In recent weeks, I have continued to call on the Government to scrap its plan to cut Universal Credit payments by up to £20 a week at the end of this month. Pushing ahead with this cut will be utterly devastating for many struggling families.
Last week, I wrote to the Prime Minister supporting Marcus Rashford’s #EndChildFoodPoverty campaign and calling on him to scrap the cut to UC to prevent hundreds of thousands of children falling into poverty.
On Wednesday 15 September, Parliament debated an Opposition motion calling on the Government to maintain UC at its current level. Frustratingly, the Work and Pensions Secretary continued to defend the decision to reduce UC.
I participated in this debate and you can read my speech in full below.
It is frustrating to once again have to plead with the Government and ask them not to take away a key financial lifeline from my constituents and working families across the country.
As so many of today’s contributions have shown for many hard-working families, the £20 a week Universal Credit uplift has been the difference between children going hungry and food on the table, turning the electricity off and topping up the meter.
If the Government pushes ahead with this cut to Universal Credit, it will affect 6 million families across the country and has the potential to push 700,00 more people including 300,000 children into crippling poverty.
In my constituency of Manchester Gorton, the cut will directly affect 12,000 children. Mr Speaker, this cut will be utterly devastating for my constituents.
It will be the single biggest overnight cut to the basic rate of social security since the creation of the modern welfare state. Not only that, but for all the Government’s talk of levelling up the North will bear the brunt of the impact of this cut.
This cut is not a necessity, it is a choice. It is a choice this Tory Government is making. They are choosing to take money out of the pockets of working families struggling to make ends meet. It’s a disgrace.
If the Government won’t listen to me, my colleagues on these benches, their own colleagues sitting next to them, six previous Conservative work and pensions secretaries, numerous all-party parliamentary groups, endless charities and campaign groups, then perhaps they will listen to the powerful words of one of my constituents.
He is an NHS worker, claiming Universal Credit in order to make ends meet. He wrote:
“my morale has gone, my head has gone, my heart has gone. Ripped out by a system that doesn’t care for those of us who worked so hard to keep the country together during one of its darkest hours.”
He is not the only one to have contacted me. Hundreds and hundreds of constituents have written to me desperate for the uplift to be maintained. The hard-working families of Manchester Gorton do not want this £20 a week, they need it.
So, will the Government listen to them?
On Tuesday 21 September, the House of Commons once again debated the impact of Government policy on working people’s finances. In the UK today, working families are facing a sudden squeeze on living standards on a scale not seen for a generation.
While incomes are coming down, prices are going up: energy prices are increasing rapidly, we are seeing the fastest rise in rental prices since 2008 and childcare costs have seen successive above inflation increases. Petrol prices are also at their highest since 2013 and there is the potential for the largest rail fare increase in a decade. On top of this, we are seeing rising prices on everyday goods from the supply chain disruption caused by worker and supply shortages.
The deteriorating financial situation for working people is not simply a matter of chance or due to rising prices, it is a direct result of Government policy.
During this debate, I spoke about the impact of rising fuel bills while the Government simultaneously cuts UC payments this winter. You can read my speech in full below:
Hard-working people are facing a triple whammy this winter: rising fuel bills, national insurance rises, and a £1,000 cut to Universal Credit.
Even before the pandemic, my constituency of Manchester Gorton had some of the highest rates of fuel poverty in the country, with almost a quarter of families classed as fuel poor.
Across the UK, 3 million households struggle to pay their energy bills and it’s predicted that as many as half a million families could slip into fuel poverty as the temperature drops and bills skyrocket this winter.
In the face of the gas supply crisis, maintaining the energy price cap is welcome but it will not be enough. As a minimum the Government should make the £140 warm homes discount automatic and extend it to give more people peace of mind this winter.
While the energy price cap may be fair, for many families it is no longer affordable. And, in just a matter of weeks, the cap will be at its highest ever level.
As a result, hard-working families already struggling to stretch tight pay cheques to the end of the month will be forced to make an impossible choice. A choice between heating or eating.
To make matters worse still, the CO2 shortages will mean supermarket shelves could be empty in the coming days as food shortages hit the market. In Manchester Gorton this will mean more vulnerable people being forced to access foodbanks.
Foodbank usage is at an all time high and it is a disgrace that in the twenty-first century families and children have become so dependant on charity to survive.
Manchester’s own Marcus Rashford has done so much over the past year to shine a light on the shameful rise of foodbank usage, and it is time the Government listened.
Being unable to buy food is not an issue with the high cost of living. It is much more fundamental that that. It is about the cost of surviving.
The escalation of fuel bills and the rising cost of living means the Conservative’s plan to cut Universal Credit is no longer just indefensible, it is now unconscionable.
The Business Secretary himself has admitted that this “could be a very difficult winter” so the question remains why his Cabinet colleagues will not intervene to alleviate the financial burden on working people and cancel the cut.
This morning, my constituent Alicia emailed me. She is a Universal Credit claimant and scared at what the cut will mean for her and her daughters.
“it will mean I will go without food or warmth so my girls my suffer less…
we go without luxuries and each month is a struggle.
Our future is bleak. I just hope I can hold on for them.”
Alicia is one of hundreds of constituents who have written to me terrified about their future and worried about how they will get by this winter.
The Resolution Foundation remind us that “to govern is to choose.”
And I know my constituents will never forget that this Tory Government has chosen to push millions of hardworking families into poverty.
However, it is not too late Mr Speaker. There is still time to cancel the cut.