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. 

Getty Images.
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Brexit is teaching the UK that it needs immigrants

Finally forced to confront the economic consequences of low migration, ministers are abandoning the easy rhetoric of the past.

Why did the UK vote to leave the EU? For conservatives, Brexit was about regaining parliamentary sovereignty. For socialists it was about escaping the single market. For still more it was a chance to punish David Cameron and George Osborne. But supreme among the causes was the desire to reduce immigration.

For years, as the government repeatedly missed its target to limit net migration to "tens of thousands", the EU provided a convenient scapegoat. The free movement of people allegedly made this ambition unachievable (even as non-European migration oustripped that from the continent). When Cameron, the author of the target, was later forced to argue that the price of leaving the EU was nevertheless too great, voters were unsurprisingly unconvinced.

But though the Leave campaign vowed to gain "control" of immigration, it was careful never to set a formal target. As many of its senior figures knew, reducing net migration to "tens of thousands" a year would come at an economic price (immigrants make a net fiscal contribution of £7bn a year). An OBR study found that with zero net migration, public sector debt would rise to 145 per cent of GDP by 2062-63, while with high net migration it would fall to 73 per cent. For the UK, with its poor productivity and sub-par infrastructure, immigration has long been an economic boon. 

When Theresa May became Prime Minister, some cabinet members hoped that she would abolish the net migration target in a "Nixon goes to China" moment. But rather than retreating, the former Home Secretary doubled down. She regards the target as essential on both political and policy grounds (and has rejected pleas to exempt foreign students). But though the same goal endures, Brexit is forcing ministers to reveal a rarely spoken truth: Britain needs immigrants.

Those who boasted during the referendum of their desire to reduce the number of newcomers have been forced to qualify their remarks. On last night's Question Time, Brexit secretary David Davis conceded that immigration woud not invariably fall following Brexit. "I cannot imagine that the policy will be anything other than that which is in the national interest, which means that from time to time we’ll need more, from time to time we’ll need less migrants."

Though Davis insisted that the government would eventually meet its "tens of thousands" target (while sounding rather unconvinced), he added: "The simple truth is that we have to manage this problem. You’ve got industry dependent on migrants. You’ve got social welfare, the national health service. You have to make sure they continue to work."

As my colleague Julia Rampen has charted, Davis's colleagues have inserted similar caveats. Andrea Leadsom, the Environment Secretary, who warned during the referendum that EU immigration could “overwhelm” Britain, has told farmers that she recognises “how important seasonal labour from the EU is to the everyday running of your businesses”. Others, such as the Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, the Business Secretary, Greg Clark, and the Communities Secretary, Sajid Javid, have issued similar guarantees to employers. Brexit is fuelling immigration nimbyism: “Fewer migrants, please, but not in my sector.”

The UK’s vote to leave the EU – and May’s decision to pursue a "hard Brexit" – has deprived the government of a convenient alibi for high immigration. Finally forced to confront the economic consequences of low migration, ministers are abandoning the easy rhetoric of the past. Brexit may have been caused by the supposed costs of immigration but it is becoming an education in its benefits.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.