UK Politics

Planned 1% benefits rises cap backed by MPs

Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith
Image caption Mr Duncan Smith is leading an overhaul of the welfare system

Labour MPs have failed to block controversial plans to cap working-age benefit rises at 1% as the proposals passed through the House of Commons.

The Welfare Benefits Up-rating Bill, which will cap the benefit rises until 2016, passed by 305 votes to 246.

Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith said spending had to be brought "back under control" or the "poorest in society will fare the worst".

Labour's Liam Byrne said "compassionate Conservatism" was no longer believable.

Monday's vote means the bill has completed its main Commons stages and the bill now proceeds to the House of Lords where peers will debate and vote on it.

If the Lords makes changes to the bill it will then return to the Commons for MPs to consider any amendments - both the Lords and Commons must agree on the wording of the bill for it to become law.

Benefits have historically risen in line with inflation and, without any change, would have been due to go up by 2.2% in April.

But the government says that with public sector pay rises capped at 1%, a similar limit should apply to working-age benefits such as jobseeker's allowance, employment and support allowance and income support as well as elements of working tax credits and child tax credit.

"This is not a decision at any stage that we take lightly," said Mr Duncan Smith during a brief third reading debate.

"But nonetheless our priority ultimately must be to make sure that we get the legacy left to us, of disaster and spending out of control, back under control."

Mr Byrne, the shadow work and pensions secretary, said: "I have never seen so much taken from so many, so fast.

"No one will believe there is such a thing as compassionate Conservatism ever again."

Tory MP John Redwood, who said he would "trust the judgement" of frontbench colleagues on the wisdom of the cap, added: "Ministers have to watch to make sure it doesn't become unintentionally more penal.

"What we want to see is much more work on the side of promoting jobs and growth because we come here to eliminate poverty not to make it worse."

Among a group of Liberal Democrat MPs calling for benefit rises to be linked to average earnings, former party leader Charles Kennedy said: "A tactical judgment I think has been taken by Conservative - not coalition, but Conservative - high command that this can be a very useful dividing stretch of water to place between themselves and in particular the Labour Party with a view to the next election."

The bill was branded "cruel and callous" by Green MP Caroline Lucas, who said: "What are we meant to make of the long-term policy intentions here?

"Unfortunately, I think it is very clear it is to chip away at the welfare state and to leave people to fend for themselves, with US-style deprivation for the unsuccessful.

"It is a scandal to expose poor people to this kind of risk and insecurity, especially at the same time the most wealthy are set to enjoy a significant tax cut."

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