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Yesterday saw MPs debate annual increases, or in some cases a continued freeze, of benefits and the state pension. During a speech by Labour Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary Margaret Greenwood MP, a Tory Whip thought it wise to say she doesn’t know the meaning of the word destitution.
Yesterdays debate was on the the amount that each benefit will rise. Rather than a bill that would go through several stages of scrutiny, this was an order so could not be amended.
For such an important statement you’d expect Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd MP to be making it. However, as has become the norm she sent Junior Minister Justin Tomlinson in her place. This is probably because she knew what was coming.
From the beginning Mr Tomlinson was ultra keen to push that the government was keeping its manifesto pledge to raise the state pension. Throughout the entire debate, all Conservative MP’s wanted to talk about was pensions.
MPs from opposition parties had other ideas. From the outset they questioned him why the government was not ending their freeze of working age benefits like Universal Credit.
SNP MP Neil Gray said;
“The biggest driver of child poverty that this Government are enforcing is the benefit freeze. With £4.5 billion due to be saved this coming year, why have the Government not brought forward the necessary legislation to scrap the final year of the freeze?”
Tomlinson replied that;
“As the economy has continued to grow, we have been able to share the proceeds of growth to support some of the most vulnerable in society. That has seen increases to the income tax threshold, which will reach £12,500 this year, taking 4 million of the lowest earners out of paying any income tax at all.”
If the government are claiming to be supporting the vulnerable in society, I’d dread to think how bad it would be if they weren’t. 14 million people are in poverty and the UN special Rapporteur blasted the government for its denial that there’s a problem.
Following Tomlinson’s outlining of the amounts benefits will rise, Labour’s Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, Margaret Greenwood rose to respond.
Greenwood welcomed the rise to the State Pension but was critical of pretty much everything else noting;
“This order fails to uprate a long list of social security benefits: child benefit, jobseeker’s allowance, employment and support allowance, income support, housing benefit, local housing allowance rates, child tax credit, working tax credit and the equivalent elements in universal credit. None of those are uprated by this order.”
Since 2016 The benefits listed above have been frozen at 2015 rates. This means that despite the cost of living rising, claimants payments haven’t given up. What’s more, due to a miscalculation by then Chancellor George Osborne, inflation has actually been higher than expected putting an even bigger squeeze on claimant’s budgets.
It was during the next part of Greenwood’s speech that the government front bench let its true colours show.
Whilst she was outlining that a Joseph Rowntree Foundation report found 1.5 million people experienced destitution, Government Whip, Craig Whittaker MP interrupted shouting;
“You don’t know the meaning of the word.”
Here we have a government minister attempting to play down a report by a think tank their own government has on occasion praised. It seems that only applies when they’re saying nice things. This government actually believes it gets nothing wrong.
Greenwood hit back, after the jeers of agreement from the Tory benches were quietened by the speaker, by educating the whip
“To put this in perspective, destitution in this context means that a person has lacked two or more of the six essentials in the last month—shelter, food, heating, lighting, clothing and basic toiletries. It is truly shocking that 1.5 million are going without basic essentials in modern Britain.”
It IS shocking that this is allowed to occur in any developed country with a supposed functioning welfare system. What’s worse is that Universal Credit isn’t even fully operational and their token gestures of fiddle around the edges aren’t going to slow down the suffering.
Greenwood closed by offering the government an olive branch. She said that Labour would help a bill through parliament quickly that would end the benefit freeze. Since I’m writing this article you can work out what the response was. Literally nothing by the way, it was ignored.
The rest of the debate was Tory MPs praising the rises to the state pension and disability benefits, whilst opposition MPs called for an end to the benefit freeze. MP highlighted it effects by naming probably every report done in the last 18 months but to no avail.
The order was nodded through as is usual with these things and so the freeze continues.
Just last week MPs received a 2.7% pay rise to just under £80,000. It disgusts me that just days later they couldn’t end a 4 year benefit freeze that has caused so much suffering and I’ve no doubt, deaths.