One of the reasons I went into politics and Parliament was because I believe people deserve a fair and decent life and this is a cornerstone of this Government’s policy. The best way to do this is to give people the tools to get into work and to be able to earn a living initially by giving them a good education (more children are in good and outstanding schools than ever) and then, through a strong economy, enable them to get into work receiving a decent wage.
A variation of measures of living standards and poverty have emerged over time, with a range of debate as to what is thought to be essential. The most commonly reported measure is widely considered to be that of relative poverty. Thus, whoever is in Government, there will always be people deemed to be living in poverty in accordance with the relative scale. This, of course, is not desirable at whatever level, and this Government has set in place measures to address this.
For those on low incomes, this Government has set in place a system that means people earn more and keep more of their earnings. The most important need is for a decent, affordable home – housing costs are the biggest expenditure for local people, particularly for those on the lowest incomes. We are supporting those who struggle with housing costs through many means including giving powers to local authorities to build more social and genuinely affordable homes. We have also raised the National Living Wage which increases the annual earnings of a full-time worker by over £2000 so that, people have more available money. Raising the rate at which people start paying tax (the Personal Allowance) to £11,850 basic tax payer then keep £1,075 more than they did in 2010-11 is helpful and doubling free childcare for working parents of 3 and 4 year olds to 30 hours a week also saves £5000 a year per child and freezing fuel duty also means people keep more of their hard earnt money. All these things mean that household incomes have never been higher, income inequality has fallen, taxes are down for families and businesses and since 2010, 3.3m people have entered work. And now, there are fewer children across Taunton Deane in workless households than ever which boosts their life prospects.
However, life is still tough for some and the welfare system is there as a safety net with reforms constantly in progress to make the system work effectively for everyone. The ethos of Universal Credit, is universally supported with its aim to encourage work whilst supporting those who need help. It provides personalised supportive local work coaches who can offer those in-between work a significant improvement on the previous benefit, where large numbers of individuals missed out on support they were entitled to. In 2017 this government spent £264 billion on welfare – 34% of government expenditure. I have visited the Job Centre in Taunton which reports the UC roll out is going well. Increasing work allowances in this year’s Autumn Budget means 2.4m people will gain an extra £630 a year. And £39m recently allocated to the CAB to help give advice regarding UC is welcome. It is important Taunton gets its share of this. I also meet with regularly with church groups in Taunton and Wellington and charities doing such valuable work helping the vulnerable and I feed in their suggestions for improvements to the welfare system. Changes to UC include extending the repayment period for loans arranged those rolling over from the old system to the new and a two week run on period for those transferring to UC which will not need to be repaid.
I will continue to listen and work to improve the system, feeding the ideas in directly to DWP where I am a Parliamentary Private Secretary so that the system works as intended, that is, to enable those that can work to work and to earn a decent living and to have enough money to properly support those that will always need to be supported.