Sharon Hodgson MP

Working hard for Washington and Sunderland West.

Sharon Hodgson MP responds to constituents' queries over the Welfare Reform and Work Bill

Welfare Reform and work Bill.  As constituents may be aware, I abstained in this vote, and although I know many people disagree with this course of action, I would like to explain to you why I believed it to be the decision I had to take.

Houses of Parliament

One of the principle purposes of the Welfare Bill was to deliberately muddy the waters around the issue of welfare, and to put a section of measures next to each other that I, and many Labour supporters, would wholeheartedly agree with and utterly object to in equal measure.

On the one hand, we have the creation of three million apprenticeships (including many we campaigned for at the General Election), investment in the Troubled Families Program, and the lowering of social housing rent.

On the other, there were policies such as cuts to funding for people with disabilities (yet another attack on the disabled) and the scrapping of targets on abolishing child poverty, things that no rational caring person could support.

As such, it was a Bill designed by the Conservatives to fragment the opposition, blurring lines and contradicting itself, and I found it incredibly distasteful that the Government was using our welfare system in order to score political points.

To me, opposing the parts of the Bill that I believe passionately in, like improving chances for young apprentices or helping lower spiraling rents which affect people every single day, would be something as difficult to do as it would be to support the things I fundamentally oppose.

It is very easy to stand on a point of principle on the benches of the House of Commons at a time when in the real world people who could use the help that some of these policies could bring about are struggling.

As a way around this extremely difficult issue, Labour tabled what is called a "reasoned amendment", which is a way of stating which parts of a Bill you oppose and which you support when you abstain.

It enabled me to not vote for or against the overall Bill, but instead make it clear which parts I supported and opposed.

In this way I could constructively engage with this Bill, rather than turn my back on it in an act of defiance that would have ultimately helped nobody.

Furthermore, the Welfare Bill still has a long way to go before it leaves the House of Commons, or eventually becomes law.

The Committee Stage comes next, which is where we will be able to scrutinise the Bill line by line and table amendments to each section of it, and Labour have already published a list of amendments we are hoping to push through, including preventing the abolition of child poverty targets, and removing the new benefit cap from people who are responsible for children under two, or carers, or those who have suffered domestic violence.

Each one of these will have to be voted on by MPs and we will be working hard to lobby as many MPs as we can to push these so that they are included in the final Bill.

Then the Bill returns for its Report Stage, and finally it's Third Reading.

At these points it is still possible for me to vote against the entire Bill if I believe that is the only course of action left, and I will not take this decision lightly.

This is a Bill I never wanted to see.

I wanted a Labour Government putting forward Bills that would have made people and families up and down the country better off, with higher pay and more secure work.

I wanted to see more investment, not mindless cuts.

However, the results of the 2015 General Election have meant that we have to work in a new environment, and we need to come to terms with that.

Just opposing everything that the Government do shows that we are not a party ready to take tough decision or take a stand on issues.  It simply shows we are trying to make points rather than make legislation, and going ahead like this will only lead to further losses at the ballot box in the years ahead.

I don’t want Labour to become like the SNP, who have chosen the easy path of blanket opposition, I want us to be acting and engaging and trying to work to make Government Bills better, rather than turning our backs as they pass them regardless, using their, albeit small, majority.

None of these decisions have been easy, and these are issues I have thought long and hard about.

However, I believe an opposition has to do more than just oppose, and I think Labour are stronger when we stick together and make the right decisions, not just the easy ones.

I hope you can understand my decision, even if you do not agree with it, and as my constituents, please do feel free to contact me again about this, or any further developments on this Bill in the future, as I will continue to think long and hard about it in the months ahead.

Sharon Hodgson MP

Last updated 31/07/2015

http://services.parliament.uk/bills/2015-16/welfarereformandwork.html

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