HC Deb 27 April 1998 vol 311 cc15-6
13. Mr. Tim Boswell (Daventry)

What representations she has received on the Green Paper on welfare reform since 26 March. [38491]

15. Mr. Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock)

What representations she has received from the Churches about the results of the Government's review of the social security benefits system. [38494]

The Minister for Welfare Reform (Mr. Frank Field)

More than 100.

Mr. Boswell

I thank the Minister for Welfare Reform for that reply. As the Government's mood music accompanying their papers has suggested that those currently in receipt of benefits will not lose out, does it not follow that any process of welfare reform risks increasing the costs of an already expensive system? Has the Minister told the Chancellor or is the mood music unsustainable?

Mr. Field

At the end of last week, I wrote to all hon. Members to ask them to take the ideas of the Green Paper to their constituencies to consult party activists and other stakeholders in their areas. I look forward to receiving the hon. Gentleman's replies.

Mr. Mackinlay

Does the Minister recall in the correspondence that all candidates got in the general election the report of the Churches' inquiry into unemployment and the future of work? Will he take on board in the welfare review the strong message contained in that document that, although the right to work is inalienable—a right neglected by the previous Government—implicit in that is quality of work? People should have a right to work appropriate to their aspirations, skills and needs. That must be the objective of the Government. Will the Minister be mindful that people should have the right to safeguard and look after their families? There should not be a presumption that people must work while neglecting their other obligations.

Mr. Field

The Government believe that those who can work should work. We also believe that we have a duty to help people to achieve that objective. The Chancellor made it plain in his Budget that those who work would be better off in work. Although it is desirable that people find work that fulfils their talents to the full, their primary duty is to earn a wage to look after themselves and their families.

Ms Dari Taylor (Stockton, South)

I ask my right hon. Friend to consider the response from some of my constituents in respect of reform of the welfare state. First, it is coming through loud and clear that both providers and users believe that reform is well and truly overdue; but, secondly, they are explicitly asking for an assurance that benefits staff will not only effectively administer reforms when those are in place, but do so with compassion.

Mr. Field

I was in my hon. Friend's constituency on Saturday. I was able to give her that assurance then and I give it to the House now.

Miss Julie Kirkbride (Bromsgrove)

Does the Minister agree that one of the main objectives of the Government's welfare reforms ought to be to encourage more people to save more money for their old age? He has asked what our constituents think about his proposals and I can tell him that in Bromsgrove one of the major concerns among hard-working decent people who have saved hard for their old age is that they see others who are similarly elderly, but who spent their money during their working lives and now receive considerable benefits from the state to which those who did save are not entitled. They are angry about that and they would like to know what the Government's proposals are for reform in that respect.

Mr. Field

People saving adequately is one of our objectives in welfare reform. I very much agree with the second part of the hon. Lady's question.