Last month we asked ConservativeHome readers to submit questions for Theresa May,
the newly-appointed shadow secretary of state for work and pensions.
Here is the first installment of her answers, covering her qualifications for the role and some general questions about welfare reform.
Her remaining answers will be posted in two further installments later today, the first of which is here and the second of which is here.
Question from James Maskell: What skills, abilities and experience do you bring to the role of Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary?
Theresa May: From a personal perspective I’ve worked in business so I think I bring an understanding of the world outside Westminster. My first job in the Shadow Cabinet was covering the Education and Employment brief, during which time I worked on welfare reform proposals, looking at how we could learn from experience overseas. My new brief shadows one of the largest and most complex government departments, but one whose operations impact on the daily lives of millions of people. Its effectiveness and abilities will be tested sharply during this economic downturn. I relish the challenge and having covered a variety of other departments during my time I hope that I bring an understanding of policy in general to the role.
Question from Alan Douglas: This may seem flippant, it is not meant to be: Could you please ensure that when you speak at Conference that the headlines are about the content of your speech, rather than about some item of clothing or footware, by carefully choosing non-controversial clothes. As a long-term politics-watcher, I can recall kitten heels, whatever they are, (and leopard prints?), but not a word of what you have ever said. It’s the message, not the medium, that I would like to retain.
Theresa May: Thanks for saying you want to be able to remember what is said – as for the shoes issue, I think that’s more of a comment on the way the media covers conferences than anything else.
Question from HF: What changes would you make on your first day in office at DWP and can you please summarise the major reforms to benefits that you would bring in during your 1st year in office?
Theresa May: We are committed to
significant welfare reform based on the belief that the best way out of
poverty is work for those who are able to work. These reforms will make
use of the skills and experience of the private and voluntary sectors
to ensure people who are out of work are given the help they need to
get into work. Other major reforms that I would like to see are
simplifying the benefits system where we can, making it easier for
people to claim and to identify bogus claimants. I also think a lot
more needs to be done to tackle benefit fraud so that money is being
given to those who really need it. One thing I won’t do is bring about
sweeping changes for the sake of it. Although there are many problems
with the current system, there are also many good things, notably the
staff, especially at ground level. Making better use of what we have is
vital and more challenging than starting all over again.
Question from Rare Breed: Do you propose to continue with the same level of reform in your shadow brief as your predecessor Chris Grayling?
Theresa May: Absolutely. Chris set
out our radical approach to welfare reform and my intention is to build
on that and take it further. There is still plenty of work to do.
Question from Tony Makara: Do you
think the welfare reform net has been cast too wide under Labour? Would
it not be better to set the focus on filling the half million vacancies
that do exist, along with re-training for the young and unskilled,
instead of spreading resources as far as single mothers, the infirm and
Theresa May: I don’t believe it is
right to leave any one group of people behind in these reforms. Being
in work has many benefits for the individual beyond the pure financial
and those benefits should be available for everyone who is able to take
advantage of them. Having a disability or being of a certain age should
not bar those who want to work and are able to do so. A reformed
welfare state could offer those individuals the support and direction
to get back into the workplace.
Question from David Belchamber: There are so many sources from which
benefits are paid. Could they not be consolidated into one and paid as
a weekly wage, thus saving huge amounts in bureaucracy?
Theresa May: David, that is an interesting idea and simplifying the
benefits system is something that I intend to look at more closely. The
complexities of the current system, with endless forms of repetitive
questions put many people off claiming benefits they are due, whilst
allowing others to take advantage of loopholes in the system. And as
you rightly say, the administrative costs are huge.