THE BLOG

Let's Stop Thinking Labour's Only Choice Is to Accept the Status Quo or to Give Into Tory Welfare Plans

21/07/2015 17:44 BST | Updated 21/07/2016 10:59 BST

Labour is not in a good place today - people are feeling bruised and confused about what we are in favour of and what we are against.

We need to sort it out - pull our party together and start challenging the Tories instead. That means stronger opposition to the Tories plans, but also setting out an alternative Labour approach.

The reality is that Labour did oppose the Welfare Reform Bill yesterday; we voted for a Labour amendment that would have stopped the whole Bill altogether.

But that's got completely lost in the muddle over the second vote which was an unsuccessful compromise to try to hold the Parliamentary party together.

So what do we do now?

We need to pull together to campaign against these plans and hold the Tories to account.

The Government says the Bill supports work. Rubbish. It does the opposite. Their policies make people worse off in work - especially if they are parents.

Instead of ending child poverty they just want to change its name - and then push more of our children into hardship, holding the next generation back.

The Bill does include positive plans to increase apprenticeships, which we support. But it also breaks David Cameron's pre-election promise not to cut child tax credits and child benefit.

Today the Labour Party in Parliament has started to put forward plans to change this bill - including stopping the Government ditching the child poverty target, and opposing the changes to Employment Support Allowance.

But I think we have to go much further. And we need to have the confidence to set out an alternative Labour approach - not just think we have to swallow the Tories' plans.

David Cameron's two child policy is really divisive. Many families with three kids are going to end up worse off in work as a result. How is that going to help them, the economy, or frankly even the taxpayer - if they end up cutting their hours or one parent staying home because they can't afford the childcare anymore? There will be an exemption for third children if the mother has been raped. But do they really expect rape victims to have to disclose distressing experiences or provide criminal evidence to the Department of Work and Pensions?

That's why I'm going to be campaigning over the summer for Labour to go much further in opposing and voting against these plans if we cannot get the changes we need.

But that's not enough. We also need to set up our own positive Welfare Reform Commission which genuinely supports work and helps children out of poverty, builds responsibility and respect into the system. It should look at how we get the childcare in place to help parents work, the training so people can get into better jobs, not just temporary work, the housing so we don't spend so much on housing benefit, and overhauls Universal Credit so that work pays.

Let's stop thinking that Labour's only choice is to accept the status quo or to give into Tory plans.

People are trying to say Labour has to choose - between our hearts and our heads, between standing up for our values but being unelectable on the one hand, or abandoning our principles and swallowing Tory plans on the other.

We don't have to do that. It's not who we are. And it won't work. I believe we need to have the confidence to oppose these divisive plans and set out a fairer stronger Labour alternative instead. We only win when we do so with both our heads and our hearts.

Yvette Cooper is the shadow home secretary and Labour MP for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford