Thursday, 10 January 2013

Welfare Benefit Uprating Bill

The text of my speech in Parliament this week on this shameful Tory Bill follows below.

'The proposal is to limit the increase in working-age benefits to 1% for the next three years, which is an effective cut. Let us make no mistake: for anyone who relies on benefits for all or part of their income, this will be a “poverty-producing policy”. Those are not my words, but the words of the Child Poverty Action Group. Working families are finding it hard to get by financially after two years of freezes in child benefit and working tax credit, and cuts to child care tax credit, housing benefit and support for new parents. It is no wonder that the CPAG is warning that the number of children living in absolute poverty will rise.

Let us look at what the proposal means for a full-time worker on the minimum wage. In a response to my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport (Ann Coffey), the Treasury confirmed that the working tax credit lost in 2013-14 by people who are working full time on the minimum wage, due to the Government’s freezes and the increase in the earnings taper, will be £475 for a single person with no children and £660 for a couple with one child. Contrary to the assertions made in Parliament, the amount of working tax credit lost by families with one earner on the minimum wage will be greater than their saving of £420 in 2013-14 from the increase in the personal tax allowance.

Many of my constituents work in low-paid retail work. I am grateful to the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers for the survey of its members, who all report how difficult it is to manage with the rising cost of food, fuel and other everyday items. Many report that they have turned off the heating at certain times in the month. Tracey said that although both she and her partner work, after paying for the rent, gas and electric, they often find it so hard to manage that they go without food so that their children can eat.
That situation is confirmed by the Oasis food bank in my constituency, which has recently begun to operate. Although I support its good work and pay tribute to it, I deplore the fact that such organisations are needed in the 21st century. The food bank tells me that many working people come to it as they simply cannot make their money stretch to the end of the month, and we know that more people are turning to payday lenders simply to get money to spend on essentials, not on luxuries any more. It is no wonder those payday lenders are circling the estates.

The people affected have not made a lifestyle choice. They are working people such as the one who came to my surgery who gets up at 5 o’clock to do two cleaning jobs. It is not a lifestyle choice for those who are out of work, either. It is a situation that they find themselves in, like the young man who worked at Comet and lost his job, and is now competing with seven others for every job in my constituency. He was almost in tears at having to claim benefits, and I can relate to that: I claimed benefits myself for a few months in the mid-’80s when I was left with a young daughter, and it has left an indelible mark on me. I know what it feels like to go and sign on—it hurts, it really does.

Those in work who are struggling to make ends meet and those out of work who are desperate to find it are the people who are bearing the brunt of the Government’s failed economic policies, not the high earners and millionaires who are getting a tax cut of £107,000 this April. It is not fair, and it is not right, and I am proud to vote against the Bill and defend the 8,100 people in my constituency who are claiming working tax credits.'

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