Pensions and welfare

Will my hon. Friend join me in welcoming the £1.7 billion announced in the Budget to increase work allowances for families with children, which will mean that 2.4 million families will be better off?

 

Alok Sharma (The Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I always find it interesting when Opposition Members talk about helping their constituents. Sadly, what they do not then do is vote in the Lobby to support the policies designed to help those very people.

I am particularly pleased to see the Minister for financial inclusion, the Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, my hon. Friend Guy Opperman, in the Chamber. He joined me in my constituency over the summer to meet a range of agencies involved in the day-to-day work with people claiming universal credit, which was rolled out there in the middle of last year. What was particularly striking was the evangelism of the jobcentre staff, particularly the work coaches, and the transformation in morale in the jobcentres.

I understand the hon. Gentleman’s quite legitimate concerns, but perhaps I can offer a little reassurance following the roll-out that has already happened in Dudley. Many claimants and the jobcentre—particularly in Stourbridge—are seeing that universal credit gives extra flexibility to help cases that simply would not have received the help and appropriate support they needed under the old system. More people—precisely the kind of difficult cases that he refers to—are getting into work and staying in work.

 

Over the past two and a half years I have met many constituents who have been directly affected by the various changes to the state pension age. Listening to them, it is impossible not to feel every sympathy, given the circumstances in which many find themselves. If I suddenly found out that I would not be able to retire at the age I had expected, I am not sure that I could say how I felt—actually, I probably could, but I fear my language would not be parliamentary.

There is a clear need to get the cost of housing benefits under control, but it is also vital that the needs of the most vulnerable are met. These costs have continued to rise, even at times when the number of people receiving housing benefits has reduced. Unless the spiralling cost can be controlled, the system would soon become unviable, severely limiting our ability to support many of the people who need our help the most.

To ask the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, what assessment she has made of the potential contribution to energy efficiency and low carbon energy from buildings markets to (a) improving infrastructure and (b) implementing the Government's (i) long-term economic plan, (ii) obligations under the Climate Change Act 2008 and (c) commitments to relieve fuel poverty.

 

Does my hon. Friend agree that part of the problem is that local authorities’ rush towards adoption makes it more difficult for grandparents to go through the process and demonstrate that they are properly equipped and suited to look after their grandchildren?

 

Lucy Allan (Telford)

I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention and I am delighted that he makes that point.

There seems to be an omission from the list of measures that the right hon. Gentleman supports. Will he clarify whether the Labour party will support the measures to limit child tax credits to two children, and whether that will still be the party’s position in October?

 

Stephen Timms (Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions))