Lord debates impact on families of changes to tax and benefits

18 January 2013

Members of the Lords debated the impact on families of changes to tax and benefits yesterday (Thursday 17 January).

Baroness Hollis of Heigham (Labour) requested the debate and challenged the minister on the recent changes to tax and benefits. She said: 'We must all refuse to use this language of welfare, with its dark shadows of handouts and dependency, stigma and scroungers, failure and fault... We pay in, and in need, we take out, as is our right. It is social security.'

She explained: 'Only a third of social security spending goes in means-tested benefits, perhaps to relieve other people's hardship; two-thirds will come back to us, as payments on our insurance paid - exactly as you would hope and expect from a contributory social security system based on entitlement, alongside a decent safety net for those in hardship, which could so easily have been any of us in the past.'

She concluded: 'We are not entitled to ask the poor and their children to carry these cuts for our benefit.'

Baroness Jenkin of Kennington (Conservative) argued: 'Child benefit changes have not been carried out in a seamless and sensible way - there is no getting away from that charge - but again we have to face up to the realities. We are in an economic quagmire.'

She said: 'If we really want to support families in need, we must prioritise the most vulnerable, particularly the disabled... We should do absolutely everything possible to make work pay, recognising that, if wages are not rising, it cannot be right to keep pumping in government subsidy in a way that will let employers off the hook and make it even more difficult to imagine life without benefits.'

Lord German (Liberal Democrat) also raised concern over the language of welfare. He said: 'Stigmatising people by language and by the difference and distinction between those in work and those out of work does not aid encouragement and support for improvement in people's quality of life. The fact is that the vast majority of people want to work and are working hard in order to do so. More than half the people who claim jobseeker's allowance do so for six months or less.'

He argued universal credit makes sure 'people are better off in work.'  

The Lord Bishop of Exeter concentrated on one-earner families 'where a couple has made a deliberate decision to sacrifice having a second salary so that one parent can be at home for the children' and how they are affected by the changes.

He explained: '...the majority of one-earner families are one-earners out of necessity rather than by choice. This is extremely important because, as we have already heard, there are those who give the clear impression that one-earner families should not be helped because all stay-at-home parents should get paid employment. This is a deeply misguided view that has no regard for the constraints that one-earner families operate in, the sacrifices they make and their significant contribution to the national wellbeing.'

Lord Alton of Liverpool (Crossbench) argued that the impact on people with disabilities and families from poorer backgrounds would be 'devastating'.

He said: 'These changes are too deep, they are coming too fast and they are already undermining the most fundamental safety net through which no one should fall. It is unacceptable that through job loss, disability, illness or low pay, parents and children are going hungry and becoming homeless. But the facts speak for themselves and that is the reality for a rapidly growing number. With food banks and shelters increasingly overburdened, it is now urgent that we repair the damage being caused to families and to our society.'

Lord Freud (Conservative) responded on behalf of the government by addressing the points raised during the debate. Concluding his response he said: 'Our fundamental welfare reforms will transform the welfare system by 2017. The replacement of many of the current suite of income-related benefits and tax credits with our flagship reform-universal credit - will provide a streamlined and transparent scheme that will mean that 3 million families will be better off, on average, by about £168 a month.'

Further information

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