Mr Peter Hain (Neath) (Lab): How can the Government justify removing all phone lines to local jobcentres such as the one in Neath? How are people, especially disabled and sick people, supposed to cope with the fiendishly complex benefits system, or get into jobs, without personalised help and advice? Does the Minister not understand that the most vulnerable people often cannot get online, afford costly daily travel to jobcentres or hang on for ages on expensive 0845 lines?
Mike Penning: The 0845 numbers came in when the right hon. Gentleman was a Minister, and we are eradicating them now. Advisers are in place all the time. Most work is done online these days, but the advisers are there to help people, which is why we have been so successful in getting people into work.
A whistleblowing Jobcentre manager has told former Work and Pensions Secretary Peter Hain that the removal of helpline phones for the use of claimants will cause serious difficulties for the most vulnerable people in Britain.
The manager contacted Mr Hain after he expressed concern in the Western Mail and then the House of Commons about the planned removal of phones from the Jobcentre serving his Neath constituents.
Mr Hain said: “This insider blows the gaff on claims that this whole procedure is about modernisation. It shows that cost-cutting has got to such a manic level that people will simply be prevented from accessing the kind of advice and assistance they need to get and are entitled to.
“The benefits system is a nightmarish one of complexity and ambiguity. If you deprive claimants of person-to-person contact and force everyone to go online, it’s a recipe for disaster.
“There are fewer and fewer staff to deal even with those claimants able to go online, while there are many especially older clients who are not.
“This proves what I have felt for a long time – that it’s all about cuts and absolutely nothing to do with creating a better or fairer system. The consequence will be increased misery, with people finding it more difficult to get their benefits restored when they have been cut off as a result of some error.
These changes are dictated by adherence to a tick-box culture, and take no account of the human element.”
MP for Neath Peter Hain has called upon the car company Ford to take responsibility and support its employees who were affected by the collapse of the Visteon UK pension fund.
Mr Hain says, ‘Some of my constituents were loyal Ford employees for up to thirty years before being transferred to Visteon UK in 2000. Upon Visteon’s collapse, many received only half their full pensions. This is simply unacceptable.’
Following the collapse of Visteon in 2009, it emerged that the Visteon UK pension fund appeared to be underfunded by approximately £350m. The issue is currently a subject of legal action, with those affected adamant that Ford did not take well enough care of its employees when they were transferred from Ford to Visteon UK.
Mr Hain is among 50 MP’s who have written to Alan Mulally, CEO of Ford Motor Company, to urge Ford to reconsider its stance towards the thousands of people who are now paying the price of Visteon’s failure and are receiving much reduced pension rights.
‘Many of the workers I have spoken to feel that their transferred pensions were miss-sold to them and that assurances given to them at the time by Ford have turned out to be meaningless,’ says Mr Hain. ‘The collapse of Visteon UK has had a devastating impact on their pensions and they believe that Ford has a moral obligation to make up the shortfall.’
Mr Hain signing the letter to Ford CEO Alan Mulally on 26th November.
Mr Peter Hain (Neath) (Lab):What assessment he has made of the effect of changes to housing benefit rules on married disabled people living in specially adapted two-bedroom properties.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Esther McVey): When developing the social sector size criteria policy, we considered the impacts on disabled people, as set out in our impact assessment. We have added a further £30 million a year to the discretionary housing payments fund from 2013-14 aimed specifically at those in adapted accommodation and foster carers.
Mr Hain: Why will the Government not withdraw the housing benefit changes, which are having a devastating impact on disabled people, including my constituents, Mr and Mrs Harris of Seven Sisters, Neath, about whom I have written to the Secretary of State? They live in an adapted property. Mrs Harris cannot sleep at night, Mr Harris is a full-time carer for her and they need two bedrooms, but the draconian and oppressive changes the Government are implementing mean that there is funding for only one bedroom. There is a shortage of one-bedroom properties in Neath and they cannot afford the extra rent. It is time the Government withdrew these policies. Do they not understand that the changes will have a massive impact on the most vulnerable people in our society? The Secretary of State started off with the seemingly sincere motive of tackling poverty, but he has ended up by punitively and callously hitting the most vulnerable.
Esther McVey: That is not the case. An impact assessment has been done and £30 million of discretionary funds have been put in place for exactly the people the right hon. Gentleman is talking about. We have to do this in the round. There are a million spare rooms in the country and millions of people on waiting lists and in overcrowded homes, and we have to find properties for them, too. The case that he mentions, however, is precisely the sort the discretionary fund will be for.
Following today’s (Thursday 6th December 2012) announcement that workers at the Remploy factory in Baglan are being placed at risk of compulsory redundancy Neath MP Peter Hain said,
‘I am deeply concerned at this total betrayal of Remploy and its workers by the Government who have thrown out my plan as Secretary of State for the Department of Work and Pensions and are just throwing disabled workers to the wolves. There is never a good time for an announcement like this but coming just days before Christmas and so soon after the Tata Steel announcement this is a real body blow for the area.’