On Monday, the Welfare Reform Bill had its second reading. The bill has in it some very serious clauses, including changes to tax credits which will be really bad for Wirral families. And effective removal of the child poverty target that I believe our country must aim to meet. But the Government chose also to include legislation on full employment, apprenticeships, and loans for mortgage interest which I agree with. It is a bizarre approach to put a commitment to helping everybody to get a decent job right next to clauses that stop ordinary people gaining the benefits work bring. But I have learnt that you cannot rely on George Osborne to use common sense, unfortunately.
The second reading of a bill is a debate on the general principle of a bill. You can’t pick and choose elements of the bill at this point. After the second reading vote, the bill is scrutinised in detail with a vote on each separate part of the bill. And then is given its final third reading before going to the Lords for further scrutiny.
We clearly need some big changes to this bill. It’s outrageous that the Government think they can get rid of child poverty by just renaming it, and that they can undermine the ability of families to earn a living and make work pay. That’s why I voted in support of the amendment that would have stopped the Government abolishing targets for reducing child poverty. This amendment also would have prevented the restrictions to tax credits.
We lost the vote on our amendment. Because of the conflicts within the bill – on the one hand calling for full employment, on the other damaging the very tax credits that make work pay for families – I abstained on its second reading. Now our challenge is to work with any one in parliament who cares about making sure ordinary families do well in order to change this bill. Work must pay, and that should be our aim.
As an aside, I’d like to thank the hundreds of constituents that wrote to me recently about fox hunting. I agree that it would be a terrible backwards step to bring it back, and am pleased David Cameron backed down. Instead of wasting our time debating this issue again, we need to be focused on the issue above: how can we make sure that people who are working really hard to provide for their families feel the benefit of doing so, and have a better chance of getting on?
By Alison McGovern MP