Sunday, 15 January 2012

Simon Hughes MP speech on benefits.

Simon Hughes MP, deputy leader of the Liberal Democrats nationally, was in Liverpool yesterday (14th Jan).  Here's the information about part of his speech to members and supporters (which you may have seen covered in the Times or the Guardian yesterday)

The future tense use is because this was written ahead of the event.  It is however an accurate account of what he said.

Speaking at the Annual Dinner of the Liverpool Liberal Democrats on Saturday 14th January Rt Hon. Simon Hughes MP, Member of Parliament for Bermondsey and Old Southwark and Deputy Leader of the Liberal Democrats will call on  the government to bring forward proposals to protect children and families from some of the most damaging consequences of the benefits cap.

Simon Hughes will highlight some of the perverse incentives the cap as currently planned introduces such as increasing the money available in benefits if families break up, and the disproportionate affect it will have on children.

Speaking in Liverpool Simon Hughes will say:

“There are many people in this country and this city who still have difficulty with our decision to form a coalition with the Conservatives. But I am convinced we are doing the right thing.

People in Liverpool remember well having a government that cared little about communities. The response of the Tories to unemployment and social depravation was ‘on your bike’ and the solution of the Labour party was to bankrupt this city.

The very reason why Liberal Democrats are in government is to stop this happening again.

This is why, when government proposals to cut the housing benefit bill risked making families homeless, I and other Liberal Democrat colleagues intervened, and the plans were modified.

This is why today we cannot simply stand by and watch the benefits system become an instrument for breaking up families, breaking up communities or punishing children for the poor decisions of their parents.

Let me be clear. Liberal Democrats have no problem with the policy of making work pay - and we do not believe that the support which the state offers can or should be limitless.

It is not progressive or humane to keep people locked into a benefits trap, unable to work and unable to improve their lives - because they will become poorer if they do so.

And it cannot be fair for people to be able to receive an income from the state much higher for staying out of work than others receive for working.

But changes to our welfare system are complex and difficult - which is why parliament must get them right. They deal directly with the day to day lives of disabled, poor and vulnerable people, people who need help just to survive. Any changes must be done with the greatest care and not driven with how they play in populist headlines. This is why the government needs to do further work to prevent harmful consequences of the benefits cap if the changes are to be accepted by Parliament.

As it currently stands the benefits cap will break up families, as it will provide a financial incentive to be apart. Under the plans as they stand a couple with four children will see their benefits limited to £500 but if the parents live separately they will be able to claim up to £1000. How will that support families?

If imposed without any mitigation, larger families will be forced to move not just down the street to a smaller property in a cheaper part of town, but across the country to places already suffering high rates of worklessness. Will this help people back into work?

The Children’s Society tell us that 70,000 adults will be affected by the cap and 210,000 children - with 80,000 of them being made homeless. The effect on large families of the present plans means that it will be today’s children who will disproportionately bear the burden of this policy. Is this really how we want to treat now the adults of the next generation?

The government and parliament must find another way.

The legislation as it stands does not require a hard and fast rule. The new system allows for the government to propose exceptions in order to stop many potentially damaging consequences of this policy.

Today I call on the government to make clear, at the latest before the Welfare Reform Bill comes back to the House of Commons, what it intends to do to prevent the planned benefits changes from breaking up families and damaging the lives of literally hundreds of thousands of children.

For families in Bermondsey and Bootle, Bradford and Bristol - and rural Berwick, Brecon and the Scottish Borders too - there must be a better way.”

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