Northumberland politicians on tax-credits row

Left, Julie Porksen and, right, Anne-Marie Trevelyan MP.
Left, Julie Porksen and, right, Anne-Marie Trevelyan MP.

Local Lib Dems have criticised Berwick's Tory MP for her stance on tax credits, but Anne-Marie Trevelyan says the pause ensures a better framework can be put in place.

Chancellor George Osborne has said he will 'lessen' the impact of tax-credit cuts following a defeat in the House of Lords yesterday, which has sparked constitutional concerns after unelected peers blocked measures voted through by MPs in the House of Commons. Mr Osborne has said he will now set out new details on changes to tax credits in his Autumn Statement at the end of November.

Berwick Liberal Democrats spokeswoman Julie Porksen has challenged Mrs Trevelyan's voting record on the cuts and called upon her to explain why she is supporting changes which will take an average of £750 away from 3,700 families and 5,400 children in the Berwick constituency, or 15,200 families and 21,300 children across Northumberland.

Liberal Democrat MPs and peers have opposed the move and say it will undermine the work of the previous Coalition Government to make sure it always pays more to be in work than on benefits.

Ms Porksen said: "These changes hammer families in north Northumberland and completely undermine any claim the Tories have of being on the side of working families. The changes are particularly disgraceful given that when they were challenged on this issue by Liberal Democrats during the General Election campaign, the Conservatives told the electorate they would not introduce such a policy.

"The result of their deception is that 5,400 children in Berwick constituency and 200,000 children in the North East will now be living in poorer households, reducing their life chances and making it harder for their parents to make ends meet. Mrs Trevelyan should look those families and children in the eye and explain to them why she has voted to make them a lot worse off. £15.2million a year will be taken out of people’s pockets and out of the county’s economy.”

Mrs Trevelyan said: "While I support the direction of travel of this policy framework - shifting from a low-pay, high-tax economy with reliance on benefits to a high-wage, low-tax economy - I have had concerns for some time which I have been raising with the Treasury about the roll-out, on a practical level, from April next year.

"I don't have an issue with tax credits being reduced for families with an income of £30,000. We have a benefit cap at £23,000 so it's illogical to pay tax credits - which are, let's be honest, a benefit - to families with incomes higher than that."

Mrs Trevelyan explained that she has been in discussions with HM Revenue and Customs about creating a costed model to include the full package of financial changes, including things like 30 hours of free childcare. "Now that there's a pause, this gives us a chance to put in place a framework which ensures that those most in need aren't badly affected," she added.

Scott Dickinson, chairman of Berwick Constituency Labour Party, said: "It's clear that the MP has serious doubts about the fairness of this policy, but she needs to have the courage of her convictions. She needs to pledge here and now that she won't vote for a future policy that will take thousands of pounds from working families across north Northumberland.

"She needs to explain why her leader ruled out changes to tax credits which benefit low paid workers, of which there are many in Berwick constituency, before the election only to break his promise within months of the General Election?

"She's voted twice for the tax credit raid on working families now and it was only down to the Labour party in the House of Lords to right her wrong in the House of Commons. She needs to pledge to have the courage of her convictions and stand up for residents and not blindly follow her party. She needs to put people before politics.”

But Ms Porksen also said it was 'disappointing to note the way Labour politicians in the North East have approached this issue'.

"In the Commons in July, the majority of Labour MPs in this region abstained rather than vote against the cuts," she said. "They have been joined this week by Labour peers in the Lords who declined to support a Liberal Democrat 'fatal motion' to strike down these changes.

"Labour have badly lost their way as a credible opposition if they would prefer to sit on their hands in Westminster than take a stand on an issue that affects so many working people here in Northumberland.”

Mr Dickinson said: "It's rich that the local Liberal Democrats have chosen to do a Damascene conversion on the many problems created by a piecemeal approach to reform of work and welfare. It was the Liberal Democrats who, in tandem with their coalition partners, the Conservatives, introduced 'workfare', benefits sanctions and a whole swathe of 'reforms' to disability benefits.

"I guess that their 'conversion' to Labour's campaign to address the fundamental unfairness of the approach to the welfare changes is welcome, but we can't help but feel that it's got more to do with their party political aims as a fourth party than standing up for the significant numbers of people disadvantaged by these savage and heartless changes. After all, I'm sure that residents will wonder why the new-found concern for people disadvantaged by the changes over the last five years isn't hypocritical and too little, too late."