Ladies and gentlemen, I’m sure you‘ll agree I have a great team behind me, with the ideas, commitment and determination to make a real difference to people’s lives.
Almost two years ago Chris Grayling published Conservative plans for welfare reform in our Green Paper Work for Welfare. He set out how, learning from the experience of other countries, we could reverse the growth of benefit dependency under Labour.
More support to get people back into work. Tough sanctions for those who can work but won’t. And instead of a failing state-led system, a new role for the private and voluntary sector to get people back into work.
That was before Labour’s financial crisis led to a jobs crisis. Since Chris wrote that Green Paper our country has plunged into recession.
We have seen the fastest growth in unemployment on record.
Over 2000 people a day have lost their jobs.
One in five young people now can’t find work.
We all know this is a global recession. But Britain went into this recession ill prepared to deal with the consequences. Our high levels of benefit dependency before the downturn left us vulnerable to rising unemployment as the credit crunch took its toll. As a result we’ve had one of the highest rises in unemployment of all advanced economies.
This makes the task of welfare reform much more difficult. But it makes it even more important than before. That’s why on Monday we launched our plans to get Britain Working.
Welfare dependency and worklessness have undermined this country’s competitiveness, efficiency and importantly, our social fabric.
Government figures show there are now 3.3 million workless households in Britain. One in six children grow up in workless households, the highest number in all of Europe.
There are communities which are blighted by welfare ghettoes, pockets of intense deprivation where whole families, whole streets, whole neighbourhoods are reliant solely on benefits.
This level of worklessness has a devastating impact. Six out of ten children living in workless households live in poverty.
And it won’t surprise you to learn that children living in workless households are more likely to grow into workless adults, still reliant on state benefits and trapped in a pattern of poverty and deprivation.
Worklessness isn’t just about poverty of wealth, it’s also about poverty of aspiration, of opportunity and of experience. Having a job gives you so much more than a wage. It gives you purpose and routine whilst improving your health and self-confidence.
So solving our welfare habit isn’t just about saving the public purse. It is about radically transforming the lives of millions of people. It’s about helping them get into work and stay in work. To help them feel better about themselves and to help them deliver a better future for their families.
Labour has had 12 years to help these people. They have failed, time and time and time again.
People need real help.
The next Conservative Government will give it to them.
I know I am not the first politician to promise radical welfare reform.
And people rightly ask me why do I think the Conservatives can deliver where Labour have failed?
The answer lies in the policies we have announced this week. Our package to Get Britain Working will radically improve the support on offer to the thousands of people currently unemployed.
We will simplify Labour’s complicated and bureaucratic back to work programmes into a single programme the Work Programme.
We will introduce hundreds of thousands of extra Apprenticeships, college places and work pairings to help our young people get the skills they need to find sustainable long term jobs for the future.
And we will radically change how welfare to work providers are incentivised with payments by results and higher fees for those who need the most help to get back in to work.
In the long term our programme will more than pay for itself by reducing the bills of welfare dependency.
But to deliver this support now we will face an additional upfront cost. So we’ve had to make a tough choice to pay for it. When we retest all the existing claimants of Incapacity Benefit, those who are found to be fit for work will be moved on to Jobseeker’s Allowance and have their benefits cut accordingly.
Labour aren’t prepared to make those kind of tough choices. They say that our policies are callous. I’ll tell you what they are. Our policies are fair. They are right. And they are what Britain needs.
At the same time as attacking our policies, Labour have also tried to say that we are rehashing their own. They simply don’t know where they stand on welfare reform.
When you look at the detail of their policies they are failing to deliver. Some things never change.
They say they care about youth unemployment but under Labour the number of unemployed young people has hit a record high.
They are meant to be the party of work, but 5 million people have never had a job under this Government.
They said that they would tackle the costs of social failure, but Labour’s failure to tackle welfare dependency has cost £350 billion.
They say they want to tackle Incapacity Benefit, but under Labour almost 2 million people on IB are more likely to die or retire than get a job.
These are people that they could help, but they have chosen not to.
THIS MUST STOP.
I know where I stand on welfare reform.
It is essential for this country.
It is essential to transform the lives of the individuals involved.
It is essential to rebuild the communities where worklessness has become the norm.
It is essential to rebuild our economy to increase employment and end the costs of welfare dependency.
So let me make clear to you now what we would do in Government:
We will retest everyone on Incapacity Benefit and make sure they are receiving the right level of benefit. That means for those who are found to be fit for work there will be a cut in their benefits of up to £25 a week.
We will give help faster to those who need it most - the young and long term unemployed.
We will use experts from the private and voluntary sector to get people back into work. And we will only pay them when they have moved someone off benefits and into a sustainable job.
We’re going to offer proper support and so we expect people to keep their side of the bargain too. If you can work, and you refuse to, you won’t get your benefit. With so many people genuinely relying on welfare at the moment it’s not fair for other people to be playing the system.
We will sweep away Labour’s complicated and bureaucratic New Deals and introduce one simple integrated back to work programme for everybody.
These changes need to happen as soon as possible. That is why I am determined that should the Conservatives win the next election it is essential that we do not sign the country up to five years of Labour’s failing welfare to work programmes.
If David Cameron asks me to be Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, I will not be signing the contracts for Labour’s flawed flexible New Deal.
I’m sending a message today that under our watch we’ll demand more, from providers, more from benefit claimants, and more from government.
The two biggest issues facing our country are Labour’s Jobs crisis and Labour’s debt crisis.
Over the last twelve years Labour have encouraged people to spend spend spend instead of rewarding responsible saving. No where is this more true than in their treatment of our pensions system.
As Frank Field, a Labour politician with more courage than most, said:
“When Labour came to power we had one of the strongest pension provisions in Europe and now probably we have some of the weakest.”
Every society has a duty to look after its older citizens and this will be a priority for us if we form the next government. Labour’s policies have devalued existing pension schemes, and dissuaded younger generations from saving for their retirement.
The government itself have estimated that 13 million people are not saving enough for their retirement – and is it any wonder with Labour’s stealth taxes and complicated regulations?
One of my priorities, working with Nigel Waterson, will be to turn us back into a nation of savers to make sure that we all have security in our old age.
Pensioner poverty in the UK is higher than anywhere else in Western Europe. That is just not acceptable.
And the reason our pension system is weak is not just because of the recession, or the downturn or any of the other usual Labour excuses. It is because Gordon Brown wilfully and knowingly sabotaged it.
As George Osborne said yesterday we are committed to reversing the effects of Brown’s pensions tax raid and get people saving again.
That may not be achievable in one Parliament, but this is our longer term commitment - one we will only be able to fulfil when we have got on top of the deficit.
But we also need to do more now to make a secure old age something for everyone, not just the few.
So this week we have reaffirmed our commitment to restore the earnings link for state pensions within the next parliament at the latest.
And yesterday George Osborne set out very clearly the trade off needed to make that possible.
Unlike Labour we’ve faced up to the challenges of an ageing population.
We’ve listened to the experts like Lord Turner, and we’re committed to holding a review to speed up the rise in the state pension age - a review which his report proposed but the Government never delivered.
We will bring forward the date when the pension age rises.
We believe this is fair and right.
It will make it possible to restore the earnings link for State Pensions.
And that will mean more help for all pensioners.
These aren’t quick fix solutions – not one of today’s pensioners will be affected – but we need to plan for the future if we are serious about real change.
Our ambition to build a stronger society is not a pipe dream. I’ve set out some of the key challenges today – worklessness, benefit dependency and the pensions crisis – but I truly believe that we have the ideas, the conviction, the passion to overcome them.
Labour have failed on worklessness and welfare because they never truly acknowledged the state of the problem.
Labour have failed on pensions because they refuse to accept the damage they have done.
Labour have run out of ideas. They are tired, worn out and weary.
Well we have the honesty to say what the challenges are. And we have the courage to say how we’re going to solve them.
It is only under a Conservative government that we will have the society that people in this country want and deserve.
A society where responsibility, honesty and fairness are at the heart of what we do and how we live.
In the next few months we have the opportunity to show people how we will fix our broken society. To convince them to vote for us not to get rid of Labour, but because we can make change happen.
The change that will deal with the jobs crisis,
That will transform welfare to work,
That will give a secure retirement to all.
The next Conservative Government will
Get Britain working, Get Britain saving, and give Britain hope.