Welfare Benefit Changes

 

In the political to-ing and fro-ing that surrounds the decisions taken in this place, the consequences for innocent children are all too often shunted down the list of priorities. I agree with the numerous calls from children’s charities for us to start to put children at the centre of our decision-making process.

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea East (Carolyn Harris) for securing this important debate.

In the political to-ing and fro-ing that surrounds the decisions taken in this place, the consequences for innocent children are all too often shunted down the list of priorities. I agree with the numerous calls from children’s charities for us to start to put children at the centre of our decision-making process.

Shortly after the Chancellor announced his Budget, I held a child poverty summit in my constituency. Participants included the deputy Children’s Commissioner for Wales, children’s charities, council officers and local groups that deal with vulnerable children. The overwhelming message that they wanted to convey was that child poverty was a growing issue, particularly in households where it had never previously been an issue—in-work households. Those are families whose incomes previously stretched to cover the mortgage and bills and to put food on the table, and still left enough to live comfortably. However, after years of pay freezes, increasing costs for fuel and food and the erosion of welfare support those families were just one unexpected bill away from not being able to cover their costs. Many are too proud to ask for help, but we know they are suffering.

I feel that Dickensian conditions are creeping into society. One example given to me at the round table was of children being sent to school in dirty uniforms because their parents could not afford to put the washing machine on. Clothes-swap initiatives sprang up to provide them with clean clothes. In a different example, children in receipt of free school meals were going hungry during school holidays when they did not have those meals. Surely that should not be happening in one of the richest countries in the world. In my constituency 3,910 children are living in poverty and 2,407 of those are in in-work poverty. The Government’s latest round of attacks on working families announced by the Chancellor in July will adversely affect 9,400 children in Aberavon.

The Secretary of State recently defended his policy to restrict universal credit to two children as

“bringing home to parents the reality that children cost money”.

I am sure we all thank him for those words of profound wisdom, but we are not engaged in a teaching exercise; we are talking about children’s lives. Questions remain about how the system will detect, for example, fathers who have multiple children with multiple women. If each mother claims for her children, more than two of the father’s children could be in receipt of universal credit.

There are huge loopholes in the law, not just massive ethical and moral questions. I wonder what is happening to the party currently occupying the Government Benches, which claims to be a socially liberal party, in the old tradition of the term. The two children policy might perhaps be described as government just large enough to fit into people’s bedrooms. There is nothing wrong with making work pay, but it should not be at the expense of children. If the state abandons children when they are in need, what incentive does that give them to contribute to society later in life?

I want to close with a quotation from the recent Conservative party conference:

“We must ensure that…we protect the hardest working and lowest paid.

Shop workers, cleaners, the people who get up in the small hours or work through the night because they have dreams for what their families can achieve”.

That was said by the hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson), otherwise known as the Mayor of London. I wonder whether it was simply part of some complex leadership bid. It may or may not have been; the fact is that I think many of my hon. Friends would agree with those comments.

Rosie Cooper (West Lancashire) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend agree that abject failure is the only way of describing the Government’s welfare reform programme, which puts headlines ahead of the impact on children, the disabled and other vulnerable people whom society should protect?

Stephen Kinnock: I absolutely agree; as hon. Members have said, the issue must be about the bigger picture and the sort of society we want to build—not tomorrow’s headlines in the Daily Mail.

The Conservative party claims to be a one nation party and the party of the workers. That is high-flying rhetoric, but the reality is a story of division, attacking the most vulnerable in society while inheritance tax for the richest 60,000 is cut. The gap between the Government’s one nation rhetoric and the divisive reality of their policies is fast becoming a chasm. I urge the Minister to reconsider those policies and to close the gap.