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I would bring extensive experience of the social security system

I would bring extensive experience of the social security system
3 min read

My reputation for effective cross-party working stands me in good stead to steer the Work and Pensions Committee, writes Stephen Timms MP


An East London MP since 1994, I was PPS to the minister for employment in 1997, then minister for disability benefits, for pensions (twice) and, in 2008, for employment.

I was in the cabinet as chief secretary to the Treasury in 2006-07. As shadow work and pensions minister in 2010-15, I led Labour’s opposition team on the bill which set up universal credit. Since 2015 I have served on the Education Committee and the Exiting the European Union Committee, and chaired the Parliamentary Labour party’s backbench DWP Committee.

I would bring to the chair extensive experience of the social security system, an excellent track record of cross-party working and a determination to overcome serious problems affecting our constituents.  

My priorities would be:

Universal credit

Merging benefits to simplify the system was a good idea, but implementation has been problematic. Great care is needed now to avoid hardship in transferring claimants from their former benefits to universal credit. The committee must play an important scrutinising role.

The five-week delay before entitlement to benefit is leading to some serious debt problems. Foodbanks say the delay is a significant contributor to rising demand for their help. The design assumes that everyone claiming benefit has a month’s salary in the bank from the job they have just left, but this simply isn’t the case – for example, for those transferring from other benefits, the weekly paid or those on zero-hours contracts.

Universal support, a key element in the initial proposal for universal credit, has not been implemented. The committee should consider what support is needed in future for people claiming the benefit.

Disability

Claimant experiences of assessments for employment and support allowance, and personal independence payment, remain very poor. People are often refused benefit despite strong supporting medical evidence. They may eventually succeed on appeal, but only after a long and stressful delay, sometimes involving financial hardship.  

We understand much better now than in the past how to support people who are out of work on health grounds, including where it’s a mental health issue. But I would like to see a target and plan to reduce the stubbornly high disability employment gap.

Pensions

The committee’s important work in monitoring progress with auto-enrolment and the pensions dashboard must continue. I welcome the cross-party consensus in favour of collective defined contribution pensions.

Too many of those taking advantage of pension freedoms have fallen prey to fraudsters. The committee should review the protections and support in place for savers.

Child support

Decisions about child support will always be contested, but the system has been less high profile in recent years. It is a good time to review its current state, and to assess whether it is delivering the support which children need, and is accessible and fair to both parents.

Health and safety

The committee should review the remit and resources of the Health and Safety Executive as people work for longer, and as Brexit will change how UK health and safety legislation is determined.

Stephen Timms is Labour MP for East Ham

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Read the most recent article written by Stephen Timms MP - Out of work families can not afford the cut to Universal Credit

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