Amendment of the Law

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:41 pm on 23rd March 2015.

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Photo of Rachel Reeves Rachel Reeves Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions 5:41 pm, 23rd March 2015

I thank the Secretary of State for his valedictory address this afternoon, and I hope that this will be my last speech from the Opposition Benches.

The last five years have been a tragic and terrible waste for working people in this country, and a shocking record of Tory welfare waste at the Department for Work and Pensions. What a wasted opportunity this Budget was to put in place the better plan that we need. People in my constituency—and in every constituency around the country—have been let down yet again.

People are putting in the hours at work but still falling behind with the rent and the bills; they are desperate to work and earn, but are not getting the support they need to find a job. People who cannot work because they are sick or disabled are forced to turn to food banks because the safety net is being pulled away from them.

The people of our country have been put through five years of hardship by this out-of-touch Government, and they are still waiting to feel the benefits of what has been the weakest recovery in more than 100 years. Five wasted years in which working people have put in the hours, day after day, year after year, only to find themselves £1,600 a year worse off than when the Government took office. Five wasted years in which families have been hit by tax and benefit changes that cost the average household more than £1,100 a year, only to find that the Government have borrowed £200 billion more than they said they would and have totally failed to deliver on their central promise to balance the books. Five wasted years in which people have been told “We are all in this together”, while the Government prioritised tax cuts for millionaires and came back time and again to take money from the poorest. Five wasted years in which a Secretary of State for Work and Pensions has waxed lyrical about his grand scheme for welfare reform, but all he has delivered is delays, backlogs, write-offs and overspends—a record of Tory welfare waste that we cannot stand for another five years.

Let us remind ourselves of the backdrop to this Budget and of the complacent and self-congratulatory speech we have just heard from the Secretary of State. The Chancellor promised in 2010,

“we will bring down the benefits bill.”

Since then we have had five years of cruel and unfair policies: taking money from the pockets of disabled people through the bedroom tax; taking money from working families with restrictions to tax credits; driving hundreds of thousands of people to food banks to feed their families; and increasing the number of children in absolute poverty by 500,000. And yet, at the beginning of this year, the Institute for Fiscal Studies confirmed that

“Real terms benefit spending…is forecast to be almost exactly the same in 2015–16 as it was in 2010–11”.

Why is that, we may ask, after the Government have inflicted so much hardship on so many people who have the least? It is because, the IFS explains, these harsh and unfair policies have been cancelled out by upward pressure on the benefits bill resulting from

“weak wage growth and rising private rents”.

Meanwhile, it says, most of the major structural changes, such as universal credit, have run into problems and are yet to be delivered. This is the reason why, in the past five years, the Government have spent £25 billion more on social security than they said they would in 2010. It is why, yet again, the small print of the Budget reveals another £600 million overspend this year against last year’s forecasts.