STEPHEN LLOYD MP: Passover, pensions and welfare assistance
It was a privilege last weekend to attend the Eastbourne Liberal Judaism Passover Seder ceremony as their guest.
Passover is when Jews around the world retell the story that defines them as a people, sitting around a Seder table and recalling through words, song and, crucially, food, their exodus from slavery in Egypt all those thousands of years ago. Unfortunately I missed last year’s ceremony as - a hem - I had a few other things going on such as the snap election. It was good to join the congregation again this year. Seder is a deeply moving ceremony and they were as welcoming and kind as ever. Thank you.
The introduction of pensions auto-enrolment is a major success story for the UK but I believe constant vigilance and monitoring must be undertaken by the government department responsible to ensure it continues to succeed. Consequently I have written to the relevant minister, Guy Opperman, to seek assurances the DWP is properly monitoring the way firms are presently carrying out their auto-enrolment. I decided to act after recent media reports of a survey by a consultancy firm, Sanctum Software, which found that errors in how some firms implement auto-enrolment are potentially widespread. The data showed that upwards of a quarter of firms are getting it wrong to the point where it is harmful to recipients. This is a worry. Auto-enrolment is a major achievement for our nation’s retirement prospects so I don’t want anything which could damage its burgeoning success amongst new pension savers to be compromised. I read the report from Sanctum therefore with some concern, and will be seeking a commitment from the minister that his department is monitoring the current auto-enrolment programmes to identify possible system failures which, as the report says, could lead to consumer detriment; and if not why not? This is far too important a scheme, affecting millions of people, to be left unscrutinised.
I also wrote to East Sussex County Council this week asking they urgently reconsider their proposed 70 per cent cut to the Local Welfare Assistance Fund (known locally as the Discretionary East Sussex Support Scheme - DESSS). We are all aware of the tight financial constraints placed on ESCC by the government but it has been provided with nearly £900,000 specifically for the Local Welfare Assistance Fund and it’s well recognised there is a need to provide the most vulnerable in our society with the basics of life in times of crisis. Yet last year ESCC only allocated £500,000 of the funding to DESSS. I’m told by a number of local organisations and charities, who provide this support, that it was entirely spent on core essentials so out of a provision of £900,000 from government, the county council allocated only £500,000! And despite this they are proposing to further cut the funding drastically. I believe this is simply wrong as it will affect people who are the most disadvantaged and vulnerable; people who need critical and substantial help. I am also informed ESCC told these charities that an underspend of £380,000 from earlier years of the service would be protected for use against DESSS, so County Hall should deliver on their commitment. It’s been made very clear to me that if these cuts go through a bad situation will be made much, much worse. I hope the county council will respond positively to my letter and the profound concerns people on the frontline are sharing with me.
It was good to join other supporters of Eastbourne’s Cancer Research UK for a delicious cream tea at the Langham Hotel this week. To celebrate the tremendous fundraising efforts our local branch has done for Cancer Research UK over many years. Their vice president, Jean Bland, received a well-deserved award for all the extraordinary input she’s put into the charity for five decades. Well done Jean. You are an inspiration to us all.
I do hope the rather dreadful weather we’ve been experiencing over the last few weeks soon takes a permanent turn for the better. The poor old daffodils and tulips in my garden don’t know whether they’re coming or going with sunshine one day and bitter cold the next. Time for a proper Eastbourne spring methinks!
That’s it folks. Have a great weekend and I hope to see you around town.