Work and Welfare

Charles Walker calls for a time limit on receipt of benefits to tackle the problem of professional claimants.

Mr. Charles Walker (Broxbourne) (Con): When I was a young man—[Hon. Members: “Now.”] When I was a younger man, I lived for a while in America. About twice a year, I would fly back and forth, and I nearly always travelled economy class. Once, however, I was upgraded to club class. Having been called to speak so early, that is how I feel now—I feel like I have been upgraded to club class. I know that it will not happen again, so I am very grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

I congratulate the excellent staff at the Waltham Cross Jobcentre Plus office in my constituency. They do an incredible job dealing with some very hard client groups and without expecting much thanks. They are truly professional and we are very lucky to have them. They also do their jobs without great financial rewards. They are excellent public servants. A few weeks ago, when I visited the office, I was told about some of the consequences of what we all know is happening in the economy: the number of clients visiting jobcentres was rising and the number of vacancies falling. We are in for a very difficult two years, and I imagine that all Members will be holding some very difficult surgeries. We will have many families and people coming to see us in very desperate situations—having lost their jobs and, tragically, their homes.

One of my concerns about the current system is that it is very difficult for people who have been self-sufficient throughout their lives to access help in their time of need. In a sense, they are not professional claimants, and they probably thought that they would never have to call on Jobcentre Plus and the Department for Work and Pensions. Many probably thought that they would always be employed and able to look after their families through their earnings. Suddenly, however, and through no fault of their own, they need some help—not for a long time, but to get them back on their feet. I hope that the Government, the Opposition, Jobcentre Plus and the Department are alive to those people’s needs. Over the next two years, we must be there to help them and to give them the leg-up they need.

When I visited the jobcentre, I was struck by its awareness of and concern about the number of professional claimants—people who believe that the state owes them a living and who have not done a stroke of work in their lives. We need to tackle that problem. Nothing makes hard-working people, earning the minimum wage or just above, whether they live in Broxbourne or Burton, more angry than seeing people in their streets taking the system for a ride. It is worth reminding the House that many of the Department’s advisers are also on very low wages, so I am sure that they are just as upset and angry when people present themselves, week in, week out, with no intention of getting a job.

All hon. Members need to work together to end this culture. I am well aware that the Government have tried to get people back into work; they have received pressure from Labour and Conservative Members about it. However, it is about time that people such as Charles Walker, the Member of Parliament for Broxbourne, got a bit of spine and backbone. All too often I have put pressure on the Government to act. We all know that many people who come to our surgeries have terrible and tragic stories, but we also know that some are just telling a story. However, instead of offering wise counsel and saying, “The Government are right and my best advice to you is to get a job, because you will be much happier that way”, I actually say, “Isn’t that appalling? This horrible Government! Let me take up your case. I shall write to the Minister and demand that your case be reviewed.” In doing that, I am not being honest with my constituent, myself or my constituency.

We hon. Members are good people who do not like to disappoint others, but it is incumbent on us to say to some people, “I am sorry, but it is in your interests to get a job, and that’s the end of the matter.” If they say, “I’m going to the local newspaper”, we should say, “Be my guest! Here’s the name and address of the editor and the news reporter.” If they went to the newspaper, the overwhelming majority of constituents, whether in Labour, Conservative, Liberal Democrat or independent seats, would say to us, “Good on you, Member of Parliament.”

Jonathan Shaw
: I look forward to not receiving the hon. Gentleman’s letters.

Mr. Walker
: Well, I look forward to not sending them. However, talk is cheap in this place, and I suspect that the Under-Secretary might still receive the odd letter from me.

Many people are desperate to get back into work. They might have been out of work for a number of years, had mental health or disability problems and lost their self-confidence. We need to help them rediscover that self-confidence so that they can re-launch themselves in the world of work. However, a small minority of people remain who simply will not work; they are, I am afraid, work-shy and believe that the state owes them a living. A life on benefits should not be an option for those people. We have an obligation to look after people in their time of need, but we need to put a time limit on benefits.

Of course, I am not saying that we should throw people and families into the street to starve. That would be ridiculous, but at some stage it would not be unreasonable to tell able-bodied people who are capable of working but choose not to, “Mr. Jones”—or Mr. Bloggs, or Mrs. Jones or Mrs. Bloggs—“your benefit needs to be earned. We’ve paid it for two years but that ends today.

When you come and see us tomorrow, you will present yourself in this office at 9 o’clock in the morning and you will join a group of people going out into the community to do good and important work. When you have done that work, at the end of the week we will give you your money.”

Of course people will bitch and moan about that: they will be miserable at having to work, but they will have to if they want to get their money. Anyway, who knows? After two or three weeks or three or four months, some people frightened by the concept of work might actually discover that they like working with a group of people, and that they like to be motivated and achieve something as part of a team. At that stage, they might decide voluntarily to get a proper job with an employer.

Let us all work towards that. I am not a paragon or beacon of virtue. I have been work-shy in my past life, but very occasionally people close to me gave me a kick up the backside, and that was the motivation that I needed.

Mr. Deputy Speaker, thank you for calling me so early in this debate. I have thoroughly enjoyed making my brief contribution.

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