The Tories’ £20 cut to universal credit will be a social and economic catastrophe, writes KEN LIVINGSTONE
MEDIA reports late this week highlighted a private memo showing that the Tories’ £20 universal credit cut at the end of this month will be a “catastrophe” and “disaster of autumn.”
A government insider noted that analysis shows poverty, foodbank use and homelessness will spiral when the cut takes place — in a situation where it should be remembered we already have grotesque levels of all three.
Asked in July to publish the Department for Work and Penions impact assessment, Tory minister Will Quince astonishingly and complacently replied: “No assessment has been made,” but now we know that the Tories are fully aware of the human and social devastation they are set to cause — and it should be remembered it will hit the economy hard too at this delicate time.
As Labour MP Karen Buck tweeted: “So government ‘braced for catastrophe’ but not willing to take any action to avert it. Tells you everything. But there’s still time. Cancel the cut.”
The effects will be made worse by the government also winding up the furlough scheme at the same time, leading to millions being worried about being thrown out of work.
Opposition to this cut is wide — from charities, trade unions and campaigning groups across civil society to opposition political forces but also many back-bench Tory MPs, who are reported to have been begging Boris Johnson for a U-turn for months, and now must be furious at this decision.
To give just two examples of these warning calls, Citizens Advice has warned that two million people will be pushed into debt, whilst the well-respected Joseph Rowntree Foundation has noted that scrapping the uplift would push 500,000 people into poverty.
One of the reasons opposition to this callous cut is so strong is that a number of human stories have broken through on this issue, and we heard more of these last week when low-paid workers took to the House of Commons to explain to MPs their great fears about what could happen — with one news report summing up people as having to choose between “eating or heating” this winter, as losing £20 a week will leave people unable to cover basic living costs.
Readers should look up all these heart-wrenching testimonies, including that of single mother and care worker Amina Nagawa, who explained how she was left with barely any disposable income each month from her universal credit once rent, bills and council tax had been paid.
With the £20 uplift in place, she had still fallen behind with energy bills.
She said: “Our kids can’t have what other kids have, and we are blamed as if it is our fault. If the government removes our £20 top-up we will suffer even more.
“I already have next to nothing to spend on food. I often go without so my son can eat … I can’t afford to eat let alone to do what my heart wishes.”
One person who presumably won’t be listening to this evidence — or the alarm calls from so many corners of society — is Chancellor Rishi Sunak, who is fast losing his “nice guy” image.
In a different session in the main House of Commons chamber this week, the Chancellor bizarrely claimed people will not be forced into poverty by the cut.
Speaking in the Commons, Labour MP Ian Byrne asked, “Whilst the Chancellor was pondering the colour of the tiles for his new swimming pool and his new tennis court this summer for his country mansion, back in the real world 20 per cent of my constituency in Liverpool West Derby are facing a £20-a-week cut to universal credit, and facing sleepless nights about how they will survive.
“Does the minister consider that taking £20 a week from millions of families across our country is really an act of decency?
“Can the Chancellor tell me what impact assessment the government has made on the impact of the cut, and how many of the 12,530 people in Liverpool West Derby do they estimate will be forced into poverty?”
The Chancellor replied: “I don’t accept that people will be forced into poverty, because we know, and all the evidence and history tells us, the best way to take people out of poverty is to find them high-quality work.”
In fact, Action for Children research shows that those in work — including professions such as carers, hairdressers and shopworkers — will be among those hit hardest by the cut.
The reality is that the Chancellor must know that we face an incredible amount of in-work poverty in this country so this denial is astonishing.
But it is not surprising. The Tories have again and again denied the obvious devastation a decade of austerity has caused.
We need to build a national movement of resistance across the country, rooted in communities and workplaces, and defeat not only this cut but the full-scale Tory assault that is taking place on the majority of people on so many different fronts.
Sign the petition against the UC cut at bit.ly/dontcutUC.
This article originally appeared in The Morning Star