Theresa May, now Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, spoke today on the second reading of the Welfare Reform Bill. The Party supports the bill, although it also takes the view that it does not go far enough.
Determined to continue the work of Chris Grayling, Mrs May set out her stall as a welfare reformer:
"Mr Speaker, this Government has promised many times that it would finally reform welfare. But every time it has made that promise, it has failed, because too many hon members on the Labour backbenches have believed that to support welfare reform is, somehow, not progressive. But there is nothing progressive about just handing out cash for being out of work. Real progressives – like the Secretary of State and me – know that we need to reform welfare so that we help people to help themselves.
That’s why we Conservatives support this Bill. As it passes through Parliament, the Secretary of State will come under great pressure from many of his colleagues in the Parliamentary Labour Party to back track. In those circumstances we will support him if he stands firm. But I will be watching over his shoulder to make sure that he does stand firm. And if he doesn’t, hon Members can rest assured that he and his colleagues will be replaced by a Conservative government utterly determined to introduce real welfare reform and get Britain working."
Mrs May has also written an article for the Guardian’s Comment is Free site in which she urges the Government to be more energetic:
"Yet, I must still confess to being a little disappointed by the bill. The ideas are there, but the ambition is still lacking. James Purnell’s idea of supporting over 1 million people on incapacity benefit with one interview at the jobcentre is not good enough. That’s it, just one single interview for people, many of whom have spent this entire Labour government at home on benefits. With lengthening queues outside jobcentres and our benefit bill rising, the challenge of welfare reform is growing; now is not the time to be faint-hearted. That is why I am determined to take reform further and deeper."
Theresa May’s appointment was not universally welcomed. But she is full of zeal, and perfectly capable of handling a complex brief without losing sight of the big picture. Hard-pressed taxpayers and vulnerable people alike (and individual membership of both groups is increasingly likely) are more than ready for effective welfare reform.