MPs Vote To Keep £20 A Week Universal Credit Increase In Labour's Motion, Including Six Tory Rebels
The Commons has passed a motion calling for the £20 a week increase to Universal Credit payments to be kept after the majority of Tories abstained on Labour’s opposition day debate.
The uplift to the benefit, introduced last year to help households cope with the effects of the pandemic, is currently due to be end in April.
After Boris Johnson told his MPs not to vote in the debate as a decision would be made on the issue by the Chancellor Sunak “in due course”, the call to keep the increase passed by 278 to 0.
But six Conservatives disobeyed the prime minister and backed the motion. They were:
- Peter Aldous
- Stephen Crabb
- Robert Halfon
- Jason McCartney
- Anne Marie Morris
- Matthew Offord
Former Cabinet minister Stephen Crabb spoke out in the debate: "The question for us right now is whether at the end of March this year, just 10 weeks away, it's the right time to begin unwinding this support - specifically to remove the extra support for Universal Credit claimants - and I don't believe it is the right moment”.
He urged the government to keep the £20 weekly rise in Universal Credit for a further 12 months in order to give people "certainty" over their finances.
Shadow work and pensions secretary Jonathan Reynolds said cutting £1,000 from Universal Credit “is like pulling the rug from under the economy's feet”.
Setting out Labour’s opposition motion, which is non-binding, he said: "This £20 a week, it is not a saving for families, it is spent – it is spent in shops and businesses around the country, stimulating the economy.”
Shadow chancellor Anneliese Dodds said: “It is astonishing that the government is still threatening family finances” in the middle of another lockdown, and called the cut to Universal Credit “one part of a triple hammer blow on families across the country when coupled with its council tax rise of 5% and pay freeze for many key workers”.
Tory Simon Fell, a member of the Northern Research Group of Conservative backbench MPs, who abstained from the vote, told the Commons "now is not the time" to remove the Universal Credit uplift, which he said had been “life-saving".
"This uplift was brought in to help people through the extreme challenges of the pandemic and those challenges haven't passed,” he said.
“Indeed, as furlough ends we may be entering even more challenging times.
"More and more people have been pushed into the category of 'just about managing'. More and more people are now using Universal Credit than ever before."
Six Tories voted with Labour for the motion, but overall the number who defied their own government was lower than expected, with most of the party’s MPs who spoke in the debate criticising Labour for putting forward the motion in the first place and accusing them of “political point-scoring”.
After the last Opposition Day debate on extending free school meals lead to criticism on social media for those who voted against it, Conservative member for Gedling Tom Randall accused Sir Keir Starmer’s party of trying to "stoke up an emotionally-charged atmosphere at a difficult time".
And his fellow member of the 2019 intake Saqib Bhatti said: "If the last Opposition debate is anything to go by it will be used by many as an excuse to abuse some of my colleagues and my friends, some with physical threats as happened last time to themselves and their families, and these should be condemned across the House."
But Labour former shadow Cabinet minister Andrew Gwynne rejected that argument, saying: "This isn't a game, it's people's lives, millions of people's lives. It's our children's future and sometimes we need to unite across the political divide to make a stand, to do the right thing.
"This political spin that by abstaining tonight, it deprives Labour of the opportunity to incite, and I quote, 'hatred and bullying' towards Conservative MPs is just ratcheting up that game playing.
"The only anger will be because this isn't a game for six million families, it's real life, and the best way to remove that anger is to do the right thing and vote for the motion to stop the cut. All members know this cut is wrong."
Labour MP for Birkenhead Mick Whitley accused the PM of a "failure of leadership" over the UK's response to the coronavirus pandemic.
He said: "The Government should hang its head in shame for leaving people on Universal Credit living under the shadow of a potential cut in their benefits at the end of March.
"We face the worst recession of any European country to large extent due to the Government's shambolic handling of the Covid-19 pandemic.
"The Prime Minister's failure to provide a clear strategy, some economic certainty and the adequate financial support that millions of people desperately need is a failure of leadership and of government policy."