SOCIAL SECURITY AND PENSIONS
Since I became an MP I have taken an interest in social security and pensions and have campaigned against the increases in means testing that have taken place. I have written several articles on pensions and argued for a state pensions' system that does not penalise personal saving.
Recently I have received several communications from constituents worried, and also sceptical, at Government policies that put pressure on vulnerable people to seek work, which could be counterproductive in the aims of reducing poverty and social inclusion. I have tried to reflect these concerns in Parliament and in correspondence with ministers and will be supporting amendments to the Welfare Reform Bill as it passes though the various stages in the House of Commons. In January I also wrote an article for The House Magazine on ‘Mental Health and Employment’.
24 February 2009
To read about correspondence that I have exchanged with the Department of Work and Pensions about the recent welfare reforms click here.
27 January 2009
To see my contributions during the Second Reading of the Welfare Reform Bill click here.
10 December 2008
To see my contribution to the debate on the Government's White Paper “Raising expectations and increasing support: reforming welfare for the future” click here.
5 November 2008
To see a speech I made during the Work & Welfare Debate click here.
I submitted a number of written Parliamentary Questions on the topic of "Social Security Benefits: Lone Parents". To read my questions and the Government's responses click here
For further details of my views please see the various articles I have written that are listed below.
The House Magazine - January 2009 - Mental Health & Employment
Campaign Group News - August 2007 - Tory ideas on welfare reform
Campaign Group News - Mar/Apr 2007 - Lone Parent Benefits
Campaign Group News - Oct/Nov 2004 - Pensions
Parliamentary Monitor - July 2004 - Pensions
Pensions Management - Nov 2003 - Tory Policy U-turn on the earnings link?
Pensions Management - April 2003 - More Arguments for a Decent State Pension...
Pensions Management - February 2003 - The Green Paper on Pensions: Avoiding the Big Issues
Pensions Management - October 2002 - When will the Government be Really Bold on Pensions?
Campaign Group News - July 2002 - Solving the Pensions Crisis
Campaign Group News - March 2002 - Conditional Child Benefit - Wrong, Unnecessary, Unworkable
Pensions Management December 2001 - Arguments for a Decent State Pension
Campaign Group News - September 2001 - Incapacity Benefit 'MOT's - Unnecessary and Counterproductive
Pensions Management November 2000 - Restore the Link!
Pensions Management and Tribune - January 2000 - Pensions
Campaign Group News - November 1999 - Welfare Reform
Campaign Group News - October 1999 - Welfare Reform
Campaign Group News - September 1999 - Welfare Reform
Click here for my response to the Labour Party Consultation: A Modern Welfare State (October 2002)
Pensions: Letter to the Editor - Financial Times, January 2002
Click here to read The 'Great Debate' on pensions 2000/2001
Click here for my views on a Citizen's Income
Welfare Reform (Article in Socialist Campaign Group News Nov 1999)
On 26 March 1998, the Government published the Welfare Reform Green Paper, New Ambitions for Our Country – A New Contract for Welfare, and launched what it described as one of the biggest consultations of its kind ever undertaken by a Government.
In the foreword to the Green Paper, the Prime Minister stated:
"There has been no truly comprehensive review of the Welfare State in all its elements since Beveridge - no-one since then has attempted to survey the current system in its entirety, define its strengths and weaknesses and then lay out a political and intellectual framework for its reform and future development.
Our objective is to build a genuine national consensus behind change."
Although the Government has stated that the principles that underpin its plans for welfare reform have received overwhelming support, they initially refused even to publish their analysis of responses but did offer to make copies of the 1050 written responses they received available on request!
With the limited resources available to me, it was clearly not possible to read all 1050 responses. However, I did prepare a summary of submissions representative of the whole range of organisations and individuals that responded.
After I pointed out that the DSS was contravening Cabinet Office guidance on Government consultations, which states that Government Departments "should produce and make available a summary of views and information collected from the consultation exercise" the Government's own analysis was made available to me. Whilst this is much less detailed on individual submissions, there is compatibility between the civil servants’ assessment and mine.
Both analyses fail to support the Government’s claim to have won overwhelming endorsement for their principles. Respondents as diverse as Age Concern and the Catholic Board for Social Responsibility pointed out that the Green Paper falls well short of being a comprehensive review of the Welfare State, advancing Government proposals without discussing alternative principles. They said there was a lack of clear thinking by the Government on the role of social insurance, universal benefits and means-testing within the social security system.
Many respondents pointed out that means-testing penalises financial planning and acts as a disincentive to work and to save, as well as encouraging fraud. The contributory system enjoys great public support and extending, rather than means-testing universal benefits, would address many of the Government’s concerns. There were many calls for the scope of the national insurance scheme to be expanded to include the low paid, part-timers and atypical workers and concern about people losing benefit rights because of caring responsibilities.
As the Association of British Insurers pointed out:
"The interrelationship between state benefits and what insurance companies can offer needs to be properly understood by government, by insurance companies and by the public. A stable framework is needed in which people can make plans which will not be disrupted by a subsequent change of government policy. People naturally are resentful if, for example, having saved for a specific welfare need, they then discover that they have been wasting their money and that they would have obtained the same benefit from the state for nothing. Conversely, if people have reasonably expected that the state will provide, they are aggrieved if suddenly the state decides not to provide."
It is in this context that many Labour MPs like myself are unhappy about provisions in the Welfare Reform and Pensions Bill to increase means-testing and reduce contribution rights to receive Incapacity Benefit. As a consequence of the Government’s proposals, someone unemployed for two years before becoming disabled, who has paid contributions for 30 years previously will not qualify, but someone unemployed for 30 years who has worked for one of the last two years will qualify for Incapacity Benefit.
The offending Clauses in the Bill were removed in the Lords after the Government refused to accept a compromise position put forward by Labour peer, Jack Ashley. Instead, they have attempted, rather unconvincingly, to rubbish Jack’s proposals by citing the example of a person with two children, retiring through ill health at the age of 35 with a pension of £39,000. If any such person existed, they might just be entitled to a tiny amount of benefit.
Realising that he has little time to get the Bill through the legislative process before the Queen’s Speech on 17 November, Alistair Darling is telling Labour MPs that he will ‘look into the details’, but if he is to avoid another major rebellion he will have to come up with substantial concessions. Even if he wins the vote, Labour members in the Lords tell me that the mood there could lead to a further defeat and the Bill being lost altogether.
Tony Blair must now start to show that he really meant it when he said he wanted to build a genuine national consensus on welfare reform.
This article appeared in 'Socialist Campaign Group News' in November 1999.
- See articles above - October and September 1999
- Speeches made at Third Reading & Report Stages of the Welfare Reform and Pensions Bill - 17 May 1999 and 20 May 1999
- Click here for more information on Citizen's Income Trust