Priti Patel is an elected Member of the Conservative Party Board, the 1922 Committee’s Executive and the Public Administration Select Committee. She is also a member of the Party’s Policy Board and MP for Witham.
Britain’s welfare and benefits system is being transformed for the better by Conservative policies being implemented by Iain Duncan Smith. Our principled beliefs of supporting hard-working families and making sure that people are better-off in work than on benefits underpins the innovative approach being taken which is helping millions of families across the country.
Today in the House of Commons, Labour will be using parliamentary time allocated to opposition parties to criticise the work of the Department for Work and Pensions. No doubt the usual socialist groups affiliated to Labour will reel out and promote whatever propaganda Labour issues to mislead the public. What they dislike is the very clear and strong record of reforms to the welfare system which are on the side of taxpayers.
Whatever we hear today and between now and the next general election from Labour about benefits and welfare, let’s be clear about the state of the welfare system inherited in 2010. Labour left a dysfunctional benefits system that rewarded people for being out of work. It had bound more people to dependency on state intervention, and had abandoned hope of helping those with the greatest barriers to finding employment get meaningful work.
Labour found it easier to keep people on sickness benefits then to get them into work. Over nine million working age people were deemed as being economically inactive, the numbers of young people unemployed soared passed a million, including substantial increases before the economic downturn, and millions of families’ sole source of income was benefits. The overall welfare bill spiralled out of control, adding new burdens on taxpayers and draining resources away from other spending priorities. This was and still is Labour’s approach to the welfare state.
For far too many families, whole generations had grown up knowing nothing more than the state as their provider of the money needed to pay housing, food and utility bills. This was the norm under Labour, while hard-working households witnessed a generation living solely on benefits with no motivation to work enjoying a better lifestyle than them. We’ve seen cases widely reported in which claimants who have never worked live in large houses, enjoy regular holidays, have new cars and enjoy a lifestyle that many other households could not afford.
The Labour approach went beyond their basic philosophy of rewarding people for being out of work. They also introduced a complex and unwieldy new benefit system in the form of tax credits. Hundreds of thousands of families suffered from mistakes and errors in the system, leading to billions of pounds being lost. The introduction of tax credits was so bad that, a decade later, families are still facing the consequences of errors and mistakes.
On top of all these systemic problems with Labour’s welfare policies, their open door approach to immigration and failure to restrict migration from poorer EU countries meant that millions of jobs in the economy went to foreign nationals. It is a damning indictment of Labour’s economic and immigration policies that, while they were in power, British nationals were effectively excluded from the workforce by cheap foreign labour. In other parts of the UK economy, some higher skilled foreign-born workers are seen as more desirable by some employers as a result of the atrocious way Labour let education standards fall and Britain tumble down international league tables for literacy, maths and science.
To address these problems over the last four years, Conservative ministers have taken a joined-up approach linking welfare and benefit changes with reforms to the economy and raising standards in education. This is helping record numbers of people into employment while making sure we have a benefits system that is effective for those who need help and fair to taxpayers. We are rebalancing the system in favour of those families who work as well as protecting the most vulnerable and those with disabilities which genuinely prevent them from working.
We have introduced a benefits cap and reform to housing benefit, which means that families living on benefits will not be able to claim more than the average working family earns. This is an important principle which reminds the public that Conservatives are serious about making sure that work is rewarded and acts as an incentive for those who are living a life on benefits to find a job. Our under-occupancy reforms to end the spare room subsidy in social housing also encourages people to live within their means and creates equality between those receiving housing benefit who live in social housing and those who rent privately. Despite the fairness of these changes, Labour have opposed these reforms at every stage.
We have put in place new laws to cap the overall welfare bill at a national level. This means that never again can a Government preside over a welfare bill that is spiralling out of control. Although these measures are a responsible way to control public spending and protect taxpayers from higher bills to fund welfare costs, Labour are not committed to them.
We are reducing complexity and fraud in the benefits system by introducing the Universal Credit. This merges working-age benefits including income support, tax credits, jobseekers’ allowance and housing benefit together into a single payment. Whereas Labour’s flagship tax credits programme was introduced in a disastrous manner, we are making sure that Universal Credit will be a success by rolling it out in a careful and sensible way.
Our wider economic reforms, including tax cuts, reductions in red tape and promotion of business are leading to private businesses created record numbers of new jobs. Already since 2010 there have been two million new private sector jobs created in the economy, and a record 30.5 million people are now in employment. Conservatives are also investing in apprenticeships and support for disabled people, those on sickness benefits and the long term unemployed to enter the workforce. This has meant that the numbers of young people out of working is falling and the number of people classed as economically inactive is now below nine million.
In addition, we have placed new controls on immigration, which has meant that more new jobs being created in the economy are going to British nationals than was the case when Labour was in power. Our schools are also being encouraged to raise standards to make sure that today’s pupils have the skills necessary to be tomorrow’s workforce.
The principle behind our welfare reforms is clear: we have a vision for a welfare system that is getting people into work and off of benefits. This is being delivered and making a real and positive difference to millions of families every day, despite the aggressive socialist rhetoric which opposed the principle of change. By contrast, Labour failed generations by trapping them into a life on dependency. As their misrepresentation of our reforms show, Labour yet again offer more of the same, unsustainable higher welfare costs paid for by tax increases and even more public borrowing.