Tim Farron speaks against the Welfare Bill

Yesterday in the Commons, Tim Farron gave his first speech as party leader, against the Welfare Bill, highlighting the effects of the ESA changes on people with mental health conditions, the effects on young people, and on the working age poor. He criticised Labour’s confusion over the bill in deciding to abstain, although 48 Labour rebels voted against.

The Liberal Democrats will stand up for families, whether they are hard-working or just desperate to be hard-working. We will not let the Conservatives through choice, or the Labour party through their silence, unpick our welfare system.

Full text from Hansard:

We are very clear: we cannot and will not support the Bill. If it did what it said on the tin, there might be much to commend it, but it does not. The Government pledge a living wage that even they know is not one, they want a welfare state that is anything but good for our country’s welfare, and they use the guise of economic necessity to cover up ideologically driven cuts. Tonight, we will vote against the Bill because we know that the depth and character of the proposals are unfair, unwise and inhuman, and anything but economically necessary.

In truth, the Government do not have to take £12 billion from the poorest families in the country, mostly working families, but are choosing to do so. No amount of political spin will protect the individuals who have to live with the reality, not the words. Calling something a living wage when it is not does not make it a living wage, calling housing affordable when it is not affordable does not make it affordable, and labelling the Bill as progressive does not make it progressive. In the end, the consequences of these actions for Britain will speak louder than the Chancellor’s attempts to change the definition of his words.

The proposals on employment and support allowance—support designed to help people who, through no fault of their own, face more barriers to work than most—will not help into work people with depression, fluctuating conditions, schizophrenia or physical conditions that make more difficult the ordinary tasks that many of us take for granted. In fact, they will act as a ridiculous disincentive. Almost 500,000 people will see their vital support cut by one third once they apply to the new system, meaning that if they are on the existing support, they will lose it as soon as they get a job, even on a short-term contract. It is a disincentive to work and will trap people on welfare, not liberate them.

The Chancellor has chosen to implement a counterproductive policy that demonises people with disabilities and mental health conditions. I am disappointed by Labour’s confusion over the Bill. To give in to the narrative that the answer to our country’s needs is to pit the working poor against the temporarily-not-working poor is shameful. Cutting tax credits, tightening the benefit cap and ramping up the right to buy is not just morally wrong but economically wrong; widening inequality is not just against British decency but economically stupid.

Intervention from Greg Mulholland (Leeds North West) (LD):
Of course, we accepted some of the changes to welfare in the last Parliament, but this goes too far. Does my hon. Friend share my concern about the effect on young people who, through no fault of their own, find themselves in need of housing benefit? Why should they be excluded from the same rights that any other citizen in this country has if they have need of the safety net?

Tim Farron:
My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. In many ways, young people are the biggest victims of the Bill. I think of young people being supported by housing benefit—for example, in the location of a Foyer, such as the wonderful Foyer in Kendal—and who thereby have access to work, training and further development opportunities. Taking housing benefit away from young people is not just morally wrong but utterly counterproductive, because it will prevent them from accessing work and other life opportunities.

We will stand for the thousands of people in work and yet in poverty, and for the millions of people who might not be personally affected but who do not want to see inequality grow in Britain. Instead, we want a direction for the country that combines economic credibility with truly socially progressive policies, which is why we will continue to make the case for using capital investment to build houses and strengthen our economy for the long term, and for a welfare system that understands the needs of people with mental health conditions and helps them back into work, rather than putting them under the kind of pressure that simply makes them worse.

The reduction in the incomes of poor families in work comes at the same time as the Government are giving inheritance tax cuts to millionaires, cutting corporation tax for the richest firms and refusing to raise a single extra penny in tax from the wealthiest people—for example, through a high-value property levy. We will continue to speak for the millions of people who are young, who suffer from mental health problems, whose parents have no spare rooms or spare income, who do not have parents at all, or who have more than two children. The Liberal Democrats will stand up for families, whether they are hard-working or just desperate to be hard-working. We will not let the Conservatives through choice, or the Labour party through their silence, unpick our welfare system.

* Joe Otten was the candidate for Sheffield Heeley in June 2017, is a councillor in Sheffield and is Tuesday editor of Liberal Democrat Voice.

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  • The Welfare Bill is bad – but let’s not spend the next 5 years pretending it’s 2005. After 5 years in Coalition, the public won’t buy it.

  • John Roffey 21st Jul '15 - 8:50am

    Good speech – made it very clear where the Party, under his leadership, stands.

    The new Labour leader [if it is not Jeremy Corbyn – 5/1] is going to have to be very inclusive if they do not want to lose a sizeable proportion of its supporters, members and perhaps MPs to the Party.

  • Ruth Bright 21st Jul '15 - 9:27am

    Delighted with this speech but surely we have to admit that it is very different in tone even to the manifesto which was full of meely mouthed stuff about reviewing this (welfare sanctions) and tinkering with that (PIP) – let alone the tone of the coalition itself.

  • Good Speech with a good clear position, unlike Labours incoherent attempt to mask the fact that they were willing to clobber a sizable proportion of their own voters to look good in the Daily Mail.

  • Ruth: new leader, less meal in the gob. Hopefully.

  • Bill le Breton 21st Jul '15 - 9:48am

    Ruth we have walked through a doorway.

    We are going to challenge all those cynics in the Westminster Village. How? By ignoring them. By going our own way.

    That is, we are going to go out onto the streets and into the communities.

    We do not belong to the Establishment. It is not to try to belong to their club. Our job is to pull down their edifice and privilege and assumed entitlement.

  • Yes we have walked through a door.

    Tim really spoke for us.

    Above all someone has to stand up for the poor and vulnerable and it obviously can’t be Labour!

  • …or even a doorway!!

  • Samuel Griffiths 21st Jul '15 - 10:19am

    The LibDems supported equally dire policy in government. I’m really pleased with Tim and don’t doubt his social conscience for a second, but we will need to see more than just words in opposition to make up for the damages done to the parties reputation.

  • Jayne Mansfield 21st Jul '15 - 10:51am

    At last, a leader who is prepared to tear through tory spin instead of giving it credibility. A leader, who on this performance, is able to do so in a simple, direct manner.

    Let all those who ask Tim Farron not to wear his heart on his sleeve, wait until they see how much more positively the public respond to authenticity rather than PR.

  • Jennie, Bill et al. Yes indeed. I’ve felt funny all week . I thought it was the menopause or something. Now I have realised that it is that I have simply stopped being ashamed (of the party). One gets used to it!

  • Peter Watson 21st Jul '15 - 11:11am

    @Joe Otten “These are all measures we prevented happening while in government and are voting against now. Our record confirms what we are saying.”
    Where is the evidence for this? Where were the open and public debates where the Tories said what they wanted, the Lib Dems said what they wanted, and the resulting policy was presented as a compromise?
    Perhaps through a sense of collective responsibility, Lib Dems in government presented what were inevitably mostly Tory policies as though they were what Lib Dems really wanted, tuition fees being a prime example of that. It is difficult to believe that another Lib Dem – Tory Coalition would be significantly different from the current Tory majority government, and combined with a lack of trust in Lib Dem MPs built up over 5 years, despite protestations to the contrary it is easy to believe that Lib Dems in such a coalition would be telling us how great these measures are.

  • “The reduction in the incomes of poor families in work comes at the same time as the Government are giving inheritance tax cuts to millionaires, cutting corporation tax for the richest firms and refusing to raise a single extra penny in tax from the wealthiest people—for example, through a high-value property levy. ”

    Hmmm. Where to start with this.

    1) “giving inheritance tax cuts to millionaires”. Raising the IHT threshold to £1m on a family home is not the same as giving an IHT cut to millionaires. Millionaires will, in all likelihood, have armed themselves with legitimate tax avoidance measures (such as the use of trusts, or the simple taper legislation) to ensure they don’t pay IHT. People who pay IHT are firstly the residuary legatees of the estate and usually those unaware that they would fall above the threshold.

    2) “cutting corporation tax for the richest firms”. For starters, firms are not rich. They have post-tax resources that can be kept as cash (tax paid on any interest received), paid out in dividends (tax paid on dividends) or reinvested on growing the business (tax paid on future profitability, tax paid on wages of additional employees, tax paid in the form of Employers’ NIC, tax paid on capital gains, etc etc).

    Secondly, all firms receive the corporation tax cut, regardless of whether they are “rich” or not.

    Thirdly, the important thing is not the rate at which the tax is paid, but the overall revenue brought in by taxation – ie what is done to prevent evasion and aggressive avoidance, and what is done to limit avoidance through legislation change.

    3) “refusing to raise a single extra penny from the wealthiest people” – so none of the wealthiest people will be hit by the extra money granted to tackle tax evasion and aggressive avoidance, then? http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2015/jul/08/budget-boost-for-hmrc-in-new-push-on-tax-evasion

    10/10 for passion; 1/10 for economic credibility.

  • Jonathan Pile 21st Jul '15 - 1:09pm

    For once after five long years this is the sound of me cheering !!!!! – Well Said Tim. A speech which shows Labour up for abstaining and exposes the Tory cruelty to the working poor. I set up a small business after being unemployed for six months and tax credits put food on the table when I took home 800 a month as a start up to house & feed a family of 4. Now I have a growing business and hope to employ people next year but will never forget how vital that money was. Well bloody said , our party is back on track and Labour is self-destructing. Bloody Glad you won, this vote might have been different.

  • Peter Davies 21st Jul '15 - 1:26pm

    No it is absolutely not that. About 75% of the value ends up with the workers as higher net wages. Where employers operate in a mainly domestic market such as retail, the remaining 25% is available to all competing employers in the sector and a large majority of it is passed on to consumers in lower prices. It is only if this generates more demand and the employers expand and take on more staff that their profits rise significantly. Your idea of increasing the NI threshold is still a good one but it would work in exactly the same way as in-work benefit. It would increase low-paid workers take-home pay while slightly reducing gross pay.

  • Jayne Mansfield 21st Jul '15 - 2:23pm

    Isn’t the idea that cutting in work benefits will lead to employers paying more an act of faith?

    If employers were prepared to pay decent rates, why were in -work benefits necessary to make work pay in the first place?

    This is a genuine question.

  • @Jayne Mansfield it’s primarily due to housing costs outstripping inflation (and hence wages)

  • Peter Davies 21st Jul '15 - 5:25pm

    @Jayne Mansfield
    It is blind faith. There is evidence available if they looked and it suggests that employers make up about a quarter of any in-work benefits removed. Part of that is of course made up by sacking workers who cease to be profitable.

  • @Peter Davies “Part of that is of course made up by sacking workers who cease to be profitable.”

    Are you suggesting that businesses should employ people at a loss? Because they wouldn’t last very long as businesses if they did – thereby putting out of work many more people. :-/

  • Ed Shepherd 21st Jul '15 - 5:42pm

    Tim Farron is not afraid to speak his mind and he understands that the young poor need a lot of help from the state The young poor tend to be forgotten because so many assume that all young people have families who can or will help them financially. Tim’s words show that he is aware of problems in society that many politicians are not aware of or deliberately ignore. This bodes well for the future of the Liberal Democrat Party.

  • This was not a great speech but it was a good start. I hope the phrase those who are “desperate to be hard-working” will catch on. Also it was nice to hear someone talk about those suffering from a fluctuating condition (I would say that depression is such a condition). It would have been good if when we were in government we had changed the Work Capability Assessment to entirely take account of fluctuating conditions.

    @ TCO
    I think you make some valid points about the weakness of Tim’s attack on other aspects of the budget. Also I did get the impression that there were some tax increases in the budget.

  • David Howarth 21st Jul '15 - 11:16pm

    So on inheritance tax rich people will use clever devices to avoid the clutches of HMRC but those same rich people will not be clever enough to escape the same HMRC when it pursues them for other taxes.
    And corporations that own billions in assets, including billions in cash balances, are not ‘rich’?
    10/10 for malice. 0/10 for logic.

  • Oh!
    Another Andrew with opposite views from me! That could be confusing! 🙂

    I suppose I will have to try and change my moniker

  • Peter Davies 22nd Jul '15 - 12:27am

    @TCO: No. I wasn’t suggesting what they should do. I was predicting what they will do. I don’t blame them. I blame the chancellor.

  • Sammy O'Neill 22nd Jul '15 - 2:30am

    Real danger here of just trying to become the new new-labour party. Farron falls into the trap of offering little in the way of alternatives- there needs to be more than just ranting against everything the Tories propose whilst throwing in a few open ended, meaningless phrases that might sound good but offer little in the way of substance.

    The mansion tax & raising the 45% tax rate need to go as policies. Gesture policies based on the politics of envy won’t help the lib dems get more than 8 mp’s.

  • Charles Rothwell 22nd Jul '15 - 7:42am

    The more I follow what is going on inside Labour at the moment (the latest was the dramatic revelation by Angela Stratten on “Newsnight” last night that a Youguv poll was putting Corbyn in the LEAD over Burnham, Cooper etc.!), the more I feel they have had it for good as a national party. They are never going to climb back to where they were in Scotland (where, I am convinced, the majority still do NOT want independence) while their position in much of their industrial heartlands is up for grabs. Some Tories (certainly Osborne) seem to think they could move in here (cf. the overthrow of Balls), while the Kippers are also hopeful (until they implode like most extreme right wing movements do unless they have very talented leaderships who can not only rabble rouse but also administer and manage (and Farage is certainly no Marine Le Pen (as he himself knows full well)). Ergo, a pro-Union, radical, non-statist movement required which believes in social justice and developing, not eroding, the welfare state while vesting power at the lowest possible level. Sounds like us!

  • Lyn de Swarte 22nd Jul '15 - 8:06am

    An inspiring speech – and as for the negative comments/commenters, such as the one posted at 2.30 am on July 22nd that talks of ‘gesture policies’ which in itself is a meaningless phrase, referring as it also does to ‘meaningless phrases’ – and others posted on this thread, we should all be delighted to hear the voice of actual Liberalism coupled with Democratic principle and liberal and democratic values in this increasingly ‘back to the workhouse with the undeserving poor’ stringently illiberal political atmosphere.

  • Stephen Campbell 22nd Jul '15 - 10:32am

    @Peter Davies “Part of that is of course made up by sacking workers who cease to be profitable.”

    That’s the problem with today’s extreme market fundamentalism. It dehumanises us all by reducing us to numbers on a spreadsheet. A human’s worth is judged by how much profit he generates, not what kind of person he or she is. It’s a form of social Darwinism wherein those who are not good at or are incapable of living in an extreme market society are left destitute. Witness the shocking amount of homelessness, depression, mental illness and drug/alcohol abuses in our society. The welfare state helped to alleviate this, but the right and those who advocate extreme free markets and social Darwinism always hated it and now it is being utterly gutted.

    Although the free market claims to be an individualist ideology it is in fact very, very conformist. If you don’t or can’t work/continually adapt to the conformism it demands, you are even further dehumanised by being labeled a “scrounger”.

    Liberals used to be strongly against conformism.

  • Sammy: it is time to move on and judging by last weeks almost surreal local by election results the public is already doing that.

  • John Faulkner 22nd Jul '15 - 12:12pm

    To be credible when Tim and other party members make statements we need to always be clear about the financial implications. Will the change of policy:

    1. Increase the deficit.

    2. Increase taxation

    3. Mean cuts to another policy area.

    If we can show ourselves to have alternatives to the Conservatives and be financially responsible then we can appeal to a broader audience.

  • @ Stephen Campbell
    “Peter Davies ‘Part of that is of course made up by sacking workers who cease to be profitable.’

    That’s the problem with today’s extreme market fundamentalism. … The welfare state helped to alleviate this”

    The welfare state only helped alleviate market forces on the labour market if you include the pursuit of full employment as part of the welfare state. In a society where an employer can employ a more able person from aboard then there are going to be people who are not employed because there is always someone else who it will be more profitable to employ.

    Society has a choice, does it want to have a welfare state that supports these less productive people, or does it want them to disappear because they can’t live on the support the state provides, or does it want to intervene in the labour market to provide incentives for employers to employ these people?

  • Sue Sutherland 22nd Jul '15 - 9:03pm

    Sammy, I have found that the people who defend measures to attack inequality on the grounds that those measures are based on the politics of envy are often supporters of policies based on, at best , ignorance of poverty and, at worst, malice disguised as ideology. I realise that this is an open site and I don’t think there’s much point in trying to convert Sammy, Theakes.

  • Great speech from Tim. Sets a new, much-needed compassionate tone on social justice issues which Labour have failed to do since the election.

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