MY mailbag has been full of letters and emails this month from women across Wigan who are worried about their child benefit.
Under new plans any household where one person pays the top rate of tax will lose their child benefit.
The change will affect more than one million families in the UK. On first glance this seems fair, but I have been inundated by letters from women asking why two or more people who earn just under the higher rate (£80,000 a year together) will keep their child benefit when households with just one higher rate taxpayer (earning £44,000) will lose it.
Since I was elected in May I have met many women who work long hours, often away from their children, and at the end of the week after childcare costs and other expenses, find they have very little money left.
They feel that their family life is already under strain from the pressures of modern life and need an extra hand from the Government.
I have written to Ministers to raise the experiences of women across Wigan and asked them to think again.
There are other, fairer ways to pay off the deficit, for example by introducing a ‘Tobin’ tax on banking transactions, a tiny levy of just 0.05 per cent that would raise billions for the economy.
I know from the letters I get that there are many Wiganers who are concerned about jobs, homes, bus passes for older people and other services, beyond the changes to child benefit.
It is important at times like these that we protect the least well off, but it is also important that we protect the people who are trying so hard to keep afloat, and defend the principle of universal help that underpins the welfare state.
Services like Sure Start in Shevington and Beech Hill and the NHS that people value so much work because we all access them – not just the least well off in Wigan, but all of us.
It is only because everybody uses GP services that we all have an incentive to make them better.
If we take the majority of people out of the welfare state, there will be little incentive for the rest of the country to protect and raise the standard of those services.
That is why, when the welfare state was set up universal child benefit was one of the three key planks, and why it is important now not to cut child benefit for the slightly better off and retreat to a position where only people who have very little income can access it.
I have told Ministers that in a town like Wigan there is a strong history of social solidarity.
I promised in the election that I would defend the services that matter to you. That means defending those services for all of us and I promise to continue to do that.