Today, Labour is forcing an opposition day debate on the planned cut of the universal credit uplift. The debate should have been last week and I had planned to speak. Sadly, I have a medical appointment in Manchester and then an event which was planned around it in the constituency. I have been paired with a Tory MP so that my lost vote is cancelled out. I wanted, however, to share my thoughts on what I think would be a disastrous decision, and why I’m hoping that Parliament does the right thing and votes against the cut.
Since the Chancellor announced that he would be scrapping the £20 Universal Credit Uplift, I have been inundated by constituents worried about their lives and livelihoods. They are worried about how they will put food on the table, how they will manage to pay energy bills that are steadily increasing and are terrified about what the future holds. It is difficult to overstate how much of a lifeline the Universal Credit uplift has been for families and individuals across Denton and Reddish, and across the country.
I was beyond angry, then, to hear the Prime Minister recently claim that cutting the uplift would support those who earn ‘through their efforts’. The Prime Minister and his Chancellor both know that 40% of UC claimants are already in work and claim because they still cannot make ends meet. They know that if wages rise, Universal Credit will decrease accordingly. The £20 uplift was put in place to support those who don’t see higher wages. Taking it away, when those higher wages are not coming, doesn’t make any sense.
The Government insists on perpetuating this myth that anyone who benefits from welfare is a scrounger. It is wrong, factually incorrect, and extremely offensive. It is offensive to my constituents and to people across this country.
Imagine how it must feel to be a single working mother of three. You finish an 8-hour shift in a supermarket, and you rush home. You scramble to sort dinner for the kids, help them with homework and get them into bed. You finally sit down, turn on the TV and flick over to the news – only to be lectured about hard work by a Prime Minister who wouldn’t know it if he fell over it. You are lectured by a Chancellor whose most pressing concern is where to build his luxury swimming pool and tennis court. £20 may not sound a lot to a Prime Minister who once dismissed a £250,000 salary as ‘chicken feed’, but for millions of people across the country, it is the only thing keeping them from slipping into poverty.
Conservative MPs sit were elected in 2019 because they promised people that they cared, they promised they would work to make sure that money was equally distributed across the country, they promised that the Conservatives had learned from the mistakes of the past and would ‘level-up’ long-neglected regions. Time and time again, those promises have been broken.
In Denton and Reddish, 23% of families are in receipt of Universal Credit or working tax credits. That’s 8,730 families. The campaign to end child poverty estimates that child poverty in Denton and Reddish has increased by 2.8% since 2015, and that 29% of children live in poverty. How on earth can this Government turn its back on them? How can it turn its back on the shop-workers, the pharmacists, the carers, the street-cleaners, the key workers who carried us through this pandemic? How can it turn its back on people who need help, on children who are going to bed hungry?
The fact is, this Government does not understand what it is like for working people in this country. They just don’t get it. Earlier this week, the Secretary of State for the DWP Therese Coffey was asked about the credit uplift, and how it would plunge workers into poverty. She responded by saying that £20 a week is “…about 2 hours extra work every week” and that the Government “will be seeing what we can do to help people perhaps secure those extra hours, but ideally also to make sure they’re also in a place to get better paid jobs as well”.
Where to begin. First, the Secretary of State has got her figures completely wrong. The Universal Credit earnings taper is currently 63%, which means that for every pound earned above the work allowance, your universal credit is reduced by 63p. Once accounting for other taxes, a Universal Credit claimant on minimum wage would have to work around 9 hours to earn back the £20 which is being taken from them. 9 extra hours on top of full-time work.
Second, the Secretary of State seems to think that extra hours can be plucked out of thin air. How can you find 9 extra hours if they aren’t available at your place of work? How can you find 9 extra hours in and amongst childcare? And perhaps most importantly, why should you have to find 9 extra hours just to put food on the table when you already work full time?
But of course, the Secretary of State knows this. She knows that the figure she has quoted is misleading. What she is deliberately doing is framing poverty as a choice – trying to make it seem as if those struggling on the breadline have chosen to do so. She is blaming the individual rather than the system. The fact is, however, in the last ten years working people have faced unprecedented assaults on their finances and their benefits. Through no fault of their own, Hairdressers have lost £942 in social security, Pharmacy assistants £906, cashiers £773, hospital porters £711. The list goes on and illustrates just how badly working people have been treated by this Government. Now, the Government is proposing taking an extra £1040 a year from these individuals, and this is before considering the recent announced increase in National Insurance.
It’s a disgraceful way to treat people, and it doesn’t have to be this way. Labour have recently announced that they would a guarantee a £10 minimum wage, ban fire-and-rehire, and improve workers’ rights. Alongside this announcement, the party has pledged overhaul Universal Credit, and reduce the taper rate so that working people keep more of their earnings whilst receiving support. Other options are there, the Government just aren’t choosing them.
If the Government decides to scrap the Universal Credit uplift, it will plunge hundreds of thousands of people into Poverty. The Government’s own internal modelling recognises that it would be ‘catastrophic’ to cut the uplift. There is simply no reason to be doing this. campaigners, charity leaders, cross-party MPs, unions, and pretty much everyone but the Government agrees that it is a terrible idea. I urge the Government to listen to these voices, and to the voices of the people they were sent to represent and stop the cut.