Skip to main content

Commons Chamber

Volume 660: debated on Monday 13 May 2019

House of Commons

Monday 13 May 2019

The House met at half-past Two o’clock


[Mr Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions

Work and Pensions

The Secretary of State was asked—

Disability Living Allowance: Appeals Process

1. What progress her Department has made in improving the appeals process for disability living allowance. (910831)

I thank my right hon. Friend for the opportunity to meet him recently and reassure him that I am committed to looking into this area. I want to do and want my Department to do more to make sure we gather more information earlier so there is less need to go to tribunals and, where there is a need to go tribunals, the amount of time people have to wait is reduced.

I have a constituent, Susan Hatton, with an eight-year-old daughter, Jessica. Jessica suffers from achondroplasia; she cannot wash herself, dress herself or brush her own hair; she frequently falls over, is regularly on concussion watch and wakes up several times every night. Her mother needs help. In August, Jessica’s DLA was withdrawn despite her condition worsening. While an appeal was ongoing, the Department recommended she put in a second claim to hope for a better outcome. Eight months after that, they went to court and the judge said that because the second proposal was in play, he could not answer on the first one. So not only did my constituent have to wait an unduly long time for her appeal to be heard, but she now finds herself facing the entire process over again. Every month’s delay in fixing this problem is another month of deprivation, distress and uncertainty in very young lives. I know the Secretary of State is committed to correcting this problem, but I urge her to spend whatever it takes to do this as quickly as possible.

I thank my right hon. Friend for raising such an important case, and I am very sorry to hear of the circumstances he has set out today. I have set up a new process for listening to MPs about particular cases; I now have a surgery open to all MPs about a week after having oral questions, and if he wants to come along and discuss that case, or of course have a separate meeting about it, I will certainly do that.

The Secretary of State will have heard of Stephen Smith, because I wrote to her about him a couple of weeks ago. Stephen Smith was found fit for work, and by the time he went through the appeals system, he was obviously dying. He died shortly after the Secretary of State’s Department’s decision was overturned. What lessons does she draw from the tragic circumstances of this Merseysider, and when is she going to reply to my letter asking for an inquiry?

That is another very sad case. I have got the right hon. Gentleman’s letter and will be replying to it, and we will be looking very carefully at what can be learned from that example

I have a constituent who has now waited a year for a DLA appeal, having previously waited a year for a successful appeal. She is a chronically disabled teenage girl and faces endless errors in the Department and constant demands for more information and more signatures, and she has come to the conclusion that the Department has engaged in deliberate foot-dragging, not merely incompetence. What assurance will she have that thousands of cases like this, including the ones we have just heard, will be dealt with more expeditiously in the future?

I can reassure the right hon. Gentleman that we are spending more money and investing more effort to make sure we get the decision right first time. I am working very closely with the Ministry of Justice, which is recruiting additional people to make sure there is less of a wait for the tribunal. I know how distressing that wait can be, and I am determined to reduce that time.

In-work Poverty

There is clear evidence that work offers people the best opportunity to get out of poverty, and we now see record numbers of people in work. But it is not enough just to have a job; we want people to have good jobs and to progress in their work. And last month, this Conservative Government increased the national living wage, work allowances on universal credit and the personal tax allowance, providing the biggest pay rise to the lowest earners in 20 years.

I did listen to the Secretary of State’s answer, but she will know that around two thirds of children growing up in poverty have at least one parent in paid work. Work is simply not a straightforward route out of poverty for far too many families. Will she look again at the current levels of the work allowance and the taper rate for universal credit as an important first step in addressing this rising tide of in-work poverty?

There are many different levers that we can assist with to ensure that we reduce poverty overall and child poverty in particular. I have been focusing particularly on ensuring that more childcare is available and accessible to parents who want to get back into work, sometimes full time, so that the whole family income can be increased. That is a really positive way to try to assist people such as the hon. Lady’s constituents.

Some people working in Truro and Falmouth tell me that the faster technology changes, the more frightened they feel of being left behind. I therefore very much welcome the Secretary of State’s recent announcement enabling work coaches to support people in work to upskill and transition to better-paid employment, including in the new tech sectors. When will my constituents be able to benefit from this new service?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to say that some people are very concerned about this; they see the changing face of the workplace, and they are concerned about their own job security and skills. I am determined to ensure that we give people the skills they need and that we work with work coaches on projects to ensure that people get the right support. I would be delighted to work with my hon. Friend, particularly as she did such fantastic work in my Department, to ensure that her constituents are early beneficiaries.

We know that, from April, 15% of claimants are not receiving their first payment within five weeks. Will the Secretary of State tell us what action the Department is taking to ensure that claimants are paid in a timeous fashion?

I can reassure the hon. Gentleman that we are seeing constant improvements in the rate at which pay is received by claimants as early as possible. We have ensured that advance payments are available, and I am vigilant about ensuring that the figure of 85% for those receiving the actual application on time is constantly improving.

Will my right hon. Friend tell the House what safeguards are in place to help universal credit claimants with regard to the repayments of any debts they might have accrued?

My hon. Friend asks a very good question. Many universal credit applicants have already accrued debts, and sometimes they wish to take out an advance on their claim, which they would then need to repay over a period. We have been able to reduce the amount that they need to repay, from 40% to 30%, to ensure that they can keep more of their funds. I am constantly alert to the fact that people may have debts, and we need to be careful about the rate at which they need to repay, to protect vulnerable clients.

People with Disabilities: Employment

We support disabled people to enter employment through initiatives such as the Work and Health programme, which is expected to support 220,000 disabled people over five years, the personal support package, and the new intensive personal employment support programme. Access to Work approved support for nearly 34,000 disabled workers last year, and we engage with employers through Disability Confident.

Employment prospects for young people with hidden disabilities or who are on an education, health and care plan are much lower than the mainstream average. Supported internships offer a way through, but the take-up from employers is painfully low. Given that the Department for Work and Pensions is responsible for overall targets, may I ask the Minister to work across the Government to ensure that we can use the apprenticeship levy to fund employers to enable them to take up more of these excellent opportunities?

My hon. Friend has been a real champion in pushing forward the opportunities created through supported internships and traineeships, and through our efforts to open up apprenticeships to those with learning disabilities. I will continue to work with the Department for Education and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy to increase awareness among employers, and I very much welcome the fact that last year Access to Work saw a 28% increase in take-up for those aged between 16 and 24, in part because of the expansion of the supported internships.

Specsavers in Cheltenham has teamed up with the GEM project to recruit people with disabilities into the world of work, and the impact has been transformational, resulting in improvements in staff morale and in productivity. What more can the Government do to ensure that the message gets out that recruiting people with disabilities is good for the individuals themselves and good for society?

My hon. Friend has worked really hard to promote opportunities for employers in his constituency to employ people with disabilities. I welcome the fact that, over the past five years, this Government have seen an extra 930,000 more disabled people in work and that, for the first time ever, there are now more disabled people in work than not in work. The key is to give businesses the confidence to realise that they can benefit, and that this is a win-win for the disabled person and for the business.

My concern relates to the number of people who are dying after being found fit for work. Further to my letter to the Secretary of State, will she commit to publish the Department’s internal reviews of the cases of those who have died? Will she also commit to an independent inquiry? Will she ensure that if any evidence of wrongdoing by someone in public office is found, that information will be forwarded to the police?

This Government are committed to working with stakeholders and those with frontline experience to continue to make improvements. There have been two independent reviews of the work capability assessment, and we have accepted and implemented over 100 improvements. We will continue to do all that we can to improve the process for claimants.

17. According to the Office for National Statistics for 2018, 20% of disabled people have never used the internet, so what steps will the Department take to assist disabled people who are not computer literate to ensure that their claims are processed quickly and efficiently and that they are able to enter the job market where they can? (910850)

All claimants should be advised at the beginning of the process that there are alternative methods of communication. I welcome the introduction of the Citizens Advice provision across the jobcentre network, which is an additional layer of independent support, particularly for vulnerable claimants who may find it difficult to access services.

May I welcome the Minister to his post? As the National Audit Office recently pointed out, the number of disabled people out of work has stagnated at 3.7 million during the past five years, because increases in the number of disabled people employed have not been matched by a decrease in the number of disabled people who are out of work. Under the Government’s flagship Disability Confident scheme, it is possible to be a Disability Confident employer without actually employing a single disabled person. Will the Minister now commit to independent evaluation of the effectiveness of that flagship scheme?

The Government have actually delivered an additional 930,000 job opportunities for disabled people over the past five years, and for the first time more disabled people are in work than out of work. The NAO also welcomed our joint work with the Department of Health and Social Care, particularly in the area of mental health. As for the Disability Confident scheme, I welcome the fact that 49% of the businesses that have signed up have said that it helped them to recruit at least one additional member of staff with either a disability or a long-term health condition.

Young Vulnerable Adults: Universal Credit

4. What steps the Government are taking to support young vulnerable adults in receipt of universal credit who live in supported accommodation. (910835)

As announced in August last year, housing costs for all claimants in supported housing, including universal credit claimants, will continue to be met through housing benefit. Maintaining housing benefit for all supported housing reflects the particular needs of these vulnerable groups.

I welcome the Minister to his new role. However, is he aware of an issue with the Universal Credit Regulations 2013, which refer only to English county councils as relevant bodies? Supported accommodation provided by Scottish local authorities is not covered, even though those living in identical circumstances in accommodation in England will be covered and so will still be subject to housing benefit. Will he meet me to discuss the matter?

I thank my hon. Friend for his question. He is a passionate campaigner, and I recognise that that is a specific constituency issue. There is no difference in how English lower-tier local authorities and Scottish local authorities are treated within the regulations. Amendments to the regulations were introduced in 2014 to extend the protection to other supported housing, which was not previously included and was most likely to be affected by the welfare reforms. However, I would be happy to meet my hon. Friend to discuss this complex issue further.

Contrary to what the Minister just said, I have had a small group of constituency cases in which the Department for Work and Pensions does not seem able to decide whether people in supported accommodation should continue on housing benefit or whether their housing costs should be paid through universal credit. Will he repeat his clarification to make the situation absolutely certain, because the DWP does not seem able to decide in its own cases?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. I am happy to look at those individual cases. He can write to me, or I would be happy to meet him.

Mr Speaker, I could probably ask this question on the back of any question on the Order Paper. Broadband connectivity is very poor in parts of my constituency, which surely flies in the face of the Government’s best efforts to ensure that people who deserve benefits get them and that people who want to get back to work have that opportunity. What do the Government intend to do about the problem to help my constituents?

Too many young people who are sofa-surfing or, worse, sleeping rough are doing so because of problems due to universal credit delays and sanctions. When will the Government do an assessment of the impact of these delays and sanctions on vulnerable young people?

That is why, in recent Budgets, we have put an additional £1.7 billion into the universal credit system.

Care Leavers: Employment

This Government have introduced a £1,000 bursary for those starting an apprenticeship, the care leaver covenant and extended paid internship opportunities across the Government. I will build on the good work of my predecessor and meet employers to see how we can further improve job opportunities for care leavers.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that question. He is a passionate campaigner and supporter of Barnardo’s. The Department and Barnardo’s are developing a small work experience pilot for care leavers in a number of Barnardo’s high street shops. More broadly, the Government aim to use the care leaver covenant to secure 1,000 employment opportunities by September 2021.

Why is the youth obligation failing our young people so badly? More people on the youth obligation are falling out of benefits altogether. They are unable to maintain stability and are unable to go on to seek work.

I thank the hon. Lady for her question, but I gently point out that youth unemployment has halved under this Government.

Vulnerable Claimants: UC and the Legacy System

6. What steps her Department is taking to increase financial support for vulnerable universal credit claimants compared with the legacy system. (910837)

9. What steps her Department is taking to increase financial support for vulnerable universal credit claimants compared with the legacy system. (910841)

Universal credit makes sure that payments reach those who need them most. Around 1 million disabled households will receive, on average, £100 more per month on universal credit than on the system it replaces. As a single system that integrates six legacy benefits, universal credit will enable 700,000 households to access approximately £2.4 billion of welfare that was previously unclaimed.

I recently wrote to the Secretary of State about one of my constituents in Clacton and the severe disability premium. I set out in the letter how my constituent was moved on to universal credit in October but now says that she is £185 a month worse off. I know the draft Universal Credit (Managed Migration Pilot and Miscellaneous Amendments) Regulations 2019 will rectify her situation and provide a lump sum to cover the missed payments since she moved. This is welcome, but when does the Secretary of State expect the regulations to be voted on so they can become law, especially given the real need of some claimants now?

I thank my hon. Friend for raising this important matter on behalf of his constituent. As he will be aware, there has recently been a court judgment on the Universal Credit (Transitional Provisions) (SDP Gateway) Amendment Regulations 2019, and we will have to wait to consider it before I will be able to give him an update. I will come back to him on the earliest possible occasion, because I understand the concern his constituent must have on this matter.

Without a roof over one’s head, it is very difficult to get a job or to claim benefits. Without a job, it is almost impossible to afford rent, so what is my right hon. Friend going to do to ensure that universal credit claimants are helped and assisted not only to get a roof over their heads but to get back into work?

My hon. Friend asks a question about which he has done so much, and I start by paying tribute to his incredible work to help homeless people in the previous Parliament.

We recognise the concerns about homelessness, and I am determined to make sure we help homeless people to rebuild their lives. I recognise the link he so eloquently describes between jobs and homes. As part of the rough sleeping strategy, we will establish a single point of contact for homelessness at every jobcentre. I recently announced that we are increasing awareness of direct payments to private landlords under universal credit to protect vulnerable claimants’ rent. Many private landlords have told us that that will help to ensure that vulnerable people are able to stay in their homes.

21. Since the roll-out of universal credit in Redcar and Cleveland last November, I have seen an increasing flow of people coming to my office in crisis and desperation, such as the new mother who was receiving income support with tax credits but who, on transition to universal credit, has lost nearly £400 a month, including milk tokens. Universal credit is not working and it is hitting the poorest people hardest. When will the right hon. Lady do the right thing and fix this mess before more people are pushed into poverty? (910854)

I would ask the hon. Lady to work with us on UC and with her local jobcentre. The National Audit Office recently commented that the right thing is to continue with UC. I understand that it is often difficult for individuals who are concerned about moving from the six legacy benefits to one benefit, but my experience from talking to people is that even though they were concerned, once they are on UC they almost exclusively say that it is a better system than the previous one.

Shelter Cymru, a Welsh housing association, has growing concerns that tenants threatened with eviction who are dependent on UC payments are not able to meet the deadlines to settle arrears claims. Will the Minister consider allowing fast-track payments, especially for those facing eviction?

I would hope that the possibility of evictions will be reduced by our new plans to allow many more people to have their rent paid directly to housing associations and, increasingly, to private landlords. The hon. Lady raises an interesting point, and she needs to give me an opportunity to look at it; perhaps she would like to come to my surgery in the House of Commons next week or write to me about it.

Under UC, claimants will be treated as terminally ill only if they are not expected to live for any longer than six months. Owing to medical advances and the nature of some diseases, some people may live much longer than that, so what steps is the Department taking to ensure that those who are terminally ill but with a life expectancy of more than six months will be able to receive support through UC?

I thank my hon. Friend for raising such an important issue. It is so important that when people receive such a devastating diagnosis they are treated with care. So where a claimant has been diagnosed with a terminal illness but has a life expectancy of longer than six months, and they have satisfied the conditions of being treated as having either limited capability for work and work-related activity or limited capability for work, they will be submitted for an immediate work capability assessment referral. I hope that that answer satisfies my hon. Friend.

One of the clear vulnerabilities for people accessing UC is indebtedness; the Department’s figures show that 60% of all new UC applicants receive an advance payment. We know that people are in desperate need at that application stage, so will the Government consider making the advance payment assessment the first assessment and any advance payment the first payment of that person’s UC claim?

I understand where the hon. Gentleman is coming from and his desire to ensure that these people, who are often on very low incomes and in difficult circumstances, are looked after when they first make their application. We believe we have made the right changes to be able to address that, not only with the advance payment, but with the housing benefit run-on that comes after two weeks, which should give them additional funds in order to be able to support themselves. Of course we will also be introducing further run-ons of other benefits from next year. We are improving the ability of people to access money all the time.

The Government’s plans for payments to severe disability premium recipients who lost about £180 a month when they were forced to transfer to UC were found to be discriminatory by the High Court on 3 May. Severely ill and disabled people should not have to fight through the courts for the support they should be entitled to, so will the Government now ensure that people receive payments, as soon as possible, that fully reflect the loss they have suffered?

As the hon. Lady will be aware, my hon. Friend the Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work took an urgent question on this last week and fully answered the questions that many people in the House had. The issue is the access that we put in place through a gateway and whether it is the right amount—the amount that was paid previously or the amount that is paid subsequently. We have decided that we will consider this before replying in full to the Court.

New research from the Children’s Commissioner found that the introduction of UC, the two-child limit and the benefit cap combined will mean that the number of children in families struggling to make ends meet will almost double in some areas. The Trussell Trust distributed nearly 600,000 emergency food parcels to children last year. When will the Government wake up and once again make tackling child poverty the priority it should be?

Tackling child poverty and poverty in general is absolutely a priority of this Government, which is why we are so focused on ensuring that UC supports people into work as well as providing the necessary safety net. Last week, I made a speech about ensuring that there is additional support for people when they are on low income and finding new ways of getting better access to different skilled work.

Pensioners on Fixed Incomes

We spend more than £120 billion on benefits for pensioners, including the state pension, which is now worth £1,600 more than in 2010. Means-tested benefits are adjusted according to changes in circumstances, and it is not possible to say how many pensioners have had an increase or reduction, but it is the case that this Government spend more on pensioners than any Government have ever done before.

More than 750,000 pensioners are in receipt of disability living allowance, and those who turned 65 after April 2013 are being kicked off DLA and are forced to apply for personal independence payments. Many of them are not applying, and of those who do, some are not receiving PIP. Why are we not transferring these pensioners across automatically?

It is right to say that 75% of all reassessed claimants receive a PIP award, and nearly 67,000 more people aged 65 or over are on either DLA or PIP than when PIP was first introduced in 2013. I take my hon. Friend’s point, though, and the Minister for Disabled People will be happy to meet my hon. Friend. I am sure he would make the point that the Government spend more than £20 billion on DLA and PIP, which is up from £15 billion in 2012.

The inquest for my constituent Joy Worrall took place last Thursday. Joy was 82 years old. It was confirmed that she had committed suicide after the DWP wrongly stopped her benefits and her winter fuel allowance for a period of 15 months before her death. At the time of her death, Joy had £5 in her account. Will the Minister and his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State undertake, for the family, who have asked me to do this for them, an urgent inquiry into why Joy was not paid her pension or her winter fuel allowance for that period? Will he ensure that nobody will ever again commit suicide because of poverty?

The right hon. Gentleman rightly raises his constituent’s case; I have already spoken to him on two occasions. Our thoughts are with Mrs Worrall’s family and friends. The Government apologise unreservedly for the clerical error—it was a clerical error—that led to Mrs Worrall’s pensions payment being stopped. We have urgently reviewed our processes and acted so that benefits are no longer linked on our systems, to try to ensure that this does not happen again. There is an internal process review; I undertake to write to the right hon. Gentleman in the short term with what we know and with more detail when the urgent process review has taken place. I am including Mr Worrall in that process.

It would be helpful if every member of DWP staff were able to get to a Minister if something absurd was happening, rather than getting stuck in bureaucracy.

May I take the Minister back to his £1,600 extra? Will he review House of Commons briefing paper 01457, on the history of frozen overseas pensions for half our overseas pensioners? It is absurd that an agreement with New Zealand in 1948 and a written parliamentary answer in July 1955 should determine that people who leave this country to retire abroad do not get pension increases in half the countries around the world but do so in the other half. It is time that we had a proper debate and a proper decision, and got past the legalistic approach taken by this Government and previous ones.

My hon. Friend raises several points, but unquestionably the situation in relation to overseas pensions has been consistently enforced by every Government of every persuasion since the second world war, and there is no anticipation of changing that.

Of course, we will ensure that individual members of DWP staff up and down the country are able to go to their line managers and then to Members of Parliament or individual members of the Government on an ongoing basis.

Pensioner poverty halved under the most recent Labour Government; it has increased by 400,000 under this Government, with one in six pensioners living in poverty. Having broken one manifesto pledge on TV licences, Ministers are now breaking a second one, as mixed-aged couples are no longer being paid pension credit if one of them is under retirement age. How can the Government begin to justify the breaking of a solemn promise, particularly in circumstances where it will cost the couple concerned a staggering £7,320 a year?

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the overall trend in the percentage of pensioners in poverty is a dramatic fall over several decades. The rates of material deprivation for pensioners are at a record low at this stage.

On the hon. Gentleman’s second point, couples who currently receive pension credit or housing benefit will not be affected by the change, as long as they remain entitled to either benefit. Claimants who would be eligible for pension credit or housing benefit for pensioners under the current rules but have not claimed before 15 May have until 13 August to make a backdated claim.

From Carillion to BHS, workers’ pensions are being put at risk by bad bosses, sloppy practices and poor enforcement. We have campaigned against that injustice. The defined benefit White Paper has proposed stronger powers and penalties. Ministers have promised to introduce such legislation, which we would support. Will the Government keep at least this promise so that we can send out a joint message that says, “Never again a Philip Green”?

We are agreed across the House that there must be action on defined benefits so that we stop what took place with Philip Green, and to address that the Secretary of State has brought forward proposals in the defined benefit White Paper. We propose to bring forward a Bill, when parliamentary time allows, to address the DB White Paper, collective defined contributions, Dashboard and a number of other matters, and I look forward to working with the hon. Gentleman on a cross-party basis to make that happen.

Universal Credit

Under universal credit, our work coaches provide vital one-to-one support to all claimants. Work coaches receive appropriate training to ensure that they can offer support to claimant groups with a variety of characteristics.

As I understand it, the test and learn approach has been crucial to improving the system and getting it right for individual claimants. What key lessons have been learned and what steps have been taken to address them?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right: the test and learn approach has allowed us to adapt the delivery of universal credit to support claimants more fully. Examples include: abolishing the seven-day waiting period; the introduction of 100% advances; the landlord portal; and the flexible support fund being used to cover initial childcare costs.

19. It is no coincidence that, as universal credit has hit Ealing in the past year, food bank use has doubled. Ealing Churches winter night shelter and Ealing soup kitchen report unprecedented demand, and six deaths have been reported among users of the soup kitchen in the past year. Are the Government not ashamed that Christian charities are having to mop up thanks to the gaps in their policy, and when will they put in place the National Audit Office’s recommendation to look into hardship as well as spouting statistics at us? (910852)

Of course there is a range of reasons why people make use of food banks, but what is important is that the DWP makes sure that we get funds to claimants in a timely manner. The Secretary of State has already talked about the 100% advances and the two-week housing benefit run-on, and, of course, there will be additional run-ons coming on in 2020.

I have constituents in Stirling who would like to take up work or to extend their hours of work but cannot afford to pay the upfront costs of childcare. Can the Minister tell the House what is being done to help parents with upfront costs of childcare?

My hon. Friend raises a very important point. Under universal credit, up to 85% of childcare costs can be covered and, as the Secretary of State announced earlier this year, we are making the flexible support fund available so that funding can be provided up front to take care of childcare costs, which will help people get into work.

It is welcome that the Secretary of State has finally responded to pressure and abolished three-year sanctions, but failure to scrap this punishing regime entirely means, as we have heard across the House today, that many people including children will still suffer. Six months is a long time to go without money, so will she go the extra mile and abolish punitive sanctions altogether?

I welcome the fact that the hon. Gentleman has, in turn, welcomed what the Secretary of State has announced—it has absolutely been the right thing to do. Sanctions are not put forward indiscriminately; a very clear procedure takes place, and right now less than 3% of those who are on universal credit and under conditionality are getting a sanction. The average sanction rate is 31 days.

People with Disabilities: Employment

We support disabled people in employment through initiatives such as Access to Work, which last year approved support for nearly 34,000 disabled people; Disability Confident, to which almost 12,000 employers are now signed up; and the £55 billion we will spend on benefits this year to support disabled people, including those who are in employment.

Sarah Jeffers in Tooting requires a specialist wheelchair owing to her cerebral palsy. The Department for Work and Pensions has told her that she is required to pay £17,000 to fund the replacement of her broken wheelchair. Sarah’s job each day is to get disabled people back into work. However, without her wheelchair, she herself cannot work. The DWP has also stated that it cannot provide further funds for her wheelchair because she already receives support for her car from the Motability scheme. Will the Minister meet Sarah and me to discuss this complicated case?

The hon. Lady has been working brilliantly to support her constituent, whom we all want to remain in employment. From the details given to me already, it sounds as if Access to Work would have the potential to help with the funding towards her constituent’s wheelchair. I am happy to look into the details of the case as quickly as possible.

Women in Employment

The UK female employment rate has never been higher. The latest figures show that there are over 12 million women in employment in England, which is almost 1.4 million more than in 2010. My hon. Friend asks about his constituency. I can give him the figures for the east midlands, where there are 109,000 more women in work since 2010. The number of women claiming unemployment-related benefits in Northampton- shire has dropped by 28% in the last five years.

Against the background of record levels of employment in the Kettering constituency, will the Secretary of State confirm that, whether someone is male or female, young or old, able or disabled, employment prospects in Kettering have never been brighter?

I can confirm that employment prospects have never been brighter in Kettering, particularly with the strong advocacy of such an excellent Member of Parliament.

The hon. Gentleman can luxuriate in the lather of the praise conferred on him by the Secretary of State. Make sure it is bottled and keep it for a long time, man.

The question of women’s employment is very important to me. Is the Secretary of State’s Department doing long-term planning? Has she seen the recent research from Sheffield University and King’s College London that says that the very areas that voted leave will be the hardest hit post-Brexit, with a 17% to 20% decrease in GDP? Is her Department getting ready for this terrible situation?

I would like to reassure the hon. Gentleman that we are ensuring that we are prepared for any situation, whether that is leaving the European Union or changes to the workplace in general. We are working closely with the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy to ensure that we are prepared for changes to employment structures, and I have been making some comments on that issue recently to ensure that the necessary training is provided in the workplace in the private sector as well as the assistance that we can give.


The Government remain committed to tackling poverty so that we can make a lasting difference to long-term outcomes. This Government have lifted 400,000 people out of absolute poverty since 2010, and income inequality has fallen.

Very few people in Glasgow North moving on to universal credit feel as if they are moving out of hardship and poverty. As my hon. Friend the Member for Airdrie and Shotts (Neil Gray) said, 60% of claimants across the country automatically apply for the advance payment, which means that they automatically start receiving less universal credit as the repayments kick in, regardless of their means. How on earth is that helping to tackle hardship or people’s ability to manage their money? Will the Department urgently review the advance payment system?

The hon. Gentleman highlights the importance of ensuring that claimants do not go without any money, which is why we welcomed the improvements to make advance payments more accessible. Let us remember that, under the complicated six legacy benefits, more than £2.4 billion of benefits were left unclaimed every year, worth an average of £280 per month; that meant that 700,000 of some of the most vulnerable people were missing out on their entitlement.

A constituent of mine who is a single mother with three children was persuaded to apply for a loan to replace her cooker. The loan company took her details and made an application for universal credit on her behalf, unbeknown to her, and claimed a large advance payment that they told her was the loan. When she reported this to the police and to the DWP and asked them to look into her case, they insisted that it was a valid claim for universal credit. She has had her advance payment, and she is left—pregnant, with three young children—with no access to any money until the end of the month. Please will the Minister or the Secretary of State look into this and make sure that vulnerable people cannot be treated in this way?

The circumstances just described sound horrendous. We will absolutely look into that as a matter of urgency and report back as quickly as possible.

Unemployment Trends

15. What assessment her Department has made of trends in the level of unemployment in the UK since 2010. (910847)

The unemployment rate is at its lowest since the 1970s. We have record employment with more people in work than ever before, and wages have been rising faster than inflation for 13 months in a row.

The latest figures do indeed show that Britain’s economy is booming, unlike those of the rest of the European Union. Do the Minister and his colleagues on the ministerial team agree that the prospect of Brexit, with or without a deal, is driving forward the British economy and confidence in it?

My hon. Friend is of course right to point out that, despite any uncertainty around Brexit, the British economy is in good shape. We do have one of the highest employment rates in the EU, Britain is the No. 1 destination in Europe for foreign direct investment, and the IMF projects that our economy will grow faster than Germany’s this year. Unlike the Opposition, Conservative Members believe in supporting businesses and employers.

Ex-offenders: Employment

The Government know that getting ex-offenders into work is a crucial part of rehabilitation. DWP prison work coaches and jobcentre work coaches provide tailored support to ex-offenders. The DWP works collaboratively with Ministry of Justice on its education and employment strategy, creating a system where prisoners are on a path to employment as soon as they enter prison.

People from all walks of life have to undergo work capability assessments, but ex-offenders have complex needs and often institutionalised experiences. What measures is my hon. Friend taking to ensure that the assessors themselves are taking the appropriate measures?

My hon. Friend raises a good point. Healthcare professionals are subject to a rigorous recruitment process, followed by a comprehensive training programme in disability assessment for physical and mental health conditions, and have to be approved by the Department. They are then required to complete a programme of continuing professional development.

Reoffending rates among those who have served a sentence of less than 12 months are a staggering 64%. The Ministry of Justice has signalled a clear intent to move away from this model of sentencing. What discussions have Ministers had with the Ministry of Justice about ensuring that community-based sentences have substantive support around employment to ensure that reoffending is curbed and sentences deliver meaningful rehabilitation and workplace opportunities?

I thank the hon. Lady for her question. Being relatively new in post, I have not had those conversations as yet, but I do work very closely with my counterpart at the Ministry of Justice and will be having such conversations.

Working People’s Income: Universal Credit

18. What steps her Department has taken to increase working people’s income through universal credit in this financial year. (910851)

That is such a relevant question from my hon. Friend. The key difference between the legacy system and the universal credit system is that work coaches provide such a tailored, individual service, which will give his constituents the additional support they need to make sure they get the best financial reward from their work this year.

Cornwall has a higher than average number of self-employed people—about 60% higher than the English average. Being self-employed and claiming universal credit can present a number of challenges, particularly in the early years when starting out. What specific help are we giving to self-employed people who need to claim universal credit?

It is good to hear from my hon. Friend quite how enterprising his county is. I reassure him that work coaches provide additional support to allow those who want to become self-employed to do so via the new enterprise allowance, which provides mentoring support and additional financial support. We announced in the last Budget a one-year grace period from the minimum income floor for claimants joining universal credit with an existing business. All these efforts try to make sure that his constituents, and other people throughout the country, are able to set up their businesses and work self-employed and get access to universal credit.

I am sure that the Secretary of State has seen the comments made by the Children’s Commissioner based on research carried out by Policy in Practice. The Commissioners said that the number of children in families running a monthly deficit is expected to double in some areas as a result of the introduction of universal credit. Does she accept that this is completely disgraceful, and what is she going to do about it?

I reassure the hon. Gentleman that we care enormously about ensuring that there are fewer children in poverty than before. There are fewer children in poverty and fewer families in poverty since 2010. As we know, the best way to help people out of poverty is to ensure that families have work. I am ambitious to ensure that people in low-paid work can get into higher-paid work, which is why I made the announcements last week, ensuring that work coaches can give additional support.

Topical Questions

Employment is at a record high, with 32.72 million people in work. Overall, 3.6 million more people have entered work since 2010, which is on average 1,000 people each and every day, and the vast majority of them are in full-time, high-skilled jobs. I know that there are concerns about low-paid work, which I am determined to address. That is why I made announcements last week about new projects working with our excellent work coaches on job switching and with employers in the private sector, to see how we can help individuals across the country to access the better-paid jobs that will help them and their families.

If you were to look in the faces of the vast majority of people who have an acquired brain injury, you would not be able to spot anything wrong whatsoever, but inside is somebody who has a massive sense of fatigue. They might have major memory problems or have completely lost their executive function, unable to make proper decisions for themselves, but when the assessor from the DWP comes they will want to please them and will exaggerate the improvement in their condition. Will the Secretary of State guarantee that every single person who, on behalf of the DWP, goes to see somebody with a brain injury fully understands how brain injury can fluctuate?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising that, and I know how much he has done to support people with brain conditions. We are ensuring that we do that through the welfare system, so that those with acquired brain injury and associated neurological complications receive the right support, but I recognise the issue he raises. We are doing more to ensure that our health assessors have all the necessary training, so that they are able to recognise different challenges, such as acquired brain injury.

T3. Can the Secretary of State confirm that, since 2010, 650,000 fewer children are growing up in workless households, giving them the benefit of a higher family income and providing them with a role model in the world of work? (910858)

I can confirm that. We are ambitious to ensure that we continue to take children and families out of poverty, and we acknowledge that there is more to be done. I believe that the best way to do that is to focus on growing a strong economy, with better-paid jobs, and ensuring that those on lower incomes can access those jobs.

Last week, the Secretary of State kept her name in the Tory leadership fray by admitting that social security sanctions can “undermine” the aim to help people into work and reducing the longest sanctions from three years to six months, which we welcome, but will her review of sanctions include the possibility of scrapping them altogether? If not, can she really make a name for herself by explaining how anyone is expected to live on fresh air for six months?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his cautious welcome of the announcement I made last week about ensuring that there will be no sanctions of more than six months, but, as my hon. Friend the Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work has pointed out, sanctions are usually no more than 30 days. I have had many conversations with work coaches, who have personal relationships with individuals, and they reassure me that they use sanctions only as a last resort. The work coaches who provide this tailored support also tell me—I would be interested if the hon. Gentleman has had a different experience—that sanctions are an important part of the tools they have.

T6. The hon. Member for Swansea East (Carolyn Harris) has fought a very good campaign to have a children’s funeral fund set up in England. She was told that it would happen within 12 months, and it has not. Does my right hon. Friend agree that all of us on the Government Benches have an obligation to fulfil promises that have been made, and that that is a very important one? (910861)

I thank my hon. Friend for his question, and I absolutely agree with him. He may know that I campaigned with the hon. Member for Swansea East (Carolyn Harris) before taking up my post. I am personally committed to this, the Department is committed to this, the Prime Minister is committed to this and we will deliver it.

T5. Access to Work is essential to enabling disabled people to get into employment, but does the Minister recognise that delays with processing applications are causing real difficulty, but particularly for people who are self-employed or, indeed, holding elected office in local government. May I ask him to meet me and one of my local councillors, Rosa Gomez, to discuss these particular challenges? (910860)

I thank the hon. Gentleman. I welcome the fact that record numbers benefited from Access to Work last year—an increase of 13%—but operational improvements still need to be delivered. I would welcome an opportunity to meet the hon. Gentleman to look at some areas of priority for us.

T9. Will the Minister’s Department close the loophole that allows terminally ill employees to be dismissed by their employers once one reasonable adjustment has been made, which does not allow for any more changes to the employee’s health because it is not covered by the disability legislation? (910864)

I thank my hon. Friend, who has been a real champion in this really important area of work. The Government are fully committed to protecting people with disabilities in the workplace and elsewhere. We welcome the fact that over 1 million employees are now protected by the voluntary employers charter, and this is a real step forward. There is more work to be done, and I welcome the fact that MPs are working together cross-party on this vital issue.

T8. Anne Puckridge, a brave 94-year-old world war two veteran who served in three armed forces, moved to Canada in 2001 and now receives £72.50 a week, instead of £125.95 a week, of the state pension she is owed. She is not alone: 510,000 British pensioners are in the same situation due to the policy that awards an increase only to some overseas pensioners. The pensions Minister has responded on this topic, but will he agree to meet me to discuss Anne’s case and those of the many others struggling as victims of frozen pensions? (910863)

The hon. Lady knows that the policy pursued by this Government is the same policy that was pursued during the 13 years of the Labour Government and all other Governments since the second world war. It is a consistent approach that is absolutely endorsed by the present Government, and I am afraid there are no plans to change the policy at present.

T10. As has been mentioned, the proportion of self-employed people in South East Cornwall is higher than the national average, showing that my constituents have an entrepreneurial spirit. What is my right hon. Friend’s Department doing to support self-employed people in Cornwall and across the country to make their businesses an increasing success? (910865)

It is indeed interesting to hear of this success: the rate of self-employed people in Cornwall is 5.5 percentage points greater than the UK average. In Cornwall, jobcentres are working in partnership with the local authority and with Big Lottery funding to provide self-employment workshops. In addition, across the UK work coaches are trained to provide additional support to self-employed people. This includes the new enterprise allowance, with which mentors can support claimants to develop their business further.

Every week in my surgery I hear from people who have been wrongly assessed as being fit for work when they are so clearly disabled. I welcome the Secretary of State’s offer to sit down with us individually in the Tea Room, but I fear for all those constituents who do not think of going to their MP and the countless numbers of people out there who do not know how to access help. Surely it is now time for the Secretary of State to admit that the whole process of work capability assessments is flawed and in need of an urgent review.

I am aware of this, and a number of Members of Parliament have raised issues with me. As a Member of Parliament myself, I know that we need to do better at making sure that people do not have to wait so long for a tribunal, so I am looking again at what we can do. I am focusing particularly on making sure that the first decision collects more information, and that the mandatory reassessment has more content put into it. We are already looking into this, and I am seeing some extraordinarily good progress being made in making sure that the mandatory reconsideration has more information.

I will come back to the hon. Lady and others with more information in due course. I recognise that we need to do more, and I am on it.

What progress is being made to support more people in East Renfrewshire into an occupational pension scheme through auto-enrolment?

It was a great pleasure to visit Barrhead with my hon. Friend and meet his outstanding credit union, which is one of 1,290 employers providing 5,000 employees across his East Renfrewshire constituency with automatically enrolled pensions. It is a cross-party success story, with 10.4 million people now automatically enrolled.

If it is true that work is the best route out of poverty, why did food banks in Barnsley give out more than 1.5 million food parcels last year, many to people in work? Why is it that in the Secretary of State’s own constituency low income has overtaken benefit delays as the biggest reason people are referred to Hastings food bank?

I am aware of the challenges faced by people on low incomes, which is why I am focusing on making sure that there is better access to higher-paid jobs. I am working on a number of projects with jobcentres across the country to see what we can do to get better training for people, setting up projects relating to job switching, and working particularly with employers in the local area so that they can get more involved and recognise that there are opportunities for them to promote people and give better training to those on lower incomes to get them into higher-paid jobs.

For clarity, can the Minister confirm that the Scottish Government have power under section 24 of the Scotland Act to top up reserve benefits, including for anyone affected by future changes to mixed-age couples’ benefits?

I thank my hon. Friend for giving me the chance to clarify that sections 24 and 26 of the Scotland Act enable the Scottish Government to make top-up or discretionary payments to any person in Scotland who is in receipt of any reserved UK Government benefit. Put simply, the ball is in the Scottish Government’s court.

A constituent of mine is being passed from pillar to post by the DWP and the Scottish student loans group, both of which say she is entitled to support. She wants to start studying full time in September but, as a single parent, cannot do so without appropriate financial support. Will the Secretary of State or one of her Ministers meet me to see whether we can find a way out of this Catch-22 situation and ensure that my constituent and other single mothers like her, who want to improve their families’ opportunities, have the support to do so?

According to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, 1.9 million pensioners now live in poverty, which is a complete disgrace. Given that 46,000 pensioners died prematurely last year, why has the winter fuel allowance not been increased for more than a decade?

It is not specifically the case that pensioners are in poverty compared with previous records, which show that pensioner poverty is coming down. I will write to the hon. Lady in respect of her specific point about the winter fuel allowance.

I listened carefully to the Minister’s earlier answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Jack Dromey). It was simply not good enough because in just two days’ time changes by this Government to mixed-age couples’ benefits will make them ineligible for pension credit and force them both to apply for universal credit, which will result in many losing thousands of pounds. With one in six older people already living in poverty, is it not time that the Minister rethought the changes, or is he determined to increase those shameful levels of poverty?

Pension credit is intended to provide long-term support to economically inactive pensioner households. It is not intended to support working-age claimants. This change ensures that people cannot access pensioner benefits before they have reached state pension age, so taxpayer support is directed to where it is needed most.

Earlier this year I met representatives of those who carry out work capability assessments and representatives from the previous disability Minister’s office. I was assured that those carrying out capability assessments were well aware of unseen conditions such as ME, but since then I have been overwhelmed with correspondence saying that people with ME are being declared fit for work. What work is the Minister doing to ensure that the assessors are aware of conditions such as ME?

There is a real emphasis on ensuring that assessors are best placed to identify how fluctuating health conditions and hidden disabilities will impact on the assessment. I am disappointed to hear what the hon. Lady reports and I would be happy to meet her to discuss it further.

My caseworkers recently updated me on the thousands and thousands of pounds of public money that they have helped to recover for constituents who are entitled to it, often after many months of delays. I am not satisfied with that; I am angry that this Government Department is keeping so many of my constituents and, I presume, others across the country in poverty for so long when they are owed this money. What is the Government doing about reviewing DWP’s shameful record on paying people money to which they are entitled?

I would just point out to the hon. Lady that, under the legacy benefits system, there are £2.4 billion of unclaimed benefits. That is changing and being fixed under universal credit. If she has specific cases, she will know that this ministerial team is always happy to talk to Members of Parliament to try to resolve issues. If she wants to talk about specific cases, I would be happy to do so after this session.

Visits to one of the food banks in my constituency have increased by 20% since the roll-out of universal credit. Trussell Trust referrals have risen by 52% since the roll-out of universal credit. Everything suggests that universal credit is not lifting people out of poverty, but pushing them further into it. Was that the Government’s intention with the roll-out of universal credit, because that is what is happening?

Universal credit is a vast improvement on the legacy benefits. There were six different benefits and three different places; the system was incredibly difficult to navigate, and there were vast numbers of complaints and problems with it. This new system is easier for people to navigate. Overall, it will be more generous, when it is fully rolled out, than the last system. I believe it is absolutely the right approach in making sure that we support all our constituents.

The Verify identification function for those claiming universal credit online does not work properly. When the Secretary of State is looking at that, will she also look at the problem that requires couples making a joint claim to verify their identity in person at the same time, which causes those sharing childcare and working shift patterns difficulty in claiming?

I am happy to discuss any issues around Verify with the hon. Gentleman, but, as he will know, there is more than one way for someone to verify their identity. Of course, they can use Verify, but they can also use documentary evidence or a biographical test. Those are known, recognised tests, and they are all available in the system.

The Secretary of State just said that universal credit is better than the legacy system, yet evidence published this weekend shows that twice as many children will be pushed into poverty by universal credit, the two-child limit and the benefit cap. On top of that, universal credit is actually increasing infant mortality—the first time we have seen an increase in 100—

I am sorry, but there is irrefutable evidence on this. Instead of the cursory responses that we have had from the Government, will the Secretary of State commit to review the up-to-date evidence and get back to this House with some detailed explanations of how she is going to stop these things?

I totally reject the hon. Lady’s approach to this. Universal credit is a welfare benefit system that, overall, is more generous and much more straightforward than the previous system. I wonder whether she has talked to any Members of Parliament who had the experience of having to navigate the six legacy benefits, of three different places to go to, and of annual tax credits. The complications were totally out of proportion compared with the challenges that people sometimes encounter now. Above all, there was the difficulty people had with the 16-hour threshold, where they could not take up new work if they were on a certain amount of benefits. We have reformed the system so that it works for people—it works for families, and it works for people trying to better themselves and get better access to work.

Centrepoint’s evidence to the DWP Committee showed that 96% of the young people it surveyed were not offered a traineeship or work placement if they were still on the youth obligation for six months. Does the Minister think it is worth having a closer look at what more could be done to improve the youth obligation?

I share the hon. Lady’s desire to make sure the youth obligation support programme works properly. We are looking at extracting information from the system, and I hope shortly to come and report on the findings from that.

Tessa Jowell Brain Cancer Mission

I would like to update the House on the progress we have made in tackling brain cancer, including on a new innovation that is now available across England.

For far too long, tackling brain cancer has been put in the “too difficult” box, and we are determined to change that. I want to pay tribute to the Petitions Committee, which did so much work on this; my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Norfolk (George Freeman), who picked up the subject in Government as Life Sciences Minister; my hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Rebecca Harris), the former chair of the all-party parliamentary group on brain tumours, which brought parliamentarians together; my hon. Friend the Member for St Ives (Derek Thomas), the current chair of the APPG; and, of course, Baroness Tessa Jowell, who campaigned passionately and tirelessly while battling the illness herself, and who, sadly, passed away a year ago.

Brain cancer is the most common cause of cancer-related deaths in children and young people under 19. Baroness Jowell called for all patients to benefit from 5-aminolevulinic acid, or “pink drink” as it is otherwise known: a dye that makes cancerous cells glow under ultraviolet light, thereby making it easier for surgeons to target the right areas. Trials have shown that, when the dye is used, surgeons can successfully remove a whole tumour in 70% of cases, compared to 30% of those without.

I am pleased to inform the House that we have now rolled out this ground-breaking treatment aid across England, with the potential to save the lives of 2,000 patients every year. That is part of the £33.9 billion extra that we are putting into the NHS and the NHS long-term plan. This procedure will now be expanded to every neurological centre in England. That is a fitting testament to Tessa Jowell’s memory.

It is worth pausing for a moment to remember the courageous words that Tessa Jowell used to urge us to rise above our differences. She said that this

“is not about politics but about patients and the community of carers who love and support them. It is…about the NHS but it is not just about money. It is about the power of kindness”.—[Official Report, House of Lords, 25 January 2018; Vol. 788, c. 1169.]

That represents the very best of our democracy and of our Parliament. On behalf of all those who have died of brain cancer, all those—children and adults alike—who have campaigned, and all those seeking to do research, of which there is more to come in future, we are acting.

I want to mention three further areas in detail. The first is research. In the past, not enough research was done into the causes of and treatments for brain cancer. In the last year, the Government have made an unprecedented £40 million available to fund cutting-edge research of new treatments and drugs through the National Institute for Health Research. That will build on our outstanding reputation for neuroscience and oncology research, and increase the quality, quantity and diversity of brain cancer research. That funding was further enhanced by Cancer Research UK committing an additional £25 million to support brain tumour research. The size of those pledges will cement the UK’s position as a leading global centre.

Secondly, on our NHS cancer workforce, the number of specialist cancer staff in the NHS is set to grow as we put the £33.9 billion into the NHS over the next five years. Health Education England’s cancer workforce plan, and our upcoming NHS people plan, will set out in detail the steps we are taking to recruit a world-class cancer workforce. We made available an additional £8.6 million in the cancer workforce last year, and we aim to have 300 more radiographers start training by 2021.

Finally, on empowering patients, we have worked closely with the Tessa Jowell Brain Cancer Mission, Jess Mills and others to ensure patients are at the heart of all these efforts. The mission brings together Government, the NHS, researchers, pharmaceutical companies and patients to ensure that data is shared and disseminated properly so that more patients in the UK and around the world can benefit from what is learned. Due to the complexity of brain cancer, we must provide joined-up care that meets each patient’s unique needs. The NHS is focused on improving care for brain cancer patients to ensure they have access to dedicated out-patient clinics and consultations, wherever they live.

I hope the whole House will recognise the important progress made over the past year in rising to the challenge set by Baroness Jowell and the families of those who have lost loved ones to brain cancer. That progress has been possible only through the collective effort of patients, the NHS, charities and industry. That work is and will continue to be collaborative.

In her final speech in the other place last January, Tessa Jowell said:

“I am not afraid. I am fearful that this new and important approach may be put into the ‘too difficult’ box, but I also have such great hope.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 25 January 2018; Vol. 788, c. 1170.]

That hope was an inspiration to us all. We will rise to the challenge that she left us. We must not waiver in that task. I commend this statement to the House.

I thank the Secretary of State for an advance copy of his statement. We warmly welcome today’s announcement. His tribute to our much-missed friend and colleague was moving and powerful. It is an extraordinary testament to Tessa’s bravery that in the final harrowing months of her life, faced with a highly aggressive and very-difficult-to-treat cancer, and in full knowledge of the life expectancy associated with such a devastating cancer, Tessa led from the front to campaign for better brain cancer treatment for others. She spoke with extraordinary courage in the Lords, she brought the then Secretary of State and me together, and she convinced Ministers to shift policy, not by garnering sympathy, understandable though that approach would have been, but by persuasion based on facts and policy argument. It was typical Tessa.

Tessa would have been delighted by the Government’s announcement—some 2,000 brain cancer patients a year will now benefit from the “pink drink” solution—but she would be keen to go further still. Almost 11,000 people are diagnosed each year with a primary brain tumour, including 500 children and young people, which is 30 people every day, and more than 5,000 people lose their lives to a brain tumour each year. Brain tumours reduce life expectancy by around 20 years, which is the highest of any cancer, and are the largest cause of preventable blindness in children.

We live in hope of dramatic improvements, but further research is needed, given that less than 2% of the £500 million spent on cancer research is dedicated to brain tumours. I welcome the Secretary of State’s commitments on research, but does he agree that we also desperately need more involvement in clinical trials? The number of brain cancer patients taking part in clinical trials is less than half the average across all cancers. How will the Government encourage more trials and data sharing?

Finally, we know that the NHS remains under considerable strain generally. The 93% target for a two-week wait from GP urgent referral to first consultant appointment was not met once last year. Neurosurgery is no exception. In March 2019, the 18-week completion target for referral to treatment pathways stood at 81.3% for neurosurgery— 5% lower than the average for all specialties—which made neurosurgery the worst performing specialty. This is a question of both resourcing and staffing. I know the Secretary of State has his answer on revenue resourcing—we disagree, but we will leave our political arguments for another day—but on workforce there are vacancies for more than 400 specialist cancer nurses, chemotherapy nurses and palliative care nurses, and there are diagnostic workforce vacancies too.

Meanwhile, the staff who are there are reliant on outdated equipment, and we have among the lowest numbers of MRI and CT scanners in the world. Failing to diagnose early is worse for the patient and more costly for the NHS, so will the Secretary of State update us on when we can expect Dido Harding’s workforce plan? Can he reassure us that the cancer workforce will be a key part of that plan? On equipment and MRI scanners, can he guarantee that the NHS will see increased capital investment budgets in the spending review so that it can upgrade existing equipment and increase the number of MRI and CT scanners?

Overall, however, we welcome today’s announcement. It is a fitting tribute to our friend Tessa Jowell, and like Tessa herself will touch the lives of so many.

The cross-party tone of this discussion demonstrates what we can achieve when we work together. This is not just about Baroness Jowell, who did so much and was so brave in how she made her case—in the last few months in particular, but before that as well. It is about the many others who have worked together, including the many who were inspired by her words to work harder on brain cancer.

In truth, the amount of research money going into brain cancer—and therefore the number of clinical trials, which the hon. Member for Leicester South (Jonathan Ashworth) mentioned—was too low. There were so few clinical trials because research overall was too low. That is partly because brain cancer is a very difficult disease to treat. Just because it is difficult, however, does not mean we should not try, so we have increased the amount of research money, and I am determined to see an increase in the number of clinical trials and to make sure that the data from them is properly used and openly disseminated.

The hon. Gentleman asked about the cancer workforce. As I mentioned, of course we will need more people to treat cancer. That is partly what the £33.9 billion extra is all about.

The hon. Gentleman is also right to say that we need more early diagnosis. The truth is that, while the NHS is very good at treating cancer once it has been spotted—indeed, it is one of the best in the world—our cancer survival rates in this country need to improve through early diagnosis. That means giving more support to community services, strengthening primary care and ensuring that we have the diagnostic tools that he mentioned. We have more MRI scanners and more Linux machines for treatment purposes, but of course there is always more that we can do.

During my time as the cancer Minister, I had the pleasure of meeting Tessa. You will recall, Mr Speaker, a very special debate that we had in the Chamber last April, when Tessa was back in the House of Commons, sitting in the Under-Gallery with her lovely family and listening to the debate.

Obviously I welcome the roll-out of 5-aminolevulinic acid—5-ALA—which allows surgeons to tackle some of the most difficult cases while ensuring that the healthy cells remain untouched. Does the Secretary of State agree that the exciting new frontier in cancer treatment is not only allowing people to survive it—more people are doing that for longer than ever before—but enabling them to live really well after treatment? It is no good surviving cancer if it is a rubbish time afterwards. Is that not the real promise of this?

My hon. Friend is a former colleague and dependable Minister, and I regret not having mentioned the work that he did in my opening remarks. The hon. Member for Leicester South said that he and my predecessor as Secretary of State had worked together on this issue, but the person who did the hard yards was my hon. Friend, and I pay tribute to him.

My hon. Friend is completely right: it is not just about surviving cancer, but about living well both with and after it. We must make sure that we learn that lesson and put the needs of patients at the heart of the process—not only their medical needs, but their non-medical and social needs. One of the humorous and amusing things that Tessa would talk about was the importance of the shape of the wig and the colour of the headscarf to a person who is going through chemotherapy, and that should be at the heart of treatment.

I welcome the statement, and thank the Secretary of State for giving me advance sight of it. I join Members on both sides of the House in remembering Dame Tessa Jowell, her lifetime of public service and, of course, her brave campaigning during the final months of her life.

This research funding is very welcome, and it was good to see Edinburgh University’s Dr Steven Pollard involved with the Tessa Jowell mission. Will the Secretary of State expand on what he said about research spending being UK-wide, and on the implications of that? Will he also say something about how his Department has worked with the Scottish Government in this important area?

I am sure that the Secretary of State is aware of the statement made this morning by Medac, which manufactures the “pink drink”, and its concerns about medical supplies post Brexit. Will he update the House on the work that he is doing to ensure the smooth continuing supply of that very important medicine?

It shows the power of bringing people together that we can agree with the Scottish National party’s Front Bencher on the importance of this agenda. I am delighted that the research spans the whole UK. The National Institute for Health Care Reform is reserved, and health research takes place throughout the country, and indeed internationally—throughout Europe and the world as a whole. Much of the best research is global, and that must continue. I shall be happy to work with colleagues in the SNP Government to further this mission and this end. Innovations of this kind are of course available to the NHS in Scotland, but the decision on whether to roll them out there will be a matter for Scottish Ministers, as that element is devolved.

As for the question of Brexit, I have absolutely no doubt that whatever form Brexit takes, we will do everything we can to ensure the continued and unhindered flow of medicines. We did an enormous amount of work to ensure that was the case ahead of 29 March. I have seen the comments the hon. Gentleman mentions from the company that supplies this drug. I see absolutely no reason to think that Brexit should have any impact at all on the ability to use this cutting-edge drug to save people’s lives.

First, may I thank everyone in Taunton Deane who was involved in raising money for the new MRI scanner? It was a huge local team effort. May I also welcome today’s announcement and the use of this dye, which will potentially save 2,000 patient lives and which is to be rolled out into all those neurological centres? That is wonderful news and demonstrates that where there is a will in this place there usually is a way.

I also want to highlight the following. Does the Secretary of State agree that when we are talking about this issue, we should also remember cancers that spread from other parts of the body to the brain—it is called metastasis? This is a very complex area and it needs more input in just the way that we have looked at this issue. Does the Secretary of State agree that we ought to look at that in more detail? Unfortunately, I speak about this from experience, with a close family member being involved.

I know about my hon. Friend’s, sadly, personal experience with this horrible disease and pay tribute to her for speaking up because it is not easy. She is right to raise another frontier that we must cross, and I am fully open to research bids in this area to work not just on brain cancer but on brain cancer that is a secondary cancer, because that is a very important area to get right, too.

I welcome the announcement today and the progress made over the past year since Tessa so sadly passed away. I also welcome the announcement as someone who lost both my paternal grandparents to brain cancer. I want to pay tribute in particular to Tessa’s daughter, Jess Mills, who has worked with unswerving determination and energy to drive forward progress in Tessa’s name over the past year. May I say on behalf of my constituents in Dulwich and West Norwood, who Tessa represented for 23 years, how proud we are of her powerful legacy on brain cancer and the difference her work will make for thousands of people for generations to come? Throughout the whole of Tessa’s 23 years in Parliament, she was a tireless champion of King’s College hospital, which is currently in a very challenged financial position. May I encourage the Secretary of State in continuing his commitment to £33.9 billion of additional funding to look at how this national support may also be marshalled to secure Tessa’s legacy at local level?

Baroness Jowell’s successor in her parliamentary seat speaks very powerfully and the hon. Lady is right to highlight the role of King’s in this research. King’s has been developing this treatment for years, and as a result of its work, it can now be rolled out nationally. It is a hospital that, as the hon. Lady says, needs to address some of its local challenges, but we should not take away from some of the globally cutting-edge work that it does and the positive impact it has: potentially 2,000 people alive each year who would otherwise die. That is testament to the importance of this research.

The first person I know who had a brain tumour and cancer and died was John Davies, who had been the MP for Knutsford shortly after I was first elected.

The NHS website is very good about the possible symptoms of brain tumours. May I strongly recommend that everyone who thinks they may have a worry consult their medical practitioners so that either they can be cleared or they can get early treatment, and is it not right that early diagnosis is the best way forward for those who may have the condition?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right about that: early diagnosis is critical to improving the proportion of people who survive cancers, because of course it is easier to treat people if diagnosis is early. We are reviewing all cancer screening programmes because they are not working well enough; the National Audit Office set that out in some detail recently, and we accept those findings. We want to get early diagnosis and screening right, and it is a top priority for the new Public Health Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for South Ribble (Seema Kennedy), to make sure we do so that more people can survive.

As the Secretary of State said, last weekend marked a year since the death of Tessa Jowell. We all heard the moving interview that Jess did at the weekend, which showed the commitment that she still has for taking on this issue and fighting for her mother’s legacy. On 19 April last year, we were in this place for a Back-Bench debate, with Tessa sitting in the Under-Gallery. I had sponsored the debate, alongside the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (James Brokenshire), and I should also like to thank you, Mr Speaker, for helping us at that time. We heard many moving speeches, and we were all glad to be there to pay our tributes to Tessa.

I am privileged to sit on the board of the Tessa Jowell Brain Cancer Mission, and I want to thank the Department of Health and Social Care for its support and for the roll-out of the pink drink that we have all been talking about. That is one of the many important initiatives that the mission has prioritised. Will the Secretary of State give us his assurance that the Department will provide the same amount of support and commitment to the other initiatives that we have identified? He has talked about some of them. They include the national roll-out of the integrated multidisciplinary care model, support for the first adaptive trial for brain cancer and the Tessa Jowell fellowship programme for oncologists. The NHS is one of the few care systems in the developed world that does not train or employ experts in brain tumour treatment. Rather, brain tumour patients are typically cared for by colleges and radiologists who predominantly treat other cancers. This strategic programme is really important, as it will revolutionise the skills in the health service to tackle this difficult problem.

Finally, I worked for Tessa Jowell, and I also worked for Mo Mowlam. They were two of the most powerful, wonderful women in this House, and they both had brain tumours. We need to find a faster cure, to ensure that people with brain tumours live well for longer so that women like those two amazing parliamentarians can continue to contribute for much longer. I thank the Secretary of State for the work that he has done, and I ask him to carry on doing it.

The hon. Lady expresses the thoughts of the whole House. She, too, has done an awful lot. I should of course have mentioned my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (James Brokenshire), who used his enforced sabbatical from the Cabinet due to cancer to push this agenda. I add his name to the tributes. It is absolutely true that campaigners on this subject who have had personal experience of brain cancer either themselves or in their loved ones and friends, as I have, feel very strongly about it, and this is absolutely not the end of the drive. I wanted to update the House on what we have done in a year, but there is still plenty more to do.

Melanoma is one of the cancers that can metastasise into the brain, because it can travel either through the blood or through the lymphatic system. We also know that, although it can kill, especially in the circumstances we are talking about, it is very preventable. I just wonder whether there is not considerably more that the Government could do to ensure that every child covers up in the sun and that more people use sunscreen, perhaps by taking VAT off sunscreen that is higher than SPF30 or SPF50. We must also ensure that we have enough dermatologists in this country to check moles and other growths that people might have on their bodies.

Yes, I agree with all that. Of course, protection from too much exposure to the sun is part of the prevention agenda in healthcare, as well as being an absolutely sensible thing to do.

Like others, I want to congratulate the Government and everyone involved in the Tessa Jowell Brain Cancer Mission on making a painful anniversary for Tessa’s friends and family a bit more bearable for knowing that her vigour and energy are still very much alive and kicking through the mission. This is also a painful time of year for my constituents, Scott and Yang Lau, who lost their young daughter Kaleigh to a diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma, a particularly pernicious brain tumour that largely affects children. They are working with Jess Mills on fighting that particular form of brain tumour. What more can the Department do, generally and specifically through the Tessa Jowell Brain Cancer Mission, to focus on childhood brain tumours, particularly rare tumours such as DIPG, so that other families do not have to suffer what my constituents and others have had to go through?

The hon. Gentleman is right to say that, and I send my condolences to his constituents. The truth is that brain cancer is one of the most, if not the most, predominant cancers among children. Although it is relatively rare among all cancers, that is not true among children. Thousands of people still die from brain cancer, which is why it was right that Parliament and Tessa Jowell came together to highlight the lack of research in the area—something that we are determined to put right.

May I too thank the Government for today’s statement? I was heartened by the answer given to the hon. Member for Worthing West (Sir Peter Bottomley), because early diagnosis is incredibly important. There are certain things that people can recognise, such as the effect on vision. Ironing a pinstripe shirt, for example, can lead to an odd effect, which is an early sign. Early screening in built-up areas and cities is quite easy, but it is harder in rural areas, so I make a plea for the Government to consider sparsely populated regions such as mine.

The hon. Gentleman is right that screening is vital. One of the reasons why we are looking at the whole screening programme is that the use of technology has not been nearly good enough. For many people, but not all, that can be valuable, especially in rural areas. Technology is not only used for the screening itself, but for notification and for ensuring that we get to everybody who needs to be reached. Professor Sir Mike Richards is undertaking the review of all screening, and I would be happy to put Sir Mike in contact with the hon. Gentleman to ensure that the review properly considers the impact of rurality on the need to get screening to everybody who needs it.

I thank the Secretary of State, the shadow Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Leicester South (Jonathan Ashworth), and all colleagues for both the content and the spirit of the exchanges that have just taken place. Let us hope that Tessa’s husband David and children Jess, who has rightly been referred to, and Matthew will derive some succour from knowledge of the continuing interest in Tessa’s passionate crusade that exists in the House. We know in our heart of hearts that that continued interest will endure for as long as is necessary, both because of the supreme importance of the cause and because we are united across the House in this. We have huge respect for the courage, stoicism and unrelenting determination to make progress on this subject that Tessa Jowell, in extreme adversity, exhibited at all times.

Domestic Abuse

Mr Speaker, I echo your words in relation to Tessa Jowell’s contribution in this place and the debate that we were privileged to be part of just a year ago. It is good to see the hon. Member for Croydon Central (Sarah Jones) in her place. We are in different places now, but the debate was a shared endeavour, and we were both privileged to be part of that special debate, when Tessa was here, and to champion the cause so well and so effectively.

With permission, Mr Speaker, I will make a statement on a new sustainable approach to delivering support for victims of domestic abuse and their children in accommodation-based services across England.

Domestic abuse is a devastating crime experienced by more than 2 million adults a year, with women twice as likely to be victims. That is completely unacceptable, and we have much more to do if we are to reach a point where no family lives with the threat of domestic abuse. Domestic abuse can take many forms and affects the young and old, male and female, but whoever the victim is, those fleeing abuse must have somewhere safe to go.

Just last year we announced £22 million to provide over 2,200 new beds in refuges and other safe accommodation, supporting more than 25,000 survivors with a safe space to rebuild their lives, but I know much more must be done to ensure a consistent approach across the country and to ensure that survivors have a safer future.

At the 2017 general election, the Prime Minister made a manifesto commitment to review funding for refuges. The violence against women and girls strategy for 2016 to 2020 set out our ambition to provide support for refuges and other accommodation-based services, helping local areas to ensure that no victim is turned away from the support they require at the time of need.

We also committed to reviewing the locally led approach to commissioning domestic abuse services. To meet that commitment, in January 2018 we began a full review of the funding and commissioning of domestic abuse services in England. We have worked closely with sector partners, drawing on their data, expertise and knowledge. This review complements wider Government work on tackling this devastating crime and supporting victims, including our new draft Domestic Abuse Bill.

Through the course of the review we have engaged with specialist domestic abuse service providers and their representative bodies, local authorities, police and crime commissioners and other organisations that support victims, to understand fully the challenges in commissioning and delivering these vital services and the positive features of the current system. We are grateful for their engagement and extensive input into our work.

We know there are dedicated professionals delivering support to victims and their children in accommodation-based services across England. This support helps victims move from danger and abuse to safety and independence, and their children to regain their childhoods. That includes the vital work of service managers and support staff, counsellors, outreach workers and play therapists, and I pay tribute to their work.

However, we also know that we need to do more to ensure that all victims and their children can access support at the right time, underpinned by a sustainable approach to provision. We understand that victims and their children will live in a variety of different forms of safe accommodation and will need support to stay safe and rebuild their lives in all of them. That includes outreach support to remain safe in properties with enhanced security measures, in emergency or temporary accommodation, in dispersed accommodation and in refuges.

Although refuges play a critical role in supporting victims at high risk of serious harm, we have deliberately kept our definition of accommodation-based services wide to include the full range of safe accommodation in which victims and their children may require support. That will help local areas to meet the support needs of diverse groups of victims and their children, and those at lower and medium risk, to prevent their needs from escalating.

Having reviewed the current system and listened to the views of expert stakeholders, today I am proposing new local authority-led arrangements for delivering support to victims of domestic abuse and their children in accommodation-based services in England. The proposals will place a new statutory duty on upper-tier local authorities—county councils, metropolitan and unitary authorities, and the Greater London Authority—to convene a local partnership board for domestic abuse accommodation support services.

The local partnership boards should include representation from police and crime commissioners, health bodies, children’s services and housing providers, along with specialist domestic abuse service providers. The boards will be required to assess need for domestic abuse services; develop domestic abuse strategies; commission services to meet the support needs of victims and their children; and report progress to my Department.

In two-tier areas, lower-tier local authorities—city, district and borough councils and, in this instance, London boroughs—will have a significant role to play in contributing to needs assessments, strategy development, service commissioning and reporting on progress. Those areas will be subject to a statutory duty to co-operate with the local partnership board.

To support local authorities and local partnership boards to meet these new requirements, I am proposing that we should produce new statutory guidance, making our expectations clear. This new approach will be backed by funding from the Government to ensure that services are put on a sustainable, long-term footing; it will be determined through the forthcoming spending review and informed by the consultation.

I want to safeguard provision of support; to clarify expectations of governance and accountability; to ensure needs assessments are undertaken; and to enhance our understanding of service provision across England, through monitoring and reporting. I also want to ensure that the diverse needs of all victims and their children are met, including those with protected characteristics. This is part of a wider Government drive to tackle domestic abuse and end this pernicious crime for good. Our Domestic Abuse Bill, published in January, is the most comprehensive package ever to tackle domestic abuse. We have also brought in a new offence to capture coercive and controlling behaviour, and new domestic abuse protection orders will allow the police and courts to intervene earlier. It is our duty to ensure that victims and survivors can receive help by providing the support they need to transform their lives and move to safety and independence.

Through this consultation, I want to hear views on our proposals from victims and survivors, service providers, local authorities, housing providers and other public agencies, as well as professionals who support victims and children every day. I believe that this announcement today will provide much-needed help to ensure that more victims and their families better overcome their experiences, and move on to live full and independent lives. The consultation will run from today until 2 August. A copy of the consultation document will be placed in the House Library, and I commend this statement to the House.

I thank the Secretary of State for advance sight of his statement. Today’s announcement is, of course, welcome. It is a victory for the campaigners who have fought for 10 years for a legal duty to support survivors of domestic violence. It is a victory for charities such as Women’s Aid; for campaigners such as the new Victims’ Commissioner, Vera Baird; and for Members of this House such as my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman), the right hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mrs Miller) and my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Jess Phillips). They deserve huge credit, as do many other Members in this House, on both sides, who have fought for this change. This is a victory for the hard work of current and former Front-Bench colleagues, particularly my hon. Friends the Members for Brent Central (Dawn Butler) and for Great Grimsby (Melanie Onn). Most importantly, it is a victory for survivors of domestic abuse, who show such unimaginable strength.

There are, however, questions still to answer, which will determine whether this policy is going to work. First and most importantly, unless we provide the funding to make it work, we are setting local authorities up to fail. The Secretary of State has estimated today that the new legal duty could cost £90 million. Given that councils in England are facing an overall funding gap of £8 billion by 2025 and that Home Office figures estimate that domestic abuse costs the economy £66 billion in just one year, does the Secretary of State really think that that funding will be enough?

The Local Government Association has today raised concerns that the policy is focused exclusively on the crisis-point intervention, rather than early intervention; we need to ensure that the funding does not drain from these equally important areas to pay for this policy. Will the Secretary of State confirm that the funding will be ring-fenced? We do not know when the spending review will be; we may not know the outcome of the spending review until this time next year. Why is the Secretary of State risking this policy being kicked into the long grass by hooking it to the spending review? When will we know how much money there will be to spend?

We know that there are issues with support provided to victims only in their local area, despite two thirds of women fleeing to a refuge further afield. Can the Secretary of State confirm that women will be supported wherever they are from? The same must apply in respect of women with no recourse to public funds and those with complex needs, as such women struggle to access beds and are overrepresented among women murdered. Specialised support services such as those for black, Asian and minority ethnic women and for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people are hugely important but have suffered significant cuts, with one expert recently saying that we have lost 50% of all specialist BAME refuge services. It is unclear how these proposals will impact specialist services, so can the Secretary of State provide some reassurance?

The background to this announcement is a crisis in support for victims of domestic abuse and deep cuts to investment in genuinely affordable homes. The Government are responding to a crisis that their own policies have partly created. A 60% cut in Government funding for local authorities between 2010 and 2020 has stretched our councils to the limit. Services have been cut back to the legal minimum and core services have deteriorated in quality. Women’s Aid has found that many organisations are running an area of their services without dedicated funding from local authorities, and some receive no support from local authorities at all. That has led to a fifth of refuges closing since 2010, and more than 150 women a day are now being turned away from refuges.

The lack of genuinely affordable housing has left domestic violence victims facing homelessness and squalid housing. This is because last year the number of homes built for social rent fell to fewer than 6,500, compared with almost 40,000 in 2010. The Government’s record on this issue is not good. Attempts to dismantle the funding stream for refuges through housing benefit were shelved last year only after tireless campaigning from women’s organisations.

Although many men are victims of domestic abuse, the majority are women, and women are disproportionately affected by austerity, bearing the brunt of cuts in support services. Ten years of austerity have had a savage impact on BAME women and single mothers in particular. By 2020, the income of single mothers will have fallen by 18%, and black and Asian households will see average drops in living standards of 19.2% and 20% respectively, according to analysis by Amnesty International.

The Prime Minister said today:

“Whoever you are, wherever you live and whatever the abuse you face, you will have access to the services you need to be safe.”

That is a commitment that cannot be made lightly. There is a now a clear moral duty on the Government to see this through—not just for the sake of keeping the promises that have been made, and not just for the sake of the campaigners and survivors who have pushed for this change for years, but for the sake of those people who are trapped right now in abusive relationships. If we promise them safety and do not deliver it, we will not deserve forgiveness. We welcome today’s announcement, but we will hold the Government’s feet to the fire until this commitment becomes a reality.

I thank the hon. Lady for her comments and her support for today’s announcement. I agree with her on that sense of moral duty—that sense of moral purpose—to those who are in abusive relationships that underlines all this work. She will know the figure that is used: some 2 million people each year suffer some form of domestic abuse. That is unacceptable and intolerable, and it is right that we do much more, which is why the Prime Minister made her comments today. Indeed, she has an enduring commitment to making a difference in this important policy area.

I join the hon. Lady in paying tribute to all those who have campaigned on this issue, not only across the House but throughout the country. So many voluntary organisations—those very much at the frontline—have really made the difference and I pay tribute to their work, as well as to the quiet, dignified determination of so many survivors of domestic abuse, who have really underlined that sense of why we need to do more.

The hon. Lady highlighted the issue of funding for local government and the interrelationship with the spending review. We have indicated that there will be a spending review later this year because the current spending review period ends at the end of this financial year. It is therefore right that we look at the funding position in that context but, as I have underlined, it is a question of ensuring that local government receives the appropriate financial support, given that a new and additional requirement is being placed on local government as a consequence of this proposal. That is why I said what I did about the need to ensure that this issue is properly addressed through the spending review and that it is informed by the consultation itself.

In the media this morning, I gave some estimates of what we anticipate the broad annual cost may be—a round figure of around £90 million is our current estimate—but I want that to be informed by the consultation and, indeed, to be taken into the spending review, so that we can get the right level of support. That sense of co-operation between areas is also within the duty that we anticipate, by which I mean not looking at this in isolation. The hon. Lady makes a very good and important point about being able to support people from wherever they come. Indeed, that is, in part, what this variability of service, which we want to address, is all about, and what the statutory duty is very firmly intended to underpin.

As I said in my statement, we announced £22 million of additional support for the sector last November. I pay tribute to the Under-Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, my hon. Friend the Member for South Derbyshire (Mrs Wheeler), who has had to leave her place on the Front Bench to attend a debate in Westminster Hall, for her incredible support and leadership in this regard. Obviously, local authorities are seeing a real-terms increase in spending power over this coming year.

I know that we need to do more. We need to ensure that specialist support reflects the protected characteristics —the needs of BAME, LGBT and other communities. There is a need to recognise some of the different types of outreach services that will be needed to give effect to that. The hon. Lady sets that challenge, and I respect and acknowledge her intent to ensure that this Government are properly scrutinised and challenged to see that we follow through. I know that that view is shared across Government. Colleagues with different responsibilities are determined to work together to make that difference.

I join Women’s Aid and Safelives in welcoming today’s announcement. I also pay tribute to the absolutely inspirational Maggie Parks from Women’s Centre Cornwall and thank the refuges in Truro that provide such needed refuge for both men and women. This very important announcement today builds on a landmark domestic violence Bill. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is just as important to commission high-quality services for victims and their children living in their own homes as it is for those living in refuges? Alongside that, we must make sure that there is access to specially trained and qualified mental health professionals.

I pay tribute to the work of my hon. Friend. I know that, in some of her previous ministerial work, she was very passionate in advocating and supporting greater focus on this matter and ensuring that some of these issues in relation to the criminal justice system were followed through. I pay tribute to Maggie Parks and the Women’s Centre Cornwall to which she refers. Yes, of course, the Domestic Abuse Bill will be really important. The commissioning of services is absolutely critical. She makes the right point, which others have made too, that it is important that we get the support right in refuges, but it goes much wider than that, which is why we have framed the consultation in the way that we have.

I commend the statement of the Secretary of State. In particular, I commend the Minister for Women—I do not take anything away from the Secretary of State for making this statement today—for tirelessly pushing for this. I thank her for that.

Ever since the first women’s refuge—Chiswick Women’s Aid—was created in 1971 by Erin Pizzey, women’s refuges have been precarious financially. They have existed hand to mouth from year to year, never knowing what their financial situation will be. The reason why this is a very important statement and an important moment today is that it marks the point at which it is recognised that this is not just an optional issue, dependent on locality, but actually a national public policy imperative. We should recognise the really serious step forward that has been made.

I join other colleagues, including my hon. Friend the shadow Minister, in paying tribute to all those people around the country—including in the refuge movement but more widely in the women’s movement—who have pushed for this moment, and also to women across the House who have provided the support that has led to this statement. Will the Secretary of State explain to the Chancellor that we are very supportive of this statement, and that we will expect the Government to put their money where their mouth is?

As my hon. Friend the shadow Minister said, 150 women a day have been turned away from refuges because of the lack of available resources. We do not want the Government to rob Peter to pay Paula; we want the money to be there. The Secretary of State has said that he is going consult, and that is absolutely right, but he does not need to consult me any further because I can tell him what my view is: this is a thoroughly good thing. Will he get on with it and ensure that it is fully funded?

I thank the right hon. and learned Lady for her comments and for her leadership as one of the key Members across the House who have championed the issue for so many years. I recognise her contribution in getting to the place at which we have arrived today. She is right to say that this is a national public policy issue, and that we need to deal with variability to ensure a national standard that we seek to reach through this new statutory duty—hence, the consultation. She clearly and plainly makes the point that we need to ensure the necessary financial investment and support for these measures, and I am grateful for her support regarding those conversations with the Chancellor.

I am not sure whether the hon. Member for Stirling (Stephen Kerr) was present at the start of the exchanges—I was advised that he was not. Was he here?

The hon. Gentleman was chattering away to the Whip on duty, was he? Oh, very well; I will indulge him on this occasion.

Thank you, Mr Speaker.

I welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement. I also pay tribute to the excellent work of Stirling Women’s Aid; Jess Lindhoff and her team do extraordinary work and it is always humbling to be with them.

Domestic abuse support services are devolved across the United Kingdom, but will my right hon. Friend assure the House that he will consider a UK-wide ombudsman or similar to guarantee standards across the entire United Kingdom?

As my hon. Friend will know, today’s announcement relates to England, as these issues are devolved. The Domestic Abuse Bill, which has been published in draft format, contemplates and sets out a new domestic abuse commissioner to stand up for victims. I am sure that the point that he makes on the way in which that provision can be applied UK-wide will be part of the Bill’s consideration.

I strongly welcome the Secretary of State’s announcement. A statutory duty on local authorities was a specific recommendation of the Home Affairs Committee’s report last year on domestic abuse. As part of the report, we raised the need for local areas to work together, given that people sometimes need to move to a different area because of the risks they face or to ensure they are safe. Will the Secretary of State make sure that his review recognises the need for areas to work together? Will he also consider our specific recommendation of a ring-fenced fund to ensure that the capacity gap is met and that nobody ends up unable to find a safe place?

I thank the right hon. Lady and the work of her Select Committee in ensuring a good evidence base, and in taking that evidence and presenting it in the way the Committee did. We have responded to that today. The statutory duty will do much to ensure a focus on commissioning, resources and delivering against the need in individual communities.

The right hon. Lady makes a valid and fair point about co-operation within and between areas. There have previously been problems, so we have given firmer and clearer guidance on people’s ability to access services in an area even if they do not live in that area; somehow that was previously a barrier, which it should not have been. It is important that we remain vigilant and conscious of such problems as we approach the consultation and what we learn from it.

I thank the Secretary of State for his statement, which I support very strongly. It is very timely, of course. A recent Women’s Aid report showed that about a third of domestic abuse services have been forced to reduce the support they provide in the past few years, and that one in 10 refuges received no funding whatsoever from local authorities in the past 12 months.

The Secretary of State refers to partnership with police and crime commissioners. Will he provide additional funds for police authorities such as Cumbria to reverse the cuts in police numbers in order to identify and protect victims? Will he say a little more about what assessment he has made of the impact on other local services, because councils inevitably raid important other budgets to subsidise new statutory services if they are not properly funded and, indeed, ring-fenced?

The hon. Gentleman heard what I said about the investment that was provided last November and the bed capacity it has given, and about other services that have been provided in that way. There is clearly much more to do, but the number of available bed spaces for victims has actually risen since 2010. Again, I want to see that there is proper, assessed support for the needs that are there, which is what the statutory duty is all about.

Police funding is obviously a matter for Home Office colleagues, but I would point out that more than £1 billion extra has been made available to the police during this financial year.