Pensions and welfare

Mike Wood: I thank the shadow Minister for giving way. His point is entirely bogus, because as the Minister made clear, and as he knows, the Bill concerns purely employers’, and not employees’, contributions, so it does not tax anybody’s redundancy payment.

 

Peter Dowd Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury

Mike Wood: I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this debate. Does he agree that one of the major barriers to children and young people exercising their rights under the UN convention on the rights of the child to be involved in decisions around their own care is difficulty in accessing the content of their personal files, and that this issue needs to be addressed across the country?

 

Tim Loughton Conservative, East Worthing and Shoreham

Mike Wood: What assessment the Government have made of the effectiveness of universal credit in helping people into work.

 

Amber Rudd The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

Mike Wood: What steps his Department is taking to improve social mobility.

 

Damian Hinds The Secretary of State for Education

Social mobility is one of our top priorities, and we have seen the attainment gap for disadvantaged pupils narrow at all levels, from pre-school to university entrance.

 

Mike Wood: 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)

Mike Wood: Although I originally studied law and was called to the Bar, I never practised, so I hope I may speak in the debate without being tied to any particular interest. This debate is increasingly showing a division between those on the side of personal injury practitioners, and those on the side of the overwhelming majority of our constituents who face the costs arising from an ever-escalating number of claims, of escalating value, for relatively minor injuries. My right hon.

Mike Wood: What steps the Government have taken to enable industry to deliver the pensions dashboard.

 

Guy Opperman The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

An industry-led pensions dashboard, facilitated by Government, will harness industry innovation and provide an opportunity for the pensions industry to step up and take a leading role. We have engaged with the industry and are assessing the feasibility of a dashboard. We will report shortly on the findings.

 

Mike Wood: I welcome the announcement that Citizens Advice will be providing universal support in Dudley South and across the country. Can the Minister explain how this will benefit my constituents, and particularly their timely access to universal credit?

 

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

Mike Wood: 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.

 

Mike Wood: 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.

It is a real pleasure to be able to speak in this debate and to follow the moving contributions of my hon. Friend
the Member for Eddisbury (Antoinette Sandbach) and many other Members.

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.

Mike Wood: I thank my hon. Friend for taking forward the excellent work begun by my hon. Friend Will Quince in the previous Session. He rightly says that most employers would grant leave under such terrible circumstances, were it asked for. Is not the point of the Bill that no parent should, in almost unimaginably horrible and difficult circumstances, have to make such a request and fear what the answer might be?

 

Kevin Hollinrake Conservative, Thirsk and Malton

 Mike Wood: Was my hon. Friend as startled as I was to discover that in the last quarter, nearly 5,000 people were judged to be homeless but not a priority case? Does he welcome the changes in the Bill to address those extremely vulnerable people who are not covered by the existing legislative framework?

 

Kevin Foster Conservative, Torbay

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.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Rosindell, I think for the first time. I thank
the hon. Member for Sheffield Central (Paul Blomfield) for securing this debate on an extremely important issue. Before I begin, I declare an interest in that my brother works in the social care sector—he started a new role on Monday—although he is not directly affected by the issues we are discussing this afternoon.

Mike Wood: 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.

 

Andrea Leadsom ​(The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change): 

Mike Wood: Dudley Council is banning dogs from the parts of Himley Park that are most easily accessible to people with visual and other disabilities. May we have a debate on facilities to allow guide dog owners and puppy-walkers to exercise their dogs properly?

 

Chris Grayling Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

Mike Wood: 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.

Mike Wood: I am father to two beautiful children: my seven-year-old daughter Rebecca, and my four-year-old son Ben. To them, there is no such thing as a boy’s job or a girl’s job; maths and science are not off the radar for either of them. I want them to grow up in a society where girls of all ages have choices and opportunities every bit as much as boys. That is why I am so pleased that the Government are committed to eliminating inequality at every stage of life. For women in work, this must mean earning an equal wage.

Mike Wood: What steps the Government is taking to give parents a greater say in access to holiday and wrap-around care.

 

Sam Gyimah The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education

Moving more of HMRC’s work out of central London, which has some of the world’s most expensive office space, will enable it to make substantial savings. It is right that HMRC makes whatever savings it can on its property costs so that the money that it does have can be used to improve customer service and maximise tax revenues. It cannot be sustainable for its 58,000 full-time employees to be spread across 170 offices around the country, many of which, as has been, said are little more than a legacy of the 1960s and 1970s. That is highly inefficient.

Mike Wood: Everybody who has had any contact with the adoption process will be familiar with the frustration that unnecessary delays cause prospective parents. Will the Prime Minister take action to speed up the adoption process so that more children can be placed with the right families much more quickly?

 

David Cameron The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

Mike Wood: Does my hon. Friend agree that a basic test of the fairness of this package would be for its painful parts, such as the threshold reduction, not to be introduced quicker than its more positive elements, including the living wage, personal allowance increases and other benefits?

 

Stephen McPartland Conservative, Stevenage

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