We are very clear: we cannot and will not support the Bill. If it did what it said on the tin, there might be much to commend it, but it does not. The Government pledge a living wage that even they know is not one, they want a welfare state that is anything but good for our country’s welfare, and they use the guise of economic necessity to cover up ideologically driven cuts. Tonight, we will vote against the Bill because we know that the depth and character of the proposals are unfair, unwise and inhuman, and anything but economically necessary.
In truth, the Government do not have to take £12 billion from the poorest families in the country, mostly working families, but are choosing to do so. No amount of political spin will protect the individuals who have to live with the reality, not the words. Calling something a living wage when it is not does not make it a living wage, calling housing affordable when it is not affordable does not make it affordable, and labelling the Bill as progressive does not make it progressive. In the end, the consequences of these actions for Britain will speak louder than the Chancellor’s attempts to change the definition of his words.
The proposals on employment and support allowance—support designed to help people who, through no fault of their own, face more barriers to work than most—will not help into work people with depression, fluctuating conditions, schizophrenia or physical conditions that make more difficult the ordinary tasks that many of us take for granted. In fact, they will act as a ridiculous disincentive. Almost 500,000 people will see their vital support cut by one third once they apply to the new system, meaning that if they are on the existing support, they will lose it as soon as they get a job, even on a short-term contract. It is a disincentive to work and will trap people on welfare, not liberate them.
The Chancellor has chosen to implement a counterproductive policy that demonises people with disabilities and mental health conditions. I am disappointed by Labour’s confusion over the Bill. To give in to the narrative that the answer to our country’s needs is to pit the working poor against the temporarily-not-working poor is shameful. Cutting tax credits, tightening the benefit cap and ramping up the right to buy is not just morally wrong but economically wrong; widening inequality is not just against British decency but economically stupid.
Intervention from Greg Mulholland (Leeds North West) (LD):
Of course, we accepted some of the changes to welfare in the last Parliament, but this goes too far. Does my hon. Friend share my concern about the effect on young people who, through no fault of their own, find themselves in need of housing benefit? Why should they be excluded from the same rights that any other citizen in this country has if they have need of the safety net?
My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. In many ways, young people are the biggest victims of the Bill. I think of young people being supported by housing benefit—for example, in the location of a Foyer, such as the wonderful Foyer in Kendal—and who thereby have access to work, training and further development opportunities. Taking housing benefit away from young people is not just morally wrong but utterly counterproductive, because it will prevent them from accessing work and other life opportunities.
We will stand for the thousands of people in work and yet in poverty, and for the millions of people who might not be personally affected but who do not want to see inequality grow in Britain. Instead, we want a direction for the country that combines economic credibility with truly socially progressive policies, which is why we will continue to make the case for using capital investment to build houses and strengthen our economy for the long term, and for a welfare system that understands the needs of people with mental health conditions and helps them back into work, rather than putting them under the kind of pressure that simply makes them worse.
The reduction in the incomes of poor families in work comes at the same time as the Government are giving inheritance tax cuts to millionaires, cutting corporation tax for the richest firms and refusing to raise a single extra penny in tax from the wealthiest people—for example, through a high-value property levy. We will continue to speak for the millions of people who are young, who suffer from mental health problems, whose parents have no spare rooms or spare income, who do not have parents at all, or who have more than two children. The Liberal Democrats will stand up for families, whether they are hard-working or just desperate to be hard-working. We will not let the Conservatives through choice, or the Labour party through their silence, unpick our welfare system.