Theresa May 'will take no lessons’ from Gordon Brown after Universal Credit ‘chaos’ warning
Downing Street has said Theresa May will not “take lessons” from Gordon Brown as the Labour grandee urged her to halt the Universal Credit welfare shake-up or risk riots on the streets.
In a major intervention tonight, the Labour former Prime Minister will predict “a return to poll tax-style chaos in a summer of discontent” if ministers fail to change course.
Universal Credit - which aims to combine six existing benefits into one - is set for a full national rollout next year.
But it has already been hit with a string of technical problems, and Work and Pensions Secretary Esther McVey is reported to have warned Cabinet colleagues that millions of families could lose up to £200 a month under the changes.
Speaking in Edinburgh, Mr Brown will say: “Surely the greatest burning injustice of all is children having to go to school ill-clad and hungry. It is the poverty of the innocent – of children too young to know they are not to blame.
“But the Conservative government lit the torch of this burning injustice and they continue to fan the flames with their £3bn of cuts. A return to poll tax-style chaos in a summer of discontent lies ahead.”
Riots swept the country when the Conservatives introduced the poll tax - officially known as the Community Charge - in 1990. Its introduction is seen as a key factor in the downfall of then-PM Margaret Thatcher.
But a spokesperson for the Prime Minister blasted back: "Suffice to say I'm not necessarily sure that the PM is going to take lessons from Gordon Brown on this particular issue.
“Under his system of tax credits, not only did some people have completely unclaimed benefits because the system was too complicated, you also had a situation where MPs were recipients of benefits."
The spokesman added: “It was clearly a system that doesn't work and we think that Universal Credit is better."
The row comes after Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell dropped the clearest hint yet that Labour could axe the entire Universal Credit shake-up if it wins power.
The party has previously backed the principle of the reform, but Mr McDonnell said people were "coming to the conclusion" that the system has "got to go".
Speaking at Prime Minister’s Questions today, Mrs May mounted a defence of the embattled scheme, saying that a million disabled households would get “£110 a month more as a result of being on Universal Credit”.
The Prime Minister meanwhile insisted that families moving onto the programme would be protected, when directly pressed on the £200 figure attributed to Esther McVey.