So, with all the kerfuffle over tax credits over the last couple of days, it has been an interesting time to watch BBC Parliament TV. Watching the Lords overturn the government’s attempt to turn tax credits on their heads through the use of a Statutory Instrument was particularly pleasing. Osborne and the government should have realised that this was going to be a controversial measure, and they should have approached this properly, through a financial bill or an amendment to a bill. In that way, the Lords would not have been able to send it back to the Commons – as they are not, by law, allowed to veto a money or financial bill. As it was, the govt. wanted to curtail discussion in the House of Commons and so introduced this measure in a Statutory Instrument, which meant that MPs could only approve or veto the measure, but not adapt it. And of course, no Tory MP vetoed it, despite the fact that some of them argued against approving it.
After the House of Commons had approved the measure, and before the Lords kicked it back last night, Osborne faced questions from the Treasury committee. He declared that he was “comfortable” with the “judgement call” he had made. At that stage, despite the protestations of the members in the House of Commons, he was completely sure of his position and he was going to forge ahead with the cuts as proposed.

He was in “listening mode” before the Lords’ vote, and apparently offered that if they kept their motion to a “motion of regret”, i.e., they would let the SI (Statutory Instrument) pass, then he would look and see if there was anything he could do. That seems to me to be the wrong way round, and it seems the Lords thought so too. Good. In my opinion, in the same way that he pointed to the Commons majority as support for his plans, he would have taken the approval of the Lords as a sign that they agreed with his policies, and I expect that there would have been no changes to the cuts. This is just my opinion, but when you take how relaxed and “comfortable” he was in front of the Treasury Committee, I can only think that the passing of the motion would have been what he relied on in the future. After all, what people say, and the points raised during debates, fade into the mists of time eventually, and all that is left is the result of the vote.

The picture above is taken from the interview he gave after the defeat of the SI in the Lords. During that interview he claimed that he was in listening mode and had been in listening mode as previously advised. Listening isn’t doing, though. Listening isn’t changing policy to mitigate the impacts on the lowest paid. Listening isn’t providing an alternative motion.

I don’t believe that George Osborne would have made any changes to this legislation if he hadn’t had it thrown back in his face. And that did need to happen. Taking money away from those on the lowest rung of the ladder is the cruellest and most vicious thing to do. People rely on tax credits to pay for their heating, or their rent, or food to put on the table. To take that away is to remove their reason to work, and I am sure that more people would end up out of work as a result.

I hope that George Osborne does really review and rethink his plans, so that the worst off in our society are not adversely and disproportionately impacted. But I have a sneaking suspicion that they will not escape unscathed. I hope that people are aware of what he was trying to do, and I hope that they can remember that in 2020, when it’s time to vote again for who we want in charge. But fate is fickle, and if things start going well, and if the economy turns around, it may be that there is a feel-good factor; after all, a rising tide lifts all boats, or at least that’s what they say. But at the moment, with inflation at zero, and growth slowing, things are not looking good. If there is one silver lining among the gathering clouds, it is that those on tax credits are not going to be more destitute than they already are – or at least, that’s how it looks at the moment.

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