David Gauke, the Member of Parliament for South West Hertfordshire, has become the new Secretary of State for Work & Pensions following last week’s General Election. Gauke is the former Chief Secretary to the Treasury, and has traditionally taken a tough line on welfare reform. In the Commons, he has historically voted against raising welfare benefits, and against creating guaranteed jobs for young people who have spent a long time unemployed. His appointment is, however, unlikely to bring about any radical shift in DWP’s commissioning plans, including the Work & Health Programme. He may have a keener eye on performance in the final deal though, and a desire to maximise taxpayer value for money through contracted employment provision more broadly.
Gauke may seize upon the Conservative manifesto pledge to offer employers hiring disabled candidates a one-year holiday on their National Insurance Contributions. It will be interesting to see if the Queen’s Speech also follows through on the manifesto commitment to give unemployed disabled claimants and those with health conditions additional tailored support, with the intention of helping 1,000,000 more people with disabilities enter work by 2027.
The Conservative’s emerging alliance with the DUP is also unlikely to derail the agenda, given that responsibility for employment and skills provision is already devolved in Northern Ireland. This is unlikely to therefore be much of a bargaining chip for either side (unlike pensions, where reaching agreement on the continuation of the Triple Lock may be more troublesome).
Of greater pertinence is, perhaps, the question as to whether this unlikely partnership can last a full parliamentary term. Given that neither the Conservatives nor Labour are in an ideal place from which to command a majority in the Commons, a further Autumn election can’t be ruled out. Work & Health Programme commissioning should be completed ahead of that scenario. The ongoing short-term possibility of a Labour led Government could, however, still be a potential fly in the ointment. Whether Labour would commit to the Work & Health Programme, even if contracts have been signed, seems to be by no means certain.