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An Historic Day - What Will MPs Do With the Welfare Bill?

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Tuesday sees the Second Reading in Parliament of the Welfare Benefits Up-rating Bill - an historic day. MPs are being asked whether they are prepared to deliberately, with all of the facts before them, choose to significantly reduce the living standards of millions of their voters.

More than that, they'll be asked if they want to, facing the clear risk of a triple-dip recession, pull millions of pounds out of the pockets of people who, had they received them, would certainly have fed them back into the economy in buying food, buying energy, buying services.

Well we can start with many of the one in five UK workers paid less than a living wage - who either as parents, or as householders, will have been receiving state support to enable them to continue to live. The responsibility should, of course, being lying with their employers - if they all paid a living wage the net benefit to the government would be about £7.5 billion - but the government is showing no inclination to lift the minimum wage to a liveable level, ending the past decades of corporate welfare payments.

We can add in many of the 3.3 million people who are working fewer hours than they want to. Large numbers of those, as parents or as householders receiving housing benefit, will also suffer.

And we can add in the hundreds of thousands of people surviving - not living, but surviving - on the measly sum of £71/week or less in job seekers' allowance, plus for some help for their family and housing. Those include the people who applied for jobs at a new Tesco near Tynemouth, 69 out of 70 of whom were unsuccessful.

And we can add in, millions of children. As the Child Poverty Action group says, the Bill can "only increase absolute child poverty, relative child poverty and material deprivation for children". Its figures show that having got, slowly, below 20%, the rate of child poverty is set under this regime to leap back to 25% in a decade.

And in the list of sufferers we can add in all of the businesses in which those pounds might have been spent...

The fact that about 60% of this effective benefit cut will hit people in work is well-known; what's been less explored is the fact that next week, that 60% will be a different group of people to this week's - the working and workless poor are often the same people cycling in and out of insecure jobs.

One of the government's favourite arguments in favour of this is Bill is that over recent years, benefits have risen faster than the glacial, and below-inflation, raises in wages. But that's a short-range view - take in the longer term and since 1979, benefits have risen at a significantly lower level than wages - job seekers' allowance fell from almost 21% of average earnings to 11% in 2010.

In the case of Local Housing Allowance, the government is proposing a CPI rise in April then 1% for the following two years. As Crisis has pointed out, this benefit has always been linked to the actual costs of private rents - as it surely needs to be to continue to keep a roof over households' heads.

In making earlier cuts to housing benefit, the government claimed this would lower rents. This hasn't happened. Last year in London rents rose 7% - and talk to anyone looking for a home to rent this week in London or the South East, hear about the level of competition for vaguely affordable homes; you're not going to think that situation will change any time soon.

Now would be a really good time to take a step back and ask why the welfare bill has kept rising. That's been because more people are making benefit claims due to the recession and as a result of rising rents and living costs, not because of overly generous uprating.

And take the longer view, it's because Britain has moved towards being a low-wage job market, with insecure, unstable employment (including the obscenity of zero-hours contracts, with business taking an increasing share of GDP in profits, while the share available to workers has fallen by around 10% over the past four decades.

What we need to do in the longer term is change the direction of the British economy - bring manufacturing and food production back to Britain, restore strong, diverse local economies built around small businesses and co-operatives paying decent wages on which their staff can build lives and communities.

That's a longterm project - but today we can think about the British people - the nurses, the soldiers, the teaching staff, the local government workers, and yes, the unemployed - and say no to the Welfare Benefits Up-rating Bill.

That's what Green MP Caroline Lucas will be doing in Westminster on Tuesday. What's your MP doing?