Boris Johnson faces yet another backbench rebellion over treasury spending this fall, as a prominent Tory MP has denounced “intolerable” levels of hunger and poverty in his affluent constituency of counties. ‘origin, and urged ministers to abandon plans to cut universal credit.
Steve Baker, a leading Brexiter and MP for Wycombe in Buckinghamshire, called on ministers not to ignore the cost of living crisis facing people ‘with real problems’ in constituencies like his that had been “rocked” financially by the pandemic.
Work and Pensions Minister Thérèse Coffey has confirmed that the pandemic universal credit hike of £ 20 per week will be phased out as planned at the end of September.
Coffey was known to have been uncomfortable about ending the uprising and pushed for its extension until September, but it is now believed he is resigned to the fact that Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak clash at any extension.
The Guardian understands that a number of compromise solutions – including those that would more directly target children in poverty – have been proposed, but the Treasury has made it clear to several ministries that spending plans need to be matched with tax increases.
Baker said keeping the £ 20 increase ‘was not enough’ and universal credit should be revised to remove the requirement that new applicants wait at least five weeks for a first payment, a measure accused of having pushed people into debt.
Senior Conservative MPs have indicated their opposition to the cut, including six former secretaries for work and pensions: Sir Iain Duncan Smith; Damien Vert; Esther McVey; Stephen Crabb; David Gauke; and Amber Rudd.
Six Tories – including the chairman of the education select committee, Rob Halfon – rebelled over the issue after Labor forced a vote in January before the extension was announced.
Labor is looking to re-test Tory support for the cuts when Parliament returns, including the possibility of forcing a vote, party sources say.
A cabinet source said she expected an increase in opposition in the fall, but said there was “no appetite” from the Treasury for the rise to continue. “The message is that the focus is on work and supporting employment,” the source said.
Baker’s comments came after Wycombe was identified as having the highest levels of food insecurity in the UK by a study from the University of Sheffield. About 14% of residents said they were hungry in January and February, while a third had difficulty feeding.
“This alarming report is a wake-up call for ministers,” he told the Guardian. He said he was not surprised by his findings. “I have told my colleagues over and over again during my time in Parliament that poverty extends to my constituency in South Buckinghamshire. “
Many of his constituents had been pressured by low wages, high housing costs and debt before being pushed into more serious trouble by the coronavirus. “It is obviously intolerable that anyone is hungry anywhere in the UK,” he added.
Such evidence of the cost of living crisis in the Tories’ southern England’s heartland region of the ‘blue wall’ will create more nervousness among a party already frightened by the surprise defeat of the June parliamentary elections in the cities neighbors of Amersham and Chesham.
The increase in payments, in place since April 2020, was intended as a temporary measure, but campaigners and MPs urged that it be kept.
“As soon as this report came out, I spoke to ministers about it,” Baker said. “I am determined to get to the heart of this problem and address it so that I can say to ministers, ‘We have to look at the level of the individual and the neighborhood where the poverty is,’ and that we do not continue. to ignore struggling people in places like Wycombe.
“I have always believed, with [former Tory welfare secretary] Iain Duncan Smith, that more money should go into universal credit, ”he said. “What I’m absolutely clear on is that when people are in poverty, we spend a lot through the welfare state and that should clearly help them, and it clearly isn’t. “
He dismissed criticism from local opposition politicians and activists unhappy with supporting social security cuts in the past and voting with the government last year to oppose proposals to expand support for children’s families on free school meals.
He said: “I’m not going to sit here today and go through a whole list of things, tough decisions made in 11 years in parliament and start to reverse them. But I’m going to say that when people switch to universal credit, they should just be paid immediately, and there should be no question of getting it back.
“There should be more money in universal credit to ensure that not only can people make a living from it, but that they can also benefit from the increase in work. This is why I want to look into this story. It should show everyone that even a place like Wycombe knows we need to do more to break these cycles of poverty. “
But he added that his concerns about government borrowing levels meant he was unlikely to rebel in parliamentary votes on financial matters.
The Sheffield results suggest that the impact on living standards goes far beyond traditionally disadvantaged areas, with groups of so-called ‘newly hungry’ people who are normally well off, in relatively wealthy areas struggling. to pay rent and bills, and have to cut back on food or use food banks.
Wycombe, a generally well-off mix of urban towns and semi-rural villages, is ranked 281 out of 317 in the England Deprivation Index. However, thousands of its residents are on leave or on universal credit due to the Covid crisis, leaving great difficulty in managing high rents and living costs.
The One Can Trust food bank in Wycombe has seen a 350% increase in demand for food packages during the pandemic. He said the Sheffield study revealed the scale of the difficulties in the region. ” For some people [people] it is a transitory problem and unfortunately for many living in poverty is a permanent situation.
Khalil Ahmed, the former Labor candidate for Wycombe, accused Baker of doing “too little, too late” to address the problems of poverty and food insecurity that have existed for years. “Steve Baker was part of the problem – and now he’s presenting himself as part of the solution,” he said.
A government spokesperson said: “Universal credit has provided a vital safety net for 6 million people during the pandemic, and we announced the temporary increase as part of a 400 billion dollar package. pounds sterling put in place that will last well beyond the end of the roadmap.
“We are now focused on our multibillion pound jobs plan, which will support people in the long run by helping them learn new skills and increase their hours or find a new job. “