NEW Holborn and St Pancras MP Sir Keir Starmer said today (Tuesday) that he abstained in a vote on the government's £12 billion cuts to welfare spending because the bill also supported more apprenticeships.
While 48 Labour MPs voted against the government's plans to cap benefits – including new Hampstead and Kilburn MP Tulip Siddiq – Mr Starmer last night followed the orders of his party's whips and abstained in a House of Commons vote.
He was immediately accused by his election rival Natalie Bennett, the leader of the Green Party, of letting his new constituents down.
Defending his decision, Mr Starmer said: "Child poverty in Holborn and St Pancras is already too high. Every week I see family after family in my advice clinic struggling to cope with the double whammy of low pay and poor housing. Tory proposals in the Welfare Reform and Work Bill and in the Housing Bill will increase child poverty and exacerbate the housing crisis in Camden. That is why I voted this week for Labour’s amendment to the Welfare Reform and Work Bill, which set out in terms why Labour opposes the Bill, including because of its adverse impact on child poverty."
But he added: "The Welfare Reform and Work Bill also includes measures to support more apprentices and measures to support the troubled families programme. Although these measures do not go far enough, Labour should support them in principle. That is why, when Labour lost the vote on its amendment, I abstained on the final vote on the Second Reading of the Bill to allow these measures to proceed to the Committee Stage (which comes next). I did so after receiving a face to face assurance from Andy Burnham MP, who I am backing in Labour’s leadership election, that if, at Committee Stage, major changes are not made to the measures which will impact on child poverty, he will, as Labour’s leader, oppose the Bill when it returns to the House of Commons for the final and critical vote at the Third Reading this autumn. I will follow the same course. Labour has a proud record on reducing child poverty and we should stand by it."
Ms Bennett, who came third when she stood against Mr Starmer at May's general election, said this morning: "I think many Holborn and St Pancras constituents, including many who voted for Sir Keir, will be astonished that given his background in human rights, he failed to opposed the cutting of the benefits cap, when even at its current level a High Court judge said it put Britain in breach of its obligations under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Similarly, the bill, in cutting child tax credit for third or later children in a family, is penalising children for being born into circumstances in which they had no choice."
She added: "This bill makes significant cuts to the family tax credit many workers rely on to survive in low-wage Britain where so many jobs are insecure and fail to provide the regular and full-time hours that workers want. Sir Keir has failed to oppose a Bill that will make it harder for many already struggling households to put food on the table and keep a roof over their head. I don't think this is what Labour voters expected when they cast their votes in May."