I am a student at the University of Oxford and one of your constituents. I was saddened to learn that you were not amongst the handful of Labour MPs who were courageous enough to vote against the welfare cap on March 26th. I am sure you are aware of Save The Children’s prediction that the decision will push 345,000 children into poverty in four years and their estimate that an enormous £3bn of savings will be needed for the Government to not exceed the cap. At a time when the poorest people and the disabled are already being hit hard by real terms wage freezes or cuts, rapidly rising living costs, and the shrinking of vital public services, it is nothing short of moral bankruptcy for a party that supposedly stands against the coalition’s attack on the poor – who are bearing the brunt of austerity measures – to support such a policy.
Research conducted by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation has found that there is scant evidence for the mythical culture of worklessness that is so often alluded to by Labour, Liberal Democrat and Tory MPs alike; the majority of non-elderly benefits recipients are in work, reliant on government support because their wages are too low. Recipients of disability benefit are often unable to work; those people commonly termed “benefit scroungers” often suffer from low living standards, lack of education, lack of available gainful employment, and difficulties in meeting childcare costs, and sometimes alcohol and drug related problems. Over 22% of children in Oxford live in households below the poverty line and 12 of our 85 areas are among the 20% most deprived areas in England. By voting for this cap, you have failed your most vulnerable constituents.
It has become increasingly clear to me that Miliband et al are nothing more than proponents of ‘Austerity Lite’, a watered-down neoliberal Tory tendency stemming back to the Blairite years. I want to believe in the Labour Party because I cannot bear to see the consequences of this government’s actions and I want to be able to vote for a real alternative, but Labour has failed to provide that alternative. I would have probably voted for you in the next General Election regardless of my views of the party leadership, because I believe you have a generally good voting record; but I can no longer in good conscience support you, or any Labour MP who was not amongst the 13 rebels on March 26th, next year.
The decision of you and your colleagues to vote yes says more about the state of the modern Labour Party and its principles than any election pamphlet or television debate will. I had hoped that the Miliband era would turn its back on tired right wing rhetoric about being tough on welfare recipients, but sadly the almost unanimous support for the welfare cap and the appointment of Rachel Reeves as the Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions demonstrate that it is business as usual for New Labour.