Labour has today used one of its allotted opposition day debates to hold the UK Government to account on its provision of free school meals and educational provision during the pandemic.
The UK Government’s slogan of late has been a focus on “building back better.” The Tories claim they want to “level-up” areas like Bolton with infrastructure projects, making them attractive places to invest in and work. However, besides some lip service and media spin, the Prime Minister has announced very little that will demonstrably improve the local economy in Bolton.
The coronavirus pandemic, as well all know, has had a catastrophic impact on public health and the economy. There have been many issues with the Government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic; not locking down early enough, a poor test and trace service, cronyism in the procurement of various contracts. But where it performed well has been on the economic support packages. It uplifted Universal Credit by £20 per week, equivalent to £6 billion, which has helped 6.2 million families.
Despite this increase, since November 2020, Labour has been pressing the Chancellor Rishi Sunak in Parliament to make the uplift permanent. Labour questioned the Government 40 times on the uplift and 40 times it received no answer. Over the weekend, reports emerged that the Chancellor has plans to reduce the uplift to the original rate in April, which has caused untold concern and anxiety for millions of families.
This £1,040 per year uplift equates to, on average, all the bills of a household: the Internet, gas, electricity, and water. It is frankly unacceptable for the Chancellor to be considering cutting this safety net whilst we are still in the midst of the pandemic and economic disaster.
After the last Labour Government took 1 million children out of poverty and had an overarching goal to eradicate child poverty, this cut stands to bring 300,000 children back into child poverty. This is abhorrent.
The assumption many in the Cabinet are making is that Universal Credit is an out-of-work benefit. This is untrue – it is used by many to supplement low paid or insecure work and is therefore not a lifestyle choice, as many Conservatives have suggested, but a necessity because of our broken economic system.
Britain is currently suffering the worst recession of any major economy. This economic crisis we find ourselves in is not the making of working families, but of our incompetent and useless government. And how do they respond? The Government turns to working families to foot the bill. This is an outrage.
It is also very rich that the Government is considering a cut to Universal Credit, when it has wasted £22 billion on a failing track and trace system, as well as syphoning billions in public funds to Tory donors. When you look at Dominic Cummings’ pay rise of £40,000 – that’s enough to spare 40 families from this cut a year – a telling indictment of the Tory party’s priorities.
It will surprise few that I will be voting for this Labour motion today which aims to #CancelTheCut to Universal Credit. This change could not have come at a worse time. Families find themselves in perhaps even more perilous water than last April, when it was introduced, and the last thing the Chancellor should be considering is a cut to the lifejacket for those who need it the most.