It’s been a frantic month doing everything within my power to urge the Government to cancel the cut to Universal Credit which is threatened for 6th October. It is my firm belief that taking £1000 a year from the already tight budgets of 6 million people would be bad for workers, bad for families and bad for the economy.
Tories talk of levelling up, but this plan will take an astonishing £2.5 billion from the North and Midlands. In Tameside, the £20 a week cut will hit over 22,000 families claiming Universal Credit, including almost 20,000 children. It would represent an astonishing £23.4 million cut to Tameside’s economy. The scale of this is devastating.
Worse still, no-one can say they didn’t know. They Government’s own impact assessment says the consequences will be “catastrophic”. Last week, I led Labour in forcing a Commons vote to reverse the plans. The pressure was on the Government. Their response? Instigate a well-timed reshuffle to distract from their blatant disregard for their constituents, and whip their MPs to abstain from the vote, the latest manoeuvre in a long line of disregard for parliamentary democracy.
As the reshuffle circus continued, I highlighted that Cabinet Ministers returning to the backbench would receive over £15,000 as a pay-out. And yet they say £20 a week for struggling families is unaffordable? Once again, it’s one rule for them, another for the rest of us.
Unfortunately, it is becoming very clear that Conservative Government don’t understand their own welfare system, or seemingly, the economy. They argue that we face a choice between welfare and work. But in reality, 1 in 8 working people are in poverty.
They argue that you’d only need to work an extra couple of hours a week to make the money back. But the truth is, the flawed Universal Credit taper rate is 63%, meaning that for every pound someone is paid above a work allowance, their benefit is reduced by 63p, so in fact you’d have to work more like 50 hours to earn that £20 back. That’s essentially £2.50 an hour take home pay, in 2021.
They argue that they were generous to ever offer a £20 a week uplift during the pandemic. But in actual fact, even former Conservative Leader Iain Duncan Smith agrees that this barely puts back into the system what had been taken out over the previous few years of benefits freezes.
The Trussell Trust estimate that 1.2 million people will have to skip meals if we don’t cancel the cut. They aren’t the only charity which is worried. I popped into Barty’s food bank in Stalybridge, where volunteers told me how badly they feared this cut would hit our community.
For everyone’s benefit, the Government must make sure every policy decision serves to build a country with shorter food bank queues, not longer. Our aspiration should be that every individual and family earns enough to feed themselves, in good times and in bad.
The fact is we need a new deal for working people. We need to make the minimum wage £10 an hour immediately. We need to give every single employee the right to flexible working. Most of all, we need to make work pay. Every extra hour worked should be extra cash in your pocket. This is what Tameside needs, what Britain needs, and what the post-Covid economy needs to recover. I will keep on fighting for it.