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Friday, July 06, 2007

Mentioned in despatches

A friend e-mails to point out that my name cropped up in Department of Work and Pensions' questions in the House of Commons on Monday. Obviously, Plaid Cymru MP, Hywel Williams stumbled across this article in the Western Mail and decided to make political capital out of it. The only thing is that the point he is trying to make is as clear as mud:

Hywel Williams (Caernarfon) (PC): What would the Minister say to Liberal Democrat Assembly Member Peter Black, who said this morning in the Western Mail "benefits and disability payments discourage claimants from seeking work"? Does she agree with him?

Anne McGuire: No, I do not...

Hywel Williams has, of course, taken my remarks out of context, after all the paragraph in question is not even a quotation, it is a poor summation of my view that disabled people who want to work cannot afford to do so because amongst many other problems there are no transitional arrangements in place that allow them to adjust from a high level of benefit to a lower wage.

These views are not just mine, they appear in two Welsh Assembly Committee reports endorsed by AMs of all parties, including Hywel Williams' own colleagues in Plaid Cymru. The Education Lifelong Learning and Skills Committee report into Additional Education Needs for example said this:

6.19 Benefits are not a devolved matter and the operation of the benefits system is complex. It is not an area that the Committee has looked at inany depth during this review. Nevertheless, the concerns expressed were sufficiently widespread to lead us to believe that this is an area that needs attention to ensure a joined-up approach between Assembly Government policies in this area and the work of Job Centre Plus.

6.20 Although we did not look at this issue in depth, the Assembly’s Equality of Opportunity Committee recently concluded a two year in-depth review of service provision for young disabled people. Many of the themes in that review are mirrored in this report. In particular, they were concerned the benefits system could act as a barrier to work rather than a help. We commend their report and we endorse their specific recommendations on benefits. For completeness we reiterate them here as they concern our terms of reference.

[33] The Welsh Assembly Government should make representations to its colleagues in the Department of Work and Pensions on the need to overcome the disincentives to work within the current benefits system that are experienced by disabled people.

[34] The Welsh Assembly Government and the Department for Work and Pensions should work closely together to develop ways in which budgets and the benefits system can be used creatively to ensure that Welsh Assembly Government policies are supported by Whitehall Departments.

The Equality of Opportunity Report is more specific in identifying the problem:

2.29 Proposals designed to help people progress from benefits to work is an improvement on the current situation, but there are still blockages around housing benefit and income support and a need to review the rules around 'permitted work'. Work has been undertaken for the Sainsbury Centre by Patience Seebohm and Judy Scott on addressing disincentives to work, which proposed some radical improvements in relation to earnings disregard, extension of permitted work and introduction of a tax credit starter.

2.30 Welsh partners in a Pan-Disability Partnership (including RNID, RNIB, SCOVO, Mencap, Scope, Shaw Trust) are keen to identify ways of utilising the different funding mechanisms and programmes of support in health and social care, employment and education sectors to develop best practice. There is a need for employment programme funding, direct payments, social and health care monies to be used in a more joined up way to enable people to achieve economic activity Welsh examples could then be fed into UK-wide policy development.

2.31 The bureaucracy around claiming benefits is a problem for many disabled people, and more flexibility, to allow people to work flexible hours dependent on their condition without losing benefits, would remove one disincentive to work. There are particular barriers to work for people in residential care because their benefits are tied into the provision of their residential care package.

Further details can be found here. It is just a shame that Mr. Williams could not have used his valuable question opportunity to raise these issues instead of trying to score a cheap political point.

Another MP who likes to be at the centre of the action is Bridgend's Madeleine Moon. She is credited on the front page of today's Glamorgan Gazette with saving Bridgend's Remploy factory. Closer reading however reveals that she visited the plant, had a discussion with the company secretary and discovered that Remploy has now secured enough contracted work to give the workforce a fighting chance of keeping their jobs.

The newspaper obviously felt that this warranted the tag 'Exclusive' even though they published a column from me only the week before saying exactly the same thing. As I understand it things have moved on a bit since I visited the plant and had discussions with the Company Secretary and it really does look like the factory can be kept open. However that is not down to me or to the local MP, it is due to the hard work of management, the trade unions, the local Council, the workforce and many other partners. Still, it may help Madeleine with her reselection problems.
Bitchy, Peter, Very Bitchy.
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