Alec Shelbrooke is the Member of Parliament for Elmet and Rothwell. Follow Alec on Twitter.
In December I introduced a Ten Minute Rule Bill to the House
calling for the introduction of a Welfare Cash Card to ensure that welfare
payments are used for the purchase of essential items; the purpose for which
they are intended.
The media frenzy following my speech resulted in the
principle of the Bill being lost in favour of a debate over well rehearsed
left-wing rhetoric. The festive holidays brought a rare opportunity for calm
reflection; untainted by the volatility of hyper partisan politics. As such, in
the weeks that followed I have received numerous messages of support from
people across the country – of all political persuasions – recognising the
benefits my Bill will bring to detoxifying the label that is currently attached
to those 5.8million people currently in receipt of one or more DWP benefits.
I want to stop benefits being a dirty word and bring about a
new approach where people aren’t ashamed to be claiming benefits. We should be
proud to live in a country that helps people get back on their feet when they
need help. The previous Government allowed a two-tier benefit system to fester
where the actions of a tiny minority of claimants have unfairly tarnished the
reputation of benefits and of the hard-working but low-paid people who rely on
At present, taxpayers are under the impression that benefit
payments are not being spent wisely and if we change this perception then we
eradicate the stigma attached to benefits and restore faith in a system that
supports those who want to work. It is in Labour’s DNA to force the most
vulnerable onto benefits; a dependent position where they can be economically
manipulated in turn for electoral support. I am a strong supporter of a welfare
system that supports those in need, supports those seeking work and supports
social mobility, regardless of what Party people vote for.
This week Labour
voted to increase benefits by more than workers’ wages and in doing so affirmed
to the nation that they remain the party of something for nothing. Labour perpetuates
the stigma that all 5.8 million recipients of benefits are ‘shirkers’ and this
is simply divisive, malevolent and untrue. The truth is Labour made people
beholden to the government as they threw more and more money at people that
going into work became uneconomical. At the same time they were giving tax
credits to people on over £50,000. Little wonder the tax credit bill went up by
over 300% alone.
The Welfare Benefits Up-rating Bill debate was one of the
most high-tempered I have experienced to date. Speech after speech from Labour
MPs attempted to divert the debate away from the motion in front of the House –
that benefits should not rise at twice the rate of earnings as they had under
When the consequences of the economic mess we inherited
means public sector workers have had their pay rises frozen at 1 per cent it is
simply incomprehensible that Labour would choose to increase benefits further.
What message does that send to those who work all the hours available to them
to make work pay? Instead, Labour chose to use an outdated and out of touch
stereotype as a stick to bash the Conservatives with; unfortunately for Ed
Miliband he is on the wrong side of public opinion in this debate.
Following the First Reading of my Welfare Cash Card Bill, I
received an assortment of abusive messages – mostly from Labour Party Members
or left-wing bloggers – throwing personal insults and in one case a death
threat because I had the courage to stand up in the House of Commons and say
what a majority of the population were thinking. Even in the face of polling
evidence from Demos where 91% think there are items the Government should
restrict welfare payments being used for, and further polling in the Yorkshire
Post highlighting that 75% of those polled support my Bill, still Labour
Councillors in my constituency – including the Labour Leader of Leeds City
Council – opposed the Bill. They also went so far as to suggest claimants
should be allowed to spend taxpayers’ money on these Non-Essential, Desirable
but often Damaging (NEDD) items such as cigarettes and alcohol if they so wish!
Labour’s main argument against a 1% cap on benefit rises is
that we would rather be giving tax cuts to millionaires than increasing
benefits by more than workers’ wages. In what can only be described as a lack
of economic edification it is devastatingly worrying that the Shadow Chancellor
– who masterminded Gordon Brown’s policies – fails to see that tax and spending is about
the amount that is in the coffers; that you can’t do one without the other.
The 50% tax rate, introduced by Labour as a 2010 election
policy only, lost £7 billion in tax receipts. Throughout Labour’s time in
office the top rate of tax was 40%; under this government it is 45% and recent
figures from the IFS show that that the richest in society will pay more under
this government then they ever did under Labour.
In the debate on the Benefits Up-rating Bill, the Shadow
Work & Pensions Secretary, the very man who left a note in the Treasury
admitting ‘there’s no money left’ accused Conservative MPs of using divisive
descriptions such as ‘shirkers and workers’. It brought me great pleasure to
inform the Secretary of State that Mr Byrne himself used the very same
description in his 2011 conference speech:
“many people on the doorstep at the last
election felt that too often [Labour] were for shirkers not workers.”
This is a plea to the reader – it is not in my character,
nor ever the intention of my Bill to play one section of society off against
another. To suggest otherwise is not only false but damaging and disrespectful
to the 5.8m recipients of DWP benefits who believe in the integral importance
of the Welfare State.
So, let us have a sensible debate about the future of the
Welfare State. I want to prolong and insure the prosperity of the benefits system
but to do so, the present faults in the system need to be addressed. We can’t
just shy away from it for fear of abuse from those who wish to force people
onto benefits. It’s time for the workers to rise up and tell the Bourgeoisie of
the Labour Frontbench that it is no longer acceptable to implement policies
focussed on dividing society. We want a system that supports a society of
people with their aspirations. We want a one nation welfare system that
supports those truly in need. We want a welfare revolution and we want it now.