WORK AND PENSIONS COMMITTEE
Memorandum to the Liaison Committee
1. The Liaison Committee's Report "Shifting
the Balance: Select Committees and the Executive" recommended
that certain Select Committees produce an annual report.
This memorandum is the second such report and covers the truncated
session 2000/2001 and part of the session 2001/2002, which fell
within the 2001 calendar year.
2. The Work and Pensions Committee examines the
policy, expenditure and administration of the Department for Work
and Pensions (DWP) and associated Agencies, including the Benefits
Agency (BA), Employment Service (ES), the Child Support Agency
(CSA), and the Appeals Service (AS). Like most departmental select
committees nominated under the new Standing Order No. 152, the
Committee is comprised of 11 Members with a quorum of three. The
Committee has the power to set up one sub-committee, a power which
had been available to the Education and Employment Committee in
the previous Parliament but not to the Social Security Committee.
The Work and Pensions Committee has not so far used the power
to appoint a sub-committee, but may do so for specific inquiries
in the future.
3. The Committee usually meets each week when
the House is sitting and in the 2000/2001 Session, which was shortened
by the General Election, met formally on 11 occasions, usually
taking oral evidence. Since being appointed on 16 July 2001, the
Committee has met formally on six occasions. In addition, the
Committee travels within the UK on a regular basis in order to
undertake informal meetings with those directly involved in current
inquiries and occasionally takes formal oral evidence during those
visits. When appropriate, the Committee also studies employment
and comparable social security systems overseas. Details of the
UK and overseas visits are given below, within the descriptions
of our recent reports. The Committee also holds meetings with
visiting Parliamentarians and with organisations relevant to its
4. The power to work closely with other select
committees was increased in this Parliament with SO No. 137A,
which allowed them to develop "joined-up" working methods
to scrutinise appropriate areas of Government policy. The Committee
has not so far used this power but will do so if necessary.
Re-structuring of Government Departments
5. Following the 2001 General Election, various
Government Departments were re-structured. There had been an expectation
that the responsibilities of the former Departments for Education
and Employment (DfEE) and Social Security (DSS) would be changed.
Following the General Election, it was announced that the sections
of the DfEE dealing with employment issues were to be merged with
the DSS, forming a new Department: the Department for Work and
Pensions. It was
also announced that the former ES and BA were to be merged, in
April 2002, to become Jobcentre Plus.
6. Considerable changes are being brought about
by the Government's welfare reform and modernisation programme,
which take place within the context of the Government's commitment
to end child poverty within a generation and its belief in the
'work first' welfare state. Changes include:
- the switch from benefits to tax credits as part
of the strategy of encouraging work. This led to a transfer of
resources and responsibility from the Department for Social Security
to the Treasury and Inland Revenue with the introduction
of Working Families Tax Credit (to be replaced by Integrated Child
Credit and Employment Tax Credit from 2003) and the proposed Pension
Credit. Child Benefit will also be transferred to the Inland Revenue
- the merger of the ES and BA as Jobcentre Plus
in April 2002;
- the introduction of Stakeholder Pensions (April,
2001), the State Second Pension (April, 2002) and the Pension
Credit (April, 2003), and the creation of the new Pensions Agency
to deal with all aspects of pensions and pensions policy from
· child support reforms, due to begin in
- the introduction of new technology systems to
underpin job searching benefits and child support, starting in
- the modernisation of payment systems, with the
phasing out of order books and giros starting in 2003, to be completed
THE WORK OF THE COMMITTEE
The Social Security Committee (Session 2000-2001)
First Report Inherited
SERPS (HC 215)
7. The Committee examined the measures proposed
by the Government to remedy a mistake made by a previous administration.
The Social Security Act 1986 had reduced by 50% the maximum amount
of State Earnings Related Pension (SERPS) that widows and widowers
could inherit on the death of their spouse. The then Government
gave assurances during the passage of the Bill that it would mount
a major publicity campaign but failed to do so and incorrect leaflets
and advice continued to be issued. The Government sent draft regulations
to the Committee, which were found to be "broadly acceptable".
The Committee additionally recommended a comprehensive publicity
campaign. Since the regulations were then brought forward for
consideration by the House, a Government reply was not required.
Second Report Integrated
Child Credit (HC 72)
8. The Government's plans for Integrated Child
Credit involved a major re-structuring of means-tested benefits
for children and the transfer of responsibility of key elements
of the financial support for low-income families from the BA to
the Inland Revenue. The revised arrangements are to be implemented
in 2003. The Committee received many memoranda and took evidence
from a wide variety of witnesses, including academics, think-tanks
and lobby groups, as well as officials from the DSS, HM Treasury
and the Inland Revenue. The Committee also drew on the experiences
of the federal and provincial Canadian governments during a short
visit in November 2001. The resulting report made 36 recommendations
designed to strengthen the proposals and further the Government's
aim of eradicating child poverty.
Government Reply (HC 292)
9. The Government welcomed the Report and announced
the publication of a consultation document, which had taken into
account some of the Committee's recommendations. Regrettably,
the Government refused to provide information on the level at
which ICC would be paid or on the methods it would employ to ensure
that the level set was seen as adequate.
Third Report The
Social Fund (HC 232)
10. The final report of the Committee in the
1997 Parliament was on the Social Fund. This had been introduced
in 1987-1988 to help claimants with one-off items of expenditure
and those facing greatest difficulties in managing on their income,
while containing the overall expenditure and providing a more
varied response to inescapable individual need. The Fund was divided
into two parts: the Regulated Social Fund and the Discretionary
Social Fund. The Committee examined both parts and made a series
of substantive recommendations to improve the Fund. The greatest
cause for concern was the administration of the Social Fund, which
was alleged to vary greatly from area to area and throughout the
year. The Committee concluded that the scheme as it stood, needed
an urgent overhaul and an injection of funds. Otherwise, the Government's
social policy objectives might be endangered.
Government Reply (Cm
11. The Government's reply was disappointing,
promising little change in the future despite the opportunities
offered by the creation of Jobcentre Plus and the Pension Service.
This is a subject to which the Committee intends to return.
The Work and Pensions Committee (July - December
12. In view of the increased remit of the Committee
and the preponderance of Members either new to the Committee or
to the House, the Committee undertook an initial induction programme
after its first formal meeting on 18 July 2001. This included
a series of informal visits to DWP offices and various informal
meetings, and culminated in a two-day seminar, based at the University
of York, which was addressed by eminent academics in many of the
policy areas that fall within the Committee's remit. During the
course of the seminar, the Committee deliberated informally about
its future programme and heard about the various responsibilities
of the staff team.
13. Shortly thereafter, the Committee agreed
its programme of inquiries for the 2001-2002 session based on
a shortlist drawn up during the informal seminar.
14. The Committee then embarked on its first
inquiry: "'The ONE' Pilots: Lessons for Jobcentre Plus".
This had been announced following the first formal meeting of
the Committee in order to give time for memoranda to be prepared
Government replies to reports
15. Government replies were generally timely
and, unless by mutual consent, produced within the twomonth
deadline for replies to be received. The Department kept the Clerk
informed of progress of the replies and there were no problems
with unexplained late delivery. On the other hand, replies were
rarely delivered much in advance of the deadline, giving the impression
that the Department sees the twomonth rule as the norm rather
than a maximum.
Relations with the Department
16. Relations with the Department were businesslike
and cordial. The quality of written evidence varied but was generally
acceptable, as was the oral evidence.
17. The Committees did not consider any draft
legislation in this period.
18. The Committee met various groups and individuals,
including visitors from overseas. It meets the Social Security
Advisory Committee (SSAC) on a regular basis. The Committee was
invited to participate in the Department for International Development
(DfID) project "Sharing Parliamentary Experience" (SHAPE)
and three Members travelled to Moscow in November 2001 as the
first part of an exchange visit with, and linkage to, the Russian
Federation State Duma Committee on Labour and Social Policy.
159 First Report from the Liaison Committee, Session
1999-2000, Shifting the Balance: Select Committees and the Executive,
HC 300, paragraph 52. Back
Delivering Effective Government, 10 Downing Street Press
Notice, 8 June 2001. www.number10.gov.uk/news.asp Back
Inherited SERPS, First Report of the Social Security Committee,
Session 2000-2001, paragraph 7. Back
Published 20 July, 2001. Back