You know it’s wrong when a gaggle of Tory ex-ministers cannot stomach their own parties attacks on the working poor.
Former Tory leader and instigator of Universal Credit (UC) Sir Iain Duncan Smith, along with five of his successors – Stephen Crabb, Damian Green, David Gauke, Esther McVey and Amber Rudd – have penned a letter in a bid to persuade Rishi Sunak to stick with the £5 billion benefits investment even after coronavirus restrictions have been eased.
The extra cash for benefit claimants was brought in as an emergency spending measure during the Covid crisis but is due to expire on October 1, having already been extended for six months at the March Budget.
But Sir Iain warned that a failure to keep the uplift in place permanently would “damage living standards, health and opportunities” for those that “need our support most as we emerge from the pandemic”.
Research from think-tank the Legatum Institute calculates that the weekly top-up has spared hundreds of thousands of people from destitution.
Although the number of people claiming benefits has risen from three to six million during Covid-19, the group estimates Universal Credit has saved a further 650,000 people from falling into poverty over this timeframe.
In a joint letter to Mr Sunak, the six former cabinet ministers said: “The UC uplift has rightly been allocated into the standard allowance of UC as many have not been able to work and it has been right to protect people whilst they cannot work.
“Today all six former Conservative secretaries of state for work and pensions have written with one voice to urge the Chancellor to protect the extra money he has invested in Universal Credit.
“As such, this investment should be at the heart of what makes us Conservatives: delivering the policies needed to provide businesses and people across the UK with opportunities to prosper, whilst simultaneously providing support to those at risk of being left behind.
“A failure to act would mean not grasping this opportunity to invest in a future with more work and less poverty and would damage living standards, health and opportunities for some of the families that need our support most as we emerge from the pandemic.”
“But as the economy reopens, and the Government re-evaluates where it has been spending money, we ask that the current funding for individuals in the Universal Credit envelope be kept at the current level.”
Ministers told MPs in the Commons last week that there will be less need for the £20 weekly rise in Universal Credit payments once coronavirus restrictions have been scrapped, with the Government looking set to abolish social distancing restrictions by July 19.
But in a statement, Sir Iain Duncan Smith said making it a permanent feature “should be at the heart of what makes us Conservatives”.
“One of the greatest, but unremarked, successes of the Government’s response to Covid has been the benefit system,” said the Tory grandee.
“Universal Credit has held up well as a system for distributing money to those who need it, and the extra £20 added to has been essential in allowing people to live with dignity.
Duncan Smith told the Observer: “Universal credit levels-up because it gets people back into work, back into the sense of work.
“We’ve got ourselves caught, with the Treasury now demanding that we start getting the money back from Covid. We should treat this like war debt. We can’t go back into a massive cutting exercise. Ultimately, that will affect the worst-off in society.”
Shadow business secretary Ed Miliband said: “Soaring gas prices will plunge half a million more families into fuel poverty.
“It’s simply indefensible for the government to cut Universal Credit. If the Business Secretary is really spending today trying to work out how to help, his starting point must be to cancel the cut.”
Let’s hope other Tories grow a conscience and backbone and together with the operation get this passed through.