By Matthew Barrett
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I recently profiled the 2020 and Free Enterprise groups of Tory MPs. Those two groups are formed by ideology: MPs are attracted to the groups because, in the case of the Free Enterprise Group, members wish to open up markets and make Britain business-friendly enough to compete with other world class economies. The 2020's members want to renew and refresh Project Cameron, while considering how the country should look after a majority Conservative government.
The 40 is rather different as it is a group of MPs brought together solely by necessity - the members are those MPs who were elected in 2010 with the narrowest majorities in the Party.
Origins of the group and key members
The group was founded early last year by Eric Ollerenshaw (Lancaster and Fleetwood), Graham Evans (Weaver Vale), and David Mowat (Warrington South). There is no rigid structure to the group as such, given its non-ideological purpose, but when it meets, the convener is usually David Mowat. Other key "executive" members of the group include Evans and Ollerenshaw, as well as Amber Rudd (Hastings and Rye), James Morris (Halesowen and Rowley Regis) and Ben Gummer (Ipswich).
By Joseph Willits
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Yesterday, Jessica Lee MP (Erewash) secured a Westminster Hall debate on the issue of adoption. Adoption levels in the UK, she said "should cause alarm bells to ring" after only 60 children out of 3,660 in care were placed in homes. Lee said it was crucial to "seize the opportunity", and described the "momentum in the House and the country to tackle the challenges affecting the adoption process".
Lee drew on both the experiences of Michael Gove (who discussed how adoption "transformed his life" in the Daily Mail), and Cameron's commitment to making the "process of adoption and fostering simpler". Richard Graham (Gloucester) praised the Government for "showing real leadership on the issue of tackling these problems".
In response to Lee's question at PMQs on 2nd November, Cameron said the adoption process had "become too bureaucratic and difficult, and the result is that it is putting people off. I am absolutely determined that we crack this".
By Joseph Willits
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In a statement to the Commons yesterday, immediately after PMQs, Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Danny Alexander talked of a "generous offer" being made by the Government to reform public service pensions. Alexander said he had "decided to revise the government's offer after negotiations with the TUC, since early October, and with recommendations from the Secretaries of State for Education and Health.
Alexander described the offer as "conditional upon reaching agreement" but believed it "should be more than sufficient to allow agreement to be reached with the unions". It was Alexander's hope, he said that "on the basis of this offer, the Trade Unions will devote their energy to reaching agreement not on unnecessary and damaging strike action".
Alexander announced an increase to the cost ceiling of pensions:
"Future schemes will now be based on a pension to the value of 1/60th of average salary, accruing for each year worked. That is an 8% increase on the previous offer ... A teacher with a lifetime in public service with a salary at retirement of £37,800 would receive £25,200 each year under these proposals, rather than the £19,100 they would currently earn in the final salary Teachers' Pension Scheme. A nurse with a lifetime in public service and a salary at retirement of £34,200 would receive £22,800 of pension each year if these reforms were introduced, whereas under the current 1995 NHS Pension Scheme arrangements they would only get £17,300."
By Matthew Barrett
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Yesterday saw the Second Reading in the Commons of the Pensions Bill - the legislation currently in the news which accelerates the existing timetable for increasing the State Pension age to 66. This will mean the pension age will be increased from 60 to 65 for women by 2018, before being raised to 66 for both men and women in 2020.
The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Iain Duncan Smith, said the core aim of the Bill is to "to secure this country’s retirement system, putting it on a stable and sustainable footing for the future."
The news headlines surrounding the Bill relate to the fact that women born in March 1953 will begin to receive their pension at 62, but women born in April 1953 will have to wait until 65. Mr Duncan Smith was asked about this early on in his remarks:
"Steve McCabe (Birmingham, Selly Oak) (Lab): Given that the vast majority of the 600,000 people who will be excluded from getting a pension under the raised threshold are women, is the Secretary of State at all worried that the Bill is beginning to look as if it discriminates against women?
Mr Duncan Smith: I recognise the hon. Gentleman’s concern. We are not blind to the issue, but we have decided to strike a balance between making the scheme work from the beginning and avoiding driving people on very low incomes into sacrificing too much and therefore not seeing the rewards. It is important to make the point that in the Green Paper, as the hon. Gentleman will have noticed, we talk about the single tier pension, from which there will be very significant benefits to women. We hope that in due course that will achieve a balance.
I do not dismiss the hon. Gentleman’s considerations. We keep the issue constantly under review and will watch carefully to see what happens. It is important that we get auto-enrolment off the ground in a stable manner. I hope hon. Members on both sides of the House recognise that these are balanced decisions—sometimes nuanced decisions—that we have to take, but we will make sure that we review them."
Mr Duncan Smith was also asked about this specific group of women several times, by Members on all sides, including Conservatives Eleanor Laing (Epping Forest) and James Gray (North Wiltshire), as well as Labour's socially conservative welfare reformer, Frank Field. Mr Duncan Smith stood his ground and defended the Government's policy:
“We are a great working city which now has record youth unemployment and too many families with no working role model—in fact, there are occasionally three generations living entirely off benefits. I believe that everyone in Gloucester will support me in saying that our main endeavour today is to increase business growth in order to generate more jobs, especially for the young, and that this will in turn generate the tax revenues that fund the front-line services that are so crucial for everyone in my city.”
“Today, the truth is that all of us, whatever our origins, face severe difficulties in handling the record youth unemployment and in trying to re-grow our economy to provide jobs for our young people. That is why all my constituents will welcome measures taken by this Government to stimulate business, which we must remind ourselves is the sole source of growth, providing jobs and then tax revenues for the services that many Members are calling for in our different constituencies."
“I believe that we have to address two issues: first, our country has 8 million people who are economically inactive; and secondly, our country is the worst in western Europe in terms of the number of children growing up in workless households. The best way to help many people out of poverty is to create the well-paid, sustainable jobs that will make a difference. We have to do so over the next few years in a period in which we are going to reduce our dependence on financial services and on unsustainable public sector jobs. In my opinion, the only way in which that can be done is through increased investment in applied science, engineering and innovation.
“I was particularly pleased that the Gracious Speech made reference to measures to create a large number of apprenticeships, but it is important, too, that we make sure that we create enough professional engineers to make a difference. It is a particularly sad fact that over the past three decades, in spite of the increase in higher education, the number of engineering graduates from our universities has decreased. That is not the case in India or China; indeed, it is not the case in any other country in continental Europe.
“On the fringes of Warrington is Daresbury science park, which is a brilliant place that takes some of the best ideas produced in universities in the north-west and combines them with marketing skills and venture capital. Such places are going to create the jobs that we need in the medium term to fight the battle against poverty. In my view, social mobility is a hallmark of a civilised society. It is sad that in the past decade, social mobility fell in this country. I believe that the coalition, of which we are all part, will be judged, at least in part, on our ability to reverse that decline in social mobility.”
“Although well intentioned, the last Government received very little for their money in terms of social mobility and a reduction in the gap between the rich and the poor, and they have further fuelled a culture of benefit dependency in which children grow up seeing parents and grandparents who have never worked as their role models, in which people are better off living apart than living together, and in which there is no incentive to work because of the fear of becoming worse off.
“I must say that I am enthused by the coalition document, and particularly the work conducted by my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr Duncan Smith), with his practical and pragmatic ideas to simplify the benefits system, help people into work, and prioritise early intervention which will help our most deprived communities. I am sure that the new Government’s commitment to such measures as the pupil premium and support for further education colleges and universities will give the young people of my constituency the educational opportunity that will make them more socially mobile, raise their aspirations, unlock untapped potential and let individuals take control of their own lives once more.
“I particularly welcome the new Government’s commitment to providing an additional 50,0000 apprenticeships, which I am sure will engage and enthuse many young people who do not have the necessary aptitude for—or, more often, are not attracted to—further academic studies. I hope that many of those apprentices will be employed in Nuneaton. I am also convinced that there is no better way of regenerating our areas of deprivation than to create an environment in which the private sector can thrive. We must reduce regulation and business taxes and get credit moving, so that businesses can create the jobs that the skills provided by our Government will deserve.”