Tim Farron writes to Harriet Harman asking her to oppose Welfare Bill

Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron has written to Labour’s interim leader Harriet Harman to ask her to ensure that her party opposes the Government’s Welfare Bill.

Here is the text of his letter:

Dear Harriet
The Conservative Government last night brought forward plans for £12bn of cuts to welfare that will directly impact millions of people across the country including the poorest families in our constituencies.

The Conservatives do not need to make these cuts, especially at the same time as giving tax breaks to millionaires.

The people who will be hit by these changes need someone to give them a voice in Parliament and fight their corner, and last night Labour failed to stand up for them.

You have said that you do not want to oppose absolutely every saving that the Government suggests, but these cuts will hurt the poorest in our communities.

Cuts to employment support allowance, lowering the benefit cap and slashing tax credits for those in low paid work are not policies that any progressive should support.

Labour claim to be a party who believes in social justice. If that is true, then they must join with the Liberal Democrats in voting against these cruel and excessive cuts.

We are consistent in our opposition. In Government we blocked these measures and in opposition we are voting against them.

I am disappointed by Labour’s confusion over this Bill. To give in to the narrative that the answer to our country’s needs is to pit the poorest in the country against one another is shameful.

Labour must join us in providing opposition to this Government’s plans. Your economic credibility cannot be built by simply backing Tory plans that hit the working poor.

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, by their choices, or your party’s failure to oppose these plans unpick our welfare system.

Tim Farron MP

Leader of the Liberal Democrats

It dawns on us that many Liberal Democrats might have specialist knowledge about how the cuts will hit people. The £30 a week cut to Employment and Support Allowance is enough to hamper anyone’s recovery from illness and will make it less, rather than more likely that they will find work. The cuts to tax credits, particularly the restriction to two children, will affect low-paid working parents. The Committee which will consider the Bill in Parliament is seeking evidence from people and organisations. You can find out how to make a submission here.

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26 Comments

  • Well done, Tim. The party is at last coming home to its radical roots. It makes me we proud to be a Liberal again.

  • Adam Robertson 21st Jul '15 - 3:42pm

    I see that Tim Farron, is now adopting a ‘blanket opposition’ to everything, what the Conservatives are proposing in government. I understand, as an opposition, that we need to scrutinize the government and oppose some draconian measures, which the Conservatives, are going to impose on the country – without the Lib Dems, being there to ensure that they are moderated.

    However, I am concerned that Tim, might try to rewrite history and pretend that we never were in Coalition, with the Conservatives. I know we only have eight MP’s but still people, neither the electorate, can deny that we know the Tories, better than Labour – having been in Coalition with them. I think we need to be a robust and responsible opposition, rather than this implied blanket approach, Tim Farron is taking us on.

    On the specific measures of working tax credits, I am quite mixed on this. This is because when I was around 11 or 12, I remember my mum and her partner, using the working tax credits to fund their alcohol problem, not to use on the children. He would deliberately work under 40 hours, so he can claim the full amount of family tax credits. That’s why, I see credence in what George Osbourne is saying, because he wants to make people more responsible for their own financial and family affairs. I accept that this in line with traditional Conservatism, that if people are earning their own money, instead of getting it off the state, that it will hopefully – make them more responsible. I think to a point, that is the right way to go – there are rights and responsibilities within society.

    I agree with Tim, that we should stand up for families, but we also must admit that the family tax credit system – can lead to a cyclical routine, within some families. As I just demonstrated, we also must look at ensuring that people are not abusing the system – to fund their alcohol fund, while the children suffer. George Osbourne is right that parts of the welfare system need to be looked at. I remember, that if we went into Coalition again with the Conservatives, we would have taken off £8-9 billion off welfare.

  • Bill le Breton 21st Jul '15 - 3:46pm

    Perhaps he should write something to Andy Burnham and really set the cat among the pigeons.

  • Simon Hebditch 21st Jul '15 - 4:09pm

    Of course, we should try and become an effective opposition in Parliament using both the MPs we have and the large contingent of Lib Dem peers. But, we will only regain trust and confidence from the public over a long period of time by working in alliance with many other forces on the centre left. Working outside Westminster, sometimes outside the stultifying confines of the party political system, will mean concentrating on community politics again and involvement in extra parliamentary campaigning. In any event, the strategy will have to be for at least ten years to get ourselves back to the pre-2015 position – let alone any further.

  • Paul Pettinger 21st Jul '15 - 4:13pm

    Adam Robertson – Liberal Democrats opposed such changes in Government, so by opposing them now the leader is defending the Party’s record in Government.

  • @Simon Hebditch “But, we will only regain trust and confidence from the public over a long period of time by working in alliance with many other forces on the centre left.”

    Why do we have to confine ourselves only to work with the centre left? Surely we should work with whomever is prepared to stand up for Liberal values.

  • Paul Pettinger 21st Jul '15 - 4:47pm

    TCO – the median voter with liberal instincts is centre left – this is simply the reality. Also, successful european liberal parties don’t tend to alternate between left and right, but pick a side and generally work within it.

  • If the Tories were so evil, then why did you vote with them for 5 years… etc… etc…

  • Adam Robertson 21st Jul '15 - 4:57pm

    Simon Hebditch: I accept your point that we should be an effective opposition. However, I completely reject your premise that it should be confined to the centre-left of the political spectrum. I find this to be quite parochial for a liberal party, who espouses liberal values. If One-Nation Conservatives such as Ken Clarke and to a point, Dominic Grieve, join us in defending the Human Rights Act – should we say sorry, you are not perceived to be on the centre left. I think to reject working with One-Nation/Disreali Conservatives, would be a big mistake on our part.

    Paul Pettinger: Do you think then we should work with the Free Democratic Party, the German Liberal Party, who are seen to be on the classical liberalist side of liberalism. I say this because they are seen as on the centre-right of European politics, should we not sit with them anymore, in the European Parliament? That’s the inference, which your comment to TCO, seems to imply.

  • Paul Pettinger 21st Jul '15 - 5:08pm

    You reinforce the point that liberal parties tend to pick a side and work within it. As pluralists we should be willing to work with whoever on a case by case basis, but that doesn’t mean we should be centrist.

  • @Paul Pettinger “TCO – the median voter with liberal instincts is centre left – this is simply the reality.”

    What evidence do you have to support this conjecture? Are you simply saying liberal = centre-left? Do we know what proportion of Tory UKIP voters (or Labour voters) identify as liberals, or what proportion of our own voters aren’t?

  • Paul Pettinger 21st Jul '15 - 6:17pm

    From http://www.markpack.org.uk/building-a-core-vote-for-the-liberal-democrats-the-20-strategy/:

    ‘The sensible place to look for a Liberal Democrat core vote is therefore in the part of the electorate that is culturally open to the world … If we look at the 35% of the electorate that is tolerant, open and internationalist, just under a fifth of them take a right or centre-right position on questions such as whether the government should redistribute incomes, around a quarter are centrists and just under two thirds take left or centre-left positions. The median tolerant voter is on the centre-left. YouGov’s profile of Liberal Democrat voters produces a similar result and what we know of the post-May 2015 new members is that many were motivated by left-of-centre issues such as proposed cuts in social security benefits and threats to employment protection.’

    We can’t pursue a strategy where we readily alternate between left and right, and keep most liberals in the same tent. We can’t get into a position where we are king makers in a hung House of Commons if most liberals aren’t in the same tent, and certainly under FPTP.

  • Clare Brown 21st Jul '15 - 6:59pm

    What concerns me about this bill is whether there is any hard evidence, maybe from other countries, about the impact of restricting child tax credit to two chilldren. If there is evidence that the policy is likely to reduce dependency and encourage self reliance and work, then maybe it is a good idea. But I suspect that this policy will simply remove resources from familes without helping them to get work. I also wonder, is it likely that parents will have smaller familes as a result of this policy? Or will they have just as many children but have even less to give them? I feel that support should always be there for every child, however I wonder if there is any benefit in providing different kinds of support such as food/clothing vouchers instead of money. I don’t know but I would be really interested to hear from people who know more about research in this area. I hope that MPs are voting with a very good understanding of the likely impact because this policy could have far reaching consequences for our society.

  • @Clare – there is probably evidence from the Peoples Republic of China, the surpise inspiration for latter day Tory policymaking.

  • Has our membership department been put on red alert

  • Adam Robertson 21st Jul '15 - 9:27pm

    @Clare Brown – I agree with you, that we should be increasing the concept of self reliance and ensuring that people can depend on themselves. I think for your comments to be associated with the People’s Republic of China, is derogatory, to say the least. I think there should be a welfare system, but it should be a safety net not a haven, where people can sponge off the state. I agreed with the concept, which David Lloyd George, founded which was unemployment benefit – is meant to help those people looking for work, but there is a sizable minority using the unemployment benefit system, as an excuse not to work.

    I also agree with the idea of a food/clothing vouchers scheme, because I think giving money, does not encourage people not to go to work or they think, they can have an easy life, which the benefit system is not intended there for. I understand the concerns that giving food or clothing vouchers can be degrading to those who need them, but there is a sizable minority – who are using their benefits for drugs and alcohol. Therefore, neglecting their children – who are are suffering indirect harm because of this.

  • @Adam Robertson let us not forget that Beveridge was a Liberal and that two of his key tenets – the contribution and the safety net principles – were ignored by the socialists who partially implemented his proposals

  • Philip Rolle 21st Jul '15 - 10:15pm

    Much has been said about the restriction of tax credits to families with two children, but for existing claimants the devil lies elsewhere; namely:

    (a) The income threshold for tax credits will be reduced from £6,420 to £3,850.
    (b) The rate at which a household’s tax credits are reduced above the income threshold will be raised, by increasing the taper rate to 48 per cent ( it is now 41% )
    (c) The year to year income increase disregard will be reduced from £5,000 to £2,500

    Assume a salary equivalent to minimum wage £12,675. The withdrawal of tax credits under the existing rules comes to £2,564. Under the new rules, it would come to £4,236. So that’s a reduction of a whopping £1,672 ( or about 14% of after tax income )!

    Against this, a worker in that position will be paid an extra 70p an hour once the new wages rules come in. So his/her salary will increase by £1,365. But wait for it. 80% of that will be taken away in tax, national insurance and a further withdrawal of tax credits. So just £273 is left. Add in another say £90 for the increase in tax and national insurance thresholds, making £363.

    So the grab from Mr Minimum wage is £1,309!!

    It’s horrific and many have not woken up to just how severe a haircut tax credits have had.

  • Philip Rolle 21st Jul '15 - 10:22pm

    Oh and BTW, the last time the income disregard was set at £2,500, the system could not cope and it resulted in many late clawbacks which made claimants anxious. I have known cases in which claimants refused to spend the tax credits money for fear it would be clawed back at a later date.

    IMO, the disregard can only work at this level if there is a real time information reporting system in operation for virtually all types of income. The change should be opposed until such a system is up and running satisfactorily.

  • Philip,
    That is indeed awful! how shameful that Labour MPs could abstain on such a regressive measure! Meanwhile owners of a £1 million home will be able to pass on an extra £250k or so to their relatives…

    Who was that chap that tried too kill Robin Hood? Guy of Osbourne was it?

  • Some interesting comments on this, but I think Philip hits the nail on the head. It hits those on a minimum wage very hard and given that other fairer methods of achieving some of the savings were laid out in the Election Manifesto, Tim was absolutely right to oppose the bill. The proposals in the detail as Philip has demonstrated just are not fair!

    Indeed, the problems for Mr Minimum wage might be compounded as he may well be working for a small business who may find it difficult to meet the cost of paying the higher “living wage” announced in the budget. The Office of budget responsibility have warned that there could be 60,000 job losses, whilst the Federation of Small Businesses have said this will be a problem for small firms in the hospitality, retail and social care sectors.

    The rights and wrongs on Children’s Tax credits are a matter for genuine debate. Have they been a subsidy for employers including large Nationals? Probably yes.

    Has there been a behavioural change in workers choosing to do less work when it has been on offer from employers who cannot recruit additional staff very easily because of the nature of the work? In the food and horticultural processing factories of South Lincolnshire, I have heard of anecdotal evidence that there has, particularly with migrant workers who have reduced their hours as soon as they find out about Tax Credits and send the money for children overseas where it goes further.

    The notion behind Children’s Tax Credits was I believe to address the problem of child poverty. However the system has been bedevilled with problems ever since the start, and offers no certainty to those with fluctuating levels of income, primarily part time workers and the self employed. I can cite examples of people being hit with large overpayments and in the end not bothering to claim again (even though by doing so they would reduce the overpayment as it is offset against subsequent payments).

    The aims that Children’s Tax Credits were supposed to address are laudable, but I think the system is more akin to a sledgehammer being used to crack a nut.

  • Neil Sandison 22nd Jul '15 - 10:39am

    Liz Kendall who wont be the next Labour leader if the polls are to be believed made an interesting comment on further tax relief for working families with children .There may be some common ground across the parties for this as an alternative to tax credits ,and an aid to reducing child poverty .We must be open and not tribal if we are to come forward with credible alternatives that can be believed and bust the myth that all those who need support on a low income must be scroungers .We cannot allow the exceptions often cited by the hard right to be accepted by the public as the rule.

  • Richard Underhill 22nd Jul '15 - 10:44pm

    Tim Farron will be judged mainly by what he says early in the leadership.
    He has emphasised clarity.

  • Richard Underhill 23rd Jul '15 - 8:41pm

    Did harriet Harman reply? On the record? or off?

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