It may be a sign of things to come. While Harriet Harman asked questions about low pay and the abolition of tax credits at prime minister’s questions, disabled people were hammering at the doors.

Scenes from the BBC show rows of police trying to stop disabled protestors storming the chamber to complain about the abolition of the independent living fund which ends on 30 June.

This fund gives the disabled extra money to buy help so they can live independently. Its loss will mean many disabled people unable to work or be active.

Inside the chamber you could not hear the disturbances. David Cameron was standing at the dispatch box puce-faced and shouting. He was on a losing wicket all round today.

Harman first asked about the 3,000 migrants at Calais, who are also hammering on the door, not of the commons but of the United Kingdom itself. What steps was the prime minister taking? Was he cooperating with the French authorities enough? How confident was he that the French were taking the appropriate action? What pressure was he putting on at EU level?

These are pretty fundamental questions about the country. Cameron’s reply was managerial. The migrants should have been dealt with in Italy, we need to make sure Britain is a less easy place for migrants to come, we’re giving lots of foreign aid. When pressed: ‘We are working with the French very closely’. He might have added: ‘And we are trying to renegotiate our membership of the EU too’.

Harman’s next line of attack was on tax credits. We do not even know the detail of the £12bn worth of welfare cuts due to be announced in July by the chancellor.  We do know they are likely to hit benefit claimants. We suspect a prime target will be those on in-work benefits like tax credits.

We also know that many more children will be pushed into poverty if cuts to tax credits happen because the people most likely to be claiming them are single mothers and other poor families in service level jobs where there are few career prospects. Labour knows this territory is really difficult. It got itself into a bit of trouble with it early on in Ed Miliband’s leadership, so Harman was armed.

She suggested that by cutting tax credits the Tories would be ‘robbing our children.’ Getting rid of tax credits would mean the poorest families and their children would lose £1,400 a year she said. There was: ‘nothing progressive about it.’  In order to protect children, employers would have to raise their wages and they weren’t going to do it.

Cameron tried to change the subject. There were, he said, ‘390,000 fewer children in households where no one works.’

That wasn’t the point of course and Harman picked him up on it. It was £1,400 a year less, she said. ‘I know he doesn’t have to budget but many families do.’ There were shouts from the Tory benches at this, but Harman repeated, ‘It’s true!’ You would, she said have to put the minimum wage up by 25 per cent overnight to compensate parents for the cut.

Cameron had no answer. The ‘getting people back to work’ mantra didn’t wash. Harman’s strong point stood: ‘You don’t get higher pay by cutting tax credits.’  And her sign-off line was stronger than Cameron’s today. ‘He’s attacking the low paid – so much for the party of working people.’

Cameron did have a few set lines. He tried, rather lamely, to use the Labour leadership candidate Yvette Cooper’s line that Labour was the ‘anti-workers party’ against Harman. And he had an ‘FFS’ joke prepared to counter the Scottish National party, whose leader Angus Robertson stood up to complain that the Scotland bill did not deliver the whole of the Smith commission proposals on Scottish devolution. Did they want ‘full fiscal shambles,’ Cameron asked. Ha ha.

Labour members of parliament asked a whole range of diverse questions. Ben Bradshaw (Exeter) asked about cycling deaths in London, after another cyclist was killed yesterday at Bank. Jack Dromey (Birmingham Erdington) asked about early referrals for cancer testing, citing a tragic story of a young woman in his constituency who had repeatedly not been referred for tests even though it turned out she had cervical cancer.

Meanwhile, Alison McGovern (Wirral South) asked about vulnerable child refugees by quoting John Donne: ‘No man is an island, Entire of itself, Every man is a piece of the continent, A part of the main.’

With the disabled and dispossessed hammering at the gates, Cameron should take note.


Sally Gimson is a journalist and councillor in the London borough of Camden. She writes the PMQs on Progress column and tweets @SallyGimson