There has been much incorrect information and a few myths in the media reporting voting on the first Commons debate on the Government’s Welfare to Work Bill.
It became clear in the Budget that the Conservative Government is seeking to attack and undermine the system of tax credits because spending on tax credits has risen due to low wages. Labour are strongly opposed to Conservative cuts to tax credits, because we brought in tax credits to make sure work could pay for families working part-time or in low-paid jobs.
The measures to make cuts to tax credits are not in the Welfare Reform and Work Bill. The cuts are likely to be made via secondary legislation in the autumn, as these Government measures cannot be amended. Labour will oppose this legislation as we know it will make some of the poorest families £1,000 or more worse off.
The measures in the Welfare Reform and Work Bill included some that Labour would support: on policies for 3 million apprenticeships, cuts to council rents, support for troubled families and loans for mortgage interest. There are other measures in the Bill that Labour opposes or wants to amend such as: the abolition of child poverty targets, cuts to the Employment Support Allowance for people who are not fit to work due to sickness or disability and the two child limit for tax credits and universal credit.
The options for voting on a Bill in a Second Reading debate include voting for the Bill, tabling a Reasoned Amendment to deny the Bill a second reading, abstaining or voting against the Bill. Given the range of measures in the Bill, including some measures which we support, Labour’s acting Leader, Harriet Harman, had decided on tabling a Reasoned Amendment to oppose the Bill getting a second reading. All Labour MPs voted for our Reasoned Amendment. This was what we tabled:
That this House, whilst affirming its belief that there should be controls on and reforms to the overall costs of social security, that reporting obligations on full employment, apprenticeships and troubled families are welcome, and that a benefits cap and loans for mortgage interest support are necessary changes to the welfare system, declines to give a Second Reading to the Welfare Reform and Work Bill because the Bill will prevent the Government from continuing to pursue an ambition to reduce child poverty in both absolute and relative terms, it effectively repeals the Child Poverty Act 2010 which provides important measures and accountability of government policy in relation to child poverty, and it includes a proposal for the work-related activity component of employment and support allowance which is an unfair approach to people who are sick and disabled.
As the vote on Labour’s Reasoned Amendments was not passed, Labour MPs were then advised to abstain on the next vote on the Bill. Some Labour MPs voted against the Bill but this was not open to Labour MPs who are Shadow Ministers.
Barbara spoke out in the debate on behalf of carers affected by the Bill. She said they should be exempt from some of the measures in the Bill (like the Benefit Cap).
The Bill now goes on to further stages and there will be more debates and votes. There will be detailed scrutiny of the Bill in a Committee and further debates in the Commons Chamber in the autumn.
Labour has tabled detailed amendments on the substance of the Bill at these next stages of the Bill. These include measures to prevent the Government abolishing targets for reducing child poverty; measures to introduce exemptions to the household benefit cap and exemptions to the restriction that limits tax credits applying to three or more children. We will also propose amendments to protect the financial support given to Employment Support Allowance claimants in the Work Related Activity Group, a group who have already been through rigorous tests to show that they are not fit for work and that they should be entitled to additional support. Labour will force individual votes on our amendments, so that it is clear what we do and do not support.
If our amendments are not accepted we can vote against the Bill at the stage in the Commons called Report and Third Reading.
By this time, Labour will also have announced the person who is the new Leader of the party. Barbara is supporting Andy Burnham in the leadership contest and Andy has made in clear that, if he becomes Labour Leader, Labour will oppose the Welfare Reform and Work Bill strongly which Barbara thinks is the right approach to this Bill.