Welfare Uprating Bill – With respect…I disagree
I seem to have reserved myself a special place on the “naughty step” of Parliament.
Once again, this week, I led a rebellious assault on the Government, this time on its plans to cut welfare benefits to working and non working households, by holding down future rises to 1% annually until 2016.
Though I was supported on this occasion by 8 of my Liberal Democrat colleagues and with abstentions from at least 5 others, I can tell you that it is not an easy thing to do.
This is especially true because I have the highest respect for the Government Minister I was opposing; Liberal Democrat Welfare Minister Steve Webb – arguably, the most knowledgeable and talented Welfare Minister for decades; a former Professor of Social Policy who worked nine years at the Institute of Fiscal Studies – the body most revered by Parliament as providing demigodic analysis and advice.
He has achieved a remarkable transformation of Government policy. Introducing a “triple lock” to ensure that the basic state pension increases by at least 2½% per annum (or wages or prices, whichever is highest!); the forthcoming introduction of Universal Credit – getting rid of a complex formula of benefits and tax credits to provide individually tailored support to help families whether in or seeking work; and his plans to create a single state pension.
He also successfully saw off Tory plans to freeze benefits at zero %; remove housing benefit from all under 25 year olds; hit pensioners and the disabled with the welfare cut; remove child benefit from families with more than 2 children; and other similar policies straight out of the hidden agenda of the Nasty Party. So he’s done a great job and I admire him enormously.
So why should I oppose the compromise he has reached with the Tories by successfully protecting benefits with a 1% rise whilst meeting the deficit reduction target of £2.5bn per annum?
Well, it’s mainly because I believe there are ways of doing this which are less painful for the poorest families and because I don’t think we can confidentially predict what food and energy prices are going to be in 2016.
Though I didn’t succeed, the point was made and there remains a fertile climate of healthy (and, I hope, mutual) respect between us.
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