Last Monday in the House of Commons at the beginning of the day (2.30pm) and indeed the beginning of the week there was a session with the Department of Work and Pensions that lasted about an hour. The Ministers who took part were Therese Coffey the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Justin Tomlinson the Minister of State for DWP, Mims Davies, Guy Opperman and Will Quince who are all Parliamentary Under Secretaries of State for Work and Pensions. As it happens Mims Davies is also the MP for Mid Sussex and I spotted her unusual use of words towards the end of the hour when she was answering a question from Henry Smith who is the MP for Crawley. That question was part of the Topical Questions section which was at the end of the more specific groups of sixteen questions which involved Mims Davies in four of them on behalf of the Department. The Topical Questions are presumably less specific than the previous sections which are perhaps prepared for the Ministers and so there may be less warning in the Topical Questions. However the use of words is still important. The question from Henry Smith was the second one in the Topical Questions that Mims Davies responded to from amongst the team of five.
HS: The covid-19 pandemic has presented some stark economic challenges for Crawley affecting people of all ages. What support has the Department for Work and Pensions put in place to help workers get back into work across my constituency?
MD: In addition to the excellent work already being done at the Crawley youth hub in the town hall and the existing Jobcentre Plus, I am pleased that, as part of the DWP estates expansion and renewal programme, we will shortly open a new jobcentre at Forest Gate and a DWP response hub at Gatwick airport. As well as generating valuable employment opportunities, this will ensure that we can provide the support that individuals of all ages need in and around Crawley.
It is of course true that whenever the Government opens offices such as Jobcentres and DWP response hubs that some people will need to do the work and indeed the buildings they choose to use may need to be fitted out and indeed there will be rent or purchases made. There may well be a few new jobs as part of this arrangement. However generating valuable jobs is surely not the best phrase to use. In addition the support that people of all ages need is not simply the opening of a Jobcentre and the provision of a response hub!
A bit earlier in the hour long debate Mims Davies raised an even more disturbing approach although it related to the whole of the nation. This came from Kevin Brennan who is the Labour MP for Cardiff and here is the question and answer section from what is titled the Benefit Cap and the phrase UC presumably refers to Universal Credit.
KB: What recent representations she has received on removing the benefit cap.
MD: The proportion of individuals capped remains very low in relation to the overall UC case load and exemptions continue to apply. There remains a statutory duty to review the cap within this Parliament. However, we are in an unusual economic period, and any decision will need to consider potentially counter-intuitive and shifting trends.
KB: I thank the Minister for that answer, but at a time when all of us know constituents who are struggling through the crisis which has brought them such hardship through no fault of their own, are the Government really going to impose the benefit cap on tens of thousands of families with children when the so-called “grace period” comes to an end? Is that really true? If it is, can she tell me this: how is that fair?
MD: The benefit cap provides fairness for hard-working tax-paying households as a clear incentive to move into a job where possible. Universal credit households are exempt from the cap if the household earnings are at least £604 a month. I reiterate to the House that the amount of individuals capped remains very low in comparison to the UC case load, at around 3%.
According to the Governments latest data from October 2020, there were 5,700,000 people on Universal Credit so 3% would be about 111,000 people which would seem to be a significant number of people for most people.