Thank you to those of you who have contacted me about the migration of people on legacy benefits to Universal Credit (UC) and your concerns about the impact this will have.
I note that the Government has chosen to embark on this programme which will cut the incomes of some of the most vulnerable people in our society at a time of rising inflation and when 500,000 children may be pushed into absolute poverty.
I know that a cross-party alternative to the Government’s approach has been suggested by the chairs of the House of Commons’ Treasury and Work and Pensions Select Committees. They recommend bringing forward a proportion of the UC increase Ministers have indicated will take place in 2023. Yet the Government has chosen to ignore these calls by claiming, despite evidence to the contrary, that the Department for Work and Pensions’ IT systems would not allow this to happen. In my view, it is not the DWP’s IT mainframe that is preventing Ministers from acting, it is their frame of mind. Their inaction comes after they chose to end the £20-a-week uplift to UC in place during the COVID-19 pandemic and refused to raise legacy benefits while the uplift was in place, a decision that was challenged in the Courts.
With food prices increasing, heating bills going up and taxes rising, this is a hugely difficult time for many families and I believe the Government needs to act. Yet to date its choices have left people worse off. For example, it should have implemented a windfall tax sooner and it should not have raised National Insurance, a decision I voted against. I also voted in favour of cutting VAT on household energy bills from 5% to 0% for this year. The poorest households in the UK spend a higher proportion of their income on gas and electricity bills, with pensioners spending the highest proportion of all, so the beneficiaries of this measure would have been the people who need support more than anyone. Unfortunately, due to Government MPs voting against this proposal it was defeated.
I assure you that I will continue to follow developments in these areas closely, bear in mind the points you have raised and call on the Government to do more to tackle the cost-of-living crisis.
Thank you once again for contacting me about this very important issue.