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Welfare Reform and Work Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 8:43 pm on 20th July 2015.

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Photo of James Cartlidge James Cartlidge Conservative, South Suffolk 8:43 pm, 20th July 2015

We hear that there is something of a quandary among Labour Members about how to vote, perhaps characterised as a decision on whether they go for political pragmatism or principles of social justice. Let me assure them that they need not worry. If they vote with us, they will be voting for social justice, because, as my hon. Friend Alex Chalk said, this Bill is based fundamentally on social justice.

I want to highlight the three key principles that show that this Bill is about social justice. The first and most important relates to the dependency culture. There is an idea among Labour Members that if benefits are reduced, that will be it: people will be static and will never be able to go out into the workplace and improve their situation. We have to accept, however, that those benefits are far too generous—£30 billion a year is huge—particularly the individual awards to workers.

I have run a small business and have seen what it is like. People earn £13,000 from work and a similar amount from tax credits. In that situation, benefits are permanent. How can someone in that position ever reduce their benefit take when the amount they need to earn from work in order to overcome it is so big? That represents a massive extension of the dependency culture, and taking the tough decisions to row it back is a socially just agenda, which I support.

The second key principle relates to fairness to taxpayers. After all, the working population have to pay for these benefits. I strongly support the benefits cap. There is a great social injustice when people in work earn less than those on benefits. That may not happen in a large number of cases, but we should never accept it. It should be a key principle of our welfare system to always seek to reduce the benefits bill and increase in-work wages. That is our agenda, which will come through in the national living wage.

The third principle is the move towards full employment. I want to focus on a point that Stephen Timms made several times in his speech. He said that the measures attack work incentives, but I am afraid that that simply does not stack up in the real world. I am talking not just about my experience; every other employer to whom I have spoken who, like me, has had staff on tax credits, finds it difficult. That is particularly the case with part-time staff who are on tax credits: they do not want to work any more hours and often do not even want to take pay rises, because of the dependency system. That is what we are up against.