Brandon Lewis is Conservative MP for Great Yarmouth.
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It was perplexing to see Labour talking about a commitment to hard working families during the Welfare Reform Bill yesterday, despite Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, Liam Byrne, calling for an unfair and divisive regionalised benefit cap.
Voting against the coalition’s benefit cap and proposing a regionalised cap means Labour wants a world where benefits will be adjusted according to the general prosperity of an area, resulting in a great disparity between benefit payments in the wealthy South East and the economically deprived areas of the country such as the industrial North. For a party claiming to protect the most vulnerable in society it is hypocritical at best and hugely detrimental to the most vulnerable.
Labour cannot even say what their regional caps would be. The current government cap level is the equivalent of a £35,000 a year salary which is a figure many hard working families will already consider a high one. I wonder what Labour will say to people in the areas where they would cut the figure and reduce their benefits whilst raising those for people in the affluent areas of the South East?
I look forward to seeing Ed Balls knocking on doors in Morley to tell his constituents that he is cutting their benefits just because they live in Yorkshire. Perhaps Ed Miliband will do the same in his Doncaster constituency.
And what next?
Regional levels for: payments for pensioners, income tax charges, car tax, per pupil school payments, how much health care you can access, fuel duty and I am only just starting on this list.
This ill-prepared policy could see benefit fraud skyrocket; with residents from deprived areas of the country registering in more prosperous areas to enable higher rates, whilst they actually live in areas with a lower cost of living. With Department for Work and Pensions working hard to reduce benefit fraud, it is irresponsible for the Labour Party to advocate a system that could jeopardise this.
It seems the Labour Party are confused about their position on welfare reform. They claim to be supportive of the principle, but against the detail. This is the most often used phraseology for a politician to use, when they simply do not know which way to turn and want to oppose for the sake of opposing rather than having any strong coherent policy.
As opposed to flip-flopping on the issue, they should vote for a cap – their current fence sitting is helping nobody, in particular the most vulnerable in our society who are in the greatest need. We need to ensure we have a welfare system that gives help and support to those who need it and is fair to hard working families across our country.