backbencher, benefit, benefits, Brecon and Radnorshire, Coalition, food bank, household, Jobcentre Plus, Liberal Democrat, political football, poverty, redistribution, Roger Williams, sanction, wealth, work
Let’s look at my constituency MP, Roger Williams. He is a backbencher, not directly involved in policy matters, but he is also an illustration of what is wrong with the Coalition government.
I have no doubt that Roger genuinely wants to help people. Unfortunately loyalty to his party (the Liberal Democrats) and the Coalition means that something happens whenever he gets into the Commons chamber, and his concern for his constituents gets left at the door or perverted to mean something else.
Look at his performance during the food bank debate. The first thing he said was, “I felt very uneasy that some of the most vulnerable people, such as those I have met in my constituency, were being used as a political football across this Chamber. They would not have wanted that. They often feel a sense of indignity about going to food banks. They feel that it is in some way their own fault, but in many cases it is not their fault at all.”
There are worse things to be than a “political football”, Roger. If you are in serious financial plight because of government decisions, for example, it is far worse to be ignored.
He seemed woefully ignorant of the number of food banks in his Brecon and Radnorshire constituency, naming only the facility established by the New Life Church in Llandrindod Wells (which officially opened last summer but had been running itself in since the early months of the year) and one that is planned in Brecon. The food bank in Knighton was established in October 2012, and there are others in Hay-on-Wye and Ystradgynlais. I believe Rhayader is covered by a ‘satellite’ of the food bank in Llanidloes, across the Montgomeryshire border. This means almost all the major towns are covered, and I know efforts are being made to bring coverage to as many villages as possible, also.
Rather than discuss how the government could help rid his constituency of the need for food banks, Roger unwisely decided to talk them up as valuable additions to the community: “Before the food bank was established in my constituency, I had no organised place to refer people to… At least now I can direct them to somewhere they will get help.”
That is not the point; they should not be necessary in the world’s seventh-largest economy. There is no less money in the UK now than there was in 2010 – clearly somebody is hogging it all for themselves. Shouldn’t Roger – and his fellow backbenchers – be trying to secure a more equitable redistribution of wealth?
Perhaps he thinks this can be found through work, which he said “is the best way out of poverty”. We all know that, under the Coalition government, this has become a hollow lie – more working families are in poverty than workless or retired households put together, because of the policies of Mr Cameron’s government.
At least he agreed that “work is not always available for people”. This provided him with an opportunity to discuss the benefit system, whose failure is an equal cause (with poorly-paid work) of the need for food banks.
Guess what? Roger thinks his government is “making progress to make it better”. You may find this observation delusional when coupled with his next observation – that “Jobcentre Plus seems to be using different criteria in different towns to impose sanctions on people. Obviously, when sanctions are imposed, people are left in great difficulty.”
These statements are mutually exclusive. The government cannot be improving the benefit system for claimants when its staff are deliberately bending the rules to cut payments for those who need them.
In the final analysis, Mr Williams appears confused and bewildered – a poor representative of his constituency but an excellent example of the Coalition government’s policies.
He acknowledges that people hate having to attend food banks, but welcomes their growth in his constituency – even though he doesn’t know how many are here already.
He follows the party li(n)e that “work is the best way out of poverty”, in the face of all the evidence that his government’s policies are worsening in-work poverty.
And he tells us benefit claimants are getting a better service – then criticises Jobcentre Plus for the arbitrary and underhanded way it removes that service from people who have nothing.
Perhaps he will be better-informed after he meets ministers “to find out why the sanctions in different jobcentres have different criteria; why they have different systems for writing to and contacting people in order to encourage them to attend meetings; and why, if people do not attend those meetings, they get sanctioned”.
But he will probably leave those concerns at the door, next time he enters the House of Commons.