Chloe Smith is Liz Truss’ new secretary for work and pensions. Image: Wikimedia Commons
Liz Truss’ cabinet ministers have a tough task ahead of them as the cost of living crisis spirals. With growing pressure on the government to increase support for low-income families, eyes will be on the new work and pensions secretary Chloe Smith to make changes to the benefits system.
Smith was elected as MP for Norwich North in 2009. She held ministerial roles under Cameron, May and Johnson. Most recently, during the September 2021 cabinet reshuffle, she became minister of state for disabled people, work and health.
Charities and campaigners are calling on the government to increase benefits for the most vulnerable so they can afford the basics. As she takes the reins at the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), can we expect Smith to deliver more support?
Smith’s voting record, taken from website They Work For You, shows she has consistently voted to cut spending on benefits instead of raising them in line with prices. It’s worth noting that Smith has voted with the Tory party line on these issues – but it still gives us an insight into the actions she may – or may not – take in her new role.
Here’s everything you need to know about Smith’s voting record when it comes to issues of welfare and benefits.
Smith has almost always voted to reduce welfare spending
Between 2011 and 2021, Chloe Smith consistently voted for cuts to welfare benefits. Of the 49 votes in that time, she never voted against reducing spending on benefits. She has been absent from the vote six times, but each other vote has gone towards welfare cuts.
Smith has voted to cut the housing benefit for recipients in supported housing, to freeze the rate of many working-age benefits, and to cut universal credit benefits for many people in paid work.
She has also voted to repeal the Human Rights Act, to reduce the household benefit cap and to reduce social rents. Smith is in line with most Tory MPs in these votes.
According to a damning report from the Human Rights Watch, “reductions in welfare support year on year” since the Conservatives came to power have left thousands of families with children without adequate food. That report was published in 2019 – before the pandemic and before the cost of living crisis.
Analysts at the New Economics Foundation (NEF) recently claimed the country’s “social security system is now so weak that, no matter the crisis, the government has to intervene with emergency income top-ups to get the country through, from furlough, to the £20 uplift on universal credit, to rebates on energy bills and payments by council tax band”.
Smith has voted against raising welfare benefits in line with prices
In 2013, Smith voted against raising welfare benefits in line with prices. She voted to cap any increase in specified benefits payments, working age benefits and tax credits at 1 per cent rather than allow them to increase by 2.2 per cent in line with prices.
The current inflation rate in the UK is 10.1 per cent, and campaigners have repeatedly called on the government to increase benefits to that people can cope with soaring prices.
Sam Tims, of the NEF, told the Big Issue the government should “align social security to the cost of living while scrapping the benefit cap, two child limit and deductions from universal credit”. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation is also urging the government to increase basic universal credit entitlements so that, as a minimum, people can afford the essentials.
Smith has consistently voted against paying higher benefits to disabled and ill people who are unable to work
Smith has consistently voted against paying higher benefits over longer periods for those unable to work due to illness or disability. For example, she voted for reductions in benefits for disabled and ill claimants required to participate in activities to increase their chances of obtaining work in 2016.
She voted to remove the “limited capability for work” element of universal credit and the “related activity component” from the employment and support allowance.
In 2012, she voted against those who have been ill or disabled since their youth receiving employment and support allowance on the same basis as if they had made sufficient national insurance contributions to qualify for a contribution-based allowance.
She also voted not to make an exception for those with a cancer diagnosis or undergoing cancer treatment from the 365 day limit on receiving contribution based employment and support allowance.
Smith has almost always voted against spending public money to guarantee jobs for young people who have been unemployed for a long time
In 2013, Smith voted against a compulsory jobs guarantee for young people and the long-term unemployed. She also voted against measures to stimulate economic growth and job creation, as well as against a tax on bank bonuses to fund guaranteed jobs for young people out of work.
Smith has almost always voted for reducing the housing benefit for social tenants deemed to have excess bedrooms
Labour called this the “bedroom tax”. Smith has consistently voted in favour of housing benefit penalties for social tenants deemed to have excess bedrooms.
She also voted against freezing energy bills, against long-term reforms to the energy market and against action to boost the housing supply.