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Welfare Reform and Work Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 9:21 pm on 20th July 2015.

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Photo of Carolyn Harris Carolyn Harris Labour, Swansea East 9:21 pm, 20th July 2015

It is hard to see how the changes contained in the Bill will not result in hardship for the most vulnerable families. We know that the cuts in tax credits will have a serious impact on working families earning low wages, and that neither the increased minimum wage nor the higher personal allowance will plug the gap. We also know that there will be less support for families with more than two children, which will push even more larger families into poverty.

As usual, however, the devil is in the detail. Behind the headline reduction in the household benefit cap to £20,000 outside London is something else that the Government are doing. Proposed new subsection (4) in clause 8 will allow the Secretary of State to change the cap at any time, without consulting Parliament. It grants the Secretary of State significant powers, and provides for no scrutiny whatever. In effect, it means that the Government could continue to lower the cap time and again, rendering more and more families unable to make ends meet, and forcing more and more children into poverty. I urge the Government to reconsider their decision, and—as was suggested by my right hon. Friend Stephen Timms—to amend the Bill so that Parliament will be able to play a role in scrutinising, debating and voting on any further changes to the cap.

Given that the Bill will make many more families significantly worse off, it is not surprising that the Government no longer want to measure how many children are living in income poverty. The headline measure in the Child Poverty Act 2010, which was passed with cross-party support, is 60% of median income. That measure is internationally recognised and allows for monitoring and transparency. However, the Government want to scrap it and replace it with a measure of workless households and educational attainment. Given that 65% of children in poverty live in a household where at least one adult works, I believe that changing the definition of child poverty is an attempt to avoid scrutiny of in-work poverty. Let us be clear about what that means. Clause 4 will repeal the Child Poverty Act in all but name, but deleting the term “child poverty” from the statute book will not make the problem go away. Changing the definition does not mean that parents working on zero-hours contracts and receiving the minimum wage will not have to rely on food banks to feed their children.

The Bill sends the message that child poverty does not matter, and that as long as parents are in work, we need not worry about whether they can afford to feed and clothe their children. For that reason alone, I will vote against the Bill.