OSheila Gilmore, until last May MP for Edinburgh East, reminds us that Labour MPs never voted for a restriction on welfare spending in the last Parliament, despite what both the Tories and the SNP were so keen to spin.


Remember the ‘Red Tory’ posters?  The ones that spread all over social media? The ones that lined up most of Scotland’s Labour MPs as the guilty and cruel men and women who were consigning people on benefits to … Well quite what was never spelled out.  The implication was to savage cuts in benefits.

The truth was somewhat less dramatic. But a reasoned explanation was drowned out by the constant repetition of those two words.  This followed a vote on what was called the ‘Welfare Spending Cap’.

Now the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) has used the word ‘cap’ in a number of different contexts.  There is a ‘cap’ on the amount of housing benefit that can be paid to people in private tenancies, which varies from area to area.  Then there is the ‘household benefit cap’.  This has an automatic effect on a single person whose total weekly benefit income reaches £350, and a couple or anyone with children whose income reaches £500.  At any one time there are around 20,000 households in the UK affected by this, many of them in areas of very high private rents or in temporary accommodation during a housing crisis.

Labour voted against the household benefit cap which was part of the Welfare Reform Act 2012.  There was understandable confusion when, in 2014, the Government introduced its ‘Charter for Welfare Responsibility’ which had a target for a maximum spend in any one year, based on their forecasts of spending in the next few years.  This was a confusion which the SNP and others were happy to allow to continue, even if only by failing to explain the difference.

So at first sight it might look as if as soon as the forecast spend (the ‘cap’ ) was reached benefits might be cut. For example, if the cap was breached a few weeks before the end of the financial year, might claims might be refused or cuts made to particular benefits?

Not so.  The Charter for Budget Responsibility stated that in the event of the overall cap being breached, the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions would have to lead a debate in the Commons on a vote-able motion, giving an assessment of the reasons for the breach. He or she could then propose one of three options:

  1. Explain what steps they propose to take to get spending back into line. This could involve cuts to some benefits, but the wording equally allows for proposals for other action to reduce spending.
  2. Increase the cap.
  3. Explain why a breach in the cap is justified. For example it might be argued that to try to cut some kind of benefit spending would only produce a rise in public spending elsewhere.

Now if you have stuck with me so far (and that I realise is not a given – and illustrates the problem of why ‘reasoned explanation’ so often fails against a two word put down) you may wonder why I am returning to this issue now?  It is because, barely noticed just before Christmas, the Secretary of State, Ian Duncan Smith, had to come to the Commons and seek agreement that his Welfare Spending Cap, in only its second year, would be breached for the next 3 years; but that this was all fine and nothing needed to be done.

Up to 90 minutes (Order of 14 December)

Secretary Iain Duncan Smith

That, pursuant to the Charter for Budget Responsibility: Summer Budget 2015 update, which was approved by this House on 14 October 2015, under Section 1 of the Budget Responsibility and National Audit Act 2011, this House agrees that the breach of the Welfare Cap in 2016-17, 2017-18, and 2018-19 resulting from the decision not to pursue proposed changes to tax credits, as laid out in the Autumn Statement 2015, is justified and that no further debate will be required in relation to this specific breach.

This happened because, under pressure from the successful opposition campaign on Tax Credits,  the proposed tax credit cuts would not be happening. So faced with changing circumstances, even a Tory well known for his ‘mission’ to cut benefits simply flexed his own rather bendy and pointless welfare spending cap.

Does this mean that benefit cuts aren’t happening?  Far from it.  As I argued in 2014 the absence of a welfare spending cap hadn’t prevented the Tories making many benefit reductions.  Nor will ignoring his own cap mean that cutbacks stop – £30 per week reductions for some people unable to work through sickness, accident or disability are on the way.  The original plans for Universal Credit have been changed even before UC really got off the ground,  meaning that the tax credit reductions defeated for current recipients at the end of last year, will reapply once (if? ) UC rolls out properly .

The ‘welfare spending cap’ was always largely a piece of political theatre rather than something serious.  But it certainly wasn’t the same as voting for benefit cuts, as so many dishonestly claimed and still do claim.

Having the procedure in place is not a bad thing. If spending rises against forecast it isn’t wrong to investigate why.  For instance, we need to control the constantly rising cost of housing benefit. Under the Office for Budget Responsibility’s current forecasts, spending on this will increase from £19.9 billion in 2012-13 to £24.2 billion in 2018-19. This is clearly unsustainable, and the only way this can be brought under control is by addressing our chronic shortage of affordable housing and the high level of private rents.   The National Audit Office has just reported that the DWP is spending more on assessing claimants than it is saving, with assessment costs having risen sharply in the last year.  (See my Huffington Post blog on this subject.)

I find myself hesitating before sending  this.  Is it worth stirring up the Red Tory stuff again?  But don’t be too surprised to hear that or something similar in the forthcoming Scottish elections.  And if we don’t counter these ‘myths’ we end up with them becoming ‘fact’ to be thrown back at us endlessly.

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31 thoughts on “Another myth about ‘welfare’

  1. The Red Tory “myth.”

    Labour support Privatisation, WMD renewal, Means Testing welfare and benefits, PFI PPP provision, warmongering, expanding the House of Lords, targeted austerity, the bedroom tax, regressive taxation, wealth distribution from poor to rich, tuition fees etc etc.

    During their time of opposition within Westminster they more commonly vote with or abstain on Conservative Government legislation relative to oppose.

    Labour oppose or abstain on every measure the Socially Democratic ideologically driven SNP propose in joint opposition partnership with the Conservative and Liberal Democratic Tory parties in the Scottish Parliament without exception.

    It makes you wonder where and how this “myth” ever managed to materialise itself from.

  2. Labour voted for amendments to the the Welfare reform bill 2012 then abstained (from responsibility) from voting against the second reading of the bill…therefore did not oppose the changes.
    On the 13th January MPs debated and voted on The Conservatives budget responsibility charter.
    Part of the Tory proposals was a commitment to make a further saving of £30 billion over the 3 year period. Although not clearly defined as to where the actual savings will come from, it was proposed £12 billion will be from working welfare, £13 billion from departmental budgets and £5 billion from tax avoidance.
    Tory led budget responsibility charter was passed by a huge majority of 515 MPs to just 18
    Labour voted with the Tories prior to the general election as an electoral message that they would be fiscally responsible to voters.

    as that didn’t work they had a second chance under Corbyn…

    When the new welfare reform policies were voted on in July 2015 184 Labour MPs again abstained rather than oppose the cuts…

    The red Tory tag came from Labour voting with the tories or abstaining under Ed Balls and Milliband and it is clearly justified…

    to use the latest round of “abstention” opposition as some way of cleaning Labours hands over welfare is merely an act of revisionism…

    Labour are neck deep and guilty as charged….despite attempts like this to distance themselves

    1. Nice post but inaccurate on one point.

      “The red Tory tag came from Labour voting with the tories or abstaining under Ed Balls and Milliband and it is clearly justified…”

      The Red Tory flag was initially earned under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. It was they who dragged the Labour party over to the Neo Conservative political ground.

      Alistair Darlings transformation from Socialist activist to Peer of the realm graphically illustrates this journey perfectly as a single example of the direction the party took in its quest for Westminster power.

      Its truly sickening to see this continued level of denial because it shows they are all too aware of the shame and betrayal the journey signifies.

      They are too ashamed to openly admit who they are which makes them worse than the Tories who glorify in who and what they are.

      1. I stand corrected good sir

        Since this article is an attempt to revise history and hope people have short memories I didn’t want to go too far back

      1. Look, I have to approve these comments, I don’t have to read them. They all seem broadly the same to me anyway. You guys are just a big broken record.

        1. Duncan is it actually possible to approve or reject a comment without first reading it and understanding its contents?

          1. Yes. I only bin obvious spam comments. I let through anything that appears at a quick glance to be written by a sentient being, though in your case clearly I make an exception.

      2. Duncan stopped talking to me a while back…..

        something to do with not being able to challenge the facts I posted….I think

        1. Simple objective consideration of the last 5 years of tory rule compared to labours tenure obliterates the red tory drivel. Being particularly hard of thinking you’ve no doubt never questioned how “left wing progressives” like the SNP could effectively cut and paste the “red tory” manifesto onto their own.

  3. “I find myself hesitating before sending  this.  Is it worth stirring up the Red Tory stuff again?”
    “And if we don’t counter these ‘myths’ we end up with them becoming ‘fact’ to be thrown back at us endlessly”

    Sheila I don’t think it is a myth that the Red Tories of which you are one were booted out of Parliment at the last election by the folks of Scotland that is a realiity and one reason for that was your commitment to keep to the Tories spending plan so that in effect was supporting the Tories in restricting welfare spending, coupled with the attitude that all the Scottish Labour section MPs could just turn up for a few days prior to an election and the folks of Scotland would vote them in no questions asked well the shock was that the folks of Scotland were no longer being taken for granted and fools by you and the the Scottish Labour section. The polls predict the Scottish Labour section being beaten by the Tories into 3rd place at the Scottish elections the only hope for the Scottish Labour section to escape extinction is to breakaway completely from the head office Labour Party UK and to form a new Scottish Independent Labour Party and support Scottish Independence or at the very least Devo Max, Home Rule or otherwise it’s curtains.

  4. Labour introduced the bedroom tax to the private rented sector and had plans to pilot the bedroom tax in the social sector. The tories in Government merely continued on Labours spade work.

    Labour are the party of PFI. of spending billions on nuclear weapons, when children starve in sight of said weapons.

    Labour introduced atos medicals, abolished incapacity benefit, raided hard working folks pension pots and bankrupted the UK for the umpteenth time.

    And let us never forget that as Brent Crude gushed to the London Exchequer in the 80s, “Scottish” Labour sat on their hands as Thatcher not only decimated Scotland’s industrial base, but used “Scotland” money to implement her policies. In essence Labour kept Scots in the central belt poor for electoral gain.

    Over decades Labour in Scotland pretended to the champions of the working poor, when in reality they ensured that the working poor remained and still remain poor, in the hope that these folk would continue to vote Labour for London elections.

    Most scots have had enough of labour. 35 years too late for us to be like Norway, but revenge has been meted out to a party that has always put party above folk, never mind country.

  5. The voters of the Edinburgh East constituency in the 2015 election should be applauded for their good work in removing such an unsuitable person from the post of MP. Her dismissal was truly deserved.

    1. As a voter of Edinburgh East let me tell you I look back fondly on the time my MP actually responded to constituents before taking decisions, not afterwards as Tommy does; and who knew, understood and cared for the area deeply, rather than being elected on the back of a constitutional debate.

      Democracy can be harsh, but it’s deeply unpleasant for those on the winning side to crow. Decent, hard-working people populate all political parties. Don’t bring this attitude here again.

      1. Regardless of Shelia being a decent MP is neither here nor there as she was given the boot by the good folks of Edinburgh East and I cannot sympathise with Shelia because even if she was a decent MP she was complicit in doing nothing to alert the head office about all the other Scottish Labour MPs who were careerists and skivers propping up the bar at Westminster.

      2. She was my local MP, and she wasn’t very good. She never did anything except what she was told by the leadership in London, as far as I can see.

        1. She brought her experience and understanding to bear brilliantly in housing debates. She worked tirelessly for local people championing their concerns and getting things done for them. I don’t know why you think it reasonable to dismiss a dedicated public servant so high-handedly, but it isn’t. Take your partisan bitterness elsewhere.

          1. Out with the old and in with the new so I bid a fond farewell to Sheila and wish her well in her new career outside of politics and I think that when Kezia gets deposed as leader of the Scottish Labour section post Scottish elections by her backstabbing comrades then I for one will be sad to see her go but her legacy for changing the rules so that the careerist ilk and clique are not guaranteed a seat in elections is fantastic and for that brave change the she will be fondly remembered. I think that maybe a change of career to media or acting would suit Kezia I think she would be great in Eastenders it would really cheer the story line up.

          2. Can’t speak for Sheila Gilmore, but I’m minded of a discussion between a colleague of mine and his then Labour MP in NE Scotland. The local populace were unhappy with a council decision that affected their area so a meeting was held between them, the local Labour councillors and the MP. The MP, as he always did, ignored their concerns and doggedly towed the Labour councillor’s line. The discourse went thusly (paraphrased of course);

            Constituent: You never take on board our views and always back the council.
            Labour MP: What are you going to do about it?
            Constituent: Maybe we won’t vote for you next time.
            Labour MP: I’ve heard it all before, and I’m still here.

            Too many Labour MPs had that attitude. Ironically, that particular Labour MP is no longer an MP though he stood down (in shame) before he could be kicked out. Labour always try to paint their elected representatives as tireless champions of the poor these days. For some it may have been true, but we all know, for far too many, it was nothing of the sort. For them it was a gravy train and a power trip. Its an image Labour will struggle to shake off and articles like this wont shift it.

          3. She was dismissive of my concerns and voted for things that I profoundly disagreed with. Does that make me bitter? I was certainly exasperated with her. I’m delighted that she’s gone.

            I’m sure she would have been good for you, because you also happily toe the London line, so you probably never had any differences of opinion. Are you bitter now, or does Ms Brock have your full support?

  6. Out of interest, why do the names of some posters appear in red while others are in black? Is it just luck of the draw or does it denote some kind of status? Genuinely interested.

    1. I’m not entirely sure. The ones in red appear to be links, so it is probably related to how people log in and whether they have gravatar accounts linked to their email addresses. A quick look suggests folk logging in with Twitter get a link to their Twitter home page, etc, while those with gravatar accounts don’t seem to need to log in but the system puts in a link automatically.

      We recently switched to allowing comment login via third-party sites, so it may be related to that feature.

  7. Yea, nice spin, Sheila, but the truth is clear. Like the Charter for Budget Responsibility, when Labour ended up voting for Tory Austerity, the vote on the Welfare Spending Cap was a trap by Osbourne which Labour walked into with its eyes wide open.
    Osbourne knew that Labour was positioning itself to the right to try to win back Tory voters it had lost from the Blair days and so it devised these measures to force the dominant Labour right to support them and create division on the left.
    As Sheila points out it was fabulously successful for the Tories. Labour’s Blairites, who then ran the Party, knew it had to maintain its “tough on benefit scroungers” approach if it had any chance of winning back former Labour voters it had lost to the Tories in the Brown days. Failure to do so would play into the hands of the Tory strategy, destined to be maintained right through to May 2015, that Ed Milliband was socialist, something the south of England could never voter for.
    So, typically, the vast bulk of Labour MP’s trooped through the lobbies with the Conservatives, the Scottish ones, no doubt, looking forward with relish to the next few months when they could campaign till their hearts’ content with their new-found allies to keep the Tories in control of Scotland. Political martyrdom is a noble thing!
    However, Sheila & co didn’t have it all her own way. Some mad, irrational Labour MPs just couldn’t understand how voting for a Tory Welfare Cap could be squared with their beliefs that people on benefits should not be targeted to support Osbournes Austerity measures. 15 voted against the measure, you know, the usual suspects Abbott, Riordan, Clark, Skinner…..
    But what’s this??? Amongst those supporting the SNP to oppose this Tory assault on the poorest in the UK were none other than Jeremy Corbyn, the current Labour Leader, and John McDonnell, the now Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer!
    It appears that the future Labour leadership were not so blase about trooping through the lobbies as our Sheila! And so, we must wonder why she has decided to raise this almost forgotten issue again when there is an on-going open assault by Labour’s right-wing to undermine Corbyn and McDonnell and steer Labour back onto the Blairite path.
    Because I’m not buying the stuff about setting the record straight on the “red Tory” label. That really would be shutting the stable door after the horse had emigrated to New South Wales. No, this is yet another clumsy attempt to marginalise Corbyn, McDonnell and the Labour left.

    1. I see the hard of thinking are in their assigned places. Perhaps you missed sturgeon standing up in holyrood and methodically explaining how the charter for budget responsibility in no way meant it was neccesary to impose billions in cuts. Of course she only did this after the election. Perhaps the SNP didnt read the document until then. Or perhaps they were bare faced lairs.

      1. Jack I thought I had been transported back in time and I was sitting in front of the TV watching a fairy tale from Jackanory instead I have been watching Nightmare on Red Tory Street spouting the same old same old drivel of SNP bad bad bad. I had a butchers and cannot find in the slightest any trace of the fictitious comment that the wonderful First Minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon you referred has supposed to have made your talents are wasted on here why not audition for Jackanory I am sure you will be a big success.

      2. You wrote
        “Simple objective consideration of the last 5 years of tory rule compared to labours tenure obliterates the red tory drivel. Being particularly hard of thinking you’ve no doubt never questioned how “left wing progressives” like the SNP could effectively cut and paste the “red tory” manifesto onto their own.”

        1) Yet you give no substantive evidence that Labour’s tenure obliterates the red Tory tag, furthermore with ATOS, deregulation of banking etc the red tory tag sticks

        2)”Being particularly hard of thinking you’ve no doubt never questioned …..” you are aware that ad hominem is only substituted for argument when there is a lack of genuine ideas?
        Pray tell how you came by this intimate knowledge of my thought processes?

        3) rather than “cut n paste” the SNP moved into policy areas long abandoned by New Labour, if Labour are going to leave some good ideas lying around unused, that’s just sloppy

  8. Jack, so why did Labour MP Diane Abbott and a number of others vote against the Charter for Budget Responsibility comment “I voted against the budget charter yesterday as I have seen first-hand in my constituency the alarming impact of the cuts to public expenditure.It is clear that the austerity policies of the Tory-led coalition have wrought incredible damage to our communities, the worst consequences of which we won’t witness for at least the next five to 10 years?”
    Read the debate in Hansard (if you can stomach the hypocrisy from your MPs).

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