General election: The child-benefit cap shows the Tories for who they really are – Christine Jardine

Every time I think about the Conservatives’ cruel and unnecessary two-child benefit cap, I think of my parents and their three girls growing up in Clydebank and what it might have meant for us, writes Christine Jardine.

Monday, 11th November 2019, 11:45 am
Christine Jardine grew up in the heart of shipbuilding country in Clydebank, enjoying a comfortable and happy working class life
Christine Jardine grew up in the heart of shipbuilding country in Clydebank, enjoying a comfortable and happy working class life

Being in York earlier this year got me thinking about one of the city’s most well-known sons, the great turn-of-the-century entrepreneur and philanthropist, Joseph Rowntree.

Rowntree was a fierce champion of social reform. In the late 1800s when he was building his fortune, in what was a largely Dickensian Victorian society, he actually looked after his workforce.

They had free education, health care and pensions. Here was a man who embodied that true British value, a Liberal British value, of looking out for those less fortunate than yourself.

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Joseph Rowntree (1836 - 1925) was an industrialist who co-founded the Rowntree chocolate company (Picture: Davis/Topical Press Agency/Getty Images)

Boris Johnson and his Government could do with taking a leaf out of that particular book.

Possibly the greatest embodiment of this government’s lack of humanity and empathy – aside from Jacob Rees-Mogg – is the Department for Work and Pensions.

Before being made Lib Dem shadow Home Secretary by Jo Swinson, I was responsible for covering the Work and Pensions portfolio in the Commons.

It gave me the chance to bring the most troubling issues that I was dealing with every day on behalf of my constituents to the national stage.

In the last Parliament, my team and I dealt with over 400 different pieces of casework relating to employment, welfare, disability support and pensions.

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And when it comes to the DWP, the most difficult part was knowing where to start. It’s the department which those who are most in need, need most. It’s there to help us through the toughest of times.

But the reality is, the Department for Work isn’t working. Take the assessments for Personal Independence Payments. They’re simply not fit for purpose.

And the benefits freeze, which the Tories have finally pledged to bring to an end in a cynical pre-election policy ploy.

A happy working class upbringing

Thank you Mr Johnson, but it’s too little, too late; the benefits freeze has already been described as the biggest single cause of poverty in modern Britain. That is an outrage.

And as for Universal Credit, it’s been a universal Failure. The most frustrating part is that it might actually have simplified things and got people back into work if the Tories hadn’t dipped into the pot and syphoned off £3 billion.

Therese Coffey is now the seventh Work and Pensions Secretary in nine years, and not one of them have gotten to grips with the problems in the system.

Late payments, budgeting problems, all serving to compound the stress for those already suffering, creating rent arrears and putting more people on the streets.

One of the things that became most clear to me during my time in the last Parliament was how easily any of us could end up in such challenging circumstances.

For my first decade and a half, I lived in rented accommodation in Clydebank in the heart of shipbuilding country just as the industry was on its way out. But my sisters and I were well provided for. A comfortable, happy, working class life.

And then two things happened in those years which, much later, shaped where I stand today.

First my Dad was made redundant. Thankfully, he was able to get another job, and at the time I didn’t notice any difference.

But now I see all too clearly that there were sacrifices my parents made, corners that were cut, and I’m in awe of how they coped without missing a beat.

Immoral, punitive and discriminatory

By then they had three girls, and every time I think now about the cruel and unnecessary two-child benefit cap I think of those days, what it might have meant for us.

Supposing my Dad hadn’t made ends meet, hadn’t got that job?

You see, the Tories love to tell us that they are the defenders of the family. But this immoral, punitive and discriminatory cap shows otherwise. It reveals their true colours.

And even if you do buy into their argument that people should be able to afford a third or fourth child before thinking about having one, well I say, things change. Life is uncertain, and your financial situation can be flipped upside down in a heartbeat. So what do we say to those people? Your child will have to suffer because you’ve run into some bad luck?

From Thatcher to Johnson, we see it time and time and again: families are just not safe under the Conservatives.

And so to the other thing that happened to my family. When my sisters were just 13 and eight, my Dad died.

By then my parents had bought their own house and moved out of Clydebank, but overnight we went from that increasingly comfortable existence to being a one-parent family.

And that’s where my admiration for my mother and every other parent I meet who finds themselves in that position comes from. I look at them and I know I owe it to them to make this Government recognise the support they deserve for their children.

Without it, how on earth will we ensure that the next generation gets the chance to fulfil their potential? We are already in the unacceptable situation where two thirds of the children living in poverty in this country come from a household where at least one parents is working. That’s not just unacceptable. That’s failure.

A failure by government to look after those who need its help most. A failure to give our children the best start in life. A failure to protect the welfare state. And that’s the reason why I’m fighting to be re-elected to Parliament.

Yes, Brexit must be stopped, the climate emergency must be addressed, and our services and infrastructure need the proper investment of which they’ve been starved.

But my priority will always be to continue standing up for the hard-working, decent people of Edinburgh West who have suffered too long at the hands of an uncaring government.

Christine Jardine is the Scottish Liberal Democrat candidate for Edinburgh West