Labour have stated that they support the principle of a Universal Credit, of always making work pay and of simplifying the benefit system. There are, however, serious flaws in the bill that need to be addressed and Labour tabled a comprehensive amendment :
That this House, whilst affirming its belief in the principle of simplifying the benefits system and good work incentives, declines to give a Second Reading to the Welfare Reform Bill
-because the proposal of the Universal Credit as it stands creates uncertainty for thousands of people in the United Kingdom;
-because the Bill fails to clarify what level of childcare support will be available for parents following the abolition of the tax credit system;
-because the Bill penalises savers who will be barred from the Universal Credit;
-because the Bill disadvantages people suffering from cancer or mental illness due to the withdrawal of contributory Employment Support Allowance;
-because the Bill contains no safeguards to mothers in receipt of childcare support;
-because it proposes to withdraw the mobility component of Disability Living Allowance from people in residential care and fails to provide sufficient safeguards for future and necessary reform;
-because it provides no safeguards for those losing Housing Benefit or appropriate checks on the Secretary of State’s powers;
-because it fails to clarify how Council Tax Benefit will be incorporated in the Universal Credit system;
-because it fails to determine how recipients of free school meals and beneficiaries of Social Fund loans will be treated;
-and because the proposals act as a disincentive for the self-employed who wish to start up a business;
-and is strongly of the opinion that the publication of such a Bill should have been preceded by both fuller consultation and pre-legislative scrutiny of a draft Bill"
They are good amendments. They are well thought through and show that Labour have done what an
opposition party should do - scrutinise legislation and ensure that IF it passes, it does so as smoothly and with as little pain as possible.
The amendment failed by 244 votes to 317. However, the bill passed by 308 votes to 20 as Labour MPs were whipped to abstain on the bill but vote for the amendment. Just 20 MPs voted against and defied the whip, 10 of whom were Labour. Find out who by clicking here)
At first, there was fury over this last night. Grassroots Labour members, Labour bloggers and sick and disabled campaigners were astonished that Ed Miliband should ask his MPs NOT to oppose a bill with so many flaws. A bill which in its present form would go against every principle of the Labour Party.
However, overnight and this morning, Labour MPs have told me that this was an attempt to persuade Lib Dems to back the amendment. Let's face it, Labour do not have a majority. Any bill they vote against alone will always fail. Labour have 258 MPs. The Conservatives have 307. The Lib Dems have 57 and there are 28 "Others." If enough Lib Dems and "Others" vote for the amendment or abstain, we might lose the battle, but we win the war. Labour MPs assure me that if the amendment hasn't been accepted at the 3rd reading they WILL vote against the bill.
The only way this bill can be reformed is to ensure that enough Lib Dems vote for the amendment.
We now have the committee stage of the bill and this is the period in which lobby groups MUST make their voices heard. We MUST win the hearts and minds of those MPs - on both sides of the house - who have serious concerns over the points raised in Labour's amendment. Make no mistake - if we can't the Bill will pass as it is. Campaigners must now work tirelessly to ensure that any concerns they may have NOT listed on the amendment are lobbied for and included.
This morning, it seems to me that Labour have been as supportive and constructive as we could hope any opposition party to be. The time for talking is NOW. Any government that ignores these reasonable suggestions would not deserve the support of its coalition partners.