Who are the Lib Dem welfare rebels?

Four Lib Dems, including Sarah Teather and Julian Huppert, voted against the bill and two abstained.

As expected, the coalition's Welfare Uprating Bill, which introduces a 1 per cent cap on benefit increases for each of the next three years, passed comfortably in the Commons last night, with MPs voting in favour of the bill by 324 to 268, a majority of 56. There was, however, a small but notable Lib Dem rebellion.

Four of the party's 57 MPs - Julian Huppert, John Leech, Sarah Teather, David Ward - voted not to give the bill a second reading, while Andrew George and Charles Kennedy formally abstained by voting in both lobbies. Of these six, three - George, Huppert and Kennedy - voted against Labour's amendment to introduce a jobs guarantee for the long-term unemployed, while the others abstained.

Three senior Lib Dems - Norman Baker, Lynne Featherstone and Chris Huhne - did not take part in the vote.

Below is a full guide to how the rebels voted and their reasons for doing so. Four of the MPs in question - Huppert, Leech, Teather and Ward - appear on Labour's new target list of 106 seats. The Conservatives intend to target 20 Lib Dem seats at the general election but haven't yet released a full list.

Andrew George (St Ives)

Abstained

Majority: 1,719

In his speech in the Commons, he said: "We do not know…what food price inflation will be in, for example, 2016. We are being asked to predict what the circumstances will be in the context of the rather arbitrary figure of 1%. I simply urge my right hon. Friend to keep an open mind, and to have a means by which we will uprate that is fair to both benefit recipients and those in work"

Julian Huppert (Cambridge)

Voted against

Majority: 6,792

Labour target 103

He tweeted last night: "I just voted against the Welfare Benefits Up-rating Bill 2nd Reading. Vulnerable people need support."

Charles Kennedy (Ross, Skye and Lochaber)

Abstained

Majority: 13,070

He tweeted last night: "I formally abstained frm voting for a 2nd reading and am looking now to work with like-minded Lib Dems to amend the bill in its later stages."

John Leech (Manchester Withington)

Voted against

Majority: 1,894

Labour target 31

In a blog entitled "Why  I will be a rebel tonight", Leech wrote:

"I find it objectionable that the Tories are ramping up the  “Skivers Vs Strives” rhetoric to justify a benefit cut to 7 million working families.

If you are one of those 7 million, you have made your choice to work. You should be encouraged by the system, whether that be through benefits or tax breaks.  That is why I strongly support rises in the tax threshold.

I accept the system should be simple, transparent and easy to understand. And it certainly isn’t now. But a cut to these working families will wipe out most of the gains these families will see through increases to their tax allowances.

And that is why I will be rebelling tonight."

Sarah Teather (Brent East)

Voted against

Majority: 1,345

Labour target 23

In her speech in the Commons, she said: "Percentages do not buy milk, bread or school uniforms—pounds and pennies buy those things, and it is in pounds and pennies that people will experience a cut.

"I do not enjoy voting against my own party, and I cannot vote for the Labour amendment, but with a very heavy heart I shall be voting against the Second Reading of the Bill. I hope that I, and any others who choose that course of action, will give the Government some cause for thought and reflection."

David Ward (Bradford East)

Voted against

Majority: 365

Labour target 10

In his speech in the Commons, he said: "I suspect, deep down, that far too many people on this side of the House believe that unemployed people are the undeserving poor, that they need to sort themselves out, and that we cannot possibly reward them with an increase. Let us remember, too, that this is not an increase. When inflation is taken into account, the measure will simply freeze the level of benefits that we have already decided will provide people with a minimum standard of living. The measure is not fair, and I will not support it."

Former Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy abstained from voting on the Welfare Uprating Bill. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Private renter poverty has doubled in a decade - so where's Labour?

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation named housing market failures as driving poverty. 

Labour’s economic policy task is enormous. It must find a coherent argument that addresses Brexit, the “left behinds”, and a nervous business community. But there is one policy area that should be an open goal – private renting. 

The number of private renters in poverty has doubled over the last decade, according to a new report from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. Those most likely to fall into poverty are working families – there were 2.8m of these people in 2014-15, compared to 1m a decade earlier.

“Failures in the housing market are a significant driver of poverty,” the report noted, after finding more than 70 per cent of private renters in poverty pay at least a third of their income in rent.

This is particularly the case if you consider the knock-on effect - housing benefit. This benefit was frozen by George Osborne, meaning that by 2015 Shelter calculated rates had fallen behind actual rents in nearly 70 per cent of England. For families out of work, of course, housing benefit is also included in the benefit cap. 

Private renter poverty is easily characterised as an inner-city problem – the kind cherished by the “metropolitan elite”. But in fact, across Great Britain as a whole, roughly one in ten children under 19 lives in a family that is privately renting and claiming housing benefit. The highest percentage was in Blackpool, followed by the Essex coastal area of Tendring, followed by London boroughs. Private renting is a trend that affects both the Remain strongholds and the Leave coastal towns.

So far, Labour has been relatively quiet on private renting. During the summer’s leadership campaign, Jeremy Corbyn promised to introduce “rent controls, secure tenancies and a charter of private tenants’ rights” (a promise he repeated as part of a longer speech in November). But this is hardly a blockbuster campaign. 

And the challenges are great. A convincing renting policy must explain how Labour would deal with a reactionary letting market industry (including pensioner voters), whether renting should be a step to buying, or an end in itself, and how new council and social housing would be allocated.

Labour could also, though, tie a rent campaign into other trends - the growing army of self-employed that find it hard to prove their wages to a landlord or mortgage lender, the working families on frozen benefits, and the employers that find their employees priced out of the local area. And pissed-off tenants are not hard to find. 

If Labour doesn’t move soon on an issue that should be its natural home, the government may steal the keys. In the Autumn Statement, Philip Hammond helped himself to Ed Miliband’s 2015 promise to ban letting agent fees. The government has also set up a working group with members of the private renting industry. (Yes, the government may also be selling off social housing under Right to Buy, but if you never had the option of social housing anyway, this may pass you by.)

Fixing the housing market takes imagination and a steeliness to take on entrenched interests. But if Labour does come up with a solution, it could touch the lives of voters, both Leave and Remain. 

 

Julia Rampen is the editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog. She was previously deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.