Therese Coffey should listen to those who really do understand how Universal Credit works

It is pretty staggering when a Government Minister goes on national television and exposes their own ignorance of something they are in charge of. But when that ignorance leads to them doing things that make it more difficult for the poorest people in our country to put food on the table and heat their homes, it is particularly reprehensible.

MPs’ inboxes are full of really heartbreaking stories from people who are already struggling to survive on Universal Credit and are dreading the £20 cut which comes in at the end of this month.

And then you have Therese Coffey, Work and Pensions Secretary, blithely say that all people will have to do is work an extra couple of hours. Well, er, no. It’s more like nine hours. She firstly assumes that people are getting £10 per hour when the minimum wage is £8.91. Then she forgets that for every £1 people earn over £293 per week, they lose 63p of their Universal Credit. The Lib Dems could have embraced the power of and in this tweet:

Therese Coffey fails to understand that it’s low paid working people with children who are struggling the most. Work really doesn’t always pay. And that is if you can get it. We haven’t started to really feel the long term economic impact of both Brexit and the pandemic yet. And with furlough ending at the end of this month, we may well see significant job losses.

Back in July, the Child Poverty Action Group set out why those families need the £20 uplift to stay:

Seventy-five per cent of children growing up in poverty in the UK live in households where at least one adult works. Low-income working families are struggling to pay for essentials like utility bills, new school uniforms and the food shop. In a couple household, having both members of a couple in work is increasingly important in preventing child poverty but in reality, universal credit does little to support parents trying to increase their income through work.

Firstly, as soon as a family with children earns more than £293 a month (their ‘work allowance’), for every pound they earn through work their universal credit is reduced by 63p. The very limited single work allowance, combined with the high reduction rate, makes it very difficult for families to increase their income through work.

And that is before you get to the practicalities of paying for childcare:

Universal credit allows parents in work to claim 85 per cent of childcare costs but only up to a certain limit. However, it’s standard practice for childcare providers to require parents to pay a month’s or even a term’s fees upfront. Parents on universal credit who are starting a new job are expected to find a way to pay for a childcare place before universal credit will support them, and before they receive their first pay cheque. Some may get help with these costs via the flexible support fund, but this is a discretionary fund that has not been well promoted, and the pot of money available is too small to meet demand.

You also have to remember that the minute we were out of Government, the Tories froze benefits. For FOUR YEARS.

If you are in a reasonably paid job, you might feel aggrieved if you didn’t get a rise for four years. Imagine how you would feel if you didn’t get enough to provide the basics in the first place.

And that’s before we consider the appalling two child rule. If you have a third child born after April 2017, you can’t get the child element of Universal Credit for that child. Legal challenges against this cruel rule have failed.

4.3 million children were living in poverty before the pandemic. As a country that should shame us all.

Good people need to act against a Government that fails the poorest in our society every day. Write to your MP, sign petitions, and, most importantly, make sure people understand the impact of what the Government is doing. If people say “well, it’s only a couple of hours extra work” explain the reality. Explain how people are still struggling even with this £20 a week uplift.

There is a vote in Parliament on this tomorrow, but it’s an Opposition Day one that won’t be binding on the Government. Obviously Liberal Democrats will be voting to keep the uplift and make it permanent. We need to keep this issue high in the public’s mind to shame the Government into a desperately needed u-turn.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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9 Comments

  • Lorenzo Cherin 14th Sep '21 - 12:10pm

    Very good piece.

    The government ministers are worse than ever. The quality of mind and paucity of ambition staggers me.

    The party ought to stop equidistance. Labour is better whatever some might say. progressive alliances are needed with them. This is not about Greens who are not winning anywhere other than Brighton. It is about a myriad of Labour mps better than this govt!

  • @ Lorenzo Cherin “Greens who are not winning anywhere other than Brighton”.

    There is a real world outside Nottingham and Brighton, Lorenzo. In Scotland the Greens have just entered Government and are now the fourth party ahead of the Lib Dems.

  • I have seen Therese Coffey interviewed on several occasions (local lockdowns, UK death rates)..In no interview has she showed the slightest grasp of her ministerial duties.When I worked If any of my staff appeared at a meeting as ignorant and badly informed as she is there would be repercussions..
    An outstanding failure in a government of failures..

  • Lorenzo Cherin 14th Sep '21 - 5:04pm

    expats is really spot on here. That is my point. In Scotland the Green party are in govt. they are nowhere in the UK parliament a threat to the Tories. An alliance that brings Liberalism and social democracy in partnership, to the electorate, for radical sensible change is needed. we cannot wait for more defeats for this divided opposition. i loathe far left and far right. only the mainstream progressive agenda and parties and traditions, can defeat either of these extremes. This govt contains few of any calibre and none with any vision. Cooperating with others to defeat people like Coffey is essential in some areas of the country. I think there is too much demonising of Johnson or Raab, not enough of those whose obvious uselessness is joined by cruel attitudes and inhumane sentiment.

    This govt contains literally by my account and surely others, any of the ability of a Thatcher, none with any of the humanity of a Major!

  • Jayne mansfield 14th Sep '21 - 5:28pm

    What an appalling specimen of womanhood.

    Apart from the moral argument that the uplift of Universal credit should stay, something argued by Iain Duncan Smith and others in his party, I am puzzled because although no economist, when one helps people out of poverty by increasing the income of the low paid, one also helps to boost the local economy, any extra money, by necessity going back into the local economy, grocery shops , etc. A win, win progressive move as far as I can see.

    I find her comments a spiteful attack on the the working poor, who it seems, are the architects of their own misfortune for having a low hourly wage, and not earning more by working more.

  • More confirmation I think we are going back to a bunch of politicians who think in terms of ” undeserving poor”. I thought we had as a society moved a long way from this mindset. I flashed back to reading Tressell when I was much younger many decades ago.
    Not sure her gender is a factor but Therese Coffeys overall incompetence is.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 14th Sep '21 - 9:51pm

    David you could have said it with more subtle charm, but point taken and dealt accordingly with above!

  • Rif Winfield 15th Sep '21 - 7:57am

    and of course Therese Coffey is following the normal pattern of assuming that all Universal Credit recipients can both work and can find employment. This is the normal government slight-of-hand of portraying all UB recipients as work-shy. Many are medically unable to work because of long-term limiting illness or disability, but do not meet the stringent DWP criteria for claiming disability benefits (this is particularly true of those with mental health impairments, or those whose conditions mean total exhaustion after a couple of hours of exertion), and who are thus reliant on UB. This is why we need an effective universal basic income (UBI) applicable to every adult rather than a universal benefit (UB) ‘handout’.

  • The same old populist playbook: choose a scapegoat to fit the script.

    During good times: the working poor and remaining unemployed are just not working hard enough/looking hard enough for work.

    During hard times: immigrants are taking all the jobs or it’s the fault of the last Labour government. (This time they’ve got Covid for cover, but Brexit definitely IS their fault).

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