This week I voted against the Government’s Welfare Reform Bill. In so doing, I also voted against the Labour Party’s official position.
I actually support a number of things in the Bill. I think the provisions regarding expanding apprenticeships are a good and positive thing, although there is some question about how the Government will practically achieve this.
Reporting obligations on both full employment and troubled families should go some way towards achieving the objective of full employment and allowing certain families to stop making other people’s lives a misery.
However, the Bill does appalling things aimed at working families on low incomes and the children of those on low or no incomes.
It abolishes the duty of Government to tackle or even report on child poverty.
Given that the Government has recently changed the definition of child poverty, it is clear that they are intent on avoiding detailed and informed scrutiny on this important matter.
I wouldn’t have thought that in a developed and civilized society the importance of trying to eliminate child poverty would even have been challenged, but I’m afraid it looks like it is.
The Bill also breaks a promise made by David Cameron during the General Election campaign to protect sick and disabled people.
And – crucially in my mind – the Bill also reduces support to working families through tax credits. It specifically targets people who are working but who are on a low income.
I can’t stress how important I consider this to be.
I think work is vital, not just in ensuring there is a wage coming into the house but also because of the dignity work brings and the impact upon self-esteem.
People are geared up to work and our mental health improves when we do so. Those who can work should work.
However, I believe the Bill undermines the principle of helping people who are in work but on low incomes.
I actually think that by reducing tax credits while simultaneously failing to increase the minimum wage for a number of years, the Bill reduces work incentives. That can’t be acceptable.
I want to help people who are doing the right thing by themselves, their families and their communities.
People who are going out to work but who suffer a low wage should be helped. I didn’t come into politics to penalise the working poor or to make life difficult for those on low pay. I believe strongly that this Welfare Bill does precisely that.
Given my determination and strong views on this, I didn’t think it was acceptable to note my opposition to the Bill by merely abstaining.
Last week, I was one of the chief signatories to what is known in Parliament as a Reasoned Amendment, declining to give a Second Reading to the Bill.
I think the Amendment was genuinely reasonable. Unfortunately, it wasn’t called by the Speaker for a vote. H
owever, the Labour Party leadership produced a further Reasoned Amendment.
I voted for this, but couldn’t accept the idea that abstaining was acceptable after that. That is why I voted directly against the Bill.
The Bill needs to go into committee for a line-by-line consideration.
I hope, frankly, that during scrutiny in committee the Bill is ripped to shreds.
When it comes back to the full House of Commons, if it hasn’t changed to ensure that working people are not penalised or that child poverty is not addressed, I’ll vote against the Bill again.
The Welfare Bill attacks working people in Hartlepool, the sick and disabled, and will increase the prospects of child poverty in the town.
It is for that reason I voted against it.