This week I voted in the House of Commons to oppose the Welfare Reform & Work Bill. I want to set out the context and the reasons behind my vote – particularly as there has been a lot of misreporting of what is in the Bill and a lack of clarity about parliamentary procedures.
The first and most important point is that David Cameron and George Osborne are playing politics with these reforms. They have very deliberately decided to bundle together measures that Labour would wholeheartedly support with others that we utterly oppose.
The Bill does include good changes that we support, such as reforms to create 3 million apprenticeships, reducing the cost of rents for people living in social housing, and support for early intervention programmes. However, it also includes unfair cuts to support for the sick and disabled – including for people suffering from cancer or Parkinson’s disease – and the abolition of targets to reduce child poverty which the Labour government introduced.
That’s why I voted for a Reasoned Amendment tabled in Parliament by the Labour Party. This was a vote to block the Bill.
The amendment set out the reasons why we oppose the Bill as it currently stands. It made clear that although there were parts of the Bill we agree with – such as the benefit cap to ensure that people are always better off in work – we are opposed to other parts that would make it harder to tackle child poverty and protect the vulnerable.
If we had won the vote on our amendment, the Bill would not have passed. Unfortunately, it was voted down by Tory MPs.
When our amendment failed, I then abstained in an overall vote on the Bill together with the Labour frontbench team. This ensured we did not have to vote against the parts of the Bill we support, whilst allowing us to fight the other parts that we oppose as the draft legislation continues its journey through Parliament.
This includes the Committee Stage, when the Bill will be scrutinised line-by-line. Labour have already tabled more than 20 substantial amendments that would mitigate the most unfair reforms included in the legislation.
As your Member of Parliament, there will be several more opportunities for me to vote against this Bill before it becomes law if I judge that it does not serve the best interests of the people of Barnsley.
I have also discussed the Bill with Andy Burnham, who I am supporting in the Labour leadership contest. He has made clear that if he is elected as Leader, Labour will oppose the Bill when the whole House of Commons votes on it again at Third Reading, unless major changes are made to the legislation during the Committee Stage.
It is important to note that the cuts to the tax credits which three million low and middle income families rely on are not included in the Bill. They will be dealt with as secondary legislation and Labour will oppose these cuts when they come before Parliament.
I would like to thank everyone who has contacted me regarding this issue, and I completely understand the strength of feeling about these reforms. Regrettably, this episode underlines that there are consequences to losing elections and that we need to do all we can to elect a Labour Government.
I will continue to do all I can to stand up for the people in Barnsley – both as your Member of Parliament and as part of the Labour team.