Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) boss Thérèse Coffey sparked anger on Monday 13 September after appearing on BBC Breakfast. She was talking about the Tories’ £20 a week cut to Universal Credit, and one of her comments stood out. That’s because people accused her of either lying or not understanding the social security system.
Universal Credit chaos
As The Canary previously reported, in April 2020 the DWP increased Universal Credit by £20 a week. This was due to the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic. But chancellor Rishi Sunak and the DWP only made the increase temporary. From 6 October, the Tories will cut £20 a week from Universal Credit claimants.
This cut will hit various people hard, including 660,000 low-paid key workers, 3.4 million children, and six out of ten lone parent families. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) warned that:
Half a million more people are set to be pulled into poverty, including 200,000 children.
But so far, the DWP has refused to budge. Most recently, as The Canary reported, even the government’s own analysis shows that homelessness, poverty, and foodbank use will all rise because of the cut. Yet on 13 September, Coffey was still defending the indefensible.
Coffey: defending the indefensible
She was on BBC Breakfast essentially telling those affected by the cut to work more. She said:
£20 a week is about two hours extra work every week. We’ll be seeing what we can do to help people perhaps secure those extra hours.
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Coffey then rambled about the £20 a week being a “temporary uplift”. So suck it up, poor people:
"£20 a week is about two hours extra work every week, we will be seeing what we can do help people perhaps secure those extra hours”
— BBC Breakfast (@BBCBreakfast) September 13, 2021
Coffey left social media users unimpressed.
Lies? Or just clueless?
We have a DWP Secretary of State who doesn’t understand the way UC works.
For every £1 earned, you lose 63p in UC contributions.
Minimum wage would mean you have to work over 6 hours a week more to break even. 24 extra hours a month to earn £86. That’s £3.60 an hour.
— James Wright (@wrightjames83) September 13, 2021
Wright was not the only person who spotted this. Torsten Bell from think tank the Resolution Foundation put the number of hours even higher. He said if someone was on the National Living Wage (NLW) they’d have to work nine extra hours a week to make up for the £20 cut:
How long would a Universal Credit claimant on the NLW have to work to make up the £20 cut? NINE hours if they pay tax and NI. Ask yourself if you could do more than another day's work each week?
— Torsten Bell (@TorstenBell) September 13, 2021
And it’s true for many claimants. As the DWP notes, Universal Credit has Work Allowances built in:
A work allowance is the amount that you can earn before your Universal Credit payment is affected.
The monthly work allowances are set at:
£293 If your Universal Credit includes housing support
£515 If you do not receive housing support.
The DWP says:
for every £1 you earn over your work allowance (if you are eligible for one) your Universal Credit will be reduced by 63p.
This is what Wright, Bell and others were talking about. So, either Coffey was lying, or she forgot about her own social security rules.
DWP: conscious cruelty
DWP work allowances and deductions won’t affect some people. For example, people who are not working and who the DWP says don’t have to carry out or look for work. Often these are chronically ill and disabled people. So for them, they have no way of even starting to make up the loss of the £20 a week cut. None of this includes people on other social security like Employment and Support Allowance (ESA). The DWP didn’t give them any more money in the first place.
Despite all evidence for the awful position in which the Universal Credit cut will put countless people, the DWP and Tories look set to go ahead with it. This is also despite the original £20 uplift itself being inadequate to begin with. Moreover, when former DWP boss Iain Duncan Smith began launching Universal Credit in 2010, he shouted about how it means:
it will always pay for you to take a job.
The fact that people will have to work up to nine hours to make up a loss of £20 shows what a nonsense this was.
The Tories’ cut can only be called conscious cruelty, and a looming disaster, for potentially millions of people.
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