View from Westminster: The Conservatives are taking us back to Victorian Britain

News Desk (23 September, 2021)

'Our food banks work with love and care to provide support, but their role should not be to plug gaping holes in our welfare state'

36601Helen Hayes, MP for Dulwich and West Norwood

Next week, the government will cut Universal Credit by £20 a week, more than £1000 a year, writes Helen Hayes…

This shameful cut is cruel and unnecessary. £20 a week makes all the difference to families on the lowest incomes, many of whom are already working all the hours they can but simply cannot make ends meet.

Our local food banks provide emergency food and other household essentials to hundreds of families in Southwark and Lambeth every week. They have been warning for months that if this cut goes ahead, the need for emergency food support will increase dramatically, putting even more pressure on their staff and volunteers.

The Conservatives are taking us back to Victorian Britain, where people forced into appalling hardship by the government’s failures are reliant on the good will of our communities in ever-increasing numbers. Our food banks work with love and care to provide support, but their role should not be to plug gaping holes in our welfare state.

This cut comes at a time when the cost of food is increasing, and the government is struggling to get a grip on soaring energy prices. The average household could see their annual gas and electricity costs go up to more than £1000, pushing hundreds of thousands into fuel poverty unable to heat their homes as the winter months approach. There can be no doubt that people will have to choose between putting food on the table or heating their homes, and some will go hungry or be forced into debt to pay for the bare essentials.

The cut to Universal Credit also makes no sense economically. When high streets up and down the country are struggling and shops are closing, it is completely counterproductive to take millions of pounds of expenditure away from high streets in every single constituency in the country.

Alongside my Labour Party colleagues, I have been calling on the government to cancel this devastating cut. Shamefully, when Labour forced a vote in the House of Commons last week Tory MPs couldn’t even be bothered to show up.

There are many ways in which the government could lift people out of poverty. They could raise the minimum wage to the real living wage, make housing and childcare more affordable and ban zero-hours contracts, but they have failed those on the lowest pay for more than a decade and now they are punishing the same low-paid workers.

These are the same people who have been at the frontline of the coronavirus pandemic working in social care, retail, childcare, as delivery drivers, hospital cleaners and porters and many other vital roles. This is no way to treat those who have seen us through the greatest crisis since the second world war.

It does not take a degree in engineering to know that if the screws are too tight, the pressure will buckle and break even the strongest of materials. This cut to Universal Credit risks breaking people whose strength and resilience have already been placed under intense pressure as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and more than a decade of Tory austerity. I will continue to fight against this cut and for everyone who is struggling to get the support they need.


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