Big Debate: Was the Labour Party right to pass the latest Tory Welfare Reform Bill?
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This week’s Big Debate asks if the Labour Party was right to pass the latest Tory Welfare Reform Bill.
With the Labour Party opposition divided on the Tory Welfare Reform Bill, which was passed last week, critics have accused the party of soft opposition. The majority of its MPs supported interim leader Harriet Harman’s effort to change the party’s image by not opposing every aspect of the welfare plans, and this has led to criticism from the Green Party. This week, Labour’s Stephen Timms and the Green Party’s Rachel Collinson debate the issue as we ask: Was the Labour Party right to pass the latest Tory Welfare Reform Bill?
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Rachel Collinson, Newham Green Party
Newham Green Party despairs at our Labour MPs’ limp response to the Conservative government’s welfare reform bill.
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This Dickensian new law slashes working tax credits, condemns disabled people to squalor and lowers the benefit cap.
Even more of us on low incomes will be forced to move away from our families, schools and jobs in Newham.
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One hundred and nine MPs voted against this bill, including Green MP Caroline Lucas.
However, East Ham’s Stephen Timms, despite being shadow Secretary for Work and Pensions, and West Ham’s Lyn Brown were not among them.
Even at a local level there’s only feeble resistance to the Tories’ attacks on ordinary people.
The irony is that our 100 per cent Labour council is mounting an expensive advertising campaign to tell us how they need to cut £50million from our vital public services. Schools closed. Community centres locked up. Single parents evicted.
Rather than build new council housing, they insist “affordable housing” is enough.
How is a nurse supposed to afford a one-bedroom flat when the rent is £1,400 a month (yes, that is the so-called “affordable” rate)?
And yet, £50million of our council tax goes into the coffers of greedy banks every year – that’s interest payments on controversial high-interest loans the Labour council took out 10 years ago.
Evidence suggests that these loans were mis-sold and it looks like those who gave the council financial advice stood to earn large cash payments for recommending them.
Labour could decide to sue the banks. But no – it’s tally ho! On with the cuts!
Only two Labour councillors are speaking out against this waste of our money. The rest either support the bankers or keep quiet for fear of losing their positions.
If Labour won’t oppose this government – what is it for?
Stephen Timms, Labour MP for East Ham
The Welfare Reform Bill debated in Parliament last week included commitment to three million new apprenticeships, and to cut council and housing association rents.
Many Newham residents will be puzzled about why the Green Party voted against.
The Green Party says the legislation will “slash working tax credits”.
It is true George Osborne plans to cut the income of three million working families by more than £1,000 per year.
Labour will lead the fight against these cuts, but they will be in separate legislation later in the year and aren’t in the bill we’re debating here.
George Osborne also announced abolition of student maintenance grants.
This will make the student debt problem even worse. Labour will fight that too – but it also is not in this bill.
The bill itself contains good and bad.
Labour tabled a “reasoned amendment”, making clear our opposition to the bad things – like cuts in benefits for people too sick to work and the abolition of the government’s child poverty measures and targets.
But – since it also contained good things – we did not vote against the second reading.
Since the debate, Labour has tabled 24 amendments to the bill.
Will the Green Party confirm its support for them?
They will scrap the cuts in benefits for sick people, and reinstate child poverty targets.
They will mean checking on the quality of the apprenticeships, introducing exemptions to the benefit cap and requiring the government to explain how it will make up the shortfall in house-building funds resulting from rent reductions.
We won’t vote against everything for the sake of it.
We will be an effective opposition – working out clearly where the government is wrong, and fighting tooth and nail to force them to change.