Unfortunately I did not get called to speak on the Government's Welfare Bill tonight. Here is what I would have said:
I cannot support this Welfare Reform and Work Bill.
It will make thousands of families worse off. It will push children into poverty. It will make some children matter less than others. It will take money away from people who are sick or disabled. And, despite the attempts of the party opposite to spin that they are the party of the workers, it is attack on people in work.
Our ambition to end Child Poverty, enshrined in law through the 2010 Act was one of the proudest achievements of the last Labour government. Together with policies such as tax credits to support the working poor, we lifted half a million children out of poverty. Yet this progress has stalled after five years of the government opposite. And what is this government’s response? To change the measurement of child poverty to hide their failure. To change the definition from reporting on income, to report instead on ‘life-chances’. We know that life-chances are so often dependent on income – how can you succeed at school if your housing conditions are damp and overcrowded? How can children fulfil their potential if parents are choosing between heating and eating, and school dinners are the only decent meal of the day? This new measurement will miss the many families who have one or more parents in work but have very low incomes which damage children's lives now and prospects for the future.
Beneath the headline rises in employment lie a labour market reality which mean that, for those at the lower end, work now offers less of a guarantee of a decent living standard than it did in the past. Hidden behind those stats are the alarming rise in zero hours contracts, bogus self-employment, and shocking terms and conditions for jobs like care workers that see the minimum wage undercut.
The increases in the personal tax allowance to £11,000 and the rise in the minimum wage (for that is what it is, not a Living Wage) are welcome measures but for many low income families the gains will not make up for the losses from cuts to in and out of work support.
I cannot support the reduction in the Benefit Cap. The Citizens Advice Bureau have found that the existing benefit cap has already meant significant challenges for parents struggling to find affordable childcare, those who have caring responsibilities for elderly relatives and those affected by poor health. These households are much more likely to attempt to cut back on essentials such as food or heating, and many will fall into debt.
The original cap at £26,000 affected approximately a dozen people in my constituency. Estimates suggest that reduced benefits cap will affect around 1000. While the concept of a cap to ensure work always pays is acceptable in principle, I cannot support a reduction which will drive people into poverty.
Proposals to restrict entitlement to the child element of the child tax credit to two children are offensive and degrading. Life is never simple and it is unfair to punish children for the choices, or indeed the mistakes of their parents. No child should ever be made to feel they are a mistake or a burden. We believe that every child matters. That hasn't changed for Labour since we were in government.
What’s more, we know that families with three or more children and families with a disabled member (including disabled children) are more likely to be on a relatively low income. This measure will already compound the poverty of these families and children.
The wider changes to the tax credit system, including freezing of tax credits and changes in secondary legislation to income disregards, work allowances and taper rates, although not encompassed in the Bill, are significant; £3.5 billion of support is taken away next year, rising further as the limits to two children are imposed in 2017. It is unlikely that losses of this scale can be made up for by the new National Living Wage. According the CAB, a low paid couple, one working full-time, the other part-time, with two children could well lose over £2,000 per year.
Abolition of ESA Work-Related Activity Component
What's more, the abolition of the work-related activity component of ESA is deeply concerning. This could put pressure on disabled people, particularly those who have long term health conditions, and could make it harder for them to be fit for work in the future. A third of households with a disabled person are living below the poverty line. This policy could hit them hard, combined with other cuts to services and income for disabled people and their carers.
In summary, Mrs Deputy Speaker, I cannot support this shameful bill. I will be supporting the Leader of the Opposition’s Amendment which declines to give this Bill a Second Reading. Should that fail to gain a majority in this house, I will abstain in order to bring this Bill before the Committee of this House and to forensically expose its attack on working people and families line by line, and clause by clause, laying bare its full horror.