Easington MP set to defy Ed Miliband over welfare cap

The Northern Echo: Easington MP Grahame Morris Easington MP Grahame Morris

A NORTH-East Labour MP will today (Wednesday, March 26) defy his party leader by voting against a ‘welfare cap’ – warning it will “demonise those on benefits”.

Easington MP Grahame Morris will help spark a backbench revolt against controversial plans to put a strict limit on the total that future Governments can spend on social security.

George Osborne announced the limit - £119.5bn in 2015-16, then rising with inflation – in the expectation it would set an uncomfortable trap for Ed Miliband.

But Labour will vote with the Government today, despite fierce criticism of the policy by charities such as the Children's Society.

Now Mr Morris has said: “I cannot vote for the welfare cap. It plays to the Tory strategy of divide and rule demonising those on benefits as the undeserving poor.

“Ministers claim the cap is required to get social security spending under control, but this artificial cap is a sign of Government failure and gesture politics.

“Cutting benefits is not the way to reduce social security spending. Kicking the ladders of support away from those most in need has an untold human cost and any short term saving quickly evaporates.”

The MP instead called for rent controls to limit the spiralling £20bn going to private landlords in housing benefit – one of the key slices of the welfare bill.

And he urged Labour to “differentiate its position from the Tories”, adding: “It is shameful of the Tories to seek to set the working poor against the disabled.”

However, no more than 15 Labour backbenchers will join the revolt, as Mr Miliband keeps most of his party united behind a tougher welfare policy.

Another potential rebel - Gateshead’s Ian Mearns - is abroad on a parliamentary trip, while a third, Wansbeck’s Ian Lavery, will also miss the vote.

Nevertheless, even a small revolt suggests Mr Miliband faces a tricky team forcing through spending cuts, if he wins the next election with a small Commons majority.

Under the new ‘cap’, any future Government wanting to breach the £119.5bn limit would have to get Parliament's approval.

But the state pension and Job Seeker’s Allowance – a ‘cyclical’ benefit, determined by the level of unemployment – will not be included within the cap.

That has made it easier for Labour to back today, after Mr Miliband himself suggested a three-year welfare limit last year.

The Chancellor, unveiling the Budget last week, said: “Britain should always be proud of having a welfare system that helps those most in need.

“But never again should we allow its costs to spiral out of control and its incentives to become so distorted that it pays not to work."

But Matthew Reed, head of the Children's Society, said: “Applying an arbitrary cap takes no account of changing circumstances of families caught up in poverty.”

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