MPs have voted in support of devastating cuts to Britain’s welfare system, which could push hundreds of thousands of children below the breadline.
Members of parliament backed Tory plans for £12bn in welfare cuts on Monday night, with Jeremy Corbyn reportedly being the only Labour leadership candidate to vote against the changes. London mayoral candidates Sadiq Khan and David Lammy are also believed to have voted against the Bill.
MPs voted in favour of the ‘Welfare Reform and Work Bill’ at second reading by 308 to 124 votes, a majority of 184.
Only 48 Labour rebels defied party whips and Harriet Harman’s – Labour’s interim leader – appeals for her party to abstain. The majority of Labour MPs heeded her calls.
Labour’s weak attempts to push through amendments to the bill – recognising that scores of vulnerable people could be pushed into poverty and cuts to disability benefits would have a detrimental effect on disabled people – was also defeated by 308 votes to 208.
Labour’s refusal to oppose Tory cuts has been branded as “disgraceful” and a “betrayal” of vulnerable people in need of help and support, with former Green Party leader, Caroline Lucas, accusing Labour of being in “complete disarray” over the issue of welfare reform.
SNP MP Pete Wishart jokingly asked the speaker of the house, John Bercow: “Can we rearrange the furniture of this House so that the SNP becomes the official Opposition while the Labour party abstains on the Back Benches?”
Opponents of the cuts lined up to slam the Conservatives for “attempting to dismantle our welfare state”, with Plaid Cymru’s social protection spokesperson, Hywel Williams MP, later saying the government is condemning “hundreds of thousands of children to poverty”.
He criticised Labour MPs for failing to “find the courage to stand shoulder to shoulder with those with the most to lose”.
Mr Williams said: “This evening, Plaid Cymru MPs voted against the Tory government’s proposals to slash the welfare budget by punishing the worst-off in society.
“These cruel and counter-productive measures will condemn hundreds of thousands of children to poverty and punish families who have done the right thing and have moved back to work.
“We need a system that pays a fair wage for a fair day’s work and a top-up when the government’s minimum wage policy fails to provide an adequate, decent living for families with children.
“The government though are squeezing money out of the poor to pay for their own mistakes and those of the previous Labour government, and to pay off for the greed, criminality and incompetence of bankers.
“Plaid Cymru wants to see the introduction of a genuine living wage – not the cynical rebranding exercise carried out by the Chancellor in his Budget – in order to secure a pay rise for 250,000 Welsh workers.”
He added: “Plaid Cymru wants to see the introduction of a genuine living wage – not the cynical rebranding exercise carried out by the Chancellor in his Budget – in order to secure a pay rise for 250,000 Welsh workers.
“We also support rent caps that would bring down the housing benefit bill and stop rogue landlords from exploiting vulnerable tenants.
“What we saw this evening was Labour making quite safe its reputation as the abstaining party. For all its bluster in criticising the Tories, the majority of Labour MPs couldn’t find the courage to stand shoulder to shoulder with those with the most to lose.”
SNP said Labour’s refusal to vote against the cuts “would haunt them through next year’s Scottish Parliament election and beyond”.
SNP Fair Work and Employment spokesperson Hannah Bardell MP said: “The Tories’ cruel welfare cuts damage the working poor and vulnerable people, and had to be opposed.
“Labour had the perfect opportunity to join the SNP in a progressive coalition to oppose the Tories – but with some honourable exceptions they sat on their hands.
“This disgraceful stance will haunt Labour through next year’s Scottish Parliament election and far beyond.
“Labour have completely abandoned any pretence of being a party of social justice and progress – just as they did when they so shamefully voted to support George Osborne’s £30 billion more austerity cuts.
“This cuts Bill is an attack on civil society, it’s an attack on our poorest and hard working families, and it’s a regressive Bill that takes us back in time with cuts that will hit women and children the hardest.
“It is now beyond doubt that the SNP are the real and effective opposition to the Tory government.
“People in Scotland will be appalled by this Bill, and the 56 SNP MPs will continue to oppose it and set out a progressive alternative, even if Labour will not.”
Labour had not yet released a press statement at the time of publication.