Welfare cuts vote: Labour leadership contender Andy Burnham says he won't vote against Government

The Labour leadership contender is set to abstain on the Welfare Reform and Work Bill

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Indy Politics

Andy Burnham will not vote against the Government’s welfare cuts this evening, he has said.

In a statement to Labour members the leadership contender argued that though he opposed many of the measures in principle, he would abstain on them because it was important for the party leadership to vote together.

“I was very clear last weekend that we could not simply abstain on this bill ... I have led calls for the party to change its position,” he said.

“Collective responsibility is important and it is what I would expect as leader of our party. It is why I will be voting for our reasoned amendment and, if it is defeated, abstaining on the bill.”

Labour's amendment is very unlikely to pass as the party does not have a majority in Parliament and some of its own MPs are rebelling to vote for a separate anti-cuts amendment.

Mr Burnham said he would work hard to make changes to the Welfare Reform and Work Bill in its later stages, and that if those changes could not be made he would again recommend the Labour leadership vote against it at its third reading.

The main changes proposed by the Government are reducing the household welfare cap from £26,000 to £23,000, abolishing legally binding child poverty targets, cuts to child tax credits, cuts to Employment and Support Allowance, and cuts to housing benefit for young people.

The benefit cap changes, supported by the Labour leadership, will push 40,000 more children into poverty, according to a leaked memo from the Department for Work and Pensions.

Mr Burnham’s decision to abstain on the welfare cuts could be a move to try and gain more second preference votes from supporters of Blairite candidate Liz Kendall.

Were anti-austerity candidate Jeremy Corbyn to finish in second place in the vote, Mr Burnham would not be able to rely on second preference votes from the left-winger’s supporters under the Alternative Vote system in the final round.

Mr Corbyn has issued a statement saying he would vote down the welfare cuts.

“I am voting against the government on the Welfare Bill tonight because I believe it will increase child poverty,” he said.

“We should be proud of the fact the last Labour Government took 800,000 children out of poverty – but the approach of this Bill goes in the opposite direction. We cannot stay neutral on that.”

Mr Corbyn cited research by properly form Savills showing that the new lower benefit cap proposed by the Conservatives would make most of southern England impossible to live in for families needing a 3-bedroom property at market rent.

Labour is split on whether to support aspects of the welfare cuts, with a rebel amendment opposing the Government in full. Acting leader Harriet Harman and Blairite leadership candidate Liz Kendall have suggested that Labour should not necessarily oppose many of the cuts, including those to tax credits.

“If we carry on making the same arguments as we have over the last five years we’ll get the same results,” Ms Kendall said last week.

While Labour is against the Government’s package as a whole, a motion proposed by the party’s interim leadership expresses support for a number of specific welfare cuts included in it, including the benefit cap and cuts to mortgage support.

The contenders for the Labour leadership election are Andy Burnham, Jeremy Corbyn, Yvette Cooper, and Liz Kendall. All except Jeremy Corbyn have now confirmed that they will abstain on the final reading of the Bill.