Regular readers of my e-Newsletter will know I have some concerns about the government’s new(ish) welfare benefits project, Universal Credit. It launched in Eastbourne last month. This week I got an opportunity to press the government twice on at least two of the elements of UC which I think need fixing. The first was on Monday during the Work & Pensions debate where I pointed out to the minister that UC’s design worked against people who were self-employed.
Basically, as claimants update their details on a monthly basis this then fixes the following months UC but, and here’s the rub, doesn’t allow for the income fluctuations the self-employed often experience. If your income for one month is, for instance, £1,500 but then a lower £1,000 the next month, the amount you get in benefit won’t make up the shortfall of the lower amount in the same way that someone on a regular PAYE £1,000 per month would. This may sound a bit techie but I’d point out that there are an awful lot of self-employed people out there who will lose out as a consequence of being on UC unless the anomaly is fixed. Failure to do so also penalises the very aspirational people UC is supposed to encourage, which is simply wrong in my view. The minister confidently stepped up to the despatch box, and didn’t answer my question!
My second concern around UC I decided to raise directly with Theresa May when I was called during PMQs on Wednesday. The reputable charity, Child Poverty Action Group, recently published a report where they had extrapolated from government figures just how much of an impact the cuts in 2015 to UC are having on single parents with children.
The figure is genuinely shocking; the average single parent family will lose a staggering £2,380 per annum. I believe most people simply aren’t aware yet of how deep that income drop will be for the 2m single-parent families in the UK.
So I asked the PM a direct question; now that she and her government knew the impact of this savage reduction in income for single parents, did she feel “a sense of shame?” Her disappointing answer was to respond to a completely different question which I hadn’t actually asked. Rest assured I will keep the pressure up on this government, challenge them and hold them to account for their actions because that is how it should be in a democracy.
I am reminded sometimes though when I am up in Westminster that the utterly peerless television programme from years ago - Yes Minister - wasn’t so much a comedy, as more of a documentary!
Below you can watch Stephen Lloyd MP putting the PM on the spot.