I do not accept the Government’s premise that cuts to the welfare budget, on anything like the scale proposed, are necessary. As I argued in a recent article for the Huffington Post, the Tories are not being truthful when they say that spending on benefits is “unsustainable”, and they have also failed to tackle the root causes of people’s reliance on housing benefit, especially high rents in the private sector, as I argued in the New Statesman recently.
In their manifesto the Tories said they intended to cut welfare spending by £12 billion. While they did not identify where this money would come from, Ministers repeatedly promised that they would “protect the most vulnerable”. The measures they then brought forward in the Welfare Reform and Work Bill absolutely failed to live up to this commitment, which is why I could not support the Bill at Second Reading.
I am particularly concerned about proposals to cut the rate of Employment and Support Allowance paid to sick and disabled people in the Work Related Activity Group (WRAG). In addition to a substantial number of people with mental health problems, this group includes people who have suffered serious injuries, cancer patients, and those in the early stages of progressive conditions like Parkinson’s disease and Multiple Sclerosis. The Government’s proposals would mean a cut of £28 per week in the support paid to this group, all of whom have been assessed as being unable to work. That is completely unfair and unacceptable.
I am also deeply troubled by the proposal for child tax credits to be restricted to the first two children in each family. This would create a real risk that child poverty – already unacceptably high – will increase dramatically over the next few years. I have already tabled an amendment to remove Clause 11, which includes this proposal, from the Welfare Reform and Work Bill.
Last month, when the Bill received its Second Reading, Labour moved an amendment which highlighted some of our key concerns about these proposals. After the summer recess the Bill will face line-by-line scrutiny by a committee of MPs, and there will be many opportunities for further amendments to be made at that stage.
I have volunteered to serve on the Bill Committee, where I hope to make these arguments in more detail, subject to my commitments on the Health Select Committee, which may sometimes meet at the same time!
Whether I can serve as a member of the Bill Committee or not, I and my colleagues will continue to work hard to improve the Welfare Reform and Work Bill as it moves forward, holding the Government to its promise to ensure that the impact of these cuts does not fall hardest on those least able to bear the burden.