JEREMY CORBYN



Jeremy Corbyn | Prime Minister’s Questions | 02 November 2016

Filed under: Prime Minister's Questions (PMQs)

Questions to the Prime Minister

Jeremy Corbyn

May I take this opportunity to welcome Neasa Constance McGinn? I hope that the evidently effective crash course in midwifery undertaken by my hon. Friend the Member for St Helens North (Conor McGinn) is not a sign to the Government that we believe in downgrading midwifery training.

Just a few months ago, on the steps of Downing Street, the Prime Minister promised to stand up for families who are “just managing” to get by. However, we now know that those were empty words, as this Government plan to cut work allowances for exactly those families who are just getting by. Is it not the case that her cuts to universal credit will leave millions worse off?

 

The Prime Minister

First, may I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on the birth, I understand, of his granddaughter? No? I am sorry. In that case, I am completely mystified. [Interruption.] In that case—[Interruption.] Wait for it. In that case, perhaps one should never trust a former Chief Whip.

On the point that the right hon. Gentleman raised in relation to universal credit, the introduction of universal credit was an important reform that was brought about in our welfare system. It is a simpler system, so people can see much more easily where they stand in relation to benefits. Crucially, the point about universal credit is making sure that work always pays. As people work more, they earn more. It is right that we do not want to see people just being written off to a life on benefits and that we are encouraging people to get into the workplace.

 

Jeremy Corbyn

It is a bit unfair to blame a former Chief Whip for some little bit of confusion—very ungallant. Can we not just admire my hon. Friend the Member for St Helens North for his work? [Interruption.] It is extremely rude to point.

The Prime Minister’s predecessor abandoned those same cuts to working people through the tax credit system. Now the right hon. Lady as Prime Minister is enacting them through universal credit. The Centre for Social Justice says that these cuts will leave 3 million families £1,000 per year worse off. Why is the Prime Minister slipping the same cuts in through the back door?

 

The Prime Minister

At least my former Chief Whip has a job. On the serious point that the right hon. Gentleman raises about universal credit, I repeat what I have just said. I think it is important that we look at why universal credit has been introduced. It was introduced because, under the benefits system under the Labour Government, we saw too many people finding that they were better off on benefits than they were in work. What is important is that we value work and we value getting people into work if they are able to work, but we want a system that is fair both to those who need the benefits and to those who pay for the benefits through their taxes. There are many families struggling to make ends meet who are paying for the benefits of others. I want a system that is fair to them as well.

 

Jeremy Corbyn

This week, an Oxford University study found that there is a direct link between rising levels of benefit sanctions and rising demand for food banks. A million people accessed a food bank last year to receive a food parcel; only 40,000 did so in 2010. I welcome the Government’s promise to review the work capability assessment for disabled people, but will the Prime Minister further commit to reviewing the whole punitive sanctions regime?

 

The Prime Minister

It is absolutely right that in our welfare system, we have a system that makes sure that those people who receive benefits are those for whom it is right to receive benefits. That is why we have assessments in our welfare system. But it is also important in our welfare system that we ensure that those who are able to get into the workplace are making every effort to get into the workplace. That is why we have sanctions in our system. What the right hon. Gentleman wants is no assessments, no sanctions and unlimited welfare. That is not fair to those who are accessing the welfare system, and it is not fair to the taxpayers who pay for it.

 

Jeremy Corbyn

According to a Sheffield Hallam University study, one in five claimants who have been sanctioned became homeless as a result. Many of those included families with children.

Could I recommend the Prime Minister supports British cinema, and takes herself along to a cinema to see a Palme d’Or-winning film, “I, Daniel Blake”? While she is doing so, perhaps she could take the Work and Pensions Secretary with her, because he described the film as “monstrously unfair” and then went on to admit that he had never seen it, so he has obviously got a very fair sense of judgment on this. But I will tell the Prime Minister what is monstrously unfair: ex-servicemen like David Clapson dying without food in his home due to the Government’s sanctions regime. It is time that we ended this institutionalised barbarity against often very vulnerable people.

 

The Prime Minister

I have to say to the right hon. Gentleman that, of course, it is important that, in our welfare system, we ensure that those who need the support that the state is giving them through the benefits system are able to access that. But it is also important in our system that those who are paying for it feel that the system is fair to them as well. That is right; that is why we need to have work capability assessments—it is why we need to have sanctions in our system. Now, the right hon. Gentleman has a view that there should be no assessments, no sanctions and unlimited welfare. I have to say to him that the Labour party is drifting away from the views of Labour voters; it is the Conservative party that understands working-class people.

 

Jeremy Corbyn

The housing benefit bill has gone up by more than £4 billion because of high levels of rent and the necessity of supporting people with that. Is that a sensible use of public money? I think not.

In response to the March Budget, I asked the Chancellor to abandon the £30 cut for disabled people on employment and support allowance, who are unable to work, but who, with support, may be able to work in the future—they want to be able to get into work. What evidence does the Prime Minister have that imposing poverty on people with disabilities actually helps them into work?

 

The Prime Minister

I am pleased to say that what we have seen under this Government is nearly half a million more disabled people actually in the workplace. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions has launched a Green Paper on work, which is starting to look at how we can continue to provide and increase support for those who are disabled who want to get into the workplace. But the right hon. Gentleman started his question by asking me about the increase in the money that is being spent on housing benefit. If he thinks that the amount of money being spent on housing benefit is so important, why did he oppose the changes we made to housing benefit to reduce the housing benefit bill?

 

Jeremy Corbyn

As the Prime Minister well knows, my concern, and that of my party, is about the incredible amount of money being paid into the private rented sector in excessive rents, and that could be brought under control and handled much better.

Many people in this House will have been deeply moved by the article by my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea East (Carolyn Harris) about the tragic death of her son and having to take out a bank loan to cover the funeral costs. The Prime Minister may be aware that the Sunday Mirror, with the support of the Labour party, is calling for an end to council charges for the cost to parents of laying a child to rest. It would cost £10 million a year—a very small proportion of total Government expenditure—to ensure that every council could ensure that those going through the horror of laying a child to rest did not have a bill imposed on them by the local authority to put that child to rest. I hope the Prime Minister will be able to consider this and act accordingly.

 

The Prime Minister

I recognise the issue that the right hon. Gentleman has raised. There are, of course, facilities available through the social fund funeral expenses payment scheme for payments to be made available to people who qualify and meet the eligibility conditions. Of course it is difficult for anybody when they have to go through the tragedy of losing a child and then face consequences of the sort that the right hon. Gentleman mentions. We are making sure, of course, in relation to local authorities, that they now have the extra revenues available to them through business rates and other local revenues. It is up to councils to consider what they wish to do on this, but I say to the right hon. Gentleman that there are facilities available through those social fund funeral expenses to deal with the issue that he raises.

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