Work and Pensions…

October 19, 2011

I have just spent the morning at the Work and Pensions Committee where evidence was being taken from top academics, the CABs and Demos think-tank about the proposed new DLA benefit called the Personal Independence Payment. The Committee has always taken an interest in disability benefits and is keen that disabled people should have the support they need to lead independent lives.

The Government says the current DLA is over complex, caseload is increasing faster than planned, no checks are made to ensure awards are right and the award can be a barrier to work. We have been testing these ideas with the experts. I can understand the concern of CABs that life should not be made worse for those with significant disability. I suppose an issue is where the threshold for benefit should lie. The last Conservative Government introduced the lowest rate of care component in 1992 to help a larger group of disabled people than before. At the time this was designed to help an extra 140,000 people. In fact, 890,000 now receive this. It does therefore seem sensible to check out how well targeted it is.

Another point made this morning was that in 2005, a National Benefit Review showed that £630 million (11.2%) was being overpaid mainly because of changes to the person’s condition which had not been reported. This is not a criticism of the individuals concerned, because it is difficult to assess your own condition over a period. But it certainly seems wise to have some checks from time to time to make sure the benefit is still needed. This will also help some claimants whose condition has deteriorated. It was estimated in 2005 that a significant number were not receiving all the money to which they were entitled. This looks like being a useful Committee Inquiry.

Talking about Welfare Reform

September 12, 2011

On Friday Iain Duncan Smith spoke to 150 Conservatives about his welfare reforms. I was part of the research project which led Iain to set a new course for Government in this area. Some years ago, with his Centre for Social Justice, he asked Conservative MPs to investigate social problems and try to experience what deprivation can be like. I had been involved in Inner City youth projects in earlier days and had given free legal advice through the Free Representation Unit and decided to volunteer to help Iain. I was asked to live in a homeless hostel for a week. The experience was a real eye-opener. Other colleagues did other tasks – Oliver Letwin spent time in prison, I believe.

Iain came to the conclusion that worklessness was the cause of many social problems. His plans to ensure that work always pays better than benefits and to give real help to job seekers through the Work Programme are widely supported. I am a member of the Work and Pensions Select Committee and we are very keen to help make Iain’s reforms work. I am now going to speak at a seminar about some of the details with the Westminster Policy Forum.

Supporting Carers’ Week

April 27, 2011

I have just had a meeting at the House of Commons with Angela Rippon who is a strong supporter of Carers’ Week. It was good to talk to Angela about all the work that is being done to recognise the role of carers. Society often takes for granted the huge contribution which individuals make looking after a loved one, without any adequate financial recognition. I saw this most starkly when the Select Committee on Work and Pensions was taking evidence for its landmark Report on Carers a couple of years ago. So many people gave evidence to us showing how even the smallest respite meant a great deal. It was also interesting to learn that in Australia instant respite is available through their carers’ centres.

I hope that Angela Rippon’s involvement with Carers’ Week will raise its profile even further and it was good to be part of this.

Welfare Reforms

March 9, 2011

This week I have been very involved in looking into the Government’s welfare reforms, which ensure that people are always better off in work than on benefits – a vigorous work programme to provide people with the help they need to get into work, and adequate training where necessary, designed to meet the skill needs of the country.

On Monday, the Select Committee on Work and Pensions went to Burnley and held a meeting with benefit claimants who are moving from Disability Benefits into work, when they are assessed as capable of doing a job. The meeting was held at Burnley Football Ground “Turf Moor” and, as reported in The Guardian yesterday, a number of people had criticisms of the Work Capability Assessment. I was able to discuss this with the Minister Chris Grayling last night and it is good to know that changes are being made to ensure that the test is fair for the future. However, what impressed me most at Burnley was that a number of people who had been on benefits for some time were pleased to be receiving help in finding work, and looking forward to taking up a job as soon as possible. If people can move from benefits into work, this is good for Britain and good for them.

IDS’s White Paper

November 10, 2010

Tomorrow is an important day at Westminster with Iain Duncan Smith launching his Welfare White Paper. This is a new approach designed to help the long term unemployed into work with a personalised package of job search, training and employment support. There will also be a new benefits’ system with a promise that in future work will pay and a person will always be better off in work.

Over the last 13 years we have seen jobs created, but the number of people without work has not improved in line. There are 3 million workless households where no one of working age actually works. It is vital to people’s lives to have the structure and dignity which work brings. It is important that young people should not be brought up in a world of dependency.

This is a once in a generation attempt to tackle one of the major problems of our time.

Apprenticeships and Engineering…

July 21, 2010

This morning I attended an excellent debate in Westminster Hall about apprenticeships proposed by Richard Graham, a new Conservative MP who is on the Work and Pensions Select Committee with me.  He set out a strong case for the Government’s policy of expanding the number of apprenticeships by 50,000. During the debate I made the point that we need more girls to do engineering apprenticeships. Just 2 per cent of engineering apprenticeships go to girls, although those who are taken on do well. When I first started as a lawyer there were not many women lawyers, but now women outnumber men. Engineering needs a similar turn round. Despite great efforts to encourage girls in STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) subjects more clearly needs to be done. I do not underestimate the impact of the media in fostering role models and there have certainly been a number of campaigning women lawyers in dramas on the TV. It’s time for some successful women engineers to feature.