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Welfare Reform and Work Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 9:13 pm on 20th July 2015.

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Photo of Nia Griffith Nia Griffith Shadow Minister (Wales) 9:13 pm, 20th July 2015

In order to keep to the time limit, I will turn immediately to the Government’s intention to increase the tax credits withdrawal rate—the taper—from 41% to 48%, and to the cut in the tax credits income threshold from £6,420 to £3,850 a year. Those are two of the most damaging and far-reaching changes, and the Government are determined to press ahead with them, but in fact they are not in the Bill. They will be dealt with in secondary legislation, yet they will have an enormous impact on family incomes, and the Bill needs to be considered in the context of those changes.

Increasing the taper from 41% to 48% will make it less attractive to seek more hours of work and will produce a marginal rate of tax higher than that paid by those on the 45% additional tax rate—those earning more than £150,000. Combine that with the cut in the tax credits income threshold—the point at which the withdrawal of tax credits begins—from £6,420 to £3,850, and people working on low incomes will be hard-hit. Furthermore, those earning just above £7.20 an hour, the new minimum wage from next spring for over-25s, will gain nothing. Figures from Citizens Advice show that a couple with one child, one working 37 hours a week and the other working 18.5 hours a week, both on £8 an hour, will lose £646 per annum; a similar couple with two children will lose £2,400; and a single parent with two children, who works full time, will lose £1,862. That is no way to treat those working hard on low incomes and with little prospect of getting better-paid work.

I am absolutely opposed to limiting child tax credits to two children. What if a family’s income suddenly drops? If one earner loses a reasonably paid job and only finds a replacement job on much lower pay, the family might become eligible for tax credits, but they will not be eligible for the family element or anything for the third child. What about cases of family break-up, in which one parent—usually the mother—is left with sole responsibility for three or more children? The whole point of providing tax credits for children is that a child needs support, no matter how the family income has fallen in hard times.

The Secretary of State has talked about education and about better-paid jobs being ways out of poverty, but first a child needs food to develop healthily and clothes to wear at school. Only one in seven families in the UK have three or more children, and nine out of 10 families with three or more children have one adult in work. We should make sure that every child has food and clothing and provide support where family incomes are low.

The Secretary of State justifies the extension of conditionality to single parents of three and four-year-olds by saying that the Government will roll out additional childcare, but we already know that their manifesto promises on childcare are being postponed. The provision of childcare is devolved to the Welsh Government, so the change presupposes, or assumes, that the Welsh Government will provide exactly the same support, but that Government have extended the Flying Start scheme while the Tory Government have slashed Sure Start centres in England. They should not be introducing measures contingent on spending on specific provision by the Welsh Government without discussion with Welsh Ministers and the appropriate Barnett consequential funding.

I am also concerned about the freeze on payments such as tax credits and jobseeker’s allowance that the Bill will enshrine in legislation. That comes on top of previous freezes implemented since 2010. Never before this Secretary of State came to office was the link between benefits and inflation broken; there was always uprating to reflect inflation, even in the time of Margaret Thatcher. The way to reduce benefits bills