STALYBRIDGE and Hyde MP Jonathan Reynolds is calling on the Government to rethink controversial plans to overhaul Working Tax Credit.Currently low-paid couples can claim up to £4000 a year through Working Tax Credits, provided they work more than 16 hours a week.
But from April couples will have to work a combined total of at least 24 hours – with one partner working at least 16 hours a week – in order to qualify.
Today (Wednesday) Jonathan called on the Government to rethink their plans – to take account of modern working practices, the pressures faced by carers and the lack of available work.
Mr Reynolds said: "Promotion of work is at the heart of the Working Tax Credit scheme and the principle of asking people to take on work to qualify for Working Tax Credits is a positive one.
"But if the amount of work we demand is unrealistic then it will hurt – rather than help – the most vulnerable in society.
"We should not underestimate how difficult it is or families to find an additional eight hours of work at a time when there is so little work available.
"And as unemployment continues to rise, any moves that will make it harder to qualify for Working Tax Credit will penalise families twice-over for their not being work available."
Mr Reynolds was initially alerted to the issue by a disabled resident living in the Stalybridge and Hyde constituency.
Mr Reynolds started to look at the issue after being contacted by a Stalybridge and Hyde resident, who was hit by a car 11 years ago.
Highlighting the constituent during the speech, Mr Reynolds said: "Previously employed as printer – who would work 12 hour shifts for his family – he has been unable to work since the accident and needs some degree of care.
"His wife – as well as caring for her husband and her young daughter – works for 17 hours a week in a before and after school club.
"She cannot increase her hours at the school, because the club only runs for those 17 hours a week. And with caring responsibilities for her husband and daughter she would struggle to find a second job where the hours would be flexible enough.
"The money they receive in Working Tax Credit makes a real difference – but under the Government’s plans they would lose it."
Mr Reynolds also believes the changes will have a significant impact on the thousands of people who are employed in the retail sector.
According to the shopworkers’ union Usdaw 79 per cent of their members would not be able to secure additional hours from their employers.
And, he says, they also highlight a further issue with regard to Working Tax Credit relating to the hours staff are contracted to work compared to the hours staff actually work.
Mr Reynolds said: "In recent years there has been a trend for retailers to cut the hours staff are contracted to work – but an expectation they will work additional hours at busy periods.
"That means that under the proposed changes couples actually working more than 24 hours may not qualify for Working Tax Credit because not all of their hours are contracted."
In the debate Mr Reynolds made particular calls for the Government to exempt couples where one partner is either disabled or a carer from the changes. And he asked the Government to take urgent steps to raise awareness of the changes to enable as many employees as possible to any steps possible to ensure they could still qualify for for Working Tax Credits.
Mr Reynolds said: "I do not yet believe that the full impact of these changes has been considered or identified by the Government.
"The Government claims it is committed to ending child poverty, but this is a measure that has the potential to push many families into extreme poverty. It is a regressive step that will concern many of us in this House.
"Of course, I would hope that the withdrawal of Working Tax Credit from those who couldn’t secure additional work wouldn’t prompt a return to the old idea that work did not pay.
"But that is also the risk. And that would be a tragedy – not only for the employees concerned but for the parts of industries that rely on a flexible workforce willing to work for just a few hours a week."
Mr Reynolds’ debate – ‘Impact of Changes to Working Tax Credit' – was held in Westminster hall on November 30, 2011.
Published November 30, 2011