Earlier this week Elmet and Rothwell Conservative MP Alec Shelbrooke launched a vicious attack on families and individuals forced to live on welfare payments. In an extraordinary attack he accused welfare claimants of “idleness” who are part of a “something for nothing culture”.
On Wednesday Alec Shelbrooke introduced a ‘Ten Minute Rule Bill’ in the House of Commons for a ‘Welfare Cash Card’ which would take people’s benefits away leaving them with a card that could only be used to pay for what he considers to be ‘essentials’. However, despite his jibes about ‘idleness’ Shelbrooke’s restrictions won’t just apply to those out of work, but will also penalise families who have jobs and are working hard and struggling to get themselves out of poverty.
The ‘Welfare Cash Card’ would prevent families on welfare from buying non-essentials. However, even on some of his own figures they would be left just £12 a week better off, which is hardly enough to lift them out of poverty. Even in the tax-payer subsidised House of Commons bars that Shelbrooke frequents this would barely buy a round of drinks.
The result of Shelbrooke’s plans would be to stigmatise some of the most vulnerable families in society, particularly those where at least one person is working hard, but on a minimum or low wage, far below what is needed to live on.
I’m a councillor in Alec Shelbrooke’s constituency having won my seat off the Liberal Democrats in 2011. Every day in Rothwell I meet families who are striving to make ends meet. Struggling to make a decent, happy life for their families. The type of life that most of us take for granted.
Given the damage the Conservative/Liberal Democrat government’s policies are doing to the economy and the cuts they are forcing local councils to inflict it isn’t just affecting families living on some of our most deprived housing estates. Families who’ve previously had good jobs that have disappeared because of the recession and cuts are also living on welfare and desperately trying to find new work. Shelbrooke’s cash card plan would perhaps hit these families the worst. Hardly the shirkers and idlers that he claims to be targeting.
There are many potential unintended consequences (I’m giving him the benefit of the doubt and assuming he doesn’t want these awful things to happen) that could hurt vulnerable people and damage our society.
Depriving and restricting people from spending their money in the same way that the rest of us can risks driving them into the hands of loan-sharks. And these aren’t even the types of legal loan-sharks that you see advertising on TV, but the type of loan sharks who charge you sky-high interest rates and pay thugs to visit you in your home if you can’t pay.
It is also likely to increase crime as people resort to stealing to get cash to buy legal items that they aren’t allowed to have, or shoplifting and hurting small neighbourhood shops. You can also imagine a thriving black-market as families on welfare use their cards to buy food and then swap it with friends, neighbours and family in order to get what we take for granted and they are not allowed to have.
Shelbrooke should be spending his time more usefully for the people of Elmet and Rothwell by looking at ways to make big companies like Starbucks and Amazon pay their fair share of tax. And looking at ways to help struggling, small businesses in the constituency who are fighting for survival while paying their fair share of tax. Or finding ways to stimulate the economy and help create more jobs to get local people off benefits and into work.
David Cameron tried to rebrand the Conservative Party so it is no longer the ‘nasty party’. Unfortunately, Alec Shelbrooke doesn’t appear to have got the message.
Alec Shelbrooke MP is a disgrace to the Elmet and Rothwell constituency. Roll on 2015 when we’ll have a chance to send him a message and vote him out.