A number of constituents have contacted me regarding the votes on the second reading of the Welfare Reform and Work Bill which took place on Monday 20th July.
I spent a great deal of time considering how I should vote and as you would expect the bill was discussed in great detail by the Parliamentary Labour Party.
As you may be aware there were actually two votes on the second reading of the bill. The first was on the following reasoned amendment, tabled by Harriet Harman:
“That this House, whilst affirming its belief that there should be controls on and reforms to the overall costs of social security, that reporting obligations on full employment, apprenticeships and troubled families are welcome, and that a benefits cap and loans for mortgage interest support are necessary changes to the welfare system, declines to give a Second Reading to the Welfare Reform and Work Bill because the Bill will prevent the Government from continuing to pursue an ambition to reduce child poverty in both absolute and relative terms, it effectively repeals the Child Poverty Act 2010 which provides important measures and accountability of government policy in relation to child poverty, and it includes a proposal for the work-related activity component of employment and support allowance which is an unfair approach to people who are sick and disabled.”
As you can see, the amendment rejected the bill in its current form for a number of reasons, including the removal of the definition of child poverty (as per Labour’s Child Poverty Act 2010) and the bill’s punitive approach to sick and disabled people. I voted in favour of this amendment which, if passed, would have prevented the bill from passing to the committee stage. The amendment was defeated by 308 votes to 208.
I decided to abstain from the second vote (to allow the bill its second reading and enable it to pass to the committee stage) as I do in fact support some of the measures contained in the bill, such as a commitment to three million apprenticeships and reduced council rents. I also felt that the Conservatives wanted to create divisions in the Labour Party, which I wanted to try and avoid.
The bill’s committee stage will allow Labour to take on the Government vote by vote and seek to tackle those parts of the bill we oppose whilst supporting others.
Today we confirmed that we would be tabling the following amendments to the Work and Welfare Reform Bill, all of which I will be supporting:
- 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.
I was hoping to speak during the debate around the Bills second reading but despite my best efforts was not called by the Speaker. You can find a copy of the speech I was going to make here.
I hope this response at least helps to explain my reasoning. It is vital that Labour works together to form an effective opposition and seeks to challenge Government legislation in the most effective way possible.