Bedford Borough’s Liberal Democrats have said the Government is “out of touch” over Universal Credit reforms, but the local Conservatives have said some of their comments are “misleading”.
Liberal Democrat Councillor Dean Crofts (Kingsbrook) said: “The decision to rip support from millions of families across the country shows how completely out of touch the Prime Minister really is.
“He claims that he wants people to live by their own efforts rather than welfare. So either he doesn’t know that almost half of those receiving Universal Credit are already in work or he doesn’t care.”
Upon hearing his comments, however, the leader of Bedford Borough Conservatives, Cllr Graeme Coombes (Wilshamstead) called the comments “misleading”.
“The Lib Dems are deliberately misleading people by claiming that this is a ‘cut’ to universal credit when it was actually a £20 uplift,” he said.
“It was always intended as a temporary increase which is now being wound down, alongside other Covid-19 support measures, such as the Furlough Scheme…
“It’s easy for Bedford Lib Dems to play fast and loose with other people’s hard-earned cash, by calling for the uplift to be made permanent.”
However, the reforms have also gained criticism from the UN.
Olivier De Schutter, the United Nations’ poverty envoy, has called it an “unconscionable” move that breaches international human rights law and is likely to trigger an explosion of poverty.
As reported in The Guardian, De Schutter sent a letter to the UK government, saying the withdrawal of the £1,000-a-year uplift from next month was “deliberately retrogressive”.
He also added it was incompatible with Britain’s obligation to protect its citizens’ rights to an adequate standard of living.
Cllr Crofts, says the Liberal Democrats are “demanding” the Government makes the uplift to Universal Credit permanent.
“The uplift should also be extended to people on legacy benefits, the majority of whom are disabled, who were callously denied the initial uplift entirely,” he said.
“Working people, many with young families, are struggling. Furlough is ending, food and energy costs are rising and the Government has hiked taxes on low-paid workers and the young, especially with the recent increase in National Insurance contributions which will hit the poorest hardest.”
But Cllr Coombes says this would create more problems for those already struggling.
“The reality, he said, “is that any permanent increase in Universal Credit would have to be funded out of the pockets of the hard-working, many of whom are only just scraping by.
“We all know that there isn’t much spare cash around at the moment, after the astronomical cost that Covid-19 has added to Government debts.
“If the Lib Dems now want to add to those debts, rather than support the economic recovery, it shows just how unconcerned they are about placing additional financial burdens on local taxpayers.”
The £20-a-week cut to universal credit will start next month, with critics claiming it will push half-million more people into poverty, including 200,000 children.
The Independent reported that an internal Whitehall analysis warned of a “catastrophic” impact from removing the support, including rising homelessness, poverty and foodbank use.
The Prime Minister has defended the cut.
Speaking about the reforms in August, he said: “My strong preference is for people to see their wages rise through their efforts rather than through taxation of other people put into their pay packets, rather than welfare.
“The key focus for this government is on making sure that we come out of Covid strongly, with a jobs-led recovery, and I’m very pleased to see the way the unemployment numbers, the unemployment rate has been falling, employment has been rising, but also wages have been rising.”