Opinion: Inquiry into Universal Credit delay

East Ham MP Stephen Timms is the newly elected chairman of the select committee on Work and Pensions

East Ham MP Stephen Timms is the newly elected chairman of the select committee on Work and Pensions. - Credit: Archant

The Select Committee on Work and Pensions had its first meeting last week, with me as its newly-elected chairman.

We took evidence from the chairman and chief executive of the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). HSE reports to the Department for Work and Pensions, so it falls to our committee to scrutinise it.

Last week was HSE’s first appearance before the committee since 2008!

Deaths at work fell steadily for years, following the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974.

There were over 2,000 deaths at work in 1980. By 2010, the number had fallen to 147.

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However, since then the number hasn’t fallen.

There were 147 deaths at work in 2019, too.

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Since 2010, the HSE budget has been sharply cut. I asked the witnesses if the cut was connected with the end of the long term trend of falling workplace deaths. They said they didn’t think so. I’m not so sure.

We also asked about asbestos. It’s long been banned in new buildings. But there is still a lot in older buildings, including schools and hospitals.

That seems to be the reason for a troubling increase in the number of retired teachers and nurses developing the asbestos-related disease mesothelioma.

Some other European countries are being much more active than the UK in dealing with old asbestos. I believe we should be doing more.

The committee also agreed its work programme for the next few months.

We will take evidence on disability benefit assessments and the Child Support Agency, and interrogate the secretary of state for work and pensions.

Then, after Easter, we will start our first major enquiry.

It will be about the five-week delay between applying for Universal Credit and receiving the first payment.

I hope we can persuade the government to change its policy.

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