New Clause 2 — Childcare

Part of Welfare Reform Bill (Programme) (No. 2) – in the House of Commons at 4:30 pm on 13th June 2011.

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Photo of Stephen Timms Stephen Timms Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions) 4:30 pm, 13th June 2011

I agree with the hon. Lady’s point, and to that extent the current system has a lot of attractions. The problem is that we will lose that system with universal credits. The question is: who will be entitled to free prescriptions? I do not imagine that she is arguing—as perhaps the Government will; I do not know—that there should be a cut-off point in income beyond which people suddenly lose all help for prescriptions. If that happens, we will create a serious and damaging cliff edge in the system, which everyone agrees is an undesirable feature. Our new clause 4 therefore proposes to address that problem, although there may be other problems as well. What I would dearly love to extract is a proposal from the Government, so that we can find out exactly what they intend to do, because so far they have been silent on that subject, as on all the others.

We have been told throughout these debates that the main point of the Bill is to ensure that people are always better off in work. Our task in Parliament is to scrutinise whether the Bill lives up to that laudable aim, but without knowing what the Government will do to provide help with child care, school meals or prescription costs, we simply cannot tell.

Frankly, it is an abuse of the parliamentary process not to tell this House what the Government’s policy is before the Bill leaves us. I do not accuse Ministers of withholding information from Parliament; the problem is that they have no more clue about their policy than we do. It is an astonishing and abject failure on their part. They made all these boasts at the beginning—their bragging ran away with them—but now they cannot deliver policies to substantiate those boasts.