‘REDUCING Universal Credit and Working Tax Credit would be fundamentally the wrong decision. It would be a profound mistake and put millions of families into poverty,’ Jonathan Reynolds, Labour’s Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, said yesterday.
Reynolds was moving a motion in yesterday’s opposition debate to ramp up the pressure on the Johnson government to keep the Universal Credit uplift of £20 a week, or £1,000 a year, beyond 31 March when it is due to end.
The Tory government told its MPs to abstain, but there is a rebellion among them many of whom agree with Labour that the increase should be extended.
Reynolds said: ‘Last year the real value of basic out-of-work-support was lower than it was when John Major was Prime Minister.’
Steve Brine, Tory MP for Winchester, interjected to ask Reynolds: ‘Is it still Labour policy to abolish Universal Credit?’
Reynolds answered: ‘Yes it is our policy to replace Universal Credit, not to abolish the welfare state. Replacing Universal Credit is the right policy.
‘I know that there are many people on the benches opposite who agree with this case.
‘Citizens Advice told me this week that three quarters of people they help with debt, who currently receive Universal Credit and Working Tax Credit would have a negative budget if the £20 were cut, that means that they will have less money coming in than they do going out. They won’t be able to cover basic essentials such as food and heating.’
He said: ‘The proposed cut is not the only issue of consternation in the country. In particular, I want to highlight the continued injustice of those people who are on Employment Support Allowance (ESA) and Job Seekers Allowance (JSA) who did not even get the uplift to begin with.’
He said that the cut will drive even more families to food banks.
He went on: ‘The Parliamentary Committee highlighted the problems of Universal Credit – the five week wait, the two-child limit, the shocking design that means that disabled people are worse off under Universal Credit.
‘All this means that Universal Credit is a tarnished brand and needs to be replaced,’ he said.
Will Quince, Work and Pensions Minister, responded: ‘Since the start of this pandemic we have mobilised our welfare state like never before in modern times.’
He said: ‘I would encourage everyone to move over to the Universal Credit system. It is the future.
‘What is the position of the Party opposite? It is to scrap it! It is quite astonishing that their position is to scrap it.
‘The Chancellor announced the £20 uplift as a temporary measure.’
He was asked by Reynolds if the reason he was speaking to the House rather than the Secretary of State was because the Secretary of State agrees with Labour about keeping the uplift.
Quince did not deny it, in fact, he said: ‘Yes. We at the Treasury and the Secretary of State are in discussions about how best to deal with this issue and those discussions are ongoing.’