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Benefit Cap (Employment)

Volume 594: debated on Monday 9 March 2015

The benefit cap is having a positive impact on people’s lives. I believe it is encouraging them to find work. The statistics show that. [Interruption.] Yes, they do. Those affected by the cap are 41% more likely to go into work than a similar uncapped group. It is under this Government that we are seeing long-term unemployment fall to its lowest level since 2009. The employment rate, at 73.2%, has never been higher.

I had good cause this weekend to reflect on where I grew up. It breaks my heart to think that so many people spend such a long time on long-term welfare and state handouts. In Windsor, the number of people claiming benefits for more than a year has fallen by almost two-thirds, to just 70 people. That lifts my heart. Does the Secretary of State agree that we have a moral and social imperative to ensure that people are able to make their way from welfare to work and have a meaningful life?

I agree with my hon. Friend. There is a fairness element: before we introduced the cap, about £9 million a year was being spent on fewer than 300 families. When asked, 73% of the public support the benefit cap and 77% agree it is fair for no household to get more than the average working household after tax. It seems like the only group that absolutely opposes the cap is the Labour party.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that our changes to benefits regulations have ensured that record numbers of people are now in work, and that this coalition Government are delivering jobs, prosperity and growth and that the only alternative from Labour Members is more debt, deficit and dole queues?

As ever, my hon. Friend puts it succinctly—but that does not stop me answering his question. He is right. There are three figures that are really important. The Minister for Employment, my right hon. Friend the Member for Wirral West (Esther McVey), talked about bringing down unemployment. Under this Government, the International Labour Organisation 12-month-plus employment rate for 16 to 24-year-olds—the hardest to help—is down 59,000 on the year and 16,000 on the election; the 24-month-plus rate is down 30,000 on the year and 2,000 on the quarter; and of those in social housing, never, since records began, have we had so many households in work. That is the real reason for the Government’s long-term economic plan.

Those on both sides of the House agree that it is important to encourage and support people into work, but under the new benefit cap announced by the Prime Minister, there is not a single three or four-bedroom property that somebody could rent when they need that safety net.

I think the hon. Lady is talking about the Conservative manifesto proposal—I am not sure what other cap she could be talking about.

She is nodding, but that proposal only brings the benefit cap back in line with average earnings, which are £23,000.

Through the cap, the Government have delivered fairness to the system and an incentive to go back to work, and as a direct result, more people are going back to work than ever before. We are asking people to take responsibility for their lives, just as those who are working and are not within the cap take responsibility for their lives.

Would the right hon. Gentleman like to meet a constituent of mine whom I met last week? She has polio, she fell down the stairs and broke her leg, and now she has to have a knee replacement. She is on benefits and has two children. The rent on their property is £400, and the benefit cap is £500, which means they are living on £100 a week. Would he like to meet them?

I am happy to speak to anybody the hon. Lady wants me to speak to about this matter. I believe that the benefits system in the UK helps those in the greatest difficulty—there is plenty of access to things such as hardship funds if that lady is having difficulty temporarily after breaking her leg—but if it is the hon. Lady’s belief that a Labour Government would increase spending on welfare, perhaps she could encourage those on her Front Bench to be honest about it and say so.