October 02, 2023

Mel Stride, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, addressed Conservative Party Conference 2023 in Manchester

Work and Pensions Secretary Mel Stride addressed Conservative Party Conference 2023.

Here is what he said:

Conference, when times are tough, it’s easy to forget the great things we achieve.
And I am immensely proud of what we have helped to achieve at the DWP.
Since 2010, we now have:
• payroll employment at a record high.
• 4 million more people in work.
• 2 million more disabled people in work.
• Unemployment about halved.
• Well over a million fewer people in poverty.
• 400,000 fewer children in poverty.
• 700,000 fewer children living in a workless household.
• 200,000 fewer pensioners in poverty.
• And the basic State Pension £3,000 higher. And yes with a continued commitment to the triple lock.
Now that is a record to be proud of.
And can I right upfront thank my outstanding Ministers – Guy Opperman, Tom Pursglove, Mims Davies, Laura Trott, James Younger, our PPSs James Wild and Mark Logan, and our whip Ruth Edwards.
Now Conference, as a department we’ve been busy protecting the most vulnerable, delivering unprecedented financial support for households in the face of the pandemic and global inflation.
And the fact we’ve been able to do that at such scale and pace is down to the modern, dynamic benefits system that we Conservatives have created; and is of course a tribute to the reforms championed by my friend and predecessor Iain Duncan Smith.
When families are struggling through no fault of their own, as Conservatives we have stepped in to support them through difficult times.
But interventions of this kind can only ever be temporary.
The only sustainable solutions for tackling poverty and disadvantage must contain at their core a simple contract between the state and the individual.
A contract that says that for those who are vulnerable, who perhaps cannot work due to ill health or disability, we are here to support you.
That is the foundation of the compassionate conservatism in which I believe.
But there is another part of that contract, that says very clearly that where you can work, perhaps with a little help, then benefits should never be a substitute for hard work and personal responsibility.
Because society has to be about much more than just rights and entitlements.
We cannot live only expecting things of others, we must also have expectations of ourselves.
So I see these as the guiding principles that should run through every part of our welfare system.
Fairness for those most in need, supporting the most vulnerable, but fairness for taxpayers and society more generally too.
This is a moral imperative.
Work contributes to society in the broadest and most powerful way – for the individual it means greater self-worth, health, and well-being, and for society it drives the economic growth we need to pay for the public services which we all rely upon.
And that is why as Conservatives – against howls of protest from the Labour Party who would rather park people on benefits for decades – we brought in Universal Credit.
We made sure that work always pays.
But now, Conference, we face new challenges.
A tight labour market, with businesses struggling to fill vacancies.
And rising numbers of people falling out of the labour market due to ill health and disability.
We shouldn’t hide from these challenges – we should be honest about them.
And under Rishi Sunak’s leadership, we are getting on with the job of driving forward the next generation of Conservative welfare reforms to tackle the underlying problems which have been holding our country back.
And that starts with what we’re doing in our Job Centres.
Just as the world of work is rapidly changing, so the ways in which we help people into work must change too.
So we are trialling a far more demanding approach with claimants at particular risk of becoming long-term unemployed.
This includes far more frequent work-focused requirements, with firm sanctions for those who fail to fulfil their commitments, and more support for those who need it.
And we’ve been testing new incentive schemes for our best performing Job Centre teams. Recognising and rewarding those heroes who go above and beyond to improve the lives of others.
The sort of approach that is common practice in successful parts of the private sector. And if its good enough for the private sector then it should be good enough for the public sector too.
But beyond our Job Centres are many who are even further from the labour market – the economically inactive. Those who are not in work or looking for work.
Now overall, our level of inactivity is lower than the average for the G7, the EU and the OECD.
And thanks to our Labour Market interventions, inactivity has come down by almost a quarter of a million since its pandemic peak.
But there is a key area where further progress needs to be made – the number of people who are inactive due to ill health or disability.
This really matters, because when someone falls out of the labour market it’s bad for our economy.
It’s bad for businesses struggling to recruit staff.
It’s bad for the public finances.
But perhaps most importantly of all it’s also bad for the person concerned.
Having a job isn’t just good for your finances – it’s good for your mental and physical wellbeing too.
And it pains me to think there are so many people being left on benefits who want to work and who could be thriving in work. It’s a waste of human potential.
But for too long, Conference, politicians have taken the easy way out – in one form or another, they’ve let things drift.
And we simply cannot afford to do that any longer. We have to deliver fundamental change for the long-term if we are to address this challenge.
So we are reforming our sickness and disability benefit assessments for the first time in over a decade, to take account of the modern workplace.
That is going hand-in-hand with a revolution in the employment support we’re providing for people with health problems and disabilities.
That’s why at the last Budget we unveiled £2 billion of investment, including a game-changing new programme, Universal Support, which will place people into work, with a personal adviser providing wraparound support for up to a year while they find their feet.
We know it’s an approach that works because we have already been delivering it, including a trailblazing scheme in the West Midlands, Thrive Into Work, led by their excellent Conservative Mayor, Andy Street.
I have seen first-hand how they are integrating healthcare and employment support.
And as we roll out Universal Support, we will be changing lives right across the country, so whatever your situation, if you can work you will be supported to do so.
And if you are on benefits and able to work, you will be expected to do so.
Contrast this with the Labour Party, who are content to leave people languishing on benefits. They have no plan.
They left almost one and a half million people on out of work benefits for a decade.
By the time they left office, unemployment was almost twice as high as it is today.
Youth unemployment had increased by 45%.
And just consider all the reforms they’ve opposed over the years.
They opposed the household benefit cap.
They opposed the two-child benefit limit.
They opposed benefit sanctions.
They even said they would scrap Universal Credit.
They have shown time and time again that when it’s a choice between short-term political expediency or responsible long-term thinking, they will always – always – take the easy way out.
The reality is, you and I know exactly why Captain Hindsight can’t make up his mind when it comes to welfare.
It’s because his own instincts are totally out of touch with the majority of the British people.
Rather like Jeremy Corbyn, Keir Starmer truly is a Marxist. Because as Groucho Marx put it, ‘I have principles, but if you don’t like them… well, I have others.’
When Labour last left office the number of children living in a household where no one worked had risen to two million.
That’s two million children who weren’t seeing a parent go out to work in the morning, with all the knock-on effects for their future.
Since we came into office, that number is down by a third.
We simply cannot afford to let them into government ever again.
Another area of unfairness that I’m determined to address is parents who refuse to do the right thing by financially supporting their own children.
When deadbeat dads are shirking their responsibilities to pay child maintenance, it’s the children who lose out.
We already enforce compliance wherever we can, but it is taking far too long to get children the support they’re due and that simply is not fair.
So I can announce that today we’re firing the starting gun to fast-track the enforcement process without the need to go through the courts.
A process that is taking six months – we will slash to just six weeks.
It’s also too easy for fathers to avoid paying up if their income isn’t coming through normal PAYE, so we will change the rules so that child maintenance calculations include a much broader range of earnings, such as property income.
We will make it easier for mothers who aren’t receiving the money they’re due to have the Child Maintenance Service collect payment directly, and we will get rid of the application fee for using that service.
And while we can already remove passports and driving licences from parents who fail to support their children, we want to go further – removing the barriers which slow this progress down.
Let me be crystal clear: if you are refusing to pay for your children – We will make you pay.
So, our message is simple.
We are here to help. We are here to be fair. To stand up for our pensioners. To support the vulnerable. To support the sick and the disabled. We see that as the hallmark of a civilised society.
But we are also the Department for Work. And we must never lose sight of that.
Low unemployment. Improving economic activity. Rising employment.
These achievements don’t happen by accident. They result from the endeavours of millions of people right up and down our country and from the tireless work of those at DWP day in day out, who make the gift of work a reality for thousands of men and women.
And that, Conference, is what we will continue to do.
For every person supported back into work, there’s a human being who is better off.
A human being freed to be the best that they can be.
A society made alive and whole.
That is truly something to inspire.
Conference, we are getting Britain working.