Question from George Lees: It would seem to me that your Equal Pay and Flexible Working Bill (Currently in the Lords) will be a nightmare for small business to implement and will ultimately cost jobs. Why is this official Conservative piece of legislation when we voted against a similar one in Europe?
Theresa May: Closing the gender pay gap is not an optional extra – equal pay is the law and the bill would only impose requirements on those companies who were found guilty of breaking the law. On flexible working, the fact is that small businesses are leading the way in offering more flexible and fairer working practices and they’ve done this because they recognise it makes good business sense. We are also seeing flexible working being used in the recession – for example companies offering four day weeks or reduced hours in order to cut costs – to help companies through these difficult times while keeping employees in jobs.
Question from James Burdett: The newspapers have trailed government plans to remove passports and driving licences from fathers who fail to live up to their obligations. How is it going to help get fathers to live up to their responsibilities if by restricting their ability to travel you threaten their ability to work?
Theresa May: The Government has said that these sanctions will not be used against parents who need their passports or driving licences for work and we will hold them to that. We have pressed the Government on this issue at the Second Reading of the Welfare Reform Bill and will continue to do so. Whilst it seems to have been successful in securing maintenance payments from absent parents (not just fathers) in other countries, I think the devil will be in the detail.
Question from Chris Southern: The old guild systems created skilled workers within industries. Would it not be an idea to get certain large companies to subsidise privately funded guilds for the modern apprenticeships where people could learn the skills that the companies need within those industries, and to levels that they find acceptable. People could be given help with the funding just like they can gain with education currently, thus helping people from all social standings learn skills needed within industries.
Theresa May: We strongly support apprenticeships as well as Sector
Skills Councils, which have some overlap with the old guild system. We
have pledged to give them more funding and want them to work with
businesses in their sector and with training providers to find the best
training solutions. The idea of different firms within an industry
coming together to offer training is a good one. Our skills green paper
pledged £5 million extra for Group Training Associations which offer
this. We have promised 100,000 more apprenticeship places than Labour
with more funding for small and medium sized business and full funding
for adult apprenticeships, which are currently under-funded.
Question from Karen Allen: Some employees need a car for their
work. It used to be the case that if they drove over 18,000 miles a
year for their work that they were not taxed for using a company car,
but still paid when using privately. Now, everyone is taxed heavily.
This is unfair on those whose work entails a lot of driving. Will the
Conservatives cut this taxation for those whose livelihood depends on
use of a car?
Theresa May: As you say, many people need a car for work and Labour
have increased the level of taxation on company cars, particularly for
those who drive over 18,000 miles a year. I cannot promise to reverse
this. We know that the state of the public finances immediately after
the next General Election is going to be dreadful and there will be
very limited scope for any action in this area; but we would also need
to look at the environmental impact of any tax changes and any reforms
in the taxation of company cars would need to take this into account.
But I understand your concern.
Question from Graham Tasker: I am a chartered software engineer and
therefore could be classified as middle class. Can you explain how,
having paid 30 years worth of National Insurance, I receive £60.50
unemployed benefit while others get large pay outs having made no
contributions (as has happened to one young member of my extended
family)? I am becoming very hostile to N.I. as it is nothing more than
a Job Tax rather than Insurance.
Question from Millicent Martin-Smyth: Do you really think £60.50 is
an adequate rate for an unemployed person to be paid in this day and
age? I fully realise that for every pound a week extra that JSA pays
out a further 3,000,000+ will have to be found. But are we ready for
the civil unrest that is likely to sweep this nation if extra monies
for those recently out of work is not quickly found?
Theresa May: I’m going to answer both of these questions together as
they cover the same ground. This is a real issue and one that is going
to become more relevant as more people become unemployed, often for the
first time in their lives, and realise that all their contributions
over the years do not give them anything more than those who have not
worked. The fact is though, that Gordon Brown has spent all the money
that might have been used to provide more for the unemployed. As it is,
our public finance cupboard is bare and we are going to have to be
imaginative with the money we do have and ensure that is spent in the
Question from Michael McGough: As well putting on hold the planned
closures of 25 Jobcentre plus office do you think the drastic increase
in unemployment will require further offices being opened?
Theresa May: I am not sure whether we will need more actual offices
but I think with the increased pressure on Job Centre Plus we are going
to need more staff to deal with the sheer volume of claimants.
Question from The Bishop Swine: In this day and age can we not
expect Job Centres to be open all-day on Saturday, and for a lot longer
during week days? Even an 8.00pm closing time would be some improvement.
Theresa May: You make a good point and I think this is definitely
something that the Government should consider. Indeed I believe some
Job Centres are already doing this. Jobcentre Plus staff work really
hard and their jobs are going to become more and more difficult as the
recession wears on. Longer opening hours would help them as well as
claimants but Government would need to find extra staff to man those
Question from Garth Wiseman: Is a Wisconsin style Workfare scheme going to be included in the forthcoming Manifesto or not?
Theresa May: We have looked at a range of international examples,
including Wisconsin, and have taken on board the key lessons in our
plans. Rebuilding the link between work and benefits is vital – our
progressive approach to welfare reform puts this at the heart of our
plans. There are lessons to learn from Wisconsin as well as the
Australian work for the dole schemes and other systems in Denmark and
Germany. Although a system for Britain has to take into account our own
unique circumstances I shall certainly be looking further at what has
been successful overseas.