HC Deb 06 March 2000 vol 345 cc747-8
2. Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham)

What recent assessment he has made of the impact of the level of welfare and other passported benefits on the incentive to work. [111830]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Social Security (Angela Eagle)

Helping people move from welfare benefits into work is a key element of our welfare reform agenda. We are tackling the problems of the unemployment and poverty traps and ensuring that work pays. The introduction of the national minimum wage and the working families tax credit has, for the first time, guaranteed a minimum income of £200 per week for those moving off benefits. Tax and benefit reforms have also addressed the poverty trap and allowed low-income families to keep more of every pound that they earn.

Mr. Bercow

I acknowledge the Minister's reply. What comfort can the Minister offer today to my constituent, Marguerite Day of 23 Chiltern avenue, Stone, Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire HP17 8QZ, who has been out of work for seven years through a back injury, who is unable to accept a part-time post as a phlebotomist at £80 a week because she would lose a string of benefits and incur hefty transport costs and to whom the Minister's standard letter of 18 January this year was of no use whatever?

Angela Eagle

If the hon. Gentleman will write to me with the details, I will look into the case. As the Government have recognised, the important thing to remember is that individual barriers to getting back into work are precisely that, and they need to be tackled individually. That is why we are setting up the personal advisers in the ONE service, and we are trialling that service in 12 areas, including that of the hon. Gentleman. It may well be that a visit to a personal adviser could help his constituent a great deal.

Mr. Paul Goggins (Wythenshawe and Sale, East)

Does my hon. Friend agree that the vast majority of people would rather work than claim benefits? Therefore, is she as encouraged as I am that, in Benchill, the area in my constituency that for years has had the highest proportion of families dependent on benefits, unemployment fell by 21 per cent. last year alone, youth unemployment by 30 per cent. and long-term unemployment by 43 per cent?

Angela Eagle

My hon. Friend is right. People should remember that youth unemployment is down 60 per cent. since the Government came to power; long-term unemployment is down 50 per cent.; 41,000 lone parents are now in work, as are 34,000 of those who joined the new deal for the over-25s and 185,000 of the under-25s; 2,180 disabled people are on the new deal for disabled people; and more than 1,000 on the new deal for partners of the unemployed are now in jobs. What did the Conservatives do? They opposed the new deal.

Mr. Archy Kirkwood (Roxburgh and Berwickshire)

I acknowledge that much has been done to provide incentives to get people off welfare and into work, but will the Minister look carefully at the recent work that has been done at the centre for analysis of social exclusion at the London school of economics in analysing some of the American experience? The Americans are a bit further down the line than we are, and it is worrying that people who are at the bottom of the pile, especially lone mothers in the American context, are worse off now than they were. Will the Minister give a categoric assurance that the other half of the adage "Work for those who can, but support for those who cannot" is equally respected, and that there will be as much support for those who genuinely cannot work as there is effort made to incentivise those who can?

Angela Eagle

The American system is very different from the UK system. We always keep an eye on what is going on in welfare-to-work issues around the world, not only in the United States. The important thing to bear in mind is that the Government have ensured that work pays: we have introduced the working families tax credit, new child care opportunities, sure start, and we have also done much to help lone parents. We have also spent a great deal of money on increasing the premium for children in the income-related benefits. We are thereby trying to balance both sides of the equation.