Shadow Work and Pensions Team News – February 2017

News from the Shadow Work and Pensions Team

New Shadow Minister for Disabled People

Marie Rimmer has joined the Team as the new Shadow Minister for Disabled People. Marie has spoken up in Parliament for disabled and vulnerable people throughout her time in Parliament and she will be a real asset to the team.

Marie, who is registered disabled as a result of her deafness, said on her appointment, “This Tory Government has consistently neglected the needs of disabled people and has set back the good work the last Labour Government did helping millions of disabled people to live as independent lives as possible. The Government’s new flawed PIP assessment process is seeing thousands of people lose their social security support, with many having Motability cars removed before their appeals, forcing many disabled people out of work. As a disabled woman myself I have a direct understanding of how Government can work to allow every individual to live as full a life as possible.”

Pensions

The Pension Schemes Bill had its Second Reading in the Common on Monday 30th January, and will now head into committee. The Bill regulates Master Trusts, and it is our position that this is a good, much-needed Bill, but has several missed opportunities and we have highlighted issues that we will push the Government to address. You can read the full Second Reading debate here

Shadow Pensions Minister, Alex Cunningham MP led for the opposition on a debate in Westminster Hall regarding Hewlett Packard (HP) shirking their moral responsibility by refusing to give members of the pension scheme they took over cost of living increases in their pension. In other European countries, they do pay a cost of living increase, but as they have no legal obligation to do this in the UK due to the contributions being made prior to 1997, HP have chosen not to and as a result thousands of pensioners have found that their money has not gone as far as it should have.

Alex and Debbie held their first Pension Policy group last month where experts from different parts of the pensions industry came together to discuss the challenges ahead for the industry, and how these challenges could be addresses in the political arena through legislation and policy change. The group will meet once a month. If you’d like more information on this, please contact Alex’s office. Debbie also gave keynote speeches at the CWU Retired Members’ Conference and the TUC Pensions Conference.

WASPI

Labour outlined our plans to help end the plight of the tens of thousands of women abandoned to live in poverty by the Tory government’s changes to their state pension age.

Labour’s proposal is to return eligibility for Pensions Credit to the state pension age timetable of the 1995 Pensions Act, but with the qualifying age continuing to increase to 66 by 2022. This policy costs £860m to 2021/22 and we will reverse the tax cuts for the wealthy and big business made by the former Chancellor to cover the one-off cost of this measure.

We will extend Pension Credit to those who would have expected to retire under the 1995 timetable; under the Pension Credit Guarantee this is worth up to £155.60 per week to a single pensioner and £237.55 a week to a couple. This will target much needed support to the most vulnerable WASPI women now, while we develop further proposals to make sure that we put an end to the hardship experienced by the WASPI women.

The plan would alleviate the worst of the impacts for the most vulnerable women, and restore some of the dignity many of them feel they have been robbed of.

We are actively working with the WASPI groups to expand these policy proposals.

Child Poverty

Shadow Employment Minister Margaret Greenwood is working on child poverty and pressed the government on its commitment – or lack of it – to tackle the issue at DWP Oral Questions. You can find that here

The last Labour government had a strong record on tackling child poverty, achieved through a cross-government strategy that included Sure Start, the introduction of tax credits, year on year rises in child benefit with both financial support and employment support targeted at single parents.

The decision by this government to abolish the Child Poverty Unit shows how markedly things have changed. That was revealed by PQs tabled by Labour’s Dan Jarvis and we are will be working closely with Dan to support his Private Members Bill to restore the targets to cut child poverty set by the last Labour Government.

Job Centre Closures

The DWP has announced that they plan to close 1 in 10 Jobcentres nationwide with many of those identified for closure are in areas of high unemployment and social deprivation. Any money saved by the Department of Work and Pensions as a result of these closures will further place the financial burden on service users who are already on low incomes.

The DWP is already going through enormous changes with the introduction of Universal Credit repeatedly having to be delayed. These closures will only cause further disruption to the Department and will also result in the loss of experienced staff who between them will have many years of experience that cannot be easily regained. Many current users of Jobcentres will be forced to resort to making expensive phone calls to DWP call centres and will face increased travel costs getting to and from appointments. The Government has not yet published an equality assessment on their closure programme.

An Urgent Question was held in the Chamber on Monday 30th January and you can read the full debate here

Disability Equality Roadshow

Labour’s Disability Equality Roadshow aims to develop Labour’s policies to fight discrimination and promote disability equality by involving deaf and disabled people, their carers and service providers at engagement events across every region of the country, and each nation-state.

The next Labour government will ensure that the UK upholds its obligations under the UN convention on persons with disabilities. Our commitment to people-powered politics means that we believe that future social security policy should be co-produced with Deaf and disabled people, carers and service providers. We want to transform our social security system, based on the principles of dignity, independence and support.

We have already held events in Manchester, Cardiff, Edinburgh and Newcastle and are coming soon to Bristol and London. For details of future events click here 

UN Inquiry on Rights of Disabled People

The United Nations Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities has concluded that Government cuts to social security have a disproportional impact on disabled people and they violate the rights of disabled people living in Britain.

The UK ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) in 2009. By doing so we committed to protecting and promoting the human rights of disabled people. Embarrassingly for the Government, the UK is the first and so far only country to be investigated by the UN for breaching the Convention.

The UN’s report shows that the austerity policies brought in by the Government in 2010 to reduce public spending, such as the destructive bedroom tax and the damaging cuts to social security and social care budgets are infringing on the rights of disabled people.

This report confirms what Labour has been warning all along; despite Theresa May’s warm words on the steps of Downing Street, promising a fair deal for all in our society, this Conservative government is consistently failing sick and disabled people. And what do they do in response? They dismiss this report and refuse to take action. Read more here

Two-child Policy and Tax Credits

The Government’s planned two child limit on tax credits is not only cruel, but is bad policy. Debbie Abrahams recently appeared on the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire programme to discuss the two-child policy and the associated so-called ‘rape clause’. This proposes that the burden of proof is placed upon survivors of rape by the Department for Work and Pensions and would constitute a wholly unacceptable extension of the Department’s remit into deeply sensitive areas of women’s lives.

People are right to feel little confidence in the Government’s competence when approaching this highly sensitive issue, more so when viewed in the context of the punitive DWP culture fostered by this Government. Labour has called on the Government to scrap the two-child policy once and for all and we have written to the Prime Minister, urging her to do so before it takes effect.

Parliamentary speeches

Commons debate: DWP Policies and Low-income Households 
Westminster Hall debate: DWP Estate 
Westminster Hall debate: Digital Equipment Ltd: Pension Scheme 
Lords debate: Brexit: Disabled People 
Lords question: Child Poverty Unit 
Lords debate: Pension Schemes Bill Third Reading

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