Harriet Harman yesterday sought to quell Labour’s internal divisions over welfare policy by tabling a reasoned amendment to the government’s bill. Having previously refused to do so, Harman acted after conversations with 10 shadow cabinet ministers, including Andy Burnham and Yvette Cooper. They made it clear that it was unacceptable for Labour not to signal its objections to the bill through an amendment.
The amendment reads:
That this House, whilst affirming its belief that there should be controls on and reforms to the overall costs of social security, that reporting obligations on full employment, apprenticeships and troubled families are welcome, and that a benefits cap and loans for mortgage interest support are necessary changes to the welfare system, declines to give a Second Reading to the Welfare Reform and Work Bill because the Bill will prevent the Government from continuing to pursue an ambition to reduce child poverty in both absolute and relative terms, it effectively repeals the Child Poverty Act 2010 which provides important measures and accountability of government policy in relation to child poverty, and it includes a proposal for the work-related activity component of employment and support allowance which is an unfair approach to people who are sick and disabled.
A Burnham aide has now been in touch to express his unhappiness at its “weak wording”. I’m told that the Labour leadership frontrunner will be seeking “reassurance” from Harman that stronger amendments will be tabled at committee stage, including opposition to the planned two-child tax credit limit (the cause of much tension at Monday night’s PLP meeting). At a Press Gallery lunch on Tuesday, Burnham attacked “George [Osborne] and Harriet’s two-child test” and, to the surprise of his colleagues, revealed that at that day’s shadow cabinet meeting he proposed voting against the bill.
Meanwhile, as Jeremy Corbyn continues to gain momentum in the leadership race, there is discussion over whether some of those Burnham supporters who nominated the left-winger may publicly make their preference clear in the coming days.