Firstly, let’s debunk a media myth: last night, the Parliamentary Labour Party, as a bloc, in its entirety, united, voted AGAINST the Welfare Reform and Work Bill.
Certainly, how we got to that point probably would not have been my way of doing it, if I am being totally honest, but the facts are facts: We voted against the Bill.
Labour tabled a ‘Reasoned Amendment’ to the Bill. These are Parliamentary devices which allow you to set out (the clue is in the name) the reasons why you are opposing the entire Bill, even when there are things in it that you support.
It was necessary because the Tories have, perhaps craftily, lumped a load of stuff we don’t like, with a load of stuff they’d love us to vote against – that we most certainly ARE NOT opposed to.
Firstly, what is in the Bill that we do like?
Well there’s a commitment to three million apprenticeships, including more at a higher and advanced-level (I’m in favour of that. Indeed I had a Private Members’ Bill in the last Parliament to do just that!); then there are measures to cut council and social housing rents (one in four people living in my Denton and Reddish constituency live in social housing and should see their rents fall because of measures in this Bill. I’m not against that); and then there’s extra support for ‘troubled’ families – a scheme that has been proven to work and has saved the public purse millions (as well as transformed the lives of many people who’ve been engaged in this work).
But then there are the measures like the abolition of child poverty targets and cuts to support for the sick and disabled who are not fit for work – this includes people who have cancer or Parkinson’s disease – which we most certainly DO OPPOSE. Indeed I spoke out on this issue in the debate yesterday.
And then there’s a few myths about what some people think is in the Bill that aren’t: tax credits.
Let’s be clear, we will vote against the tax credit cuts which will make 3 million low and middle income working families worse off. These measures are not in the Welfare Reform and Work Bill – they will be in Statutory Instruments in the autumn, and Labour will oppose them.
So last night all Labour MPs voted against the Welfare Reform and Work Bill on a Reasoned Amendment. Some colleagues also voted against the entirety of the Bill. I could not do that because this Bill is so finely balanced with things I do want to see happen.
So what happens next? This is where we get to vote on all the things we don’t like in the Bill…
Labour has tabled detailed amendments on the substance of the Bill at Committee and Report Stage.
- An amendment to prevent the Government abolishing the targets for reducing child poverty.
- The Government are also trying to delete child poverty from the remit of the ‘Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission’ so that it becomes just the ‘Social Mobility Commission’. An amendment will prevent that taking place.
- An amendment which will mean that the household benefit cap would not apply to persons who are responsible for a child under 2 years old, are a carer, or are in temporary accommodation because of domestic violence.
- A new clause which will require the Secretary of State to report each year on the impact of the household benefit cap, particularly on child poverty.
- An amendment which will require the level of the household benefit cap to be reviewed every year, rather than only once in a Parliament. The review would be based on the new clause above requiring the impact of the benefit cap on child poverty to be assessed each year.
- An amendment which will require the Social Security Advisory Committee to review the Discretionary Housing Payments fund each year to ensure that sufficient resources are available. Discretionary Housing Payments are used to support those who are unfairly affected by the benefit cap.
- An amendment which will set the target of full employment as 80 per cent of the working age population – in line with the Labour Government’s definition and recent research which shows that this would be an ambitious target. The Bill includes a process for reviewing progress towards ‘full employment’, but does not define what is meant by that.
- An amendment to require the UK Commission on Employment and Skills to assess whether the Government’s target for apprenticeships is being met, so that the Government can be held to account. There is significant concern among businesses and others that the quality of apprenticeships is being watered down in order to increase the numbers.
- An amendment which will require the resources which are being dedicated to helping troubled families to be clearly set out.
- An amendment which will ensure that interventions to support troubled families are focused on helping people into work.
- An amendment to prevent the Bill restricting Universal Credit for three or subsequent children even when the third child is born before 5 April 2017.
- A new clause preventing the restrictions to tax credits applying to three or more children where a third child is born as a result of a multiple birth, where a third of subsequent child is fostered or adopted, where a third child or subsequent child is disabled, or where a family with three or more children moves onto tax credits or universal credit in exceptional circumstances – including but not restricted to the death of one member of the family, the departure of one parent or loss of income through unemployment – which would be set out by the Social Security Advisory Committee. It also sets up an appeals process for all cases covered by this clause.
- An amendment preventing cuts in the Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) for the WRAG group of around £30 a week. People who are in the WRAG group have been through a rigorous test which has deemed them not fit for work, for example because they have Parkinson’s or are being treated for cancer.
- An amendment requiring the Government to produce a plan to offset the impact of lower social rents on housing associations. Labour supports the reduction in social housing rents, which will help low-income families and bring down the housing benefits bill. However, we must protect against impacts on the ability of housing associations to build new affordable homes and maintain their existing properties.
- An amendment which subjects the four-year benefit freeze to an annual review subject to changes in inflation.
We will force individual votes on our amendments, so it’s clear what we do and don’t support, without the Tory Party or their media friends trying to paint us as being one thing or another.
And if none of our amendments succeed? Then we still have an opportunity to vote against the Bill at Third Reading.