Last week the Government suffered another embarrassing defeat as MPs unanimously backed a Labour motion calling on the Government “to pause the roll-out of Universal Credit”.
Bizarrely after the defeat they peddled the lie that they couldn’t have lost, as they hadn’t taken part – only a Government with no majority and a Prime Minister with no authority could have such arrogance. They were given short thrift by the Speaker who told them, “This was the expressed will of the House. If people choose not to take part in a Division, they can’t suddenly say, ‘we didn’t lose’.”
The Tories did not bother contesting Wednesday night’s non-binding vote knowing that yet again they had lost the argument, and would be unable to win the vote itself.
Labour as well as most other opposition MPs voted unanimously for a pause to the rollout of Universal Credit – the final vote showing that 299 MPs backed the Labour motion with not a single MP voting against.
The vote followed a passionate debate on the new benefit which opposition MPs from all parties, charities and councils claim is forcing families into debt and leaving them dependent on foodbanks and the support of local churches and their neighbours.
Universal Credit itself is a new social security payment which is supposed to replace 6 means-tested payments for people who are both in work and out. The aim was to simplify and streamline the benefits system, improve work incentives, tackle poverty among low income families, and reduce the scope for error and fraud – yet the whole system has been beset by problems.
Cuts to the work allowance part of Universal Credit amounts to a £9.6bn reduction in support for working families over the next five years. The Government’s cuts mean that those on Universal Credit have significant losses of income compared with the old system.
Research conducted by the House of Commons library showed that following the cuts to Work Allowances and subsequent changes to the earning rate, some families would be up to £3,000 a year worse off. This has been subsequently supported by independent organisations such as the Joseph Rowntree Foundation who argue that crucial changes are needed to support struggling working families.
Across Tameside and the surrounding areas, churches and community organisations are having to assist more and more families with emergency food parcels in order to survive with St. Mary’s in Haughton Green just one example of the amazing work being done in our community. But let me be frank, this should not be happening in modern Britain, 2017.
Labour supports the original principles of Universal Credit, but Government cuts and poor implementation have undermined any positive aspects of the new system. That’s why this week Labour has again called for a further vote to pause the rollout of Universal Credit, it simply cannot continue in its present form.
Theresa May is charting a dangerous course; between January 1978 and September 2017 there was only one Government defeat on an Opposition motion. At the time it led to an immediate change in Government policy as Governments, for the most part, accept the constitutional convention that losing a vote of this nature means you can’t carry on regardless.
As the weeks tumble along Theresa May continues to show the country that she doesn’t command a majority in the House of Commons and she doesn’t have the support of her own MPs.
The road to tyranny is paved with executives ignoring Parliaments; I hope for the sake of democracy that the Government chooses to listen this time.