Mp's column - Gainful employment better than benefits

Universal Credit will bring fundamental change to our welfare system, helping people on benefits to move into paid employment.

Many constituents have written in with concerns about the waiting periods some people may have to go through before they can claim Universal Credit after their initial assessment.

For individuals who face difficulties before their first payment, advance payments can be requested. Around half of new claimants already make use of this help.

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New claimants are also given the opportunity to discuss any worries or concerns they may have about their personal finances with their work coach. This is available online, by the phone, face to face, as per the needs of the claimant.

Overall, the aim of the Universal Credit is to ensure that the claimant being gainfully employed is better off than being in receipt of benefits. Money will always be available to those in need, but employment is the biggest reducer of poverty worldwide and we need to recognise that.

People standing on their own two feet is a boon not just to the finances but to the dignity of working families and individuals.

I am worried however about proposed reductions to the Royal Navy.

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Here in Lincolnshire we’re proud to host the RAF and so much of Britain’s flying heritage is in the fields and skies around us.

The Royal Navy, though, has been fundamental to this country’s freedom and prosperity.

With Brexit on the horizon, securing the seas over which our trade flows has never been more important.

It’s disappointing then to hear proposals for both of the Royal Navy’s amphibious assault ships, HMS Albion and HMS Bulwark.

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These are workable ships that provide us with the ability to land a force of 5,000 men on a shore even with opposition.

Our armed forces have made tremendous strides in creating the capabilities to deal with emerging and modern threats. These range from asymmetrical warfare to cyber attacks, from terrorism to massive tides of migration. The fact is, however, we can’t jettison conventional capabilities just because they don’t look useful right now.

Manpower is a significant problem. One of our six Type 45 destroyers and a Type 23 frigate are immobile and useless because of a shortage of trained personnel.

The RAF nearly 5% under target, the Army is more than 5% understrength, while the Navy and Marines are 2% below their figure.

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It seems a smaller difference, but the naval figure is actually worse because of the technical training needed to operate these first-class high-tech vessels.

What use is it to make such massive investments in ships and weapons technology if we aren’t prepared to ensure we have sailors and officers trained and ready to use them?

At the moment, however, these are just proposals and I hope the MoD will see the wisdom in giving them short shrift. In an increasingly globalised world we need to make sure the United Kingdom has the bite to back up our bark in seeing off threats and challenges.

Sir Edward Leigh MP

Gainsborough constituency