Wednesday, 23 March 2016

Newspaper column 23 March 2016 - My thoughts on the changes to PIP

The Chancellor, George Osborne delivered his latest Budget last Wednesday and I was pleased with the measures that he announced that directly impact on Cornwall.  The A391 link to the A30 was mentioned again, as were the community-led housing schemes that will be funded out of Stamp Duty receipts on second homes.  I was pleased with the increase in the personal allowance and the reforms to business rates.  The people of our constituency are going to benefit in a number of ways and so I welcomed the Budget.

The Chancellor did not highlight the changes to the Personal Independence Payments in his Budget speech and as these changes emerged I decided to speak out.  On Thursday I released a short statement; “Having looked at the proposed changes to the Personal Independence Payment (PIP) benefit in the Budget, I am concerned at the impact these could have on some of the most vulnerable people in our society. I am seeking further clarification as to the exact nature of the changes before I decide whether they are something I can support.”

I remain convinced that the welfare system needs reform, for many reasons it isn’t fit for purpose.  However, the necessary changes need to be made sympathetically in a way that does not harm those most in need.  A blanket reduction in benefits does not fulfill these criteria.

This position mirrored that of my West Country colleagues.  I was then asked to appear on both TV and radio on Friday, which I duly did, laying out my position that I could not support cuts to the income of the vulnerable members in our society, while simultaneously moving the 40% tax band threshold in favour of higher earners. I stated my position clearly – that I was prepared to rebel against this measure should it become necessary. 

As many of you will be aware, Iain Duncan Smith the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions resigned late on Friday night.  His position was similar to mine, taking the issue further and questioning the Government’s commitment to One Nation policies.  The PIP reforms and the resignation story dominated the weekend political media and I again appeared on the radio on Sunday evening to reiterate my position,

Monday afternoon saw the new Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Stephen Crabb, announce the withdrawal of the PIP reforms, a move that I support.  It gives us the chance to re-think these changes and to focus on ensuring that the most vulnerable in our society do not suffer.

I am pleased that the Government has listened to my concerns, along with several of my colleagues and decided to drop these changes. I was prepared to rebel against these changes and will speak up and do so again if needed, if I believe the Government is wrong and there is a requirement for me to do this, on behalf of the people of Mid-Cornwall who I have been elected to represent.

As I write this on Monday evening, I am reminded of the old adage that a week is a long time in politics; it certainly feels true this week.

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