I am delighted to have been asked to introduce the first Work and Pensions edition of The Parliamentary Review. Work and Pensions policy has an extraordinary reach that touches everyone in this country at some point in their lives. It is fitting that we reflect on progress in this brief, both inside and outside parliament, over the last year and look forward to the challenges ahead.
This is an unusual and dynamic time to be serving in government and parliament. The year in Westminster has been characterised by change, with the Prime Minister’s snap election rounding off a year of reverberations following the referendum result in June 2016.
As a parliament, and as a country at large, we have all been considering the ramifications of leaving the EU, and how a stable, prosperous post-Brexit future can be achieved. In this context, the work of my department is more important than ever. We play a crucial role in providing continuity, stability and safeguards for the country’s working and living arrangements – whether that be administering state pension payments to over 13 million people each week, or providing maternity payments totalling £2.9 billion each year.
As our departure from the EU will alter the labour market, it is up to my department and others to support the workforce, enhance the economy, seek opportunities for trade and ensure we are match-fit for a post-Brexit world.
The work already undertaken by this department has helped the UK achieve the joint-highest rate of employment since records began, alongside the highest rates of employment for both women and disabled people. Our flagship welfare reform, Universal Credit, ensures that it always pays to be in work rather than on benefits. We have just celebrated the rollout of this initiative reaching over 100 job centres, and will continue to expand its availability and uptake in the year ahead.
In the upcoming parliamentary year, we will continue simplifying the benefits system, and also work to embed clarity and sustainability in other areas of social security. We continue to improve confidence and transparency in the maintenance arrangements for children of separated parents, by closing legacy schemes and encouraging and incentivising parental collaboration. We will pursue our commitment to help people with disabilities get into, and stay in, work, building on the 300,000 who have joined the workforce in the last year. We have already announced plans to raise the state pension age to 68 in 2037, in a move that will rebalance generational fairness and enhance provision for people in old age. The continued uptake of the workplace pension supports this drive for strategic planning and long-term sustainability.
Optimising and incentivising our work and pensions provision is vital because we need a clear and sustainable system in a post-Brexit world – one that galvanises the workforce and enriches the economy, while supporting the most vulnerable. By getting protections, benefits and incentives right at home, we can build our productivity, presenting a Britain that is ready to do business, and open to engagement with the rest of the world.