Harriet Harman is wrong: the Conservatives don’t have a mandate to cut child tax credits

Listen to the voters by all means. But recognise that they aren't calling for a cut in child tax credits


As it is apt to do, Twitter went into meltdown yesterday at the announcement by Labour interim leader Harriet Harman that the party would not oppose the Conservative proposal to limit tax credits to two children.

Harman also stated that Labour would not oppose other specifics in chancellor George Osborne’s planned cap on household welfare benefits.

Some of the backlash came from Harman’s contemporaries in the race to be the next Labour leader. Three of the four leadership candidates have so far come out in opposition to the limiting of tax credits to two children, with only Liz Kendall yet to set out her position.

In justifying Labour’s apparent support for Osborne’s plan to cut tax credits, Harman claimed that Labour could not tell the public they were wrong after two general election defeats:

“We cannot simply say to the public you were wrong at the election…we’ve got to wake up and recognise that this was not a blip; we’ve had a serious defeat and we must listen to why.”

In other words, the Conservatives have a mandate from the voters to cut tax credits (and benefits more generally) and therefore the Labour party should ‘listen’ (i.e. vote them through).

The problem is that this analysis doesn’t stand up to scrutiny.

It’s certainly arguable, regrettably, that the voters have given the government a mandate for swingeing departmental cuts – the chancellor has even rowed back to some extent on the scale of cuts he promised earlier this year. But there’s no mandate for cutting tax credits for those with children.

First of all quite simply because George Osborne did not tell the electorate prior to the election that he would cut child tax credits – in fact during the pre-election television debates David Cameron promised not to cut child tax credits.

The other reason we should not assume the Tories have a mandate to cut child tax credits is because fresh polling indicates that the public are against cuts to tax credits for those with children.

According to a survey done by Sky News last week, while the public back a cut in the amount of benefits that a household can receive from £26,000 to £23,000, they don’t support a cut in tax credits for those with children. The survey found that 63 per cent of people were opposed to cutting tax credits for those with children. The same number also opposed cutting benefits for disabled people who are working.

So no, there isn’t a public mandate for cutting child tax credits. And while it’s probably correct to say that in many policy areas the public are, regrettably, not in the same place as the Labour party, tax credits for children are not one of them.

James Bloodworth is the editor of Left Foot Forward. Follow him on Twitter

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