I thank the hon. Lady for her question and for her campaigning in this area. I would like to take this opportunity to offer her my condolences, not having spoken to her before.
I am currently reviewing all policy on welfare. The outcome will be announced when the work is complete, but as the Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, my hon. Friend the Member for North Swindon (Justin Tomlinson), said, it is our intention to protect the most vulnerable, including the disabled. I believe our reforms demonstrate our strong record of supporting disabled people. We introduced the personal independence payment to ensure more support is going to those who need it. More than 700,000 of those who were, once upon a time, stuck on incapacity benefits under Labour are now preparing or looking for work. Spending on disability benefits increased in real terms, and, as my hon. Friend has said, disability employment increased by 238,000 in the previous Parliament.
I thank the Secretary of State for his condolences.
My advice surgery has received people who are terminally ill, people with life-ending degenerative conditions, people who have been found fit to work despite both conditions, and those on attendance allowance have been told to use their attendance allowance to pay for their second bedroom, so that they are not affected by the bedroom tax. There is huge fear out there in the disabled community. May we have an assurance that those with disabilities will not be further affected by more cuts in welfare benefits?
Our purpose is to protect the most vulnerable. It has been from the beginning, and it will continue to be. There is, therefore, no reason for people to be fearful, and I hope that Opposition Members will not whip up such fearfulness, although I am by no means accusing the hon. Lady of that.
We must review welfare spending, but we want to do so in a way that actually changes lives. We felt that much of the huge increase in welfare spending under the Labour Government—an increase of some 60%—went to the wrong people who were not doing the right thing. That is the key point. Our purpose is to reform welfare in order to get people back to work, and to ensure that those who cannot manage and have disabilities are treated with the utmost kindness and given the utmost support.
There are many unpaid carers in my constituency. Does my right hon. Friend agree that flexible working patterns can be an important part of support for them? What encouragement can the Government give employers and employees who need to embrace such flexibility?
Universal credit will be of enormous help to people with caring responsibilities, and others who are periodically required to be at home, because it will pay to be in work for every single hour. Moreover, under universal credit, as part of the in-work allowances, we have included an extra piece of support for those who care for others, on top of the carer’s allowance.
Disabled people do not want kindness; they want justice, and access to the benefits that can help them to live their lives. Will the Secretary of State give them a cast-iron guarantee that there will be no cuts in their benefits, no cuts in tax credits, and no cuts in the disability premiums that tax credits can bring? Disabled people need those assurances, given that, we understand, the Secretary of State has now agreed with the Chancellor that we are to expect welfare cuts amounting to £12 billion.
Let me remind the hon. Lady what happened during the last Parliament, under a Conservative Government. Spending on disability living allowance was up by half in the decade before PIP came in, and just 6% of new claimants had face-to-face assessments. Under PIP, 20% of claimants receive both the higher rates, as opposed to 16% under DLA. Our reforms are about helping those in the greatest need. Let me remind the hon. Lady of something else as well, just in case she has forgotten. We did debate the overall figure of £12 billion, and Labour lost the election. I remember something that was said by the hon. Member for Leeds West (Rachel Reeves), who is not with us for the moment—I send her my best. She said:
“Labour will be tougher than the Tories when it comes to slashing the benefits bill.”
Is it not a bit of hypocrisy on the part of Labour Members to come here and make their claims, having said that they would be tougher than we are?
Labour will be tougher in cutting benefits when that is a response to the wrong drivers of those benefits. What we will not tolerate is cuts in benefits for people who are in work and who need those benefits to enable their work to pay. May I ask the Secretary of State about some of the work-related benefits for disabled people? Will he confirm that there will be no cuts and no downgrading of the payments to people on employment and support allowance in the work-related activity group, and will he tell us whether industrial injuries disablement benefit will be protected from cuts?
The hon. Lady really needs to think carefully about what she says. Labour Members say that they will be tougher than us. Let me give the hon. Lady a simple pledge: we will protect the most vulnerable. There is only thing that is tough at the moment —tough on Labour Members: they lost the election. They had no idea of how they were going to end the deficit, and that is why they are sitting on the Opposition Benches.