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. 

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BHS is Theresa May’s big chance to reform capitalism – she’d better take it

Almost everyone is disgusted by the tale of BHS. 

Back in 2013, Theresa May gave a speech that might yet prove significant. In it, she declared: “Believing in free markets doesn’t mean we believe that anything goes.”

Capitalism wasn’t perfect, she continued: 

“Where it’s manifestly failing, where it’s losing public support, where it’s not helping to provide opportunity for all, we have to reform it.”

Three years on and just days into her premiership, May has the chance to be a reformist, thanks to one hell of an example of failing capitalism – BHS. 

The report from the Work and Pensions select committee was damning. Philip Green, the business tycoon, bought BHS and took more out than he put in. In a difficult environment, and without new investment, it began to bleed money. Green’s prize became a liability, and by 2014 he was desperate to get rid of it. He found a willing buyer, Paul Sutton, but the buyer had previously been convicted of fraud. So he sold it to Sutton’s former driver instead, for a quid. Yes, you read that right. He sold it to a crook’s driver for a quid.

This might all sound like a ludicrous but entertaining deal, if it wasn’t for the thousands of hapless BHS workers involved. One year later, the business collapsed, along with their job prospects. Not only that, but Green’s lack of attention to the pension fund meant their dreams of a comfortable retirement were now in jeopardy. 

The report called BHS “the unacceptable face of capitalism”. It concluded: 

"The truth is that a large proportion of those who have got rich or richer off the back of BHS are to blame. Sir Philip Green, Dominic Chappell and their respective directors, advisers and hangers-on are all culpable. 

“The tragedy is that those who have lost out are the ordinary employees and pensioners.”

May appears to agree. Her spokeswoman told journalists the PM would “look carefully” at policies to tackle “corporate irresponsibility”. 

She should take the opportunity.

Attempts to reshape capitalism are almost always blunted in practice. Corporations can make threats of their own. Think of Google’s sweetheart tax deals, banks’ excessive pay. Each time politicians tried to clamp down, there were threats of moving overseas. If the economy weakens in response to Brexit, the power to call the shots should tip more towards these companies. 

But this time, there will be few defenders of the BHS approach.

Firstly, the report's revelations about corporate governance damage many well-known brands, which are tarnished by association. Financial services firms will be just as keen as the public to avoid another BHS. Simon Walker, director general of the Institute of Directors, said that the circumstances of the collapse of BHS were “a blight on the reputation of British business”.

Secondly, the pensions issue will not go away. Neglected by Green until it was too late, the £571m hole in the BHS pension finances is extreme. But Tom McPhail from pensions firm Hargreaves Lansdown has warned there are thousands of other defined benefit schemes struggling with deficits. In the light of BHS, May has an opportunity to take an otherwise dusty issue – protections for workplace pensions - and place it top of the agenda. 

Thirdly, the BHS scandal is wreathed in the kind of opaque company structures loathed by voters on the left and right alike. The report found the Green family used private, offshore companies to direct the flow of money away from BHS, which made it in turn hard to investigate. The report stated: “These arrangements were designed to reduce tax bills. They have also had the effect of reducing levels of corporate transparency.”

BHS may have failed as a company, but its demise has succeeded in uniting the left and right. Trade unionists want more protection for workers; City boys are worried about their reputation; patriots mourn the death of a proud British company. May has a mandate to clean up capitalism - she should seize it.