A Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) minister was left reeling during a parliamentary debate. His defence of Universal Credit was repeatedly annihilated from across the floor.
The DWP: universal chaos
Universal Credit, the DWP’s flagship benefit that combines six means-tested payments, has been dogged by controversy. From a damning National Audit Office report to increased foodbank use and rent arrears, the benefit has been in chaos.
Recently, DWP boss Amber Rudd has made quite a few changes to the rollout of the benefit, even losing a court case last week. But as The Canary previously reported, these “piecemeal” changes have done little to really change anything. On Monday 14 January, minister Alok Sharma faced the wrath of MPs over this.
The longest list
Labour’s shadow work and pensions boss Margaret Greenwood put in an Urgent Question on Universal Credit. She reeled off a list of all its disasters, asking Sharma:
can the minister tell the house… Does he think the two-child limit is fair for the children affected by it, and will the government not scrap the two-child limit altogether? Will the government address the key concern with managed migration that nobody’s claim for benefits that they are currently receiving will be ended until they have made a successful new claim for Universal Credit?… And finally, will this government call a halt to the rollout of Universal Credit?
Here’s her full list:
Quite a mouthful, but warranted.
Sharma, though, seemed a bit shell-shocked. He replied:
Err… well Mr Speaker… umm… I thank the honourable lady for her – her comments. Could I just say that very many people outside this house, many stakeholders, have welcomed the statements that were made in this house on Friday…?
It’s unclear which “stakeholders” Sharma meant. Because judging by some charities and claimant groups, Rudd’s tinkering with Universal Credit didn’t wash. The Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG), for example, welcomed some aspects. But overall, it ‘stood by’ its view that the DWP should not move anyone “to universal credit in its current state”.
Sharma then reeled off a list of generally well-worn answers. There was nothing new in Sharma’s response to Greenwood, which seemed to incense MPs even more.
“Cruel and pernicious”
As the Mirror reported, SNP MP Alison Thewliss blasted the two-child limit, where some parents cannot claim benefits for a third child or others. As she spoke, she held up the so-called “‘rape clause’ form”:
Why does he feel this policy, with its cruel and pernicious policy with this form, must continue even though it’s been ruled unfair for other people?
Does he not see this creates a two tier system in Universal Credit depending when children were born?
Sharma’s response was typically “pernicious” as well:
It’s worth pointing out that for a family that supports themselves solely through work if they decide to have another child they wouldn’t automatically expect their wages to go up – this is about sustainability.
But it was perhaps Labour MP Angela Eagle who unleashed the most fury on Sharma.
Before she spoke, he said of opposition MPs:
If they would talk directly to the people responsible [DWP staff]… I think they would find that the system is working.
Eagle let rip:
The problem with [Universal Credit] is that it was introduced to save money… He’s put a little bit [of money] back… But he’s not put back what was taken away. And what was taken away is leaving my constituents relying on foodbank[s] with not enough to eat. And he needs to recognise that reality.
Sharma tried to woo Eagle with some hollow words. He suggested he and Eagle meet in her local Jobcentre. Bad move by Sharma, as Eagle screamed over him:
You shut it down!
The anger from MPs was very real and very raw. But will the DWP listen? We’ll see what token gestures Rudd comes up with next.
Watch some of the debate here:
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