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Part of Orders of the Day — Social Security Bill – in the House of Commons at 8:24 pm on 20th May 1986.

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Photo of Michael Meacher Michael Meacher Shadow Secretary of State, Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee 8:24 pm, 20th May 1986

I want to pay a well-earned tribute to my hon. Friends who served on the Standing Committee and to my Opposition Front Bench colleagues for their discipline, eloquence, persistence, and effectiveness. Rarely can there have been a Committee where the argument was won more often and more convincingly by the Opposition than the Committee on this Bill. Yet, a stern-faced Government were able to vote us down through the brute force of whipped votes. The Opposition's sole prize in Committee and on Report came last night. We forced the Government to back-track on their universally derided plans to pay family credit through the wage packet. That is a major prize of enormous importance for millions of women. I specially thank all those who forced the Government to rethink that especially ill-advised proposal.

This Bill ends grants as of right for essential household needs for the poorest people on supplementary benefit. It substitutes a so-called social fund with no independent right of appeal and with repayable loans which will drive many families deeper into poverty and debt.

This Bill will, for the first time, cash-limit the relief of poverty. It forces everyone, even the very poorest, to pay 20 per cent. of their rates. That will eat into the basic subsistence minimum designed for food, clothing, and fuel. The Bill will emasculate the state earnings-related pension scheme by which otherwise all pensioners would have been lifted above the supplementary benefit poverty line. Poverty in retirement would finally have been ended had that scheme matured.

This Bill will end the best 20 years rule which alone protected women, the long-term unemployed and the long-term sick and disabled who were unable to earn a full pension from a normal 40 years' working life. As a result of that, they will be exposed again to means-tested poverty in retirement.

This Bill will cut £450 million from housing benefits in addition to the £200 million which was knocked off last year. That will specifically hit pensioners and unemployed families. The Bill ends local authority discretion to provide free school meals for hundreds of thousands of children who will now be put at risk of not having at least one proper nutritious meal a day.

This Bill will punish single childless young people under the age of 25. Under this Bill, 25 becomes the new age of majority for the poor. Below that age, they will get £6·60 a week less income support and significantly less housing benefit than persons in identical circumstances who are older. Altogether, nearly one third of a million young people under 25 will lose out.

I could continue with such descriptions of the Bill. This is not a Bill about social justice or about welfare state reform. It is not a Bill concerned with attacking poverty. Rather, it attacks the poor. It is about redistribution but under this anti—Robin Hood Government that involves redistribution from the poor to the rich. In addition to the £9 billion to £10 billion that has already been taken from the poor in social security cuts since 1979, and in addition to the £4 billion to £5 billion—and that is the Treasury figure—that has already been transferred from the poor in Tory budget after Tory budget, this Bill makes other redistributions. The Secretary of State said that the Bill represented a rationalisation of the welfare state. The welfare state does need to be reformed. It is too bureaucratic, too riddled with means testing and too complex, but this is not a reform package—it is a cuts package. SERPS is being cut by £12 billion into the next century, housing benefit is being cut by £450 million, child benefit was cut by £175 million last year and supplementary benefit, or income support as it is now euphemistically called, is probably to be cut by an estimated £180 million. It is a cuts package worth about £1 billion which affects 3·8 million people, 2·25 million of whom are pensioners and 500,000 of whom will lose more than £5 a week.

The Government's own figures, given in their technical annex, show that one third of a million pensioners aged over 80 will lose, that nearly 2 million pensioners under the age of 80 will lose——