New Work and Pensions Secretary has tough challenge ahead

12 June 2017

David Gauke, the MP for South West Hertfordshire, has been appointed as the new Secretary of State for Work and Pensions in Theresa May’s cabinet reshuffle.

The solicitor, who was previously chief secretary to the Treasury, will replace Damian Green, a long-term friend of Theresa May, who has been promoted to First Secretary of State – her number two in the cabinet.

Mr Gauke has been working with the Treasury since 2010. During that time he has been heavily involved with five finance bills and the national insurance contributions bill. On his website he says that he has played an “important role in reducing tax avoidance and evasion, as well as making the UK tax system more competitive”.

‘A safe pair of hands’

Tom McPhail, head of pension policy at Hargreaves Lansdown describes Mr Gauke as a “safe pair of hands”.

“His appointment at the DWP is a recognition both of his capabilities, and also of the challenges the government faces at the DWP. He will have to deal with state pension rises, the triple lock and also the WASPI campaign; all policy issues on which the Conservatives are potentially at odds with the DUP.

He adds: “He’ll also have to deal with politically unpopular welfare cuts and the continued roll out of auto-enrolment. He’s going to be busy.”

‘Radical reform will be hard to get through parliament’

Royal London’s director of policy, Steve Webb, who was himself pensions minister in the coalition that resulted after the 2010 election, takes a similar view.

He says: “There are few ministers who could have been appointed to this role who know as much about pensions as David Gauke.  In his five years at the Treasury during the Coalition he played a key role in developing the detail of the pension freedoms and was a keen supporter of automatic enrolment.  I always found him to be knowledgeable and willing to engage in discussion and debate.”

However, despite these abilities, Mr Webb says that the new secretary for work and pensions might find himself banging his head against a wall. “The lack of an outright Conservative majority means radical reform in any area will be hard to get through Parliament. As a former Chief Secretary to the Treasury he will be used to focusing on keeping spending under control, but political pressures may mean savings on the triple lock and on winter fuel payments have to be kicked into the long grass.”

The recently re-elected MP for Watford, Richard Harrington will remain in his position as pensions minister for the Department of Work and Pensions.

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