Jake Berry is MP for Rossendale and Darwen and Parliamentary Private Secretary to Grant Shapps MP, Minister for Housing.
“Fairness” is not the intellectual property of the Labour Party. Labour thinks limiting weekly benefits of £500 is unfair. That is rubbish. They say they represent the workers. But in the real world, hard working taxpayers increasingly think that a party that claims £500 a week in benefits is too little is simply out of touch with reality.
We, the Conservative Party, are the real party of the workers and the grafters and the people who pay tax. The Conservative Party represents the people across the country who work hard and earn less than £26 000 a year.
We get it. Conservative policy is all about being fair. We donʼt just talk about it – we are delivering fairness. Where I live, people would give their right arm to get a salary of £500 a week. Most of them are working full time and getting less than that.
People working full time in Rossendale and Darwen grossed £460 per week in 2010. In other words, their GROSS weekly salary was £40 a week (£2080) a year, LESS than the benefits caps introduced by the government.
No wonder people in my constituency think the benefits system is unfair. There is no help for those who work hard to help themselves. Many have to travel up to an hour each way, by car and at their own expense, to get to work and back. And then they come home to hear people complaining that in future they will only get £500 a week in benefits.
Food, electricity, heating and petrol costs the same in my constituency as anywhere else in the country. Of course, housing costs vary across the country – but working people everywhere have to live in accommodation and in a style that matches their earnings.
Surely this is even more true for those who are living courtesy of the taxes paid by others?
Like the people in my constituency, I think that benefits have an important role supporting the vulnerable in our society. But the benefits system is flawed if it is a first choice or a way of life. Paying the median UK salary in benefits surely can’t be right. Are we seriously telling 50% of the working population that they could be better off on benefits? With important and obvious exceptions, benefits should be paid as a transition back into work. Otherwise living on benefits will remain an accepted and natural condition that can define and limit generation after generation of the same family.
The sign of a civilised society like ours is that those who need a helping hand, get a helping hand. And of course, some people need more help than others. But your right to a helping hand carries with it a responsibility to become independent of that helping hand as soon as you can. That is fair. And the generosity of that helping hand should be reasonable and in line with what people who are working have to live on.
Britain’s abiding and guiding principle is one of fair play. 13 years of a Labour Government has been an unprecedented attack on this core value. To build a fairer society benefits must become a “hand up” not a “hand out”. Introducing the benefits cap is the start of the change but it is a first step on the road to rebuilding a fairer Britain.