Tommy Sheppard hits out at Tories over benefits

Tommy Sheppard criticised the Tories' view. Picture: Neil Hanna
Tommy Sheppard criticised the Tories' view. Picture: Neil Hanna
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SNP MP Tommy Sheppard has launched an oustpoken attack on the UK government’s “low tax, low welfare” philosophy, branding the mantra “facetious, glib and shallow”.

He told fellow MPs that a prosperous society was not just about individual wealth but also strong communities, and argued that well-funded public services benefited everyone.

Speaking in the Commons debate on the Budget, the Edinburgh East MP said: “We have grown used to hearing glib statements from the government and soundbites rather than substance.

“The latest mantra we hear consists of six words: the Conservatives believe in “high wages, low taxes, low welfare”. That is the type of society that they want to see.

“I want to say that I consider that statement to be facetious, glib and shallow, and that it is not a statement with which my colleagues and I agree.

“I want to see a society in which there are high wages, fair taxes and decent welfare provision for everyone.

“I believe that prosperity is not just about what we have as individuals and the wealth that one family gets through a wage packet, but about the things that we have together, in our society and in our communities.

“I believe in the whole concept of the social wage. If we know that we have well-funded, adequate, strong ­public services in respect of, for instance, health and education, and if we know that we have a strong system of social 
insurance that gives us a safety net should we fall ill, suffer disability, or find ourselves between periods of employment, we are much richer as a result.

“That is our attitude, and that is the philosophy in which we believe.”

He also claimed the government’s raising of the income tax threshold did less to help poor families than could be achieved if it had increased the amount low-income families could earn before losing benefits.

Fellow SNP MP Angela Crawley quoted figures from the Institute for Fiscal Studies showing that a £1000 increase in work allowance would give a single parent earning £12,000 an extra £650 a year, whereas a £1000 increase in the personal tax allowance would mean only an extra £70.

Mr Sheppard said: “Our manifesto had a proposal to increase the work allowance to 20 per cent to allow people to keep more of the money they earn. That would also provide a powerful incentive for people either to go out and get higher paid work or to get more work, knowing they would not lose benefits as a consequence.”

But he said the Budget proposals meant someone with a part-time job earning £5000 a year would either lose benefits or have to earn less than £5000 to keep their benefits.

He said: “Either way, their household income will go down. That will make the poorest in our society poorer still, and it is a serious indictment of this government that that is the direction they are going in.”

ian.swanson@edinburghnews.com