David Cameron strategically evaded a question about his Government’s controversial tax credit cuts, on a total of six occasions during PMQs on Wednesday.
The Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, had a Jeremy Paxman moment when he repeatedly asked whether people would be left worse off by the cuts, after the Treasury revises the proposals. But despite pressing the question, Cameron failed to answer rationally and directly.
Corbyn also challenged Cameron regarding the persistent denial before the election from the Conservatives – including from Cameron, Michael Gove and the chief whip – that they intended to cut tax credits.
The Treasury was forced to re-examine the plans after the House of Lords twice voted down the government’s tax credit cuts, tabling amendments to delay the plans until the Government took on board new evidence about the negative impacts of the cuts, and until there was better compensation for workers who could lose an average of £1,300 a year.
In a blustering non-response to the Labour leader’s question, Cameron complained that the tax credit plans were defeated by Labour and other opposition peers in a “new alliance of the unelected and unelectable”.
Corbyn responded to an increasingly furious Prime Minister with: “This is not a constitutional crisis. This is a crisis for 3 million people.”
Jeremy Corbyn asked the Prime Minister to assure him that no one will be worse off as a result of cuts of tax credits again. Cameron responded : “Best way to make sure everyone is better off by building a stronger economy.”
Corbyn again asked: “Can he confirm they will not make anyone worse off?”
Cameron said: “He will have to be patient… we will set out our proposals in the Autumn Statement.”
Corbyn said: “People are “very concerned”… “Is he going to cut tax credits or not?”
Cameron said that: “£12 billion welfare cuts were promised in the Tory manifesto. … I’m happy to have a debate as to how we cut welfare”… “because of what happened in the other place.
“We need to reform welfare.”
The Labour leader cited the case of “Karen” who was concerned about the cuts and said “people are very worried about what’s going to happen to them”.
He said: “Following the events in the Lords on Monday evening, and the rather belated acceptance from the prime minister of the result there, can you now guarantee to the house and the wider country that nobody will be worse off next year as a result of cuts to working tax credits?”
However, the prime minister simply refused to elaborate on how the government would reduce the impact of the cuts.
“What I can guarantee is we remain committed to the vision of a high-pay, low-tax, lower welfare economy.
“We believe the way to ensure everyone is better off is keep growing our economy, keep inflation low, keep cutting people’s taxes and introduce the national living wage.
“As for our changes, the chancellor will set them out in the autumn statement.”
Corbyn continued to press Cameron for an answer several times. Cameron attempted to defend the Government’s position, arguing that “every penny we do not save” from welfare would have to be found elsewhere,” indicating that the Government clearly regards lifeline benefits to poor families as the Treasury’s “disposable income“.
He refused to acknowledge the potential impact of Tory policy on families’ income and living standards. Whether in work or not, this Government has signaled that it intends to continue with swingeing austerity cuts that target the poorest.
It’s clear that the Prime Minister doesn’t have a response for either Jeremy Corbyn or for all of those working people who are set to lose income and see a drop in their living standards, because of the tax credit cuts – many of whom may have voted Conservative at the last election, reassured by Cameron’s now broken promises.
A senior Labour spokesperson said the party regarded Cameron’s House of Lords review “as a smokescreen to cover up the real problem of tax credits”.