I resent the premise of this debate. I resent the Government bringing forward an unamendable order on such a significant issue, because that leads to the conclusion, as the hon. Members for Amber Valley (Nigel Mills) and for North East Fife (Wendy Chamberlain) said, that if we reject the order there will be no increase whatsoever. We should not allow Parliament to be blackmailed in that way. The response is fairly straightforward: on the issue of poverty in this country, there has to come a time when this House rises up. We have heard example after example. We can all give examples from our own constituencies—the heartbreaking stories of how people are suffering at the moment. So we should not accept the Government bringing forward an unamendable order and expecting us either to go through the Lobby like sheep and vote for it, or to abstain.
I understand those who say that if we vote against this tonight we will be accused of voting against an increase, but far from it—if we vote against it we will be instructing the Government to come back immediately with an alternative that meets the cost of living challenge that working people now face.
It is no good relying on statistics from seven months ago when we know the crisis that people are facing. I find it interesting that the Government can arrive at flexibility when they are saving money but not when they want to assist our constituents. I say that because I was here for the debate on the triple lock. At that time, as my right hon. Friend the Member for East Ham (Stephen Timms) has pointed out, we were facing the prospect of an increase of 8% based on the triple lock linked to earnings. Actually, that was pretty damn accurate as to what people would be facing. The Government were fleet of foot. They scrapped the triple lock altogether, suspended its operation and then came forward with this.
Every Member who has spoken so far, on both sides of the House, has said that this will mean a cut in people’s living standards when faced with the prospect of a 7% rate of inflation. The hon. Member for Waveney (Peter Aldous) eloquently set out the rationale for why the Government needed to do more, but I say to him that the Government will not do more unless this House is firm in its view and rejects this order tonight. They will not come back with an emergency package unless we start kicking up a fuss on both sides of the House. That is why they have come to the House with an unamendable order. They were worried that if there was an amendable order, we could have had a majority in this House for doing something better on behalf of our constituents. I find it outrageous that they have tried to put us in this position.
The hon. Member for Amber Valley, who is no longer here, made an extremely interesting speech, as he always does. I do not usually agree with him on much, but he always presents an argument we can understand—or a rationale, anyway. His argument to the Government was that if they are trying to tell us that their social security system is meeting the needs of our people, they should publish the basket of goods, the costings and so on. Well, the Government do not do that, but others do.
Frequent reference has been made tonight to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s analysis of poverty and of what the Government’s measures will do. The figures are startling. Over 8 million working households are in poverty, as are 2.1 million pensioners and 4.3 million of our children. My hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Beth Winter) made the point that, in the fifth richest country in the world, we have over 4 million children living in poverty. The figure for disabled people is now 3.8 million, which has increased dramatically over the last four or five years as a result of benefit cuts.
I am not willing to sit here tonight and be blackmailed into either voting for this motion or abstaining. I want the opportunity to vote against it and to give an instruction to the Government to go away and do better: to come back with a real proposal that will increase benefits, at least so that they match inflation. After 11 years of austerity, I would expect the Government to be coming up with proposals to start making up some of the ground that has been lost over that time, as my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham East and Saddleworth (Debbie Abrahams) said.
I will make one final point. Every time we have one of these debates, we get a Government Minister telling us how wonderful they are because they have created all these new jobs that people can go into. I met a group of unpaid carers this morning, and I said that it looked as though their allowance was going to go from 67% to 69%. Given the hours they work as unpaid carers, even if they are doing 35 hours per week—most of them do triple that at times—they will be paid something like £2 an hour for what they do. Unpaid carers save this country about £130 billion in costs that would otherwise fall on the state. They cannot get other jobs because they are looking after their relatives. They are desperately underfunded and most of them, as a result, are living in poverty. This order will do nothing for them whatsoever.
My commitment to that group of carers I met this morning means that I will not vote for this. I will vote against it, and I will demand better action from this Government. I will demand that Ministers go away and come back tomorrow with a realistic proposal that will tackle poverty in this country and lift at least some of those carers out of the hardship and suffering that they are unfortunately experiencing at the moment.