An opposition day motion tabled by the Labour Party, calling on the government to cancel the £20-per-week cut to Universal Credit due to take effect next month, has been passed by the Commons by 253 votes to zero against.
Commenting after the vote, in which Conservative MPs were instructed to abstain, Labour MP Angela Eagle said: “This government is showing such contempt that it can’t even be bothered to take part in these votes.”
The debate was not well attended by Conservative MPs. There were fewer than 30 present in the chamber at times. Labour MP Zarah Sultana accused the Tories of being “too cowardly to defend their cruel attack on the working class”.
Earlier today, Labour criticised the “warped priorities” of the Conservatives and the Prime Minister as Johnson this afternoon embarked on a reshuffle of his cabinet ministers while MPs prepared to debate the opposition day motion.
“I hear there are rumours of a reshuffle possibly being under way. As members will know, if a cabinet minister today were to lose their job and return to the backbenches, they would receive a payoff of £15,000 each,” Jonathan Reynolds said.
“Will anyone in this debate say that’s unaffordable? Because it always seems to be a different rule for the people we’re talking about than everybody else in the country.”
The Universal Credit uplift was introduced during the first wave of Covid, raising the standard rate for a single, over-25 claimant from £317.82 to £409.89 a month. Theresa Coffey confirmed in July that it would not be extended beyond the autumn.
Ministers have suggested that the withdrawal is part of a push to get people into work, despite the latest Department for Work and Pensions figures showing that almost 40% of people on the benefit are in employment.
The Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary added: “Charities say it will be cutting a lifeline to millions. Economists say it will be sucking spending from our local high streets. Even the government’s own internal analysis makes clear it will be catastrophic.
“No-one in this House can say they didn’t know. No one will be able to say that they weren’t warned. The effects of this cut are clear as day. It is wrong for our constituents, wrong for the British economy, quite simply it’s wrong for Britain.”
The non-binding motion was the second attempt by Labour, in just over a week, to force a vote on the issue. The government cancelled an opposition day last week so that MPs could vote on a rise in National Insurance contributions instead.
Almost six million households will lose £20 per week as a result of the cut. The standard allowance for a single person over 25, excluding rent, will be £324.84 per month. It will be £257.33 per month for under-25s.
The Joseph Rowntree Foundation has estimated that the move will send half a million people, including 200,000 children, into poverty. A recently leaked government memo admitted that “homelessness and poverty are likely to rise, and food banks usage will soar”.
Labour has urged against cutting the uplift repeatedly and described the decision, combined with the move to increase National Insurance contributions to fund the NHS and social care, as a “double whammy” for households on low incomes.
Boris Johnson announced his long-awaited plan for social care last week, which involves raising a £12bn-a-year levy with a 1.25 percentage-point increase in National Insurance. The government has said the cash will be used to tackle the healthcare backlog caused by Covid before the rest is directed towards social care.
Bridget Phillipson, Labour’s Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury, explained in the chamber why the Universal Credit cut is “more than political – it’s personal” as she was raised by a single mum who could not afford a new coat for her and had to rely on the kindness of a neighbour.