Tag: PMQs

Corbyn’s best PMQs reveals Prime Minister evades accountability regarding impact of tax credit cuts

Prime ministers questions today

Today, David Cameron strategically evaded a question about his government’s controversial tax credit cuts six times today. The Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, had a Jeremy Paxman moment when he repeatedly asked whether people would be left worse off by the cuts after the Treasury revises the proposals.But despite pressing the question, Cameron has yet to respond to it rationally and directly.

Corbyn also challenged Cameron regarding the persistent denial before the election from the Conservatives – including from Cameron, Michael Gove, and the chief whip, that they intended to cut tax credits

The Treasury was forced re-examine the plans after the House of Lords voted down the government’s tax credit cuts twice, tabling amendments to delay the plans until the governmernt took on board new evidence about the negative impacts of the cuts, and until there was better compensation for workers who could lose an average of £1,300 a year.

In a blustering non-response to the Labour leader’s question, Cameron complained that the tax credit plans were defeated by Labour and other opposition peers in a “new alliance of the unelected and unelectable”.

Corbyn responded to an increasingly furious Prime Minister with: “This is not a constitutional crisis. This is a crisis for 3 million people.” 

Corbyn again asked:  “Can he confirm they will not make anyone worse off?”
Cameron responded with:  “He will have to be patient… we will set out our proposals in the Autumn Statement.”

Corbyn said: “People are “very concerned”… “Is he going to cut tax credits or not?”

Cameron said that: “£12 billion welfare cuts were promised in the Tory manifesto. …  I’m happy to have a debate as to how we cut welfare”… “because of what happened in the other place.

“We need to reform welfare.”

The Labour leader cited the case of “Karen” who was concerned about the cuts and said “people are very worried about what’s going to happen to them”.
He said: “Following the events in the Lords on Monday evening, and the rather belated acceptance from the prime minister of the result there, can you now guarantee to the house and the wider country that nobody will be worse off next year as a result of cuts to working tax credits?”

However, the prime minister simply refused to elaborate how the government would reduce the impact of the cuts.

Cameron said : “What I can guarantee is we remain committed to the vision of a high-pay, low-tax, lower welfare economy. We believe the way to ensure everyone is better off is keep growing our economy, keep inflation low, keep cutting people’s taxes and introduce the national living wage.

As for our changes, the chancellor will set them out in the autumn statement.”

Corbyn continued to press Cameron for an answer several times. Cameron admitted that “every penny we do not save” from welfare would have to be found elsewhere,” indicating that the government clearly regards lifeline benefits to poor families as the Treasury’s “disposable income“, and no matter what those political decisions to cut the deficit on the backs of those with the least will cost people in terms of income and living standards, whether in work or not, this government intends to continue with swingeing austerity cuts that target the poorest.

It’s clear that the Prime Minister doesn’t have a response for either Jeremy Corbyn or for all of those hard-working people who are set to lose income and see a drop in their living standards because of the tax credit cuts – many of whom may have voted Conservative at the last election, reassured before the election that their welfare support was safe.

A senior Labour spokesperson said the party regarded Cameron’s House of Lords review “as a smokescreen to cover up the real problem of tax credits”.

Prime minister dismisses UN inquiry into government’s discriminatory treatment of disabled people

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Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has asked David Cameron at Prime Minister’s Questions today to publish the details of the Government’s response to the United Nations inquiry into the allegations that Conservative policies are breaching the rights of disabled people in the UK. He also asked if the government intended to co-operate with the inquiry.

Such UN investigations are conducted confidentially by the UN and officials will not confirm or deny whether the UK is currently being put under scrutiny.

However, the ongoing inquiry been widely reported by disability rights groups and campaigners. The Department for Work and Pensions has previously declined to comment on the possibility of an investigation.

Mr Corbyn used his final question to ask about the United Nations inquiry into alleged “grave or systemic violations” of the rights of disabled people in the UK. The PM gave a dismissive response, saying the inquiry may not be “all it’s cracked up to be” and said that disabled people in other countries do not have the rights and support that “they” [disabled people] in the UK are offered. Cameron also implied that Labour’s “strong” equality legislation was a Conservative policy. However, the Equality Act was drafted under the guidance of Harriet Harman.

Jeremy Corbyn asks about David Cameron about his response to the UN inquiry at Prime Minister’s Questions

The United Nations team of investigators are expecting to meet with the Equality and Human Rights Commission, members of parliament, individual campaigners and disabled people’s organisations, representatives from local authorities and academics.

The team will be gathering direct evidence from individuals about the impact of government austerity measures, with a focus on benefit cuts and sanctions; cuts to social care; cuts to legal aid; the closure of the Independent Living Fund (ILF); the adverse impact of the Work Capability Assessment (WCA); the shortage of accessible and affordable housing; the impact of the bedroom tax on disabled people, and also the rise in disability hate crime.

Mr Corbyn said:

“This is deeply embarrassing to all of us in this house and indeed to the country as a whole. It’s very sad news.”

The Government’s approach to people with disabilities had been extremely controversial and been met with criticism from campaign groups. Disabled people have borne the brunt of austerity cuts, losing more income and support than any other social group, and this is despite the fact that Cameron promised in 2010 to protect the poorest, sick and disabled people and the most vulnerable.

In 2013, Dr Simon Duffy at the Centre for Welfare Reform published a briefing outlining how the austerity cuts are targeted. The report says:

The cuts are not fair.

They target the very groups that a decent society would protect:

  • People in poverty (1 in 5 of us) bear 39% of all the cuts
  • Disabled people (1 in 13 of us) bear 29% of all the cuts
  • People with severe disabilities (1 in 50 of us) bear 15% of all the cuts

The report outlines further discrimination in how the austerity cuts have been targeted. The report says:

The unfairness of this policy is seen even more clearly when we look at the difference between the burden of cuts that falls on most citizens and the burdens that fall on minority groups. By 2015 the annual average loss in income or services will be:

  • People who are not in poverty or have no disability will lose £467 per year
  • People who are in poverty will lose £2,195 per year
  • Disabled people will lose £4,410 per year
  • Disabled people needing social care will lose £8,832 per year

Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith said at the  Conservative party conference speech in Manchester that disabled people “should work their way out of poverty.”

The Work and Pensions Secretary has been widely criticised for removing support for disabled people who want to work: by closing Remploy factories, scrapping the Independent Living Fund, cuts to payments for a disability Access To Work scheme and cuts to Employment and Support Allowance.

The reformed Work Capability Assessment has been very controversial, with critics labeling them unfair, arbitrary, and heavily bureaucratic, weighted towards unfairly removing people’s sickness and disability benefit and forcing them to look for work.

The bedroom tax also hits disabled people disproportionately, with around two thirds of those affected by the under-occupancy penalty being disabled.

The United Nations have already deemed that the bedroom tax constitutes a violation of the human right to adequate housing in several ways. If, for example, the extra payments force tenants to cut down on their spending on food or heating their home. There are already a number of legal challenges to the bedroom tax under way in British courts. In principle the judiciary here takes into account the international human rights legislation because the UK has signed and ratified the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

The right to adequate housing is recognised in a number of international human rights instruments that the UK has signed up to.

UN rapporteur Raquel Rolnik called for the UK government last year to scrap its controversial bedroom tax policy. Rolnik’s report was dismissed as a “misleading Marxist diatribe” by Tory ministers, and she had been subject to a “blizzard of misinformation” and xenophobic tabloid reports.

The DWP’s sanctions regime has also been widely discredited, and there has been controvery over death statistics, eventually released by the Department after a long-running refusal to release the information under freedom of information law.

The Daily Mail has already preempted the visit from the special rapporteur, Catalina Devandas Aguilar, who is spearheading the ongoing inquiry into many claims that Britain is guilty of grave or systematic violations of the rights of sick and disabled people, by using racist stereotypes, and claiming that the UN are “meddling”. The Mail blatantly attempted to discredit this important UN intervention and the UN rapporteur before the visit.

Meanwhile, Cameron seems very keen to play the investigation down, and dismiss the impact of his government’s “reforms” on the lives of sick and disabled people.

We are a very wealthy, so-called first-world liberal democracy, the fact that such an inquiry has been deemed necessary at all ought to be a source of great shame for this government.

 

Jeremy Corbyn confronted the Tories with the poverty they’re creating at PMQs – and all they could do was laugh – Liam Young

Originally published in the Independent by Liam Young.

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The Tories seem to forget that they were the last government – at some point they will have to take responsibility for their handling of the nation.

As Jeremy Corbyn stood for his second PMQs today, the mocking Tory laughs told us everything we need to know about their enduring Bullingdon Club-style politics. Old habits die hard, it seems. But Corbyn opened strongly, with an issue that unites the Labour party: the cuts to working tax credits which penalise the lowest earners, known colloquially as the Tory work penalty.

Again, the Tories laughed at the name ‘Kelly’, so apparently unbelievable do they find the first names of Corbyn’s constituents; they soon fell silent, however, as they heard of her struggle as the mother of a disabled child earning minimum wage in a 40.5-hour-per-week job. Corbyn tackled the bullyboys by pausing at their laughter this time. ‘Some may find this funny,’ he said, as he continued to talk about mass inequality and the housing problem in London. It was a subtle highlight of something glaringly obvious: for millionaires protected by Tory policies, inequality bolstered by unfair taxes and buy-to-let properties really is hilarious.

Cameron’s reply to the work penalty issue was the same old line: apparently a £20-a-week increase in wages will magically solve the problem. This is not true, of course, as Corbyn promptly replied: working families are set to be £1,300 a year worse off as the Conservative government hammers the working and middle classes so as to give to the super rich.

Cameron claimed that Corbyn’s figures on poverty were wrong, but perhaps that is something to do with the fact that the Work and Pensions Secretary fixed the definition of ‘poverty’ recently. You don’t feed and clothe homeless children by changing a definition, and the government should be ashamed. The fact that 50 per cent of wealth is in 1 per cent of hands globally is shambolic, and reports today that inequality is growing in the UK even as our country now has the third most ‘ultra-high net worth individuals’ in the world put paid to Cameron’s claims to have driven opportunity. There could be no bigger proof that his policies continue to squeeze the middle and punish the poor.

Jeremy Corbyn probably had a headache even before PMQs started. George Osborne’s proposal of a ‘fiscal charter’ has been causing problems for Labour over the last few days, not least because it was once a Labour policy rubbished by Cameron himself. It seems strange, then, that Tories are so desperate to implement it now, considering that the Governor of the Bank of England has not endorsed its proposal and no economist has come out in support of it. Most commentary has focused on how it is unrealistic to try and tie the hands of future governments – almost as though Osborne is trying to make an ideological (and erroneous) point about how Labour ‘caused the recession by their overspending’, rather than the truth about rich bankers running wild without regulation. Of course, it also gave Osborne an excellent opportunity to personally ask Labour MPs to rebel – little more than a cynical attempt to ruffle some feathers.

In June, over 70 economists published a letter that clearly noted that the charter has ‘no basis in economics’ and that permanent surplus would increase the debt of households and businesses. The policy is not about protecting the British economy; it is an attempt to bury the Labour party under the same message of the last government. The Tories seem to forget that they were the last government – they have been in power now for almost six years, and at some point they will have to take responsibility for their handling of the nation.

Despite all this, PMQs today were the best moment of Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour party so far. Osborne’s attempt to destabilise the Labour party and force Labour MPs to rebel spectacularly failed, while Corbyn asked if he could bring the Prime Minister back to reality as Tory rhetoric failed against his grassroots facts.

Cameron wants to get Britain building houses, he wants to alleviate poverty, and he wants to rebuild the economy – or so he’d have you believe. In the last five years, house-building has stalled, poverty has increased, inequality appears to be rising and the national debt has doubled. At some point, the Tories have to stop blaming Labour for their own disastrous record. Corbyn is now attacking their mythology head-on – and he might just be getting somewhere. 

Liam Young is a freelance political journalist studying international relations at the LSE