Owen Smith: Universal Credit cuts show the hypocrisy of Tory claims to be the workers’ party

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Owen Smith

 

As wrongheaded Government decisions go, it’s hard to imagine one much worse than deciding to make 2.5 million working families right across the country over £2,100 a year worse off.  It nails your values and priorities to the mast in mile-high ugly lettering, showing that supporting working people struggling to get by just isn’t what you think politics is about.

Yet this is exactly what the Tories are doing by deciding to press ahead with cuts to Universal Credit, as new research published by the Resolution Foundation this week makes clear.  It once again shows how cruelly ironic it was for the Tories to ever suggest they are a party of the workers.

If this issue seems like a familiar one, that’s because it is.  Last year, the Tories tried to force through reductions to Tax Credits that would have had a very similar impact to these Universal Credit cuts.  Taking vital support away from low and middle paid working families, with single parents among the worst hit.

It was an issue that forced the Government in to one of their most galling U-turns and marked a huge victory for working families. Although sadly, large numbers of people on tax credits will not get the protection they were promised, as many will be moved on to Universal Credit and be hit by the same cuts, just re-badged.

Part of the reason the Tories have come under such pressure over this issue is that they have simply not been straight with people about their plans for massive cuts to the social security budget. Ahead of the election it emerged that the Tories would look to cut £12bn, but their politicians went to great lengths to avoid saying where those cuts would fall.  Now we know why.  As it is clear that the vast majority were planned to hit disabled people and working families on low or middle incomes.  However, their attempts to sneak through the cuts are coming apart at the seams.

We’ve already seen another U-turn on the proposed cuts to the Personal Independence Payments (PIPs), as the Tories realised that the public would not stomach yet more attacks on disabled people.

Now the pressure continues to mount over the cuts to Universal Credit, as the full picture of the damage they will cause becomes apparent.  The evidence of huge losses couldn’t be clearer or more authoritative, coming from organisations like the IFS, the OBR, The Equality Trust and the House of Commons Library.  The DWP’s own internal briefing papers have said people should work 200 more hours a year for no extra money, to make up the losses.  No matter if you are already a single parent working full time and or your employer has no more hours to give you.

Even Iain Duncan Smith, upon his resignation, said the “salami slicing” of Universal Credit was undermining the work incentives that were supposed to be at its core.  This coming from a politician who will be remembered for overseeing one of the most callous periods in the history of our social security system.

Yet in a Today programme interview, on the very day the Resolution Foundation’s research showed the devastating impact on work incentives, IDS’ successor Stephen Crabb couldn’t bring himself to be straight with people.  He tried every trick and turn of phrase possible to avoid admitting the harsh truth.  When that is the very least he owes the millions set to lose out.

If the new Secretary of State had a problem with the cuts he had a golden opportunity on taking over the DWP to make a clear break, listen to the demands of Labour and reverse them.  Instead he chose to use his first speech to commit to the cuts in full.  Despite the fact that there is clearly no intellectual or moral case for saying that the Tax Credits cuts were unacceptable, but these Universal Credit ones to the same low and middle paid workers are ok.

So in this week of crucial elections, the division between Labour and the Tories is clear.

On the one hand the Tories pressing ahead to cuts that will mean work simply doesn’t pay for millions of families.  On the other a Labour Party that will campaign right across the country to see these cuts reversed, just as we did so passionately on PIP and Tax Credits.  I’m confident that if we show the same fighting spirit – starting with the run up to Thursday’s elections – we can secure yet another win.

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