David Miliband's speech against the Welfare Uprating Bill: full text

"It is intolerable then to blame the unemployed for their poverty and our deficit."

David Miliband's speech against the government's Welfare Uprating Bill was the most powerful intervention so far in the debate. Here's the full text.

Mr Speaker, it should be common ground that all Western economies need to reshape their social contract to meet the challenges of economic competition and demographic change.

Expanding childcare versus higher child benefit; Housing Benefit versus housebuilding; long term care versus reliefs and benefits for old age. In each case, we need to choose.

This Bill invites us to make three judgments: about fairness, about affordability, and about politics.

The Chancellor said in the Autumn Statement the Bill was about distinguishing working people from those who are “asleep, living a life on benefits”. Yet most of the people hit by this Bill are working. So that argument is blown out of the water.

And what of the idea that 3120 people in South Shields on Income Support, and 4200 on Job Seekers Allowance, are choosing a Life of Riley.

The PM himself claimed that the reforms of two years ago ended the “option” of life on benefits. The Government’s own figures show the level of fraud to be 0.7 per cent – the figure is lower for immigrants. And DWP’s own figures show over 10 job seekers for every vacancy advertised in the local South Shields Jobcentre. That’s not fair.

What of affordability? The Government says the alternative to this Bill is higher borrowing or higher taxation. But that is not true.

The Government have projected the cost of all benefits, all tax credits and all tax reliefs. I am happy to debate priorities within that envelope. A proper debate – about choices not the total sum.

The measures before us raise £3.7 billion in 2015/16 from poor and lower middle income people.

Meanwhile the Chancellor has cut tax relief for pension contributions – but only by £200m in 2013/14 rising to £600 million in 2015/16. The cumulative saving between now and 2015/16 from the richest is £1.1bn - compared to £5.6bn for those on benefit and/or receiving tax credits.

So this is not equality of sacrifice. The Chancellor reminds me of the man in the 1929 election poster, standing above others on a ladder. Water is up to the neck of the man on the bottom rung, while the man at the top shouts “Equality - let’s all go down one rung”.

The Government have made a great deal of the point that no one should receive more from benefits than the average wage of £26 000. But they offer tax relief of £40 000 – for those with £40 000 to spare. That costs £33bn a year.

If we limited tax relief on pension contributions to £26 000 a year, we would have no need for this Bill.

But this rancid Bill is not about fairness or affordability. It reeks of politics, the politics of dividing lines that the current Government spent so much time denouncing when they were in Opposition in the dog days of the Brown Administration. It says a lot that within two years it has fallen into the same trap.

We all know the style. Invent your own enemy. Spin your campaign to a newspaper editor short on facts – or high on prejudice. “Frame” the debate.

But the enemy within is unemployment not the unemployed. And I don’t want to live in a society where we pretend that we can enjoy the good life while our neighbours lose their life chances.

It is bad enough to have no economic growth or 420 000 young long term unemployed or rising levels of child poverty or declining levels of social mobility.

It is hard to stomach a Government that takes no responsibility for their mistakes.

It is intolerable then to blame the unemployed for their poverty and our deficit.

And that is why I will vote for the amendment and against the Bill tonight.

David Miliband spoke against the government's Welfare Uprating Bill during this afternoon's House of Commons debate. Photograph: Getty Images.

David Miliband is the  President and CEO of the International Rescue Committee
He was foreign secretary from 2007 until 2010 and MP for South Shields from 2001 until this year. 

Photo: Getty Images
Show Hide image

Why are boundary changes bad for Labour?

New boundaries, a smaller House of Commons and the shift to individual electoral registration all tilt the electoral battlefield further towards the Conservatives. Why?

The government has confirmed it will push ahead with plans to reduce the House of Commons to 600 seats from 650.  Why is that such bad news for the Labour Party? 

The damage is twofold. The switch to individual electoral registration will hurt Labour more than its rivals. . Constituency boundaries in Britain are drawn on registered electors, not by population - the average seat has around 70,000 voters but a population of 90,000, although there are significant variations within that. On the whole, at present, Labour MPs tend to have seats with fewer voters than their Conservative counterparts. These changes were halted by the Liberal Democrats in the coalition years but are now back on course.

The new, 600-member constituencies will all but eliminate those variations on mainland Britain, although the Isle of Wight, and the Scottish island constituencies will remain special cases. The net effect will be to reduce the number of Labour seats - and to make the remaining seats more marginal. (Of the 50 seats that would have been eradicated had the 2013 review taken place, 35 were held by Labour, including deputy leader Tom Watson's seat of West Bromwich East.)

Why will Labour seats become more marginal? For the most part, as seats expand, they will take on increasing numbers of suburban and rural voters, who tend to vote Conservative. The city of Leicester is a good example: currently the city sends three Labour MPs to Westminster, each with large majorities. Under boundary changes, all three could become more marginal as they take on more wards from the surrounding county. Liz Kendall's Leicester West seat is likely to have a particularly large influx of Tory voters, turning the seat - a Labour stronghold since 1945 - into a marginal. 

The pattern is fairly consistent throughout the United Kingdom - Labour safe seats either vanishing or becoming marginal or even Tory seats. On Merseyside, three seats - Frank Field's Birkenhead, a Labour seat since 1950, and two marginal Labour held seats, Wirral South and Wirral West - will become two: a safe Labour seat, and a safe Conservative seat on the Wirral. Lillian Greenwood, the Shadow Transport Secretary, would see her Nottingham seat take more of the Nottinghamshire countryside, becoming a Conservative-held marginal. 

The traffic - at least in the 2013 review - was not entirely one-way. Jane Ellison, the Tory MP for Battersea, would find herself fighting a seat with a notional Labour majority of just under 3,000, as opposed to her current majority of close to 8,000. 

But the net effect of the boundary review and the shrinking of the size of the House of Commons would be to the advantage of the Conservatives. If the 2015 election had been held using the 2013 boundaries, the Tories would have a majority of 22 – and Labour would have just 216 seats against 232 now.

It may be, however, that Labour dodges a bullet – because while the boundary changes would have given the Conservatives a bigger majority, they would have significantly fewer MPs – down to 311 from 330, a loss of 19 members of Parliament. Although the whips are attempting to steady the nerves of backbenchers about the potential loss of their seats, that the number of Conservative MPs who face involuntary retirement due to boundary changes is bigger than the party’s parliamentary majority may force a U-Turn.

That said, Labour’s relatively weak electoral showing may calm jittery Tory MPs. Two months into Ed Miliband’s leadership, Labour averaged 39 per cent in the polls. They got 31 per cent of the vote in 2015. Two months into Tony Blair’s leadership, Labour were on 53 per cent of the vote. They got 43 per cent of the vote. A month and a half into Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, Labour is on 31 per cent of the vote.  A Blair-style drop of ten points would see the Tories net 388 seats under the new boundaries, with Labour on 131. A smaller Miliband-style drop would give the Conservatives 364, and leave Labour with 153 MPs.  

On Labour’s current trajectory, Tory MPs who lose out due to boundary changes may feel comfortable in their chances of picking up a seat elsewhere. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog. He usually writes about politics.