Workfare vote in House of Commons

                                                                                                          27 March 2013

 Workfare vote   

Thank you for writing to me regarding the vote in the Commons last week on the Government’s proposals on workfare. I am sorry that you disagree with my decision to abstain, and I wanted to set out the reasons for that decision. There was a great deal of debate within the Parliamentary Labour Party on the decision to abstain and many disagreed with it.

 Firstly let me say that this Government’s attempt to divide those on low incomes into skivers and strivers  by attacking the unemployed and those on benefits is cruel, divisive and entirely unacceptable. The deliberately created stereotype of lazy scroungers who have to be forced into work is both untrue and dangerous.

 I recommend this recent mythbusting report which hightlights how false much of the current language about poverty is: .

 The Labour Party is committed to standing up for the vulnerable in society and attacking the  false divide between deserving and undeserving poor.

 It is true that sanctions have always been part of the welfare state, for the tiny minority who may abuse benefits or who do not seek to find work when they can. It is certainly part of the fairness agenda that there should be these sanctions just as there should be sanctions for those that evade their duty to pay tax.

 It is clear that the Government got their workfare proposals in a mess, they were warned when they made them that they were unworkable but they still rushed them through. Clearly we were not going to vote to support them.

 Having studied the successful legal challenge and the Government proposals, our front bench team led by Shadow Secretary of State Liam Byrne concluded that the vote came down to the question of whether the DWP should have any legal power whatsoever to stop benefits for people who won’t try to find work at all. I believe that is a matter of interpretation, but it was their strongly held view that that was the case, and that it was the message that would be sent by a Labour vote against the measures.

Moreover, they had negotiated an agreement with the Coalition which would deliver a comprehensive review of the sanctions regime, if we did not vote against the measures. This review would be of benefit to all those in receipt of benefits, bringing greater transparency on sanctions and how they are applied by job centres. Recent stories in the press of job centre targets for sanctions (always denied by the Government) highlight the importance of such of review. It should  deliver a fairer system overall.

 Additionally the Government made it clear that if the measures did not pass, they would be further cuts in benefits to pay for the compensation.

 I discussed the vote with many colleagues in the Labour Parliamentary Party before coming to a decision. Many colleagues whom I respect greatly including Ian Mearns, Ian Lavery, Grahame Morris, Mary Glyndon and Nick Brown disagreed with the frontbench interpretation and decided to vote against the measures.  The Unite Union of which I am a member also supported a vote against.

Many colleagues however felt it was important to back the frontbench position. Ultimately it came down to a judgement call and I took the decision to abstain in accordance with the frontbench recommendation. I recognise you may not agree with that decision but I hope that you do now understand my reasons.

Yours sincerely

Chi Onwurah

Labour MP for Newcastle upon Tyne Central


6 thoughts on “Workfare vote in House of Commons

  1. M Davidson

    From paragraph 5 to paragraph 6 you completely contradict yourself …
    Liam Byrne is better off within the Tory party where he belongs …
    Government reviews = nothing will happen to change the situation for the better …
    If you cant stand up for people now , over things like this , what exactly are you doing in parliament in the first place ?
    At least Nick Brown retains some dignity …

  2. Peter Stabler

    Thankyou for spelling out your reasoning. My message is a question.
    My question is relevant to this issue and your choice of vote – Given that I want to vote for a representative who will stand up to the Tories, the banks and big business and give the down trodden in this country an even break, who should I vote for at the next General Election ?

  3. Simon Drew

    Dear Chi

    I am very very disappointed about your decisions to abstain. Frankly I think it was an utterly disgraceful position for the Labour leadership to take. The bill is a vile piece of legislation and Liam Byrne has totally failed to mount any effective opposition.


  4. Patrick Rafferty

    What an abysmal dereliction of duty you have performed. That you can have the effrontery to stand as a politician claiming to be of the Labour Party and yet, who feels exonerated, by abstaining in this form of vote, is truly , beyond comprehension.

    I was well aware how isolated from reality you politicians had allowed yourselves, just reinforces the moral decrepitude into which this sorry excuse for a party had allowed itself to become; that you were inclined to cite the views of one so repugnant as Liam Byrne as justification for your inaction, shows an abrogation of responsibility beyond comprehension.

    This is a sad day for any party having even somewhat tenuous links to socialism-your party most assuredly does not have that. Shame on you-and shame on all of those among you of similar ilk.

  5. Patrick Casey

    “The Labour Party is committed to standing up for the vulnerable in society and attacking the false divide between deserving and undeserving poor”
    Somebody obviously forgot to tell your Shadow Secretary of State that. Liam Byrne, 2011: ‘Labour is the party of hard workers not free-riders. The clue is in the name. We are the Labour Party. The Party that said that idleness is an evil. The party of workers, not shirkers’.
    Also, where do the people of Iraq, Afghanistan, Yugoslavia, Ireland, etc, feature in your Party’s commitment to ‘standing up for the vulnerable in society’?
    At once, you defend the indefensible and in the same breath you condemn central Governments attacks on the unemployed – pious words that will continue to hold no sway with ordinary people so long as you remain a member of the racist, imperialist, pro-cuts Labour Party.

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