Frank Field MP
Your MP for Birkenhead
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Government cap is far too crude to work everywhere


06 February 2012
LABOUR learned one big lesson from the £26,000 cap on benefits debate. The Tories did not.

Let me rewind the film. Last year, the Tories introduced a huge Welfare Reform Bill. It had one main aim - to change attitudes about work.

Large numbers of claimants want to work and are denied the chance. But there are also many claimants who have never worked and do not show much sign of ever doing so.

You may have heard Iain Duncan Smith, the welfare secretary, trumpeting on about his "universal benefit".

His aim is to ensure that everybody who takes a job will be better off in work than on benefit.
It is a noble ambition, but a terrible indictment of the current state of affairs that this has not always been so.

To make this idea work, one clause in the Bill will allow the Government to impose a £26,000 cap on benefit pay-outs. It is at this point that Labour got itself into a twist. We ducked and dived in a foolish effort not to declare our hand.

Tories were able to paint us as a welfare class party, instead of a working-class party.

Of course, we have a duty to defend the position of those people who cannot work. But we also, I believe, have a duty to be true to our historic sense of decency and fair play. In the debate last week, Labour made clear its position - thank goodness.

£26,000 is way above what most people in Birkenhead earn. My position is clear. I question whether the £26,000 cap is too high: it is the equivalent of a £34,000 gross salary.

I also think that a cap being set for London, with the massively higher rents, is too high for the rest of the country. But equally the cap, as it is proposed by the Government, is far too crude.

They rejected our amendments on regionalising or localising the cap. They seemed immune also to the information showing that household expenses are highest for those with children, and that those expenses of a married couple with children usually are significantly greater than the expenses of a single
person.

The Government will implement a crude cap, perhaps not high enough for London, but certainly too high for most other areas of the country for the cap to be fair. Next year, they have their super new universal benefit coming down the tracks. I was here when Mrs Thatcher introduced major changes to one benefit
- housing benefit - not to practically all benefits, as is proposed for the new universal benefits.

The Iron Lady may not have been one for turning, but on that day she spun.

This is when the pressure from constituents will be on Tory MPs, should either or both of these big reforms crash and burn.The Government may then learn the value of a little humility.

They did not as the Commons bid goodbye to the mega-Welfare Reform Bill.


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