23 February 2016 Welfare Reform and Work Bill - Consideration of Lords amendments

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You can watch Helen here or read Helen's speech below

Yesterday, I spoke against cuts to ESA in Parliament. Rest assured I will continue to use my position in Parliament to fight for a fairer and more compassionate social security system.

Helen Goodman: I begin by addressing amendment 1. The Labour Government had four poverty measures when we took through the Child Poverty Act 2010—absolute, relative and persistent poverty and material deprivation. We measured all of them. Between 1997 and 2010 we cut the number of children living in relative poverty by 1 million, and the number of children living in absolute poverty by 2 million. There is nothing arbitrary about this. It is important to have those measures because they are used across the OECD. That enables us to compare our performance with that of the other countries that UNICEF studies.

Ministers want to abandon those targets because they intend to freeze benefits and cut child tax credits if there are more than three, four or five children in a family. Those measures will increase the number of children living in poverty. Because they do not want that to be evident to the whole world, they do not want to use the targets. We should not let them off the hook.

We all think life chances matter. We are all interested in the correlations between the kind of childhood people have and what happens to them later in life. No one is saying that we do not want to measure those things, but I remind the House that not being able to go on a school trip, never having a holiday, not having a birthday party—these things matter in themselves because children are not human becomings, but human beings. Childhood is a part of life. The quality of life in the early years matters just as much it matters what our lives are like or what the quality of our parents’ life is like.

On amendments 8 and 9, I want to bring into the House the voice of the people affected. Those in the ESA support group are not people who are not working out of perversity or because they have not done the arithmetic and do not know what the incentives are. They are not in work because the jobs do not exist, or because of the barriers to work. They may have problems with transport, they may be stressed, they may be exhausted or they may be struggling against extremely difficult odds. In my constituency there are 860 people in the ESA work-related activity group. I get letters from them and have meetings with them every single week.

This week I heard from a woman who wrote:

“My husband…has been in receipt of ESA-Support Group benefit…for some considerable time due to long standing health problems of both a physical and psychological nature. He has recently had to resubmit the…questionnaire and we have just had notification that he has been placed in the Support Group but this will only be until November…His last award was for three years.

Considering the…letter from the GP”—

and the psychologist—

“we can’t believe the DWP think it is in any way appropriate to put my husband through this process twice within the same year…He will now spend…months worrying and becoming increasingly anxious about having to face the process again”.

She adds that he is “extremely vulnerable”. Treating this group of people in that way is not helpful. Making them poorer, not helping them to heat their homes or to eat properly, and making them anxious about whether they can pay their rent is not helpful.

The week before I received that letter, I had a letter from another constituent, who said:

“I’m petrified. Atos did my ESA medical...yet they still lied. I’d told them my disabilities and…they didn’t mention any of them…I was called by a woman from the DWP who told me my ESA was cancelled. She seemed happy (really happy) to gloat about this…I had to live on my 9 year old daughter’s £20 child benefit and child tax credit for 4 weeks. It takes a split second to stop benefits but 4 weeks to reinstate.”

She has now been told she must provide her own medical records, which will cost £500 because doctors are charging to provide them. She continues:

“I can’t afford this on £102 a week…I’ve not slept in ages”.

She adds that she has “cried a lot” because she knows what will happen to her.

That is the situation people are already in, and we absolutely cannot see them pushed down even further. I appeal to the Minister’s better nature. I appeal to her to think again about amendments 8 and 9.

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