One of the proudest achievements of the last Labour government was the progress we made in reducing child poverty. 600,000 children were brought out of poverty through a combination of the introduction of the National Minimum Wage, increased employment, tax credits to support families on low incomes, an expansion of childcare and the creation of Sure Start. You can only reduce child poverty if you measure it in the first place. That is why I am deeply opposed to the government’s proposed abolition of child poverty targets in the Welfare Reform and Work Bill. It is also entirely wrong that the government is proposing to reduce the support available to sick and disabled people who are not fit for work, by reducing the level of the Employment and Support Allowance. I am also opposed to a reduction in the benefit cap in London, when insufficient account is taken of the significantly higher housing costs which residents in London face. These measures will make life worse for many people in my constituency and I am vehemently opposed to them.
The Welfare Reform and Work Bill also proposes some measures which I agree with. The Bill proposes to introduce 3 million apprenticeships and to create a statutory duty to report on their delivery. There are young people in Dulwich and West Norwood who would dearly love the opportunity afforded by apprenticeships which are currently scarcer than they should be. The Bill also proposes to provide additional support for troubled families. I have seen many families in my constituency who need compassionate and intensive support to address issues and challenges which have devastating consequences for them. And the Bill proposes to cut rents for Council tenants, many of whom have been hit by the rising cost of living under the last government. While I believe that urgent action is also needed to address rents in the private sector and to change the definition of ‘affordable’ housing, I won’t argue with a proposal which provides a little additional help to Council tenants. It is, however, imperative that the government provide full financial support to fill the funding gap left by the reduction in rent, otherwise this will merely translate into an unsustainable cut to the funding available to maintain existing Council homes and build new Council homes.
The Labour Party put forward an amendment to the Welfare Reform and Work Bill yesterday which would have protected the child poverty target and Employment and Support Allowance for people who are not fit for work. I voted for this amendment. The amendment proposed fundamental changes to the Bill. I abstained from the vote on the Bill itself. I did not think that it was right to vote against the proposal to introduce 3 million apprenticeships, provide more support for troubled families or cut rents for Council tenants. In particular, it would be much harder to hold the government to account for delivering high quality apprenticeships and an effective troubled families programme, if I had voted against the principle of these proposals.
The Welfare Reform and Work Bill will not become law (and therefore cannot be implemented) until it has gone through three further stages in Parliament. It will next go through a ‘committee stage’, which is the process of considering and debating it line by line. The Labour Party will continue to challenge the measures we are opposed to through this stage, and we have set out a list of 15 detailed amendments which we will seek to secure. The Bill must then be considered by the House of Lords, after which it will return to the House of Commons for its third reading. The Labour Party will challenge the Bill at each and every one of these stages.
The Welfare Reform and Work Bill does not contain the proposed cuts to tax credits. I am strongly opposed to cuts to both working tax credits and child tax credits. The Tories did not put cuts to tax credits in their manifesto and David Cameron promised that he would not cut tax credits. The government has no mandate for these cuts, and because they are being introduced faster than the increase in the minimum wage, they will have a devastating impact on many families. The tax credits cuts were included in the Budget, which Labour voted against. The government will seek to implement them in the autumn via a Statutory Instrument and the Labour Party will strongly oppose this.