Grayling pleads guilty to hitting the working poor

Tax credit changes mean some families will be better off on benefits, welfare minister admits.

Chris Grayling's startling admission (£) that tax credit changes mean some working families will be better off on benefits is an important moment. The welfare minister has pleaded guilty to the toxic charge that the government is penalising the working poor.

George Osborne's decision to remove tax credits from those who work fewer than 24 hours a week means 212,000 couples with children will lose up to £3,870 a year. Asked by Labour MP Ann Coffey what would happen to a family working 16 hours a week on the minimum wage, Grayling revealed that the weekly income of a couple with two children would drop from £330 to £257. That's significantly less than the £271 a week that they would receive on out-of-work benefits. In a letter to Osborne today, the Child Poverty Action Group warns that the policy puts "470,000 children at risk of being plunged into poverty".

Grayling's defence is that the anomaly will be resolved next year when the Universal Credit replaces all benefits and "makes work pay". Indeed, the same family will be £95 better off under that system. But until then, Ed Miliband has a potent attack line for PMQs. In one move, the government has undermined its claim to be on the side of working families, rather than "welfare families".

The government has suggested that couples will be able to increase their hours to retain the working benefit but this only makes it look even more out of touch. As the Resolution Foundation's Vidhya Alakeson noted: "In today's economy part-time workers are likely to find it extremely difficult to negotiate extra hours in any case." There are already 1.35 million people working part-time because they can't find a full-time job, the highest number since comparable records began in 1992.

Whether or not the Lib Dems secure a significant increase in the personal allowance, this policy will do nothing for those part-time workers who don't earn enough to pay tax. Now, to add insult to injury, the government is clawing back £73-a-week from their families. This may or may not be the long-awaited "10p tax moment". But the creation of a disincentive to work means the government is now failing even on its own terms.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Tom Watson rouses Labour's conference as he comes out fighting

The party's deputy leader exhilarated delegates with his paean to the Blair and Brown years. 

Tom Watson is down but not out. After Jeremy Corbyn's second landslide victory, and weeks of threats against his position, Labour's deputy leader could have played it safe. Instead, he came out fighting. 

With Corbyn seated directly behind him, he declared: "I don't know why we've been focusing on what was wrong with the Blair and Brown governments for the last six years. But trashing our record is not the way to enhance our brand. We won't win elections like that! And we need to win elections!" As Watson won a standing ovation from the hall and the platform, the Labour leader remained motionless. When a heckler interjected, Watson riposted: "Jeremy, I don't think she got the unity memo." Labour delegates, many of whom hail from the pre-Corbyn era, lapped it up.

Though he warned against another challenge to the leader ("we can't afford to keep doing this"), he offered a starkly different account of the party's past and its future. He reaffirmed Labour's commitment to Nato ("a socialist construct"), with Corbyn left isolated as the platform applauded. The only reference to the leader came when Watson recalled his recent PMQs victory over grammar schools. There were dissenting voices (Watson was heckled as he praised Sadiq Khan for winning an election: "Just like Jeremy Corbyn!"). But one would never have guessed that this was the party which had just re-elected Corbyn. 

There was much more to Watson's speech than this: a fine comic riff on "Saturday's result" (Ed Balls on Strictly), a spirited attack on Theresa May's "ducking and diving; humming and hahing" and a cerebral account of the automation revolution. But it was his paean to Labour history that roused the conference as no other speaker has. 

The party's deputy channelled the spirit of both Hugh Gaitskell ("fight, and fight, and fight again to save the party we love") and his mentor Gordon Brown (emulating his trademark rollcall of New Labour achivements). With his voice cracking, Watson recalled when "from the sunny uplands of increasing prosperity social democratic government started to feel normal to the people of Britain". For Labour, a party that has never been further from power in recent decades, that truly was another age. But for a brief moment, Watson's tubthumper allowed Corbyn's vanquished opponents to relive it. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.