David Gauke – 2017 Speech at Conservative Party Conference

Below is the text of the speech made by David Gauke, the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, at the Conservative Party conference held in Manchester on 2 October 2017.

In 2010, our economy faced a crisis.

We were borrowing more than at any time in our peace time history.

Unemployment had risen by nearly 850,000 in the previous two years, we had just under 4 million workless households.

Our welfare system had become much more expensive, increasing in real terms by £82 billion over 13 years. But we still had a dysfunctional benefit system that failed to properly reward work and left too many trapped in a life of dependency.

And where are we today?

Youth unemployment down by over 400,000
Long term unemployment down by 400,000
600,000 more disabled people are in work

Today, do not let anyone forget, there are over 3 million more jobs in this country than seven years ago.

And only a very small minority of those jobs have been filled by George Osborne!

This country’s remarkable jobs story is one of the reasons why it is such a privilege to have been appointed Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, to build on the work of Iain Duncan Smith, Stephen Crabb and Damian Green.

Helping millions into work is not the only way the department supports those in need:

We have established auto enrolled pensions. By the end of August, over 8.5 million people had been automatically enrolled into a workplace pension.

We are giving employers the tools they need to recruit, retain and support disabled people. Almost 5,000 employers have signed up to the Disability Confident scheme so far, and this number is growing rapidly.

And I’d like to thank my excellent ministerial team. Penny Mordaunt, Damian Hinds, Caroline Dinenage, Guy Opperman and Peta Buscombe. I’m fortunate to have such a strong team and I would like to thank them – and all the department’s frontline staff up and down the country – for all that they do.

The work that we do touches on the lives of millions of our fellow citizens.

We know that to improve the living standards of the poorest in society, we need a strong economy and a job creating economy. Without the tax receipts that a strong economy provides, we cannot support those that need it most. And we also know that it is through work that people have a chance to progress and to provide for their own economic security.

As Conservatives we do not believe, we have never believed, that we can turn our backs on those most in need.

As Conservatives we believe in a strong and compassionate welfare state that helps everyone fulfil their potential.

In truth, the strength and compassion of a welfare system should not be measured just by the money you spend, but by the lives you transform.

Among the people that need more support are those with mental health conditions.

Helping them has rightly been a priority for the Prime Minister. The UK is increasingly a world leader in treatment and Jeremy Hunt is doing great work here. We understand more than in the past that mental health conditions are a barrier to work but, if we can help people into employment, for many, work can be part of the solution.

That’s why we have trained 1800 Universal Credit work coaches in how to support claimants with mental health issues. To further support Jobcentre work coaches, we have developed an enhanced mental health training programme. Following testing, I can therefore confirm that by the end of the year, it will be made available to all those work coaches who would benefit from it.

Of course, there are some people who suffer from such severe disabilities that they will never be able to work. Last year, my predecessor, Damian Green, announced that we were looking to exclude those with severe lifetime health conditions from any requirement to be reassessed for out-of-work benefits. After early tests of this approach, it has now been implemented and I can tell you that around twice as many people are expected to benefit from this reform than were originally thought.

It is right that we focus our disability benefits on those that need it most. We will support those who are unable to work, while helping those who can work to maximise their potential.

And this is consistent with our approach to the welfare system. An effective welfare system is about eliminating the barriers to work. And it is working, with an employment rate higher than the US, and an unemployment rate half that of the Eurozone.

Of course, we should acknowledge the importance of the job creators in this country. The entrepreneurs, the businesses that have created opportunities, taken on staff and given people the chance to earn a living, and support themselves and their families.

And we should celebrate the determination of the so many of the British people to get in work and to stay in work, so often showing an ability to adapt and be flexible.

The phrase ‘hard working families’, is sometimes seen as a bit of a politicians’ cliché. (And, frankly, it is.) But it is also a fair description of so many people in this country.

Our job-creating businesses and our hard-working people. They are the real heroes of the British economy. And the Conservative Party will always value them and always be on their side.

But let us not hide our light under a bushel. Even with all the excellent businesses out there and our industrious workforce, the British jobs miracle would not have happened without the measures we have taken in government.

The cuts in income tax that meant the low paid could keep more of what they earnt.

The cuts in corporation tax that have encouraged investment.

And the welfare reforms that have put work at the heart of our system – ensuring better results for claimants, and fairness for the people whose taxes pay for it.

All of this has meant that every day we have been in office, 1114 jobs have been created. A remarkable achievement.

I talk about work a lot. After all, it is in my new title.

But we should all talk about it – we have a great record.

I have given you the statistics, but these are not abstract numbers. These are lives transformed, prospects raised, economic security provided. We should be proud of that.

And let us be very clear. None of that would have happened had Labour been in power. And all of it would be put at risk if Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell got their hands on the British economy.

The unreconstructed socialism they offer has failed every time and in every country it has been tried.

Let me tell you who would pay the price if they got the chance to inflict their failed ideology here. It wouldn’t be the super-rich – they’d just up sticks and move abroad. But it would be:

– those struggling to get by
– the hard pressed worker who couldn’t afford higher taxes
– the person who lost their job when a business pulls out of the country
– the young person who can’t even get on the jobs ladder because of higher unemployment.

There is nothing compassionate about destroying the public finances, driving out businesses and passing on huge debts to future generations.

And remember, unemployment always increases under a Labour government. Even when the relatively sensible ones were in charge!

We have achieved much, but there is more to do.

We inherited a welfare system that puts in place barriers to people fulfilling their potential.

The person working part time, worried about working more than 16 hours a week because they will move from one set of benefits to another – and then will have to move back again if there is a fall in their hours.

The worker reluctant to take on more responsibility because they’ll lose almost as much from reduced benefits as they gain in pay.

The person who just wants to do all they can to provide for themselves and their family.

Too many lives have been held back by a complex benefits where progressing in work is seen as a risk not worth taking.

That is why Iain Duncan Smith came forward with Universal Credit, the most radical reform to our benefits system since the Second World War. Scrapping six benefits and replacing them with one and ensuring that work always pays. And, a point that should be appreciated more, we are giving claimants the increased personalised support of work coaches. They are working with claimants to help eliminate their barriers to work.

It is the right vision and I want to pay tribute to Iain for having the courage and determination to pursue this transformative change.

In 101 job centres up and down the country, it is already in operation. The evidence is already clear. It is helping more people into work and it is helping more people in work to progress to better jobs.

Delivering a simpler system that encourages work and supports aspiration.

I understand the concerns that have been raised that, when people first claim, they have to wait six weeks or more before they receive a penny.

It is the case that what you get in Universal Credit depends on what you have earned over the previous month, so payments are made in arrears.

But I am determined to ensure that those who need support earlier in the month will get it. It is already the case that if people need help before the first full benefit payment, they can quickly get an advance to help tide them over.

Increasing numbers of people now claim this – since June, the majority of claimants did so. However, I can announce today that we are refreshing the guidance to DWP staff to ensure that anyone who needs an advance payment will be offered it up-front. Claimants who want an advance payment will not have to wait six weeks. They will receive this advance within 5 working days.

And if someone is in immediate need, then we fast track the payment, meaning they will receive it on the same day.

Universal Credit is working. So I can confirm that the rollout will continue, and to the planned timetable. We’re not going to rush things – it is more important to get this right than to do this quickly, and this won’t be completed until 2022. But across the country, we will continue to transform our welfare system to further support those who aspire to work.

Universal credit is the next step on our journey. A journey to a welfare state that gives people the help that they need but does not trap them in dependency.

A welfare state that believes we have to support the vulnerable but that simply signing a cheque is not enough.

A welfare state that is on the side of all of those who aspire to fulfil their potential.

It is a vision of the welfare state that is compassionate, practical and aspirational. It is, in short, a Conservative vision for a modern welfare state