With your permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement.
It is a privilege to stand here at the Dispatch Box as the new Secretary for Work and Pensions. First, I would like to pay a huge tribute to the work of my predecessor, my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr Duncan Smith). He came into this job six years ago with a real sense of mission and purpose to transform people’s lives for the better and he achieved some remarkable things. I intend to build on that success.
As a one nation Conservative, my vision is to support everyone to achieve their full potential and to live independent lives. That means people having the stability and security of a decent job, and children growing up in a home with the benefit of that stability. There are now over 2 million more people in work than in 2010 and almost half a million more children now grow up seeing a mum or a dad go out to work each day. We are ensuring these opportunities extend to all those in our society, including disabled people.
Today, there are more than 3 million disabled people in work. In the past 12 months alone, 152,000 more disabled people have moved into work, with 292,000 more in the past two years. That represents real lives transformed as we support people with disabilities and health conditions to move into work and benefit from all the advantages that that brings. We are also supporting the most vulnerable and are determined that those with the greatest need are supported the most. Our reforms have seen support for disabled people increase. In the previous Parliament, spending rose by £3 billion. We are now, rightly, spending about £50 billion on benefits alone to support people with disabilities and health conditions. Devoting that level of resources to such an important group of people is, I believe, the mark of a decent society.
Personal independence payments were introduced to be a more modern and dynamic benefit to help to cover the extra costs faced by disabled people, something its predecessor benefit, the disability living allowance, did not do. PIP is designed to focus support on those with the greatest need and we have seen that working. For example, 22% of claimants are receiving the highest level of support, compared to 16% under the predecessor benefit DLA.
Before Christmas, the Government held a consultation on how part of the PIP assessment worked in relation to aids and appliances. As the Prime Minister indicated on Friday, I can tell the House that we will not be going ahead with the changes to PIP that had been put forward. I am absolutely clear that a compassionate and fair welfare system should not just be about numbers; behind every statistic there is a human being, and perhaps sometimes in government we forget that. So I can also confirm that after discussing this over the weekend with my right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Chancellor, we have no further plans to make welfare savings beyond the very substantial savings legislated for by Parliament two weeks ago, which we will now focus on implementing.
I turn directly to the welfare cap. It is right that we monitor welfare spending carefully. The principle of introducing a welfare cap is the right one, given the huge increases in welfare spending under previous Labour Governments—up nearly 60%. If we do not control the public finances, it is always the poorest in society who pay the biggest price, so we need that discipline. The welfare cap strengthens accountability and transparency to Parliament—something that simply was not in place under Labour—and we make no apology for this. As we are required to do, we will review the level of the cap at the autumn statement, when the Office for Budget Responsibility formally reassesses it, but I repeat that we have no further plans to make welfare savings beyond the very substantial savings legislated for by Parliament two weeks ago, which we will now focus on implementing.
Against that backdrop, I want to build on the progress we have made in supporting disabled people. We made a manifesto commitment to halve the gap between the proportion of disabled people in work compared with the rest of the labour market. As I have outlined, we have made good progress in supporting disabled people into work, but to go further will require us to work in a way we have not done before and to think beyond the artificial boundaries of organisations, sectors and Government Departments to an approach that is truly collaborative. That is why today I want to start a new conversation with disabled people, their representatives, healthcare professionals and employers. I want the welfare system to work better with the health and social care systems. Together we can do so much better for disabled people.
This is a hugely complex but hugely important area of policy to get right. Disabled people themselves can provide the best insight into how support works best for them. I am determined, therefore, that all views will be listened to in the right way in the weeks and months ahead, and I will be personally involved in these discussions. The events of recent days demonstrate that we need to take time to reflect on how best we support and help to transform people’s lives. That is the welfare system I believe in, and I commend this statement to the House.
I start by saying “Croeso a llongyfarchiadau”—welcome and congratulations —to the new Secretary of State. He and I have history at the Wales Office, and I look forward to renewing our relationship. On the basis of today’s statement at least, it looks like it will be a bit more productive than the one I had with his predecessor. I thank him for advance sight of the statement and welcome the vital and wholly inevitable U-turn on the cuts to PIP.
The way this mess has been handled is a textbook example of Tory social security policy—long on divisive rhetoric and totally lacking in competence and compassion. We had the lies before the election; the sham consultation—I welcome the new Secretary of State saying he will listen to the disabled, but the Government should have listened to them in the consultation, when 95% told them not to go ahead, instead of listening to just 11 respondents and putting it through—the announcement snuck out on a Friday night; the briefings before the Budget, the spin afterwards, the extra £20 million set aside to fight the appeals; but, above all, the deliberate targeting of disabled people to pay for tax cuts in the Budget, as exposed so mercilessly by his processor, the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr Duncan Smith), at the weekend.
However entertaining it has been watching this Tory civil war over the weekend, what really matters are the 640,000 disabled people who have been in the firing line of the Prime Minister’s Budget, so on their behalf I sincerely thank the new Secretary of State for doing the right thing and reversing the cuts to PIP.
But however welcome that decision, the manner in which it came about leaves many questions unanswered and strips all credibility from the claims of this Government and this Prime Minister to protect all the people of Britain. Never again can he or this Government claim that we are all in it together. Never again can he claim to lead a one nation Government, because the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green has left that claim in tatters. Speaking from the heart of the Tory Government, he said that their “unfairness” is damaging the people: it is attacking the poor and dividing our nation.
So my question, quite simply, to the new Secretary of State is: does he agree with his predecessor about the fundamental unfairness of those welfare policies and is that why he is reversing the PIP cut today? Can he reassure us that those cuts will be fully reversed? Can he reassure us that changes made to the points system under PIP will be dropped and that full support will be maintained for people who need, for example, help going to the toilet or getting dressed in the morning? Can he reassure us that this is a real U-turn, not another sleight of hand or sham, as we saw with tax credits? Disabled people need to know definitively today that they are being protected, so can he rule out any further cuts to the incomes of disabled people?
I presume the Secretary of State cannot, because I read in the statement that he refers to the “substantial savings legislated for by Parliament two weeks ago”. He did not say what he meant by that, but I can tell the House what he meant. What he meant were the cuts to the education and support allowance work-related activity group budget—£30 a week taken away from the best part of half a million people, who will lose £1,500 a year. We know the Secretary of State’s attitude to that, because he voted for it two weeks ago and he defended it just last week. In fact, on a blog—[Interruption.] Hon. Members would do well to listen to this: they need to know about their new Secretary of State. In a blog written last week, he said that those who were opposed to the ESA WRAG cut were engaged in mere “political banter”. Well, there is nothing fun for disabled people—it is not “banter”—about losing £1,500 a year out of their fragile incomes. So can the Secretary of State be serious and tell us: did he mean the ESA WRAG cut? Is there no chance that he is not going to agree with his predecessor that that, too, is unfair and reverse it, as he should?
Thirdly, could the Secretary of State confirm for us—and correct the errors made once more from the Dispatch Box by his hon. Friend the Financial Secretary earlier today—that spending on disabled people in this country is not increasing in real terms, as was alleged, but declining? The independent Institute for Fiscal Studies confirmed last week that spending on PIP and DLA is falling in real terms by 3%, or £500 million. In fact, if we take into account all disabled benefits, as the House of Commons Library has done, in analysis for the Labour party to be released later today, we see that spending has fallen by 6%, in contrast with the 60% increase in spending on disabled people that we saw under the last Labour Government—6% down under the Tories; 60% increased for the disabled on our side.
Finally, I welcome what the new Secretary of State had to say about starting a new conversation with the disabled. He has made a good start with a U-turn, but will he decide now that he is going to put an end to the divisive rhetoric that has characterised this Government’s approach over the last few years? Will he stand up for a fair and progressive renewal of our welfare state—the system of support that should be there for us all when we need it?
The new Secretary of State stands at a crossroads today. He can choose the path trodden by his predecessor —to cut the incomes of the disabled; to defend the illegal bedroom tax; to take money from working families through universal credit—or he can choose the path less trodden by Tory Secretaries of State. He could reverse the ESA cut; he could scrap the hated bedroom tax; and he could truly speak in favour of disabled people, the poor and the vulnerable in our society.
Among the many extraordinary truths spoken by the Secretary of State’s predecessor yesterday was the shameful admission that these two nation Tories decided to cut people’s benefits because they did not think that those people would vote for them. It was extraordinary, it was shameful, and the new Secretary of State for Work and Pensions will have a hell of a job on his hands to wash that stain out.
Let me begin by saying “diolch yn fawr” to the hon. Member for Pontypridd (Owen Smith) for his welcoming remarks. It is good to renew the relationship with him that culminated so happily, for me at any rate, on 7 May last year, when he had to crawl out and explain why the Labour party had lost Cardiff North, Vale of Clwyd and Gower. I am very happy to be partnered with him across the Dispatch Box once again. He has lost none of his usual spiky style, and he retains what I described, when he was shadow Welsh Secretary, as a rather “pantomime anger” approach.
The hon. Gentleman asked me about my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green . I was, and am, very proud to have served in a Government with my right hon. Friend, who has a superb record as a social reformer. His record over the last six years compares, any day of the week, with the record of Labour Governments when it comes to welfare reform.
There was a time when Labour Members used to speak the language of welfare reform. There was a time when they liked to pretend that they understood that a benefits system that traps people in poverty is not a benefits system based on compassion and fairness. The time when they talked that language was a time when the British public considered them to be a serious prospect to be voted into government. That was a long time ago.
I have no intention of repeating my statement word for word. I thought that I had been crystal clear about the fact that we are not proceeding with the proposed changes in the personal independence payment. I am sorry if the hon. Gentleman was not listening carefully enough. We are increasing real support for disabled people, in real terms, over the lifetime of this Parliament, and the hon. Gentleman should not stand at the Dispatch Box and say that we are not, because it simply is not true.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his appointment, and join him in paying tribute to our right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr Duncan Smith), who spent many years bringing passion, commitment and dedication to his post as Work and Pensions Secretary and who will be sorely missed in many quarters.
I am delighted that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is going to take the opportunity presented by the current focus to open his dialogue with disabled people and disabled groups. May I ask him to consider particularly how the welfare system works for people with autism? I hope that he will agree to meet me, along with representatives of the National Autistic Society and members of the all-party parliamentary group on autism, so that we can discuss how the welfare system can work really well for this very important, and sometimes deserted, group of people.
I am, of course, very familiar with the excellent work that my right hon. Friend, and other Members on both sides of the House, have done with the all-party parliamentary group, and we certainly want to involve and include the group in the discussions that we are having. I should also put on record my appreciation of the fantastic work that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Disabled People has already been doing with disability groups and charities.
I welcome the new Secretary of State to his role and thank him for advance sight of his statement. I think he knows that he is inheriting one almighty mess. As the debacle has unfolded, there have been untold adverse consequences not just for those who depend on personal independence payments, but many others, such as those who are set to lose £30 a week in ESA, the thousands of low-income families affected by cuts in work allowances under universal credit, the thousands of mostly disabled people already affected by the bedroom tax, and the women born in the 1950s for whom the goalposts have been shifted relentlessly on their state pension age.
Last week, the Government proposed taking a further £4.3 billion out of the pockets of disabled people to fund tax cuts for the wealthiest. Even by their standards, that was a new low. I am glad that they have been forced to backtrack on the latest round of PIP cuts, but the policy’s problems are more fundamental. The PIP roll-out has consistently failed to meet the Government’s own implementation targets and has been dogged by inordinate delays. Meanwhile, the Government have missed every single opportunity to sort out the fiasco of the implementation of universal credit. Indeed, their cuts have butchered the aspects of universal credit that might have created work incentives. Instead they have hammered low-paid workers, in particular those with children.
I said last week that the Government have remained wedded to austerity as a political choice, even when that has meant a heartless and callous disregard for the wellbeing of disabled people. Now those same people have become pawns in an increasingly bitter Tory civil war. Parts of the social security system, including PIP, are set to be devolved to the Scottish Parliament, yet there has been wholly inadequate consultation and engagement with Scottish Ministers ahead of the changes coming into effect. I urge the Secretary of State to take the opportunity to go back to the drawing board not only on PIP, but on the wider social security reform agenda, including the cuts to ESA and work allowances. Will he meet disabled people and work with them? Will he meet me and my colleagues to identify a more constructive way forward?
I thank the hon. Lady for her series of questions. She listed several specific issues, all of which are high up in the in-tray that I have inherited at the Department, but I do not recognise her description of my inheritance. When I arrived at Caxton House yesterday and again today, I found that I had inherited an amazingly committed, passionate, capable group of civil servants and an amazing team of Ministers, who share a real determination to work together in unison to carry on reforming welfare.
On Scotland specifically, I have already checked the matter out and the working relationships in the Department, at both ministerial and official levels, with the Scottish Government are positive and constructive. I want to look at that and will be making an early visit up to Scotland. Perhaps we can carry on the discussion about the new devolved powers that Scotland will be getting.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend and welcome him to his new post. Does he agree that disability is an umbrella term? At one end of the spectrum, there are people with very serious disabilities, for whom independence is impossible. At the other end, however, there are many disabilities that should not preclude people from finding employment. Is not right that we focus spending on that group to help them to gain skills and lead a productive life?
I thank my hon. Friend for her question and for her warm and generous remarks. Her point is absolutely right. The term disability covers an immensely varied range of issues and people with different challenges in their life. The changes that we have been making to focus the most resources on those who most need the care of the state and the most vulnerable are absolutely right. Increasing the resources from £60 million to £100 million as part of the employment and support allowance changes will help more disabled people to achieve their aspiration of moving into the workplace.
I congratulate and welcome the Secretary of State to the Dispatch Box today. Did his officials brief him over the weekend on what has been happening to his Department’s budget? Being large, it has of course been singled out for cuts. Within those cuts, however, the pensioner budget not only has been protected, but has risen by 11%. All the cuts have fallen on those of working age. As he is now unsackable—it would be sheer farce if anybody moved against him—I urge him to reconsider seriously any further cuts affecting ESA claimants not only because justice demands it, but because he might face difficulties in getting them past the Back Benchers behind him.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman, the Chair of the Select Committee on Work and Pensions, for his kind remarks and for the message he sent me at the weekend. I look forward to some constructive discussions with him in the weeks and months ahead. I made it clear in the statement that we are not pursuing further welfare savings and not looking to make alternative off-setting savings to replace the changes to PIP that we were going to bring forward. I hope that that makes it clear for the right hon. Gentleman.
On Saturday morning, I had a remarkably well-timed visit to the Multiple Sclerosis Society’s south Devon branch to welcome it to Torquay and to speak to a number of its members, and I was given quite a lot of feedback. Will my right hon. Friend tell the House how he intends to take forward his dialogue with disabled people and disability groups over the next few weeks?
We are already in the process of setting up meetings with such organisations. As I said earlier, I will be building on some fantastic work that has already been done by the Under-Secretary of State for Disabled People, but I want to lead the discussions myself and find out what they are thinking and how best we can work with them. There is a lot of goodwill in the sector for what we are trying to do, recognising the long-term challenges of reform and of getting the health system to work far better with social services and employers to achieve far better outcomes for disabled people. I hope that all of us on both sides of the Chamber can unite around that aspiration.
The Secretary of State says that there will be no further savings beyond those legislated for. Will he confirm whether that means no alternative welfare cuts to meet the PIP cuts hole? Does it also mean not going ahead with the further £3 billion a year in cuts to meet the welfare cap on page 26 of the Red Book ? Given that he was part of the Cabinet that agreed to the Red Book, published last Wednesday, will he tell the House whether he thinks the entire Cabinet got it spectacularly wrong or just the Chancellor?
I welcome my right hon. Friend to his new position. He is a good man, and I think he will do a great job. He will of course know that the Conservative party has a proud heritage of welfare reform in areas such as public health and social housing. If he is to have a debate, it must surely be about intergenerational fairness and ring-fencing. Those of my constituents who see welfare reductions cannot understand why, according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies, we intend to spend another £900 million on Scotland and are ring-fencing the Department for International Development budget. We need to refocus our priorities on the most needy across our country.
My hon. Friend makes an important point on intergenerational fairness, about which a debate is emerging. If he looks at the changes to the state pension, half a trillion pounds is being saved over the next 50 years as a result, so the burden is being spread across generations, but there is an important debate to be had.
I welcome the Secretary of State to his new role and genuinely wish him all the very best of luck. I suspect he realises that he will need it. The problem is that there is a sense of double -unfairness in the Budget. Not only were taxes cut for the better-off while the burden on disabled people increased, but better-off pensioners were again completely protected while working-age people suffer another cut. Does he set himself completely against looking again at the problem of inter generational fairness?
My intention, very simply, is to look at all these questions with a fresh pair of eyes and with the support of a fantastic team of Ministers around me. The point the right hon. Gentleman is making is similar to the one just made by my hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough (Mr Jackson), and my answer is the same at this moment in time.
I, too, congratulate my right hon. Friend on his appointment and am glad the Government are not pursuing cuts to PIP. May I remind him that his predecessor showed great empathy and assisted me greatly with a constituent who had very difficult concerns regarding her disability? Will he note that not only do people with a disability have insight into how a policy may have an impact on them, but that they are the experts?
I completely agree with my hon. Friend on both counts. First, on the empathy of my predecessor, my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green, I can say that he was a man who spent years thinking about these problems in a very serious and considered way, and, as I said earlier, the Government should always be proud of his legacy. The second point she makes is about disabled people who experience these issues being the experts. We absolutely recognise that and want to put them at the very centre of the debate we are about to begin.
The Secretary of State may strike a different tone but in the end he is going to be judged by his actions. My constituents would like to know the following: will he scrap the bedroom tax? Will he scrap the cuts to ESA? And will he deal with the shameful treatment of older women and their pensions?
I say to the hon. Gentleman that if this is about judging by actions, I will happily stand by the record of this Government every day of the week when marked against the record of previous Labour Governments, who allowed the benefits bill to spiral out of control but left a legacy of long-term unemployment. They left hundreds of thousands of people who had not worked a day in their life with no effective support from the state to help them make the transition back into the workplace.
I welcome the Secretary of State’s statement and the commitments he makes in the House today. On Friday, I visited the Enham Trust, which is trading in Eastleigh as Mount Industries. It is turning over £1 million a year and nearly half its current workforce are people who are disabled or who have come off disability living allowance, having been supported by the Department for Work and Pensions. This Government are helping the company to grow and it is helping to create more jobs. I would like to see the Minister continue this work, alongside the changes we need to make sure we have the jobs and opportunities for people to come into the workforce, as they are doing in Eastleigh.
I agree with my hon. Friend on that, and the company she mentions is a great example. It is not one that I have had meetings with, but my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Disabled People has. It is exactly the kind of organisation we want to see replicated and growing throughout this country.
The new Secretary of State talked about being a one nation Conservative, but what does that mean to the UK’s 6.5 million carers, 52,000 of whom will have been worried about losing their carer’s allowance, with the link to the PIP changes? Those worries come on top of those of 60,000 unpaid family carers hit by the bedroom tax. Will this new Secretary of State start to consider the very people who provide the bulk of care in this country?
The hon. Lady makes a really important point about the vital role of carers in our communities and all across society. That is exactly why since 2010 the Government have spent more than £2 billion extra supporting carers, but I would always be happy to meet her and other groups representing carers to find out what more we can do to ease the challenges they face in their daily lives.
I warmly welcome my right hon. Friend’s appointment, and I know that he will respect the policy legacy of his predecessor. When he looks at pay progression in this country and the worthwhile pilot that his Department is undertaking, may I urge him to look creatively at solutions across government with the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and the Department of Health to ensure that we are not just satisfied to get people into work, but that we look to move them through the pay scales to sustainable, independent living?
That is a really important point from my hon. Friend, who serves on the Work and Pensions Committee and is very knowledgeable about these issues. It is not just about seeing more disabled people move into work—an increase in the number—we want to see more disabled people earning higher wages, too. I confess that I was not previously aware of the initiative he mentions, but I will certainly look into it to see whether we can expand it.
I think my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty) was being a little generous, because I am not sure we have even heard a change of tone today—we are hearing precisely what we heard under the previous Secretary of State. As we all know, the new Secretary of State is a patron of Pembrokeshire Mencap. Is he seriously telling us that in his listening exercises with its members they would have told him that they recognise what he said today, which was that the previous Secretary of State had a record to be proud of, that he transformed the lives of disabled people and that members of Pembrokeshire Mencap would be proud of the job he had done as Secretary of State?
I am not sure whether the hon. Gentleman knows anyone from Pembrokeshire Mencap or has ever been to Pembrokeshire in his life. It is made up of a special group of people doing fantastic work, and I am very proud to have been their patron for the past 11 years, supporting them in all kinds of practical ways.
May I congratulate the Secretary of State on his recent appointment and say that it is good to see Welsh MPs on the march? I am pleased to see that under this Government just under 300,000 more disabled people are in employment. That is positive progress, but does he agree that there is more important work to be done in this area?
Yes, my hon. Friend is absolutely right about that. He raises the issue at the heart of my statement today: we want to see society doing a much better job of supporting disabled people make that move into work. We had a manifesto commitment to halve the disabled employment gap that currently exists, but that will require lots of new ways of thinking and working across different sectors.
The Secretary of State, whom I congratulate, talked about a decent society. Let me assure him that he is not in a position to lecture the House on a decent society, given that Conservative Members voted to cut ESA, cut tax credits and introduce the bedroom tax, and just five days ago were cheering the very cuts that they are now decrying. He spoke about providing support for the “most vulnerable” and those in the greatest need to make sure that they are “supported the most”. The problem is that that excuse only works once. If someone has a disability, the chances are that they will not be cured. Will he therefore guarantee to the House today that those who are in receipt of PIP will not have to reapply for it, because their disability is so severe?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his welcome, and he raises a number of different issues. The statement I made to the House today was clear on some of the changes we are making, some of the ones we are not and some of the longer-term aspirations that I have coming into the Department. It is just day one for me, so he will forgive me if I am not quite on top of all of the specific issues he wants to talk about—I would be happy to have a meeting with him.
I welcome the new Secretary of State, as I am sure he is going to be an excellent one. I also thank the Government very much for their rethink, because last September Portsmouth had 4,400 people on DLA and since January 1,094 are now on PIP. What steps is the Department taking to ensure that all its communications to claimants are accessible to all and to reassure them that the help is there when they need it?
My hon. Friend raises an important point about communications with people who are disabled, and she will be pleased to know that within the Department, we recently set up a taskforce of stakeholders and interested parties to look at this very issue. This included organisations such as the Royal National Institute of Blind People, the British Deaf Association, Action on Hearing Loss, Sense and Mencap.
I congratulate the Secretary of State on his appointment. I hope his commitment to a more inclusive listening approach will deliver a more positive set of outcomes for disabled people, unlike the missionary zeal of his predecessor. Given that we now have a £4.4 billion gap—a big hole in the Red Book—will he say, as a member of the Cabinet, where the Government will find that money from? If it is from the welfare budget, which part of the welfare budget will be targeted?
That “missionary zeal” that the hon. Lady mentions in relation to my predecessor is a really important quality when one is trying to achieve big changes across Whitehall. As I have repeatedly said this afternoon, we have much to be proud of when it comes to the achievements of my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green. On the question of savings, we have another debate on the Budget tomorrow, in which my right hon. Friend the Chancellor will be speaking on that very issue. For the sake of absolute clarity, let me reiterate this: the Government have no plans to make further reductions in welfare expenditure.
The Secretary of State may be aware that the Government have recently accepted the recommendation of the independent Mental Health Commission to put more money into supporting those with mental health problems to get back into work. That is a totally new and radical approach to ensuring that people with mental health conditions can lead productive lives and get back into the workplace.
Supporting people with mental health issues has been debated many, many times in this House. There is a recognition across all parts of the House that, as a society, we have not always got it right, but as a Government we are determined to improve on that, which is why we are currently undertaking pilot projects worth £43 million, providing individual and tailored support, including face-to-face support, group work, online and telephone support, and the co-location of Improving Access to Psychological Therapies services.
The Secretary of State has indicated that disabled people are themselves best placed to inform him of their needs. As chair of the all-party group on disability, I urge him to attend a specially convened meeting of the APPG so that he can outline the changes and listen to disabled people’s concerns. Will he confirm today that he will attend that meeting?
Like me, my right hon. Friend was brought up by a devoted single mum. Does he believe that it is thanks to the fundamental welfare reforms and the personalised nature of support for those looking for work—those with disability and those without—that so many more parents are now finding good jobs and are better able to support their family?
Some of the most impressive people I meet, week in and week out, in my constituency and elsewhere are single mums. As a Government, we are doing far more than ever before to support people in those circumstances to realise their ambitions, to move into work and to achieve some quite exciting things in their careers.
The hon. Lady and other Opposition Members are trying to tease out a commitment from the Government that there will never, ever, ever be any other changes to welfare spending. Such a commitment would be absurd. We know that we need to carry on with reform. The commitment that I am making today, based on some very long conversations with the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Prime Minister over the weekend, is that we will not go ahead with the proposed PIP cuts, that we will not be seeking alternative offsetting savings, and that as a Government we are not seeking further savings from the welfare budget.
My right hon. Friend’s appointment is very much welcomed. He is a one nation, pragmatic and moderate Conservative from the tips of his toes to the end of his beard. I am the chair of the inquiry into employability by the APPG on multiple sclerosis, so does he accept from me that there is still huge anxiety among employers over bringing disabled people into the workplace? Will he work with our APPG and other groups to ensure that employers across the country are aware of the huge opportunity and benefits that those who are disabled can bring to their business and enterprises?
There really should not be any nervousness on the part of employers over hiring disabled workers. Disability Confident, into which we as a Government have put a lot of resource, is doing some really excellent work; indeed, I had the pleasure of participating in some of its work in my previous ministerial role. We have engaged a taskforce of experts to work on new and innovative ways to ensure that the scheme reaches small and medium-sized enterprises. Hopefully, in that way, we will support employers to hire more disabled people.
For almost three hours now, we have been addressed by a Treasury Minister, the Prime Minister and now the new Secretary of State, and yet we still have not had an answer to Labour’s very direct question of where the £4 billion is coming from. There are two possibilities: either the Government do not know, or they do know but will not tell us. Which is it?
We have explored that issue in depth for a long time this afternoon. There will be further opportunities later today and tomorrow in the Budget debate. Let me just repeat the commitment that I have made today: we will not be pressing ahead with the proposed PIP cuts; we will not be seeking alternative offsetting savings; and the Government do not have plans for further welfare savings.
I welcome my right hon. Friend to his new role. I see him as a ray of sunshine after a bleak few days. He will be aware that PIP is there to meet the extra costs of disability, and those costs have been rising rapidly. May I apologise for adding to his workload by recommending that he read Scope’s Extra Cost Commission report, which looks at how Government can reduce—and work with the private sector to reduce—those extra costs to ensure that PIP really does go further?
I am genuinely really puzzled as to why Labour Members cannot listen to and follow the arguments that we are making. I have repeated the Government’s position. I am sorry if the hon. Lady was not listening to the statement earlier, but it was very clear.
I welcome the Secretary of State to his new position. His personal background and experience mean that he knows the benefit of an effective welfare system. Will he assure me that he will continue his predecessor’s work of the past couple of years of getting 292,000 people back into work? At the end of the day, work and an effective welfare system are far more in tune with true social justice than the numbers that are being bandied about by the Opposition.
My hon. Friend is exactly right. When he uses the figure of 292,000, we should make it absolutely clear that we are talking about 292,000 disabled people who, with lots of support from the different initiatives of this Government, have made that transition back into work. That is a terrific record, but let us not be complacent. There is so much more to do if we are to achieve our manifesto promise of halving the disability employment gap.
I congratulate the Secretary of State on his appointment and wish him well. He faces a huge challenge, but he also leaves behind a huge challenge for his colleagues in the Wales Office in respect of the Wales Bill. With one bound he was free—or possibly not. I welcome his commitment to resetting the conversation with disabled people. The abandoned changes to PIP were apparently based on review of just 105 cases of the more than 600,000 people who depend on PIP, supplemented apparently by 400 further reviews after the decision was taken. Will he guarantee that before further changes to welfare are proposed, proper, independent research will be publicly available beforehand?
The kind of research that the hon. Gentleman talks about is always published by a Department ahead of any major policy change. There is a duty on Departments to publish impact assessments and to conduct their policy making in an open and transparent way. What I hope he has taken away from my statement today is my personal commitment to ensuring that as we look again at these really challenging long-term issues around disabled people moving into employment, I will be doing so in a way that is transparent, open and based on sound evidence.
Before coming up to London this afternoon, I held one of my regular surgeries in Upton in my constituency. One constituent who came was a disabled lady who was in work but wanted support from her employer and support in finding new work. What practical steps will the Secretary of State take through conversations with the disabled, with disability groups, and, importantly, with employers to ensure that we halve the disability employment gap?
One of the big challenges we have as a Government is working with employers to reassure them and support them in making good decisions about recruiting and hiring disabled people. We have a really important initiative in my Department called Access to Work. We need to publicise it a lot more and get more employers looking at it and accessing it.
We were all pleased to hear the Secretary of State say, “We have no further plans to make welfare savings beyond the very substantial savings legislated for”. Can he therefore guarantee that there will be no reductions in rates or eligibility criteria for any social security benefits in this Parliament?
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his appointment. There is no one more appropriate to take on the reform and social justice agenda of his predecessor. What is his Department doing for disabled entrepreneurs? May I remind him not to forget entrepreneurs who are disabled?
There are some amazing examples of disabled people who have set up really successful small, and not so small, businesses around the UK. In my previous role as Welsh Secretary, I recently had the pleasure of meeting a number of them in Cardiff. They are absolutely the kind of people that we as a Government need to be backing and supporting. Schemes like Access to Work are a really important part of that.
I welcome the Secretary of State to his place. I also welcome the Treasury’s retreat on cuts to PIP which he has been credited with. Will he use his new-found power to press the Treasury to make a further retreat on cuts to ESA and to properly fund the White Paper on health and work beyond the previously committed £100 million—and also, having had a commitment from his predecessor only last week, to have it published well before the summer?
I welcome my right hon. Friend to his new position. I can think of no Member of this House who could bring any more compassion and empathy to this new role, given his personal life experience. Does he agree that a fair welfare system should not just be about numbers?
It is about human beings, as I said in my statement. All the statistics that we talk about in this place have lives, families and individuals behind them, but it is especially important in the area of welfare and disability to remember that we are talking about human beings.
I welcome the Secretary of State to his post. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper) pointed out, page 26 of the Red Book commits the Government to £3 billion of cuts to meet the welfare cap. Is this not what his predecessor described over the weekend as
“too focused on narrowly getting the deficit down”
at the expense of the poorest? Is the £3 billion going to be honoured, and how he is going to deliver that?
One of the major problems that disabled people face is the prejudice in a society that talks about what they cannot do rather than what they can do. In leading the Department, what will right hon. Friend do to change that attitude to concentrate on what people can do rather than what they cannot do?
The can-do principle that my hon. Friend describes is very important, and it is at the heart of everything we are trying to achieve in all our welfare reforms. In the area of disability, the central understanding that my predecessor brought to the Department, along with the sense of mission and purpose, was to focus on what people can do. For people who genuinely cannot work and need the support of the state, we need to reorient resources to make sure that those who are the most vulnerable and need them most get those resources.
The Secretary of State would do well, though, to recognise that there are a lot of very upset and unsettled disabled people who, having heard the Chancellor on Wednesday, were very concerned indeed. The new Secretary of State says that he wants to “reset the conversation”. Does he not think he would do well to apologise for this appalling upset that people have felt over recent days? Will he use the word “sorry”?
I am not sure that the hon. Gentleman’s line of questioning is particularly fruitful. I made a very clear statement about what I am trying to achieve on day one in this new role. If he is looking for apologies, he should look to his own party’s Front Benchers and ask for an apology for the scandalous state in which they left the public finances in 2010.
I congratulate the Secretary of State on his appointment, but also pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr Duncan Smith) for his previous work. A good welfare system is an important safety net that is there when people absolutely need it, but the true route out of poverty is through education and work. This Conservative Government have not only got more people into work but raised the lowest paid out of tax by increasing the tax threshold and introducing the living wage. [Interruption.] As someone who grew up in a poor area of Labour-controlled south London in the ’70s, I can say that the lack of aspiration that is evident today is the same as it was then. [Interruption.] Does the Secretary of State agree that if you want a lecture about poverty, you should ask Labour, but if you want something done about it, you should ask the Conservatives?
Labour Members jeer my hon. Friend, who, with her own upbringing and her work as a cancer nurse on the south coast, has far more understanding, in real-life terms, of working with vulnerable people who need the support of the state than the Opposition are displaying.
When the Secretary of State says, “Read my lips—no more cuts to welfare,” he does not of course include the huge cuts in social security spending that have already been agreed and are still to be implemented. The Government website says:
“If you’re ill or disabled, Employment and Support Allowance…offers you…financial support if you’re unable to work”.
Only last week, he, as a Government Minister, was telling people on his Facebook page that people on employment and support allowance were able to work. Will he correct that, please?
I welcome my right hon. Friend to his position. I particularly welcome his commitments for the future and his decision to back Access to Work and Disability Confident even further. I shall shortly be holding a Disability Confident jobs fair in Worcester. I would be delighted if he came to Worcester at some point to see amazing businesses such as Dolphin Computer Access that employ large numbers of disabled people.
In the past five years, my hon. Friends have had a fantastic track record of running jobs fairs, putting themselves at the vanguard of the great turnaround in the employment situation in this country. I am conscious that about 50 colleagues have already been holding disability jobs fairs. I have not been to one, and I would love to come along to attend my hon. Friend’s.
One of the big challenges the new Secretary of State will have is that the lowest-paid civil servants are employees of the Department for Work and Pensions, with 40% on tax credits and many on social security benefit. First, when he is implementing social security reforms, will he commit to publishing an impact assessment of how they affect employees of the DWP? Secondly, will he address the issue of low pay among employees in his new Department?
The Department for Work and Pensions has a very good record on pay and conditions, and 80,000 people work in it across every part of the United Kingdom. I had the pleasure and privilege of meeting a few of them today, and I will be getting out and meeting far more people in the days and weeks ahead. The hon. Gentleman raises an important point and we will look at it again, but there is already a duty on the Department to publish impact assessments.
The welfare state is a safety net. If that safety net is to be sustainable in the long term, not only do we need sound economic policies to fund it, but we must work to challenge some of the underlying causes that lead people to need that safety net. Will the Secretary of State work across the Government to assist with the challenges facing people who have drug and alcohol addiction and other family breakdown challenges?
My hon. Friend raises an important point that has not been mentioned so far. The Government are focused on working with people who have drug and alcohol problems, and I point to the excellent work currently going on with the troubled families programme. That is key to creating lasting pathways out of poverty. It is not just about increasing the jobs available; it is about supporting people who have underlying conditions that prevent them from going into work.
The Secretary of State was keen to say that behind every statistic there is a human being, and in my constituency 1,586 human beings are in receipt of PIP and hundreds are on DLA and Motability. Some 13,000 people with disabilities lost their Motability claim last year. How will the Secretary of State ensure that Motability, which has had such a huge impact on the lives of disabled people, does not disappear down the plughole?
I welcome my right hon. Friend to his position. Like his predecessor, he shares a commitment to social justice, and brings real empathy born out of his personal experience. In Fareham, I have been working with local residents to set up a support group for sufferers of epilepsy. More than 600,000 people in the country have that condition, yet many of them still encounter insensitivity and prejudice in society. What steps are the Government taking to raise awareness in schools and the workplace, so that that stigma is smashed?
Through her work in this place my hon. Friend is a powerful voice on behalf of many vulnerable groups. Epilepsy is an issue close to her heart and those of other hon. Members, and I look forward to discussing with them how we can better address that issue and support people with epilepsy.
Last year, the Government tried to cut tax credits and that plan failed. This year, they tried to cut disability benefits and that plan failed. The House wants to know who is next. Let us be clear: has the Chancellor of the Exchequer told the right hon. Gentleman that his budget is now set to rise by £4.2 billion? It is a simple question—yes or no?
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his appointment and statement. In May, he and I stood on a manifesto that pledged to protect pensioner benefits, so I am sure that under his stewardship there will be no backsliding on our commitment to older people.
The Budget’s cuts to capital gains tax and support for the wealthiest in the country were paid for by spending cuts for the most disadvantaged in our society, which was immoral. The right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr Duncan Smith) said that he could not “watch passively” while such divisive policies targeted non-Tory voters. Why is the Secretary of State so craven and so keen to introduce such unfair policies?
My right hon. Friend has always walked and talked social justice, and he is the right person to take forward the good reforms of his predecessor. He emphasised the human dimension, and as he reflects on the additional costs for disabled people, which are reflected not only in personal independence payments but in social care, housing and the national health service, and as he works on future reform, will he reflect on bringing together all those factors, rather than picking off areas such as PIP?
My hon. Friend makes a crucial point that was at the heart of what I was trying to communicate in my statement. If we are serious about breaking down long-term barriers to people with disabilities moving into work, we must think in new ways and much more creatively and effectively across different sectors such as social care, healthcare, employers and education. We have a big challenge ahead of us, and I hope to bring fresh thinking and a new approach.
Such questions really ought to go to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and tomorrow the hon. Gentleman will have the opportunity to put them to him. This statement is about my Department and budget, and it is extremely clear that we are not pressing ahead with the proposed changes to PIP, that we will not be seeking alternative offsetting savings and that the Government will not be coming forward with further proposals for welfare savings.
Order. I am genuinely sorry to disappoint colleagues. This is a rarity because my objective is always to get in every colleague who wishes to speak on a statement, but every rule has its exceptions. I hope that colleagues will understand that I have to move on and that there is an element of rough justice when that happens.