I am acutely aware of the areas of DWP policy that need urgent attention
As a former shadow welfare minister representing a deprived area, I have the know-how and the heart to lead the Work and Pensions Committee, writes Chris Bryant MP
I am standing for chair of the Work and Pensions Committee for three reasons.
First, policy should always be evidence-based (especially when you are spending more than £220bn a year) and the select committee system is a vital part of ensuring that Parliament and government have the right evidence to hand.
That requires the collaborative and cross-party approach I have adopted in my campaigns on acquired brain injury; assaults on emergency workers; melanoma; and human rights in Putin’s Russia.
It also requires an in-depth understanding of the powers and duties of committees, which I have honed through chairing the Finance Committee (2017-19) and sitting on the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee (2001-05) and the Foreign Affairs Committee (2017-19).
Second, robust and insistent but respectful questioning of those who exercise power helps improve government decisions and policies, and makes senior figures in the private sector prove their mettle.
It was my question to the News of the World editor in March 2003 that eventually led to the phone hacking investigations. Ensuring that a committee gets to the nub of the issue and does not let a witness off the hook – but does so without ever hectoring or bullying – is a key responsibility of the chair, and I hope I showed in the Speakership election that I have the skills to chair the committee with fairness and with imagination.
Most importantly, though, having been shadow welfare minister and representing a community that has long suffered from multiple levels of deprivation, I know many of the areas of the Department for Work and Pensions policy that need urgent attention.
Clearly that includes personal independence payments (including reviewing how assessments are carried out), the roll-out of universal credit, carer’s allowance, the delayed review into the treatment of claimants with terminal conditions, developments in auto-enrolment, changes to the state pension and pension credit, and tackling preventable work-related deaths and injuries.
In addition, while the committee must closely examine the details of social security policy, I would hope the committee would also tackle the over-arching issues of the rapidly changing structure of work and the enduring causes of poverty.
Many of these are fiercely contested areas of public policy, and the decisions government and Parliament make about them affect the lives of every MP’s constituents. Few areas are more directly affected than mine in the Rhondda, however, where multiple layers of deprivation have restricted people’s opportunities and perpetuated poverty ever since coal was discovered in the 19th century.
These can also feel like highly technical areas of public policy, but I hope to be able to distil the essence of the debate in order to enable a wider public understanding of, and participation in, the work of the committee.
Several select committees have experimented with alternative means of working in recent years, for instance by holding joint inquiries with other committees. I would like to expand on this work.
It is the committee members, not the chair, who determine its direction; but as chair I would always seek to enable the committee to proceed by consensus.
Chris Bryant is Labour MP for Rhondda
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