As you may be aware, in parliament this week I voted against the government's Welfare Reform and Work Bill.
This Bill will bring in changes which will make life harder for many people in Heywood and Middleton. Independent research shows that working families will be worse off by £1000 a year on average, and across the country more than 300,000 children will be pushed into poverty, inevitably including many in our local area. Among other cruel measures, the Tories also want to make cuts of around 30% to the Employment and Support Allowance which is paid to people deemed not fit for work, for example Parkinson's or cancer sufferers. Labour politicians, myself included, have rightly criticised the proposals since they were announced in the budget in June.
It is for the Conservatives to justify their own decisions to the public. What the Labour Party need to do is justify our own. The public will quite reasonably wonder why our MPs were told to abstain on the vote if we object to much of the detail in the Tories' plans (as I believe most, if not all, of my Labour colleagues do).
It is important to say that Labour did in fact propose an amendment to the Bill which made clear our opposition and which would have effectively stopped the Bill in its tracks. I voted for our amendment, but unfortunately we were outvoted by the Tories due to their majority in the Commons.
So we then had the choice to either vote against the Tories' Bill, support it, or abstain. Given that their are certain elements of the Bill with which my Party agrees and some we obviously do not, and given the Tories' majority means that in any case it is virtually impossible to defeat them, the decision was taken by the leadership to instruct myself and my fellow Labour MPs to abstain.
However, rather than abstain because there are certain elements of the Bill we like, I believe we should have voted against because there are certain elements of the Bill so cruel, unnecessary and devastating to people in our country that we simply cannot stand idly by while they are introduced. The cons vastly outweigh the pros in the Bill, and that is why I took the decision to vote against it.
The Bill is not yet law, and there will be plenty of opportunity to oppose and seek to amend it over the coming months as it goes through the stages of debate in committee, the Commons and the Lords. Labour have already published a list of amendments we will try to make to the Bill, and colleagues and I will do everything possible to make the changes fairer.
You have my assurance that I will fight it every step of the way, and I will continue to do what I believe is right for people in Heywood and Middleton.