Alec Shelbrooke: The need to reverse Labour’s destruction of the Welfare State is greater than ever
Alec Shelbrooke is the Member of Parliament for Elmet and Rothwell. Follow Alec on Twitter.
In December I introduced a Ten Minute Rule Bill to the House calling for the introduction of a Welfare Cash Card to ensure that welfare payments are used for the purchase of essential items; the purpose for which they are intended.
The media frenzy following my speech resulted in the principle of the Bill being lost in favour of a debate over well rehearsed left-wing rhetoric. The festive holidays brought a rare opportunity for calm reflection; untainted by the volatility of hyper partisan politics. As such, in the weeks that followed I have received numerous messages of support from people across the country – of all political persuasions - recognising the benefits my Bill will bring to detoxifying the label that is currently attached to those 5.8million people currently in receipt of one or more DWP benefits.
I want to stop benefits being a dirty word and bring about a new approach where people aren’t ashamed to be claiming benefits. We should be proud to live in a country that helps people get back on their feet when they need help. The previous Government allowed a two-tier benefit system to fester where the actions of a tiny minority of claimants have unfairly tarnished the reputation of benefits and of the hard-working but low-paid people who rely on them.
This week Labour voted to increase benefits by more than workers’ wages and in doing so affirmed to the nation that they remain the party of something for nothing. Labour perpetuates the stigma that all 5.8 million recipients of benefits are ‘shirkers’ and this is simply divisive, malevolent and untrue. The truth is Labour made people beholden to the government as they threw more and more money at people that going into work became uneconomical. At the same time they were giving tax credits to people on over £50,000. Little wonder the tax credit bill went up by over 300% alone.
The Welfare Benefits Up-rating Bill debate was one of the most high-tempered I have experienced to date. Speech after speech from Labour MPs attempted to divert the debate away from the motion in front of the House – that benefits should not rise at twice the rate of earnings as they had under Labour.
When the consequences of the economic mess we inherited means public sector workers have had their pay rises frozen at 1 per cent it is simply incomprehensible that Labour would choose to increase benefits further. What message does that send to those who work all the hours available to them to make work pay? Instead, Labour chose to use an outdated and out of touch stereotype as a stick to bash the Conservatives with; unfortunately for Ed Miliband he is on the wrong side of public opinion in this debate.
Following the First Reading of my Welfare Cash Card Bill, I received an assortment of abusive messages – mostly from Labour Party Members or left-wing bloggers – throwing personal insults and in one case a death threat because I had the courage to stand up in the House of Commons and say what a majority of the population were thinking. Even in the face of polling evidence from Demos where 91% think there are items the Government should restrict welfare payments being used for, and further polling in the Yorkshire Post highlighting that 75% of those polled support my Bill, still Labour Councillors in my constituency - including the Labour Leader of Leeds City Council - opposed the Bill. They also went so far as to suggest claimants should be allowed to spend taxpayers’ money on these Non-Essential, Desirable but often Damaging (NEDD) items such as cigarettes and alcohol if they so wish!
Labour’s main argument against a 1% cap on benefit rises is that we would rather be giving tax cuts to millionaires than increasing benefits by more than workers’ wages. In what can only be described as a lack of economic edification it is devastatingly worrying that the Shadow Chancellor - who masterminded Gordon Brown’s policies - fails to see that tax and spending is about the amount that is in the coffers; that you can’t do one without the other.
The 50% tax rate, introduced by Labour as a 2010 election policy only, lost £7 billion in tax receipts. Throughout Labour’s time in office the top rate of tax was 40%; under this government it is 45% and recent figures from the IFS show that that the richest in society will pay more under this government then they ever did under Labour.
In the debate on the Benefits Up-rating Bill, the Shadow Work & Pensions Secretary, the very man who left a note in the Treasury admitting ‘there’s no money left’ accused Conservative MPs of using divisive descriptions such as ‘shirkers and workers’. It brought me great pleasure to inform the Secretary of State that Mr Byrne himself used the very same description in his 2011 conference speech: “many people on the doorstep at the last election felt that too often [Labour] were for shirkers not workers.”
This is a plea to the reader – it is not in my character, nor ever the intention of my Bill to play one section of society off against another. To suggest otherwise is not only false but damaging and disrespectful to the 5.8m recipients of DWP benefits who believe in the integral importance of the Welfare State.
So, let us have a sensible debate about the future of the Welfare State. I want to prolong and insure the prosperity of the benefits system but to do so, the present faults in the system need to be addressed. We can’t just shy away from it for fear of abuse from those who wish to force people onto benefits. It’s time for the workers to rise up and tell the Bourgeoisie of the Labour Frontbench that it is no longer acceptable to implement policies focussed on dividing society. We want a system that supports a society of people with their aspirations. We want a one nation welfare system that supports those truly in need. We want a welfare revolution and we want it now.