The Welfare Reform and Work Bill is making its passage through Parliament at the moment. After much hand wringing, Labour instructed its MPs to abstain. Only 48 defied the whip to vote against. Media Commentators including those at the supposedly left-wing Guardian agreed this was smart politics. For others though – including me – it begs the question once again, what is the Labour Party for?
But what is in this Bill that Labour found so difficult to oppose? The explanatory notes to the Bill can be found here. Here are some of the measures Labour felt they could not vote against:
- Reducing the benefit cap to £20,000, except for £23,000 in Greater London
- Freezing certain social security benefits and certain tax credit amounts for four tax years
- Limitation in the amount of support provided by the child tax credit for families who become responsible for a child born on or after 6 April 2017
- Limiting the child element of universal credit to a maximum of two children and removing the distinction between the first and subsequent children in the rate of the child element
- Removing the work-related activity component in employment and support allowance and the limited capability for work element in universal credit
- Changes to conditionality for responsible carers in universal credit
- Replacing current support for mortgage interest payments for benefit claimants with the offer of a recoverable interest-bearing loan secured as a second charge on claimants’ properties
The one on mortgage interest payments was new to me and appears particularly nasty. If you are unfortunate enough to lose your job, the government will loan you the money to pay the mortgage interest, but if you can’t repay it whilst in work, they will take your house. Not sure that really falls within the definition of social security.
If Labour can’t oppose real terms cuts (for 4 years!) to working-age benefits, replacing support for mortgage interest with interest-bearing loans secured against the property and a 30% cut in social security payments to many who are sick or disabled, then seriously, what is the point of them?