The Weekly paper of the New Communist Party of Britain
Week commencing 27th October 2017

Universal Credit could sink the Tories

by Daphne Liddle

STEPHEN KINNOCK, the Labour MP for Aberavon, last week openly called for a motion of no confidence in the Tory government to be tabled in Parliament, which if passed could see May’s government brought down and a new general election that would see Jeremy Corbyn become Prime Minister.

And there is evidence that even amongst Tory backbenchers there are some who would be grateful for a new government that has a clear plan for the Brexit negotiations and the party unity to carry it through and ensure that Britain does emerge from the European Union (EU) with a workable trade deal.

But this week it has been the cruel fiasco around the implementation of Universal Credit (UC) and the hardship it is inflicting on millions that has shamed every Tory with so much as a shred of conscience into deep dissatisfaction with their own government.

Jeremy Corbyn has stepped up preparations for Labour to take office in the near future and appointed Jon Trickett, the MP for Hemsworth in West Yorkshire, to lead the Shadow Cabinet to develop Labour’s programme for office. Already Shadow Cabinet have been meeting with senior civil servants to that end.

Announcing Trickett’s new job, Corbyn said: “The Conservatives have no plans and no solutions for the pressing challenges facing our country, from falling living standards to the housing shortage and runaway inequality.

“On the vital issue of Brexit, they spend more time negotiating with each other than with the EU.

“Labour is no longer just an opposition but a government in waiting. We must be ready to serve our country in the event of an early election.”

A week ago, a Labour motion in the House of Commons won a majority (the Tory MPs had been told to abstain) — calling for the roll-out of UC to be suspended. It was a non-binding vote and May ignored it except for a small concession in withdrawing a 50-pence-per-minute charge for calls to a Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) helpline giving guidance on how UC works.

But the bigger problem with UC — the minimum six-week gap between the withdrawal of existing benefits and claimants getting their first UC payment — was not addressed.

The MPs who had voted in the Commons and some of the Tory MPs are angry that May ignored the vote and Labour, with others in the Commons, have succeeded in forcing another debate on the roll out of UC. It is hoped that May will give in to the pressure and withdraw or suspend the roll out.

Pilot schemes in Southwark and Croydon have resulted in a huge increase in the demands on foodbanks and claimants losing their homes as private landlords show no compassion for tenants who are left totally without income for at least six weeks. Housing benefit is now to be included in UC and paid to tenants who will then pay it on to their landlords, so landlords have seen the housing benefit element of the rents stopped and tenants with nothing at all for a long time.

Claimants have been offered loans to bridge the gap but that will leave them up to their ears in debt and unable to pay it because there will be no back payments to cover the gap.

Universal Credit seems as if it is a deliberate ploy to ‘nudge’ people who are out of work into getting a job, or those with a low paid job into seeking more hours.

Claimants on low pay will be under the same pressure to find extra jobs or extra hours that the jobless now face, with sanctions and threats of cutting off of benefit if they do not keep to agreed plans to seek extra paid work.

It will wreak havoc on the lives of those on zero-hours contracts and the self-employed.

The Tory ideologues see UC as a way of ‘discipling workers’ to knuckle down and accept low pay and hardship — in spite of evidence that those who are cold, hungry, homeless and under mental stress are much less able to find work or do it than those who have good wages and conditions.

Universal Credit must be stopped and the Tories must go very soon.