Rachel Reeves MP, Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, in a speech to Labour’s Annual Conference 2014 in Manchester, said:
Just think conference, it could be less than a year left for the Bedroom Tax.
Because the very first thing I will do if I am Secretary of State for Work and Pensions next May is repeal it.
It’s unfair, it’s unworkable, and it’s on its way out – across the whole of the United Kingdom. Scrapped, binned, axed, abolished, put out of its misery, consigned to the history books.
And that day can’t come soon enough.
And for those Liberal Democrats who now say they’re against it too – we will see how serious they are when Parliament returns. Because we will call a vote on the Bedroom Tax. Today I have written to Nick Clegg to urge him to do the right thing and vote with us – not to water it down, but to cancel it altogether.
Change can’t come soon enough for the half a million families caught by the Bedroom Tax, all of them on low incomes, two thirds of them disabled, clobbered by a government that has handed 13,000 millionaires a tax cut worth £100,000 with an average annual charge of more than £700.
Change can’t come soon enough for Tony Cunning, a former sheet metal worker I met in Trafford. He had to give up his job because he needed kidney dialysis three times a week. He was looking forward to having that equipment installed in his flat so he wouldn’t have to keep going into hospital. But then he was told that the room he needed for the dialysis machine counted as a “spare bedroom”. Tony faced the choice between finding another home, or finding another £977 a year to cover his rent.
Change can’t come soon enough for my constituent Alice. Alice works three shifts a day as a cleaner to support her family, but had to wait four months for tax credits she was entitled to. Alice was trying to survive on rolled over payday loans, and had to come to me to ask for food vouchers.
Change can’t come soon enough for the former Remploy workers I met in Wakefield. They were promised help to get new jobs when their factories were shut, but instead they were just abandoned.
So the Bedroom Tax is just the start of what we will have to put right after five years of this Tory-led Government. Five years of favours for a privileged few while life for working people and their families gets harder and harder. Five years in which David Cameron has left the Department for Work and Pensions in the hands of Iain Duncan Smith. A man with his own special Midas touch: everything he touches turns into a complete and utter shambles.
Universal Credit – stuck in first gear.
Work Capability Assessments – in meltdown.
Personal Independence Payments – mired in delays.
The Work Programme – failing the people who need help the most.
The Youth Contract – an embarrassing flop.
It would be comical if it wasn’t so criminal. We should be angry that taxpayers’ money is being squandered. That vulnerable people are being ill-treated. That lives are being scarred. That talent is being wasted. We should be angry – and they should be ashamed.
The Tories will leave a truly toxic legacy. And for all their talk about cutting welfare, they’ve overspent on social security by £13 billion in this Parliament with a rising in-work benefits bill left for the next government. Because what the Tories will never understand is that you can’t control the costs of social security if you’ve got economy where people can’t earn enough to keep up with the cost of living.
So let me be straight with you: there will be tough decisions on resources and priorities for the next Labour government. But we will also target the deeper causes of rising welfare spending by building a recovery that leaves no one behind.
That’s how we ensure a system that is fair and affordable, so we can keep up the fight against child and pensioner poverty, upholding and renewing the principles our welfare state was built on: responsibilities and opportunities for all who can work; dignity for those who cannot; hard work and contribution recognised and rewarded.
Those are my values, and this is my mission. So here’s our plan to deliver it:
Step one: a Compulsory Jobs Guarantee so no one is left on unemployment benefit for years on end.
Step two: a Basic Skills Test so we intervene early to tackle skills gaps that can condemn people to a life on benefits.
Step three: a Youth Allowance that means young people who lack key qualifications are expected and supported to do the training they need.
Step four: replace the failing Work Programme, with power devolved to local councils and communities, instead of big contracts signed in Whitehall.
Step five: ensure our pensions market works for all working people, so that everyone can save for their future with confidence.
Step six: ensure that disabled people who can work get the tailored support that they need.
And as for the Work Capability Assessment, we need real reform, with disabled people given clear rights and a real say. And I give you this commitment: as Secretary of State I will come down hard on any contractor that gets these critical assessments wrong, or fails to treat disabled people with the decency and respect they deserve.
And Conference, it’s not enough to get people into work if they’re still reliant on benefits to make ends meet. So we will get more workers paid a living wage. And because the fall in the real value of the National Minimum Wage since 2010 is now costing the taxpayer £270 million a year in additional benefits and tax credits, we’ll set the Low Pay Commission a target to raise the Minimum Wage to £8 an hour by the end of the Parliament, so we aren’t using our social security system to subsidise the profits of big companies paying poverty wages.
That’s a future worth fighting for. And the fight is now on. It’s a fight for hardworking mums and dads who put in the hours but still fear for their family’s future. A fight for every young person who deserves a fairer chance to make the most of their lives. A fight for all those doing what they can to get into work and who need to be supported not stigmatised. A fight for all the people forced into debt, or to queue at a foodbank, because of inexcusable benefit delays. A fight for hundreds of thousands of disabled people to stay in their homes without having to pay the indefensible Bedroom Tax.
We’ve got 226 days left to fight for that with everything we’ve got. Conference, let’s make it happen.
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