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Topical Questions

Volume 609: debated on Monday 9 May 2016

As part of our reforms to give people greater confidence and certainty about what they will receive in retirement, we are improving the help on offer to people with keeping track of their previous workplace pension pots. I can inform the House that our new online Pension Tracing Service goes live today. This new service will make it simpler and quicker to reunite people with information about their lost pension pots; it will take a matter of seconds, rather than days, as under the old system.

I welcome enabling people to find their old pension pots, but what more can the Secretary of State do, and we do, to enable people to understand how much they are likely to receive from those pension pots, when they have found them?

My hon. Friend asks a good question. Many of our reforms of the state pension are designed to make things simpler and less confusing for people. Since the new state pension was introduced in April, everyone has been able to get a personalised state pension statement, based on the new rules, and there is a new online service, “Check your State Pension”, which offers a quick and accessible way for people to access information about their state pension.

I welcome the Secretary of State to his first DWP questions. He has started today by trying very hard to strike a different tone from his predecessor. He said in an interview last week that he wanted his Department and his Ministers to understand the “human impact” of their policies. What does he think the human impact will be of his plans to cut £1.2 billion from disabled people throughout the next Parliament? What does he think the impact is for the 500,000 people who are set to lose £1,500 a year in employment and support allowance?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for the kind words with which he started his question. He obviously was not listening to the earlier questions on this subject, because at the end of this Parliament we will be spending more than at the beginning of this Parliament on supporting disabled people. We will be spending around £50 billion supporting disabled people—far more than was ever spent under the previous Labour Government.

The Secretary of State seems to have forgotten already that in his very first speech he said that behind all those statistics are human beings. Disabled people will be disappointed that today he hid behind statistics once more and that he will not reverse the ESA cuts. Others will be disappointed that he refused today to address the concerns of women born in the 1950s, and still others that he has refused to address the cuts to in-work benefits under universal credit. In what way is the Secretary of State different from his predecessor?

We are a Government who have helped deliver the changes that have seen a huge fall in workless households. Nearly half a million more children are growing up in a home seeing a mum or a dad go out to work. There is no reason to change policies that are changing things for the better for those who have least in our society.

T4. Last week I had the honour of attending the national Young Enterprise tenner challenge final where two students from my local school, Mangotsfield school in my constituency, Archie Kenway and Joel Vadhyanath, received an award for turning £10 into a staggering profit of £3,289. Does my right hon. Friend agree that initiatives for young people such as the tenner challenge could help ensure that young people acquire valuable skills for the future in the workplace? (904905)

I wholeheartedly agree with my hon. Friend, who highlights not only the entrepreneurial spirit of those two young people but what we are doing in government through, for example, the new enterprise allowance, which has seen more than 80,000 businesses start up over the past five years.

T2. Changes to the walking assessment have led to nearly 14,000 disabled people across the country losing access to their Motability vehicles. That has caused some of my constituents to lose their jobs and their independence. Why is the Secretary of State punishing disabled people in this way? (904903)

T6. The business case for universal credit identifies savings of £80 million a week in steady state after implementation. These come both from IT simplification and from the removal of barriers to getting back into work quickly. Will the Secretary of State confirm that there is a focus not just on delivering the technology, but on ensuring that those benefits will be delivered when the time comes? (904907)

Since I was made Secretary of State for Work and Pensions I have made a number of changes to the way in which the roll-out of universal credit is overseen in the Department, stressing the importance of a careful and controlled roll-out. The one outcome that matters for everyone is that people get their benefits paid on time and correctly, and our approach is making sure that that happens.

T3. The Resolution Foundation has calculated that universal credit could leave 2.5 million families on low pay worse off by more than £3,000 a year. Does the Minister agree that universal credit is abjectly failing to provide incentives to work and lift families out of low pay, which we were told was its intention? (904904)

As I said to David Willetts from the Resolution Foundation, the author of the report, and as I say to every Member who seeks to criticise universal credit, “Go to your local Jobcentre Plus, go and sit with the teams of work coaches who are rolling out universal credit, and you will see the enthusiasm and the motivation as they see universal credit transforming people’s lives for the better.”

T7. In anticipation of the White Paper on disability, will my hon. Friend embrace Leonard Cheshire’s Change100 programme, which allows disabled graduates to gain paid employment with major employers? (904908)

That is a fantastic initiative. I work very closely with Leonard Cheshire. It is exactly the sort of programme that should help shape our plans to help disabled people access work.

T5. I recently asked a written question about the equality analysis that was carried out on the PIP consultation documents, and I was astounded to find out that the Department has only to pay due regard to the equality aspects of decisions, and that it was up to the Department to decide whether to publish that analysis. Does the Secretary of State agree that in the spirit of full transparency equality analyses must be published and made publicly available? (904906)

We also have the independent reviews. The previous one was carried out by Dr Paul Gray and we will be looking to do a further review. Let us not forget that under PIP 22% of claimants access the highest rate of benefit, compared with just 16% under disability living allowance.

A constituent of mine has multiple sclerosis and, for the past nine years, acting on the advice of her council, she has used her disability living allowance to pay the mortgage on the family’s adapted bungalow. She has now been informed that, with PIP, she will no longer be able to do that, and she and her family risk losing their home. The change could have a devastating impact on many families up and down the country. Will the Minister look into the matter and ensure that this scenario does not happen?

I would be happy to look into the details, but local authorities do have access to the £870 million for discretionary housing payments. We have also regularly updated the guidance for local authorities to help such individuals.

T8. The Government intend to replace the current statutory child poverty measures with new measures of life chances. Researchers at the London School of Economics analysed responses to the Government consultation on child poverty measurement and found that 99% of respondents believed income and deprivation should be included. Does the Minister agree or disagree with them? (904909)

What we are focused on—more than any previous Government—is tackling the underlying causes of poverty. One of the hon. Gentleman’s colleagues talked earlier about entrenched poverty; if we are going to tackle entrenched poverty, we need a coherent, integrated life chances strategy that focuses on the underlying causes and on some of the measures and indicators that track them.

Rugby was in the first group of jobcentres to introduce universal credit for single people, and it is now introducing the benefit for families. Will the Minister join me in paying tribute to staff at Rugby jobcentre for their hard work and flexibility in implementing this important change?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right: staff at Rugby Jobcentre Plus have done a brilliant job, as have staff in jobcentres all over the country, in rolling out universal credit. They are achieving some really important things.

Order. I do not want to keep our VIPs waiting too long—and they are our VIPs today—but there are a couple more Members whom I wish to accommodate.

The latest analysis shows that the young people referred to in Question 3 stand to lose between £30,000 and £20,000 over their retirement, as a direct result of Government policy. Will the Minister explain how that contributes to intergenerational fairness?

The whole purpose of the auto-enrolment system is to make sure that people can supplement the state pension. At the moment, 10 million people are eligible for auto-enrolment, and we expect 9 million of them to take up that offer. Those 9 million people will end up saving and, in many cases, saving more than they do at present.

Is the Secretary of State aware that he will be assessed on how far he is willing to stand up to the Chancellor over cuts that hit the most vulnerable? His predecessor was not willing to do that until the last moment. Has the Secretary of State got more courage and guts than his predecessor?

The hon. Gentleman is wrong to try to focus on divisions between the Treasury and the DWP. When a Department such as the DWP spends between a quarter and a third of all taxpayers’ money, we need to make sure that it is working closely aligned with the Treasury to achieve the things we want to achieve as a Government.

I have a constituent, Lisa, who has spina bifida; she suffers constant pain and balance problems, and she needs a walking stick. She was forced to struggle 25 metres from the reception area to an assessment room for PIP. Surprise, surprise, she was then classed as mobile enough to walk more than 20 metres. How can the Minister convince us that that was a fair and just assessment? When will he end this ridiculous 20-metre rule?

First, any claimant who has difficulty attending an assessment centre can request a face-to-face assessment in their own home. Secondly, with regard to how far somebody can travel in an assessment, this is not just a black-and-white issue of 20 metres; it is about whether they can do that safely, repeatedly, to an assessable standard and in a reasonable time. If a claimant is unhappy with a decision, they can ask for a mandatory reconsideration or an independent appeal.

One of my constituents who works 16 hours a week and is a carer for a disabled relative has discovered that because of the living wage she no longer qualifies for carer’s allowance, leaving her with a substantial shortfall. Why on earth have this Government forced her and thousands of others into this desperate situation?

We as a Government spend £2.3 billion a year in supporting the invaluable work that carers do in this country. The impact of the national living wage will always be reviewed.

One hundred and forty thousand pensioners who paid into occupational pension schemes, including those of Allied Steel and Wire in my constituency, have been done a historical injustice by losing out on the full amount they paid in and are entitled to. Will the new Secretary of State meet the Pensions Action Group and representatives of those pensioners to discuss their concerns?

I have met the action group on previous occasions. We continue to look at all these issues. The hon. Gentleman is aware that other very high-profile cases are currently looking for the support of the Pension Protection Fund.

Physical inactivity costs the UK some £8 billion. I had an excellent meeting with the Secretary of State’s predecessor before he decided to leave the job. May representatives from Leeds Beckett University, which does wonderful work in this area, and I have a meeting with the Secretary of State to discuss this?

The Secretary of State is reportedly set to reduce the benefits cap by up to £6,000 per year. Who does he think will miss out most from this? Does he think that private landlords with out-of-control rents will just accept £500 a month less, or that children, who have no control over any aspect of their lives, will be the ones to suffer yet again?

The changes to the benefit cap have already been legislated on and passed by this Parliament. I urge the hon. Lady to look at the results of the earlier changes to the benefit cap, which have had really positive outcomes in encouraging and supporting more people into work.