Wednesday 19 December 2012 saw the last Prime Minister’s Question Time before Christmas. It also saw a vibrant debate on foodbanks and the welfare situation. Here’s a play-by-play of the ensuing debate in Parliament between the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition.
Ed Miliband opened the debate by commending the work of volunteers and the millions of people who donate to foodbanks across the UK.
Miliband said: “Mr Speaker, is the Prime Minister as concerned as I am that there has been a six-fold increase in the last three years in the number of people relying on foodbanks?”
David Cameron echoed Miliband’s thoughts on the work of the volunteers, suggesting that the volunteers make up his idea of the ‘Big Society’.
He said: “I do share his concern about people who are struggling to pay the bills, who are struggling to deal with their budgets. Of course the most important thing is to get on top of inflation and inflation is coming down.
“The most important thing is to get more people into work and out of poverty, and we see 600,000 more private sector jobs this year and we’re helping those families by freezing the council tax and by making sure that we help families with the cost of living.”
Ed Miliband: “I never thought that the ‘Big Society’ was about feeding hungry children in Britain and the problem is that it is working people who are turning to foodbanks.
“One Headteacher of a school rated as outstanding by Ofsted, said that even children with a parent or parents in work, are often struggling with the choice between heating their homes, buying their children clothes or buying them food.
“A report last week by the Children’s Society said that two thirds of teachers knew staff providing pupils with food or money to prevent them going hungry.
“Mr Speaker, why does it appear to be getting worse on his watch?”
David Cameron: “I agree with the Right Honourable Gentleman, that we need to do more to help the poorest in our country. That is why we’ve lifted the personal tax allowance and we’ve taken two million of the lowest paid people out of tax altogether.
“If you take someone who is on minimum wage, who works full time, because of the tax changes we’ve made, their income tax bill has been cut in half.
“Because of the decisions we’ve made in this government to increase the child tax credit by £390 ahead of inflation, we actually have helped those families with their bills and we will continue to do so in the future.”
Ed Miliband: “Mr Speaker, I’m afraid that answer will seem very out of touch with families up and down the country.
“The problem is what the Chancellor didn’t tell us in the Autumn statement was his tax on strivers will be hitting working families who rely on tax credits up and down the country. The reality is that in the third year of his government, more children are going hungry and more families are relying on foodbanks.
“Isn’t it the clearest indictment of his government’s values that while lower and middle income families are being hit, at the same time he is giving an average of £107,000 tax cut to people earning over a million pounds a year.”
David Cameron: “What is out of touch is denying the fact we had a deficit, left by his government that we’ve had to deal with. That is what we’ve had to do! We’ve been able to do it at the same time as cutting taxes for the poorest in our country, increasing child tax credits and actually freezing the council taxes to help those families.
“Now, when it comes to the top rate of tax, let me tell him, the richest in our country will pay more in tax in every year under this government than any year of his government. Those are the facts! He may not like them, but he can’t deny them!”
Ed Miliband: “Mr Speaker, the problem is, no-one believes him anymore!
“We know who this Prime Minister stands up for. Because where was he last weekend? Back to his old ways, partying with Rebekah Brooks. No doubt, both looking forward to the Boxing Day Hunt, Mr Speaker.
“But, before he was elected, the Prime Minister said – ‘Unless you can represent everyone in our country, you cannot be a one nation party. That was then, this is now. Everyone now knows he cannot be a one nation Prime Minister.”
David Cameron: “Well, Mr Speaker, it wouldn’t be Christmas without the repeats and that’s all we ever get! That is all we ever get from the Honourable Gentleman.
“I’ll tell him what we’ve done this year! We said we would take action on jobs – we have 600,000 more private sector jobs. We said we would help with the cost of living – We’ve frozen the council tax for the third year in a row. We said we would deal with the deficit – we’ve cut the deficit by a quarter.
“And, what have we heard from him this year? What has he told us about the deficit? Nothing. What has he told us about welfare? Nothing. What has he told about his education plan? Nothing. The fact is he has got absolutely nothing to offer, except the same old something for nothing culture that got us in this mess in the first place.”
After the debate, Twitter and the blogging sphere was ablaze with commentary, including the foodbankers’ take on the political implications of the exchange. We have collected a list of articles with a range of views from the aftermath of PMQs –