As a member of the Work and Pensions Select Committee I get to see up close the Government’s dissolute, ideological approach to social security – whether it’s Iain Duncan Smith’s comments that he wants to limit child benefit to the first two children to instigate ‘behaviour change’ (that’s code for he doesn’t want poor people to have more than 2 children), Esther McVey’s response to Gill Thompson whose diabetic brother, David Clapson died after he was sanctioned, that it was ‘complicated’, or the fact that by 2018, 3.8m people with disabilities will have lost nearly £24bn of social security support.
I could go on about their dehumanising and ineffective revamped Work Capability Assessment process, terminally ill people being made to wait months for the financial support they need in the most dire of circumstances and the dramatic increase in people being made homeless as a result of the cruel bedroom tax, and so much more besides. Or highlight the fact that as part of Universal Credit roll-out, this Tory/Lib Dem Government are piloting sanctions for people who are in-work but are on low pay and in receipt of tax credits, which will be the next scandal if they are allowed back into power.
But what I and so many find deeply offensive is the pejorative language that’s been used by this Government as they refer to people receiving social security as shirkers and scroungers. This belies the evidence and the Government and anyone else who wilfully misrepresents the facts should be ashamed of themselves.
That’s why I was disappointed to see some of the responses to my colleague, Rachel Reeves’ interview in the Guardian earlier this week. Rachel, like me, is passionate about ensuring a model of social welfare which retains its principles of inclusion, support and security for all; protecting anyone of us should we fall on hard times, assuring us of our dignity and the basics in life, and giving us a hand up, not a hand out. In her own words she told the Guardian interviewer:
“The welfare state was always supposed to be there to protect people in times of need, whether that was because they lost their job, or became disabled, or they had a child that was disabled, to help with the cost of childcare, to help you when you are no longer earning because you’re retired. That’s what the welfare state was created for. I want to ensure the welfare state is there for my children and their children in the future”
As part of Labour’s commitment to this approach, she has promised to end the target-driven sanctions culture in Job Centres, reform the work capability assessment to a fairer, more holistic assessment process, and scrap the bedroom tax which hits more than 400,000 people, two thirds of whom are disabled. We know only too well how this cruel policy has affected people – carers who need an extra bedroom, and disabled families who need extra space for equipment – with many now struggling to stay in their home.
Labour will also guarantee a job for everyone who has been long-term unemployed, and we will end the scandal of low pay which is seeing 6.6 million people in working families living in poverty, by increasing the national minimum wage and helping more employers pay a living wage through tax rebates.
As Rachel Reeves has said before, Labour was a party born of the self-respect and solidarity of working communities. We want people to be able to go out to work and earn a living for themselves and their families. We are the only party that can deliver this. Another five years of the Tories will mean more hardship, more low pay and a more unequal economy that only benefits a few at the top. Now more than ever, our focus should be on making sure they don’t get that opportunity.
It you look at the policies we will put in place if we win the General Election on May 7, it couldn’t be clearer. We have a better plan for a better future, for everyone in Britain – whether working or unemployed, old or young, and regardless of disability, gender or race.
Debbie Abrahams is Labour MP for Oldham East and Saddleworth