity, of teaching. Will my right hon. Friend consider publishing draft data so that parents can have the necessary information before attending open evenings and choosing secondary schools for their offspring?
My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the double weighting of English and maths, which we think sends a clear signal about the crucial role of those subjects. We will do what we can through the data portal to give parents as much information as possible about the issues, as soon as possible. We will also ensure that the key measures are published on the website of every single school so that parents can see what they often cannot see at present, namely a consistent comparison of the key performance indicators of all schools.
Any system of school or pupil assessment which results in all pupils’ being pushed to do the very best that they can must be a good thing, but can the Minister explain to parents in Kettering—without using any departmental jargon—at what stage children’s predicted GCSE results will be established, and how that measure of progress, whether it be one grade above or one grade below, will be assessed and audited?
Yes, I can. I refer the hon. Gentleman to annexe B, which we published today and which will provide him with a fair amount of detail about how we will calculate the measure. I hope that that reassures him, but I shall be happy to meet him if he wants to discuss the matter further.
My constituents cannot wait for the Secretary of State’s forthcoming visit to see the good progress that schools have made on GCSE results—particularly St Anne’s school, where there has been a remarkable 28% improvement. I especially welcome the new progress measures that the Minister has announced, and I commend his statement for its fairness. Broomfield school, which is just down the road from St Anne’s and of which I am a governor, has come out of special measures and is making good progress, but in terms of GCSE results it has to deal with a very challenging intake, not least the pupils who leave key stage 2 lacking basic numeracy and literacy skills.
I, too, welcome the statement. I am particularly pleased to be able to add my welcome and support to those of many employment organisations. I especially welcome the focus on destination measures: true outcomes of educational attainment. Can the Minister shed more light on that? Will the destinations include apprenticeships and higher apprenticeships, and are there lessons to be learnt from other countries for the purpose of this important measure?
Obviously we will be considering educational destinations, apprenticeships, and employment destinations with training. We need to ensure that we can collect all the information properly so that when schools receive it on their websites they recognise it, regard it as fair, and regard the Government as having captured accurately data which currently we do not possess in a single place, but believe that we can bring together.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that under the leadership of Helena Mills, Burnt Mill academy in Harlow has this year achieved 76% A to C grades in maths and English at GCSE, compared with a figure of just 27% a few years ago, by carrying out many of the measures that he set out and having a relentless focus on maths and English? Will he look at such schools to see examples of good practice and how the new accountability system works?
I am delighted to hear from my hon. Friend about the success of his local school. We are always looking at what we can learn from examples of schools that do so fantastically well, and we hope that the new accountability regime will be welcomed by his local school.
Points of Order
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. On behalf of my constituent Mr Peter Hitchens, I wish to raise concern about the remark made about him in this House in the Syria debate on 29 August by the hon. Member for Braintree (Mr Newmark), who said, in reference to an article by Mr Hitchens:
“Peter Hitchens wrote recently, in support of the Assad regime, that the Syrian Government were not lying and that it made ‘more sense’ for the opposition to poison and kill more than 1,000 of their own people.”—[Official Report, 29 August 2013; Vol. 566, c. 1503.]
Mr Hitchens has raised this matter with your office and directly with the hon. Member for Braintree, as have I, but it remains unresolved. Mr Hitchens does not support the Assad regime, and it is clear from his articles that he does not. He is concerned that this allegation currently rests on the Hansard record without challenge or correction. I am sure that you would agree, Mr Speaker, that it is important, in debate, that we argue on the basis of what those who disagree with us actually say, rather than what we might choose to attribute to them. I hope through this point of order to have corrected the record on behalf of my constituent.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his point of order and for his courtesy in giving me advance notice of his intention to raise it, as well as for sharing his intentions by letter and e-mail with the hon. Member for Braintree (Mr Newmark). For my own part, speaking from the Chair, I would not seek for one moment to interpose myself in a dispute or altercation between the hon. Member for Braintree and Mr Peter Hitchens. I think that the point stands as the right hon. Gentleman has made it, and I would just like to say that the hon. Member for Braintree said what he judged and judges to be right. He was perfectly entitled to do so, and I make no criticism of him. Mr Peter Hitchens is well known to me. I have been acquainted with him for a great many years and disagreed with him for almost all of those years on almost all matters under the sun, but it is a matter of almost uncontested fact that Mr Hitchens is a man of both provocative talent and unimpeachable integrity. We will leave the matter there.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I wonder whether you will indulge me with the benefit of your extensive expertise in all things procedural in this Chamber. I was pulled out of the shuffle for questions to the Deputy Prime Minister tomorrow but have subsequently been notified by the Cabinet Office that the DPM is refusing to answer my question on constitutional reform. Can you offer me guidance as to how I may challenge that decision, so that the Deputy Prime Minister is held accountable by Members of this House?