Tag Archives: universal credit

Lib Dem Conference highlights – the Universal Credit Debate

On of my highlights of Conference was the debate on the emergency motion on delaying the rollout of Universal Credit because it is turning into a disaster for the people who are forced to claim it. People have to wait 6 weeks or longer for money. Imagine what that is like if you have no savings to get you through – a situation many people on low incomes will face.

The idea of Universal Credit is a very good one. It aimed to end the poverty trap which stopped people on benefits from getting work because it cost them to do so.

I made a speech from a Scottish perspective, outlining the principles of accessibility, fairness and confidence that were in our manifesto on social security and observing that Universal Credit meets none of them in its current form.

Other speakers gave some pretty harrowing examples of how people could lose their homes and have to rely on food banks to get by.

I am really hopeful, though, that we really are going to take this stuff to the Tories and try and get things changed.

The reason for my optimism is our new Department of Work and Pensions spokesperson Stephen Lloyd. Remember all that energy he put in to regaining his Eastbourne seat? He seriously never stopped campaigning after 2015. Well, that energy and determination is going in to opposing the Tory Government and building alliances across the Parliament to force the Government to think again. Here, in full, is the speech that he made in the debate:

The Tories’ reputation for competence is an oxymoron of epic proportions. This is a party who have politicised our police force with their ridiculous introduction of police and crime commissioners, prevented councils from building new council homes from the receipts of Margaret Thatcher’s huge council house sell-off programme decades ago, which is a direct cause of today’s appalling housing shortage – and then today the complete shambles of what they’ve done with Universal Credit. Competence is not a word which springs to mind!

The original concept of UC was ‘to make work pay’ and when we supported it in coalition it would have done. Since then though, over £3bn has been taken out of the programme. The work allowance, for instance, an amount people on benefits can earn before those benefits start being reduced, has been slashed to the bone. In some cases – to zero!  And the taper rate, which determines how much people get to keep of their benefits for every extra pound earned, has also been cut to ribbons!!

This has rendered the entire principle behind universal credit – to make work pay, something I and the Liberal Democrats passionately believe in – utterly worthless.

Universal credit is no longer a progressive, reliable policy; it is a complete train wreck. And the Conservatives are responsible!!

It gets worse. Housing payments made directly to the tenants; something I fiercely opposed at the time when I was on the Work and Pensions Select Committee – telling the ministers that it would lead to a shocking rise in rent defaults. And I remember so clearly the then Secretary of State chiding me for ‘not trusting that tenants would pass the money on to their landlords’….

The result?, and this is even before the full national UC rollout-out, have been every bit as bad as I feared; if not worse!

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Scottish Parliament calls for rollout of Universal Credit to be halted

Alex Cole-Hamilton was one of the MSPs calling for the rollout of Universal Credit to be halted during a debate in the Scottish Parliament today. Only the Conservatives defended the continued rollout.

We know that people are having to wait up to 6 weeks for any money at all. MSPs had some real horror stories to report which you can see in the full record of the debate here.

Alex’s speech was very well crafted – and it was candid, too. He both acknowledged and distanced himself from the Liberal Democrat role in the coalition government’s welfare reform. However, he was able to show that without us there, the Tories have done a great deal worse. Here’s his speech in full.

I often speak with hyperbole in this place about the various responsibilities that we as decision makers discharge both in this Parliament and at Westminster, but the safety net that we provide for those who, for whatever reason, cannot provide for themselves should be the measure of any civilised society. My party has a proud history in the genesis and introduction of the welfare state in the early days of the 20th century, with the first state pension introduced under Lloyd George. In the 1940s, that great Liberal William Beveridge was the catalyst for the advent of social security when he identified the original “giant evils”, as he described them, of ignorance, idleness, squalor, want and disease. It is a failure of progress that, if we strip out the antiquated language, many of those evils still hold sway in our society today.

We should remember that, until this decade, the systems of welfare in this country had not undergone significant reform since their introduction, despite generations of incremental modification. For decades, welfare reform was sought by poverty campaigners, third sector organisations and academics so that we could dispense with unneeded red tape and inject much-needed social mobility into the system.

It fell to my party, in its period of coalition government, to co-preside over that much-needed redesign. I would, however, that we had had different bedfellows in that task. There are elements of the system that underpins the process that I take no pride in at all, and there are aspects of the new system that I still find shameful. Nevertheless, I am glad that we were there, for I dread to think of the welfare system that our Conservative partners would have designed unencumbered. We all saw the measure of the ideological compass behind Conservative social policy in the ill-fated manifesto that Theresa May published in the spring.

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Lord Jonny Oates at the Pudding Club at York

Lord Oates

I was delighted to welcome Lord Jonny Oates to York last month for a visit to our annual Pudding Club – one of the highlights of our local parties social calendar!

Lord Oates, who was recently made a life peer after serving as a councillor in Kingston Upon Thames and later as Chief of Staff to Nick Clegg, highlighted his concerns about proposed cuts to Universal Credit to local party members in York.

As readers will know, last year George Osborne was forced to re-think cuts to working tax credits after a local and national campaign by the Lib Dems. The changes were set to hit 8,000 families in York, but the Chancellor said households claiming the benefit would be helped by “transitional protection” as they moved to the new single Universal Credit.

Work and Pensions Secretary, Iain Duncan Smith, claimed that “nobody will lose any money on arrival on universal credit from tax credits”. Many residents in York were reassured and pleased that a U-Turn had been made.

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Another day, another time Labour doesn’t bother turning up to defeat Government in Lords

You would think, wouldn’t you, that if there was a chance to defeat the Government, especially if it was to do with helping out low paid workers, Labour Lords would show up, wouldn’t you?

Certainly that would be a triumph of hope over experience in this Parliament, given that they never bothered to kill of the tax credit rise when they had the chance. Nor, of course, did they turn up to secure votes at 16.

Again tonight, they failed to show up to vote for a Liberal Democrat motion to get rid of the cuts to Universal Credit from April 2017. These are exactly the same cuts that were going to happen to tax credits.

Speaking after the defeat of the Lib Dem motion (by 91 votes to 202, which is a pretty spectacular turnout for our peers, Lords Chief Whip Dick Newby said:

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Lib Dem amendment aims to repeal £1000 cut for low-paid families

The Liberal Democrats have tabled an amendment which would stop the Chancellor’s planned cuts to Universal Credit which are still in place, meaning that families on the lowest income will face a similar annual cut in income as those who receive tax credits. Osborne stopped the tax credit cuts after political pressure but the Universal Credit cuts are still planned to go ahead.

The changes mean that anyone applying for Universal Credit from 2017 would be £1000 worse off.

Work and Pensions spokesperson Zahida Manzoor said:

George Osborne claimed he listened to concerns about low income working families losing out when he U-turned on Tax Credits, but in fact he has simply delayed the pain.

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Farron stands up for families on low incomes facing cuts in Universal Credits

Tim Farron has challenged Conservative and Labour parliamentarians to join with the Liberal Democrats to overturn the Government’s proposed cuts to Universal Credit. These are almost identical to the cuts to tax credits which the Chancellor reversed in his Autumn Statement. It is surely only logical that the changes to Universal Credit should also be reversed.

The Party is to put an amendment repealing those changes. It will be discussed as part of the Committee stage on the Welfare Reform and Work Bill in the New Year.

Tim Farron said:

The first big political battle of 2016 is already looming.

The Liberal Democrats worked hard to stop Tax Credit cuts and we won’t let the Government bring it in through the back door.

The Prime Minister and Chancellor claim they want to make work pay, but cuts to Universal Credit will mean people pocket less of what they earn.

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The next housing crash

It’s not only the Tory crackdown on tax credits for families that will hit the working poor: it’s the Conservatives’ multiple mistakes on social housing that will do the most damage to our society. The problem is, these are less well-understood. Yet added together, they are set to cause a social housing sector crash almost comparable to the banking crash.

This is probably unintended – not least because there’s not one single policy that’s driving this. It’s the combination of a series of separate decisions that are coming together to fatally undermine the finances of many social housing providers, especially housing associations. More cuts in tax credits and benefits of course cause problems to the social housing sector by themselves – because they are certain to lead to greater rent arrears. But it’s only when you add in other changes, like the way benefits will be paid in the future, imposed cuts to housing association rents and the ideologically driven extension of the Right to Buy to Housing Associations, that the full disaster facing us becomes clearer.

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