Today marks the second reading of this new Tory governments’ Welfare Reform and Work Bill. It is a pernicious piece of (prospective) legislation.
The Welfare Reform Act of 2012 contains a recurring phrase throughout, attached to most of the clauses within – to wit: the clauses can be subject to amendments as and when the Secretary of State chooses. Now, that was bad enough, as George “I-made-my-name-up-to-sound-posher” Iain Duncan Smith could fiddle about with the rules to his stony hearts’ content…..but the new Bill goes much further, so much so that a separate Memorandum has been published to explain what powers have been “delegated” to the Secretary of State. Those delegated powers are not subject to any Parliamentary procedure.
Amongst many other delegated powers, IDS can change the level of the total benefit cap to whatever suits him; he can make it much less in different parts of the country if he chooses – in fact, he could set one level for one town and another for the town a few miles down the road. He can also fiddle about with how the cap is calculated – it will no longer be set with reference to average earnings, so he can reduce it to minimum earnings if he wants to. Or less.
Another – he is no longer required to meet child poverty targets as set in the Child Poverty Act 2010, and he can define child poverty any way he likes. Another – all registered providers of social housing must cut their rents by 1% a year, irrespective of rising costs for maintenance or new building.
These delegated powers are also applicable to: removal of the WRAG component of ESA, which will put many sick people into deeper poverty, ignoring the fact that even by DWP’s warped standards all those people are currently judged as incapable of work; removal of mortgage interest relief for homeowner claimants, often cheaper than the Housing Benefit they’d have to claim if they lost their homes, to be replaced with an interest-bearing loan; cutting child tax credits and Universal Credit child elements for more than two children after 2016…….and plenty more.
Harriet Harman has said that Labour will not oppose this Bill. Kate Green thinks that converting mortgage interest relief to a loan is a good thing. Rachel Reeves has yet to tell us what she thinks about removing essential benefits from people too sick to work. I wonder if they will accept their £7,000 a year pay rise? After all, it’s not much, is it? It’s only double what any WRAG claimant will get in a year when the new rules come in. I am pondering if they’ll also be happy to take their nice new retirement bonus of up to £50,000 (should they decide to leave their £74,000 PA jobs plus expenses). That would take care of 10 peoples’ Support Group payments for a year.
This Bill will pass. It will become law. Sick people will suffer even more than they do now. Child poverty will increase more than it has already. Working people will lose more than they did before. There will be more evictions, more homelessness, more hunger, more food bank use – and more untoward deaths due to sick people being unable to afford what they need to recover or live with a life-limiting illness, working parents unable to pay their rent or buy decent food for themselves and their children, and all over the UK people who need any support from this vicious and spiteful administration can expect to be told that a new benefit cap applies to them and it is a lot less than they need.
“£20 Billion in cuts in the last Parliament” says Cameron. Yeah, Dave, and just £2 Billion saved. “The WRAG component is a perverse incentive” says Osborne. Yeah, Gideon, rendering the sick destitute will make ’em work, won’t it? IDS pumps his fists in joyous celebration of the new National Living Wage – an unedifying spectacle that made me cringe with embarrassment – knowing too well that it is effectively no more than NMW in real terms and is actually a lot less than it needs to be when the cuts to everything else are accounted for.
Cut the desperately needed support to our poorest and most vulnerable. Cut £12 Billion off the budget, make savings of nil, and kill people. Jolly good. But continue with Universal Credit, costing £16 Billion at the last count; continue with the worse-than-doing-nothing Work Programme so providers can buy castles, and waste another £7 Billion. Give Maximus £18 Million a week to attempt to deny benefits that get restored after appeals costing £60 million a year. Yep, we can afford all that, but we can’t afford food for our sick or our children.
This, ladies and gentlemen, is how NOT to do “welfare” reform.
This Bill and its’ Memorandum is a free pass for IDS to do what the fuck he likes. This Bill will leave many people, already living lives of quiet desperation behind closed doors in homes they can no longer afford, in very serious trouble and coroners will be reporting more suicides attributable to benefit cuts. These are the sort of people that the media chooses to ignore in favour of unsympathetic characters they can manufacture outrage about, the scroungers who are actually as rare as rocking-horse shit and who are totally unrepresentative of the vast majority of people who have no option other than to ask for support that they have paid for and are now finding that their insurance fund will not pay out.
This, ladies and gentlemen, is what Labour will not oppose. The job of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition is to oppose – and they won’t do it. The truth is that they are afraid of upsetting the electorate, they are afraid of the media, they are afraid of standing up to Tory hegemony even though Cameron’s working majority is so small that a concerted effort could block this Bill.
It took a 20-year-old new SNP MP, Mhairi Black, with little experience in politics and no experience in Parliament, to say what Labour should have been saying. A young woman, whose peers will not be supported by this government whether in work or not, shamed the rest of the Commons by saying what needed to be said and calling for a united opposition to this nasty mendacious government.
Shame on Cameron, Osborne, IDS, and their henchmen. Shame on Reeves, Green, Harman, Field, and Labour for failing to do what we pay them for.
Shame on them all,