Peter Aldous is a member of the Environmental Audit Select Committee, and is MP for Waveney.
Recently, I brought up in Parliament the story of a constituent who was claiming Employment Support Allowance, which was disallowed when he was deemed fit for work in a work capability test.
His appeal was successful, but he was now on Universal Credit, where he had to wait weeks for his first payment and found himself in hardship through no fault of his own.
I have heard several stories like this in my constituency. At the turn of the year my office was dealing with 20 ongoing cases, and when I visited a local Trussell Trust food bank at that time all the people whom it was supporting were there because of delays in receipt of their first payments.
The Conservative Party can claim many victories in Government: we were the first to raise the minimum wage to a Living Wage, helping millions of hardworking families across the country; we launched Universal Credit, to simplify an outdated system of welfare; and unemployment is at a record low. We extended free childcare for working parents, and raising the income tax threshold to enable more people to keep more of the money they earn.
Earlier this year Damian Green, the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, abolished repeat assessments for people with the most severe health problems and began a consultation looking into how we can half the Disability Employment Gap by supporting more people with long-term ill-health and disabilities into work and enabling them to stay in work.
This is something that should be pursued by the new administration, because for disabled people, some of the most vulnerable people in our country, there is still some way to go. Last week the University of Oxford released a report which reveals, for the first time, that half of food bank users are disabled, and one in three have mental health issues.
The majority of food bank users in the study were on Employment Support Allowance, with most assessed as having a limited capability to work. Many disabled people find themselves assessed as not currently fit for work but capable of taking steps into work, and these findings suggest that more support is needed to help this group build resilience.
The report also brings in to sharp focus the struggles of people on extremely low incomes, many of whom have gone without food, toiletries, appropriate clothing or shelter. People have borrowed money from friends and family, and even payday lenders.
Most had seen a rise in expenses over the last three months, and a quarter said this was due to a rise in food prices, while another quarter said this was due to a rise in housing or energy expenses. Most strikingly, most households – 75 per cent, to be precise – experienced ill-health.
Food bank volunteers work in their local communities to provide these people with the help they need to get back on their feet. We know that appropriate, secure, well-paid work is the best route out of poverty. This is why I’m supporting the Trussell Trust’s call for the Government to renew their commitment to halving the disability employment gap.
I know that the Conservative Government, with our record on employment and commitment to helping the most vulnerable in society, is best placed to do this.