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Workless Households

Volume 603: debated on Monday 7 December 2015

With your permission, Mr Speaker, given the weekend’s events in my borough, may I take the opportunity, on behalf of myself and colleagues in all parts of the House, to wish a speedy recovery to those who were injured by the tragic events at the tube station in Leytonstone?

When we took office, almost one in five households had no one in work and around 1.4 million people had been on benefits for most of the previous decade. Since 2010 the number of workless households has fallen by over 680,000 to its lowest level since records began.

My constituency covers the major part of Bracknell Forest. In 2014 it had the second highest percentage of working households in the country. Does my right hon. Friend agree that continuing to encourage households into work is one of the most effective ways of improving the life chances of everyone in that family?

My hon. Friend is right that growing up in a working family is crucial for the life chances of children. When this Government took office, there were more than 2.5 million children growing up in workless households. That has fallen by nearly half a million since 2010. By targeting worklessness, the five new life chance measures that we have introduced will make an enormous difference to children’s lives. I understand that there are now almost no workless households in the south-east.

I ask the Secretary of State to be a little careful—none of us should get complacent about worklessness. Has he seen the research in the United States on the Uberisation of work, when people cease to have good employers with pensions, rights and contracts, and are increasingly pushed into self-employment, where they have no rights?

By the way, I welcome the hon. Gentleman back. It is good to see him back in his place; I understand he has had some difficulties with health treatments.

The hon. Gentleman would be right, if that were the trend and the direction in which we were going. It is interesting that there is a difference between us and the United States. The vast majority of the jobs that have been created here are white-collar and full-time. That is important. Although we think that people being self-employed is excellent for those who choose to do it, we are seeing a huge trend in supported jobs with full pay and full-time work.

The selling point of the Government’s universal credit scheme was that it was supposed to increase work incentives. However, the reduction in work allowances in universal credit due to take effect in April next year will leave around 35,000 working households with no transitional protection and thousands of pounds worse off. Does the Secretary of State accept that these changes will actively disincentivise people to go into work, particularly lone parents?

I do not. Universal credit is acting as a huge incentive to go back to work. Even the statistics published over the weekend show that universal credit means that people are 8% more likely to go into work than was the case with jobseeker’s allowance. I remind the hon. Lady that jobseeker’s allowance has been seen by many in the western world as one of the most successful back-to-work benefits. Universal credit performs even better than jobseeker’s allowance by some considerable degree.

With respect, the Secretary of State did not answer the question about the 35,000 households and about transitional relief coming into effect for April 2016, so I ask him again: what about those people who stand to be thousands of pounds worse off in April?

As I said before, first, people are getting back to work. Secondly, those who are on universal credit at present will be fully supported through the flexible support fund, which will provide all the resources necessary to ensure that their situation remains exactly the same as it is today.

I wonder whether the Minister has seen the figures that I have. May I take him from rhetoric back to reality? The figures show that although there has been a rise in employment in the past three months, the number of hours that we have worked as a country has fallen. It is a good thing that unemployment has gone down, but surely we need to address under-employment, particularly when there are 3 million people who say they are under-employed. I saw that over the weekend his Minister for Employment was flogging temporary part-time jobs for people to dress up as Santa Claus, but perhaps it would be better if his Department spent a bit more time trying to ensure full-time permanent well paid work for people.

It is a bit rich for the hon. Lady to get up and start attacking the Government’s record of getting more people back to work, more people in full-time work and more people in managerial positions. When we took over from the Labour Government, there was a complete collapse of the economy, with people lucky to get a job and even lucky to get part-time work. Two thirds of the rise in employment since 2010 has been in managerial, professional jobs, and permanent jobs are up over 476,000. That is not rhetoric; those are realities.