Conservative MPs accuse citizens of ‘scaremongering stories’ about experiences of Universal Credit.

Conservative MP Wendy Morton says Universal Credit ‘helps’ people into work and criticises opposition MPs for ‘scaremongering.’ However, the new benefit has pushed people into debt and rent arrears, with some forced to rely on food banks to survive. It’s difficult to see precisely how a social security benefit that creates those circumstances could possibly help people into work.

The introduction of Universal Credit was aimed at ‘incentivising’ people into work and to work longer hours, by ensuring that for those needing to claim welfare support, the experience was as uncomfortable as possible. Under the Conservatives, social security has been transformed into a system that metes out discipline,  coercing citizens into compliance with state-defined economic outcomes, rather than serving as a national insurance-funded provision to meet people’s basic necessities, should they need it – which was the original intention behind the welfare state. 

The introduction of ordeals and harsh conditionality in the process of welfare administration was designed to ensure that no-one felt secure or ‘entitled’ to claim support. The Conservatives believe provision for meeting people’s basic survival needs when they experience financial disadvantage somehow produces ‘perverse incentives’ that make being out of work a more favourable option than looking for work.

However, much research – both historic and recent – has indicated that unless people are secure in being able to meet their basic needs – which requires having sufficient resources to cover the cost of fundamental necessities such as food, fuel and shelter consistently – then it is highly unlikely they will be able to fulfil higher level psychosocial needs, including looking for work. In short, absolute poverty limits human potential. It’s therefore simply not possible to  punish people out of being poor.  The problem of poverty is structural and material, it doesn’t arise because of some kind of moral, character or behavioural deficit on the part of poor people.

We learned this through the consequences of the punitive 1834 Poor Law, the research of Benjamin Seebohm Rowntree and the later work of Peter Townsend. Rowntree’s discovery was that poverty arises as the result of low wages, which went against the traditionally held view that poor people were somehow responsible for their own circumstances. The Conservatives view is a regressive one. 

The Government has claimed that disciplinary sanctions are a method of enforcing “cultural and behavioural change” of people claiming both in-work and out-of-work social security. This of course assumes that people’s behaviours are a problem in the first place.

Sanctions don’t address the decision-making of employers – who are ultimately responsible for establishing rates of pay and the hours of work for employees – nor do they address exploitation or structural problems, such as political decision-making that results in inequality, poverty, reduced access to opportunity and resources and a deregulated labour market that creates constraints for those looking for work.

Sanctions are one of the government’s draconian methods of ‘making work pay’. This is what Conservatives like Morton mean by ‘helping people into work. She means that people are being systematically punished into increasing their economic productivity, regardless of whether that actually ‘pays’ for them and alleviates poverty. It means that the Government has abdicated responsibility for the consequences of its own policy and decision-making regarding the UK’s socioeconomic organisation, choosing instead to scapegoat the casualties of those policies and decisions.

Furthermore, contrary to the government’s claims, international research has shown that generous welfare provision actually increases the likelihood that people will have a stronger work ethic and be much more willing and able to look for work. 

The Institute for Fiscal Study (IFS) carried out an independent study of Universal Credit and have estimated that the government’s social security reform will cut welfare spending by £2.7bn a year, and will hit working people on low incomes particularly hard. Single parents who work and two-parent households where both work are most likely to lose out, the study found. 

Robert Joyce, an associate director at the IFS and one of the report’s authors, said the long-run effect of the introduction of universal credit would be “to reduce benefits for working families on average – a reversal of the original [stated] intention”.

The Department for Work and Pensions claimed that Universal Credit was “transforming lives across the country, with claimants moving into work significantly faster and earning more than under the old system”. Universal credit would be in all jobcentres by the spring and once fully rolled out it would generate £6.7bn in economic benefit every year.”

It’s certainly changing lives. But not in the way it’s claimed to.

The government have never hidden the fact that they aim to make big savings through their systematic welfare ‘reforms’ (a word that has become a Conservative euphemism for cuts).

The road to tyranny

Last month, the leader of the House of Commons, Andrea Leadsom, was accused by senior Conservatives MPs of paving the way for tyranny, after the government whipped its MPs to abstain on a Labour motion on universal credit. Labour’s motion  passed unanimously despite the concerns of several Conservative rebels, but some Tory MPs were infuriated at being urged by their own party to ignore it.

Leadsom faced criticism from some Conservative MPs because she said the government was not bound by the resolution, which called for the rollout of the controversial welfare changes to be paused.

Valerie Vaz, the shadow leader of the house, pressed Leadsom on the government’s response. She said: “This is where we make the law. This is not a school debating chamber. This is a disorganised government, disrespectful to the house.”

“I know the government didn’t want to hear about people in rent arrears struggling to feed their families when they’re in work, but that’s the reality when government policy is failing.”

Conservative MP Heidi Allen broke down in the House of Commons during the emotional Labour-led debate on Universal Credit on Tuesday, where the government conceded it would finally release the ‘confidential’ reports into the impact of the welfare reform’s rollout. 

The debate came as the government pledged it will make universal credit reports from between 2012 and 2015 available to the select committee in a concession to Labour, but work and pensions secretary David Gauke said they should not be made public. A ruling in August was made by the information commissioner that five of the government’s reports should be released to campaigners because their publication would be in the public interest.

The Government have said they would continue to challenge the reports being released to the public, even though the reports will be given to the committee, after Labour used a parliamentary device called a ‘humble address’ to the Queen, requesting ministers release project assessment reviews conducted into the welfare reform. 

The Information Commissioner’s Office has already said the papers should be published publicly and in full.

Mind you, we are still waiting for the public release of the Health and Social Care risk register, and have been since 2012.

Perish the thought that the Government should value democratic transparency and accountability. Or that it should face the consequences of its own policies and decision-making.

Field had intervened to give Allen a chance to compose herself, saying: “I’m just amazed for the first time I’ve been able to report those events publicly without weeping. 

I’m so affected by them, I’m affected as she is. That’s the debate we’re really having – how do we represent here the desperateness of many of our constituents when many of us feel we can’t offer them hope,” he said.

Earlier Field had said, remarkably, that his constituents were being hit by the cumulative impact of reforms under both Labour and Conservative governments.

He said: “On my last surgery Friday, for the first time ever a gentleman rose after we had spoken, I had tried to persuade him not to commit suicide, such was the desperateness that he saw the future for himself, and I realised the hand that shook my hand was wet. He’d been crying. And the hand that shook my hand was the hand that wiped away those tears.” 

Field also recounted how a charity in his constituency had helped a family who brought in a child that was “crying with hunger”.

The family were so short of money that they had been invited to a funeral by their neighbours so that they could finish the food left by other guests.

Field said: “This is the background of growing destitution that I see in my constituency and against which we have to judge Universal Credit and the debate we’re having today.” 

Labour and some Conservative MPs have repeatedly voiced concern about the long wait faced by fresh claimants to be paid benefits once they apply for universal credit, originally six weeks but reduced to five in last month’s budget.

The concerns about Universal Credit arose because of the harrowing accounts of experiences that MPs have heard directly from their constituents. Charities have also fedback to MPs about the distress and hardship they have witnessed from people going through the system. For example, the Trussell Trust, a charity which provides food banks, said demand had risen in areas where Universal Credit was introduced.

It said at the House of Commons inquiry into Universal Credit: “In 2016-17 food banks in areas of full Universal Credit rollout saw a 16.85% average increase in referrals for emergency food, more than double the national average of 6.64%.” 

Newcastle Council have also said during the House of Commons inquiry: “We think that Universal Credit can place some vulnerable residents at risk of destitution and homelessness.” And the body which manages Newcastle’s council houses said Universal Credit claimants were more than £1 million in arrears on their rent.

Liverpool City Council reported “an increasing number of citizens contacting the service for assistance through local welfare provision, to provide funds for food and other essentials”. 

The council, already dealing with funding cuts, said it was “encountering significant financial losses” because it was having to provide temporary accommodation for people who had been made homeless.

The debate on Tuesday happened because some citizens are experiencing extreme distress and hardship and have reported their circumstances to their MPs. This is, after all, how a democracy works. MPs represent their constituents.

Now more than one Conservative MP has dismissed those citizens’ accounts as ‘scaremongering,’ which is an attempt to deny that those experiences are true, while also denying culpability.

Morton (Conservative MP for Aldridge Brownhills) said Universal Credit, which ‘replaces’ a range of existing benefits including Housing Benefit, was ‘helping’ people find work. However, Universal Credit doesn’t entirely replace the amount that the range of benefits provided to meet people’s basic needs. 

Speaking in the Commons debate about Universal Credit, she said: “It is this Government who are helping people, which is why I am disappointed to have sat through a lot of this debate and heard scaremongering stories from Opposition Members.

I flinch when I hear the government say they are going to ‘help’ people, especially when that ‘help’ is directed at marginalised social groups. Who among us really needs that draconian and Dickensian brand of help?

The Conservatives seem to think that their strictly class-based and ‘helpful’ punishment is somehow in people’s’ best interests. They claim with a straight face that the system of punishing sanctions being inflicted on the poorest citizens is ‘fair’. There isn’t a system in place that punishes people fairly who hoard their wealth offshore, however, causing such damage to the economy that the Government say they were somehow forced to impose austerity on the poorest citizens so the nation could ‘live within its means’. Well, some of the nation. For many don’t have the means to live, now.

It’s not poor people who need to change their behaviours. It is a Government that is happy to preside over growing inequality, increasing absolute poverty and social injustice. It is those very wealthy people who feel they are not obliged to contribute to a society that they have taken so much from. 

The Department for Work and Pensions has said no claimant needed to wait that long without funds, saying emergency payments to cover the period can be requested and received within three days and paid back over 12 months.

Speaking in the debate, Gauke also accused Labour politicians and the media of ‘scaremongering’, which he said was leading families to believe they had no way of accessing help.

However, they don’t have any way of accessing help.

Gauke spoke the language of despots fluently when he said that he was granting the request on an ‘exceptional basis’ and said the reports would only give a partial picture of the policy’s impact, given how it had subsequently ‘been revised.’ He also said he would consider redacting certain information, such as that which is ‘commercially sensitive’, while the documents were being handed over in exceptional circumstances and did not ‘set a precedent.’ 

Field was clearly uneasy about the condition that his committee keep the reports confidential, and said that he would seek guidance from Commons Speaker John Bercow  about “what sense of secrecy or of honour binds us” when the committee finally do get the documents.

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30 thoughts on “Conservative MPs accuse citizens of ‘scaremongering stories’ about experiences of Universal Credit.

  1. Having spent 2016 on Universal Credit and having worked for a predecessor of the DWP briefly over 20 years ago, I would say that Universal Credit is a disaster, a nasty sanction based benefit designed to hinder you, not help you.

    In 2013, changes were made to the Benefits system to close off loopholes that were known about for years and this was to save money and to save money paid out. The DWP’s own report on Universal Credit which you may still find on-line, is not glowing.

    When Phillip Hammond stated and quickly seemed to recant his argument that Robots and automation hadn’t taken jobs, it is obvious he has not had to find a job in the real world recently.

    This is why we need a Basic Income system because the jobs now will be largely gone in 15-25 years to those robots. We will have to be paid to exist, it will mean a new scenario of people being able to work and be supported, it will be a utopia, freeing many from things they hate doing.

    The problem is that the govt is not even looking at this system. There is no alternative to it. UC must go. Rolling it out fully will be a massive disaster.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Hi brilliant article, but this question is not to do with it. Have you become aware that the notices in the post offices are calling old age pension, pension benefit. I have asked why in my local post office they say it’s not up to them and don’t know why. This is rather worrying because if people are told it is a benefit, not an entitlement owing to us paying into it for years, they will become brainwashed by the scroungers mentality that is part of our social consciousness brought on by the government and bias media. Any thoughts?

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    1. All social security has been paid into. Most people who claim out of work benefits have worked and contributed. Our highest spending in social security goes to pensions. Next highest is the amount that goes to in-work welfare because of low wages. Most people out of work end up working in insecure low paid jobs so there is a revolving door of claiming, working, claiming.

      Most disabled people have also worked. For those that can’t, as a civilised society we should support them. It’s up to us to demolish the scrounger rhetoric, because the Tories aim to scrap social security completely. That kind of demonisation is designed to divide the public and justify demolishing OUR welfare state. The thing that made us civilised and prevented absolute poverty for decades. Until now. No-one who has fallen into hardship deserves stigma and scapegoating. Young or old. It’s down to us as a society to show solidarity and care about social groups that we are not a part of, as well as those that we are. When targeted prejudice and discrimination arise, it affects us all.

      My view is that all citizens, regardless of age, are entitled to support from provision that they’ve usually paid into. Even people who aren’t currently in work pay taxes. I think that the problem isn’t debating whether or not pensions are an entitlement or a benefit. The problem is the dismantling of ALL support that we have paid into, and the political pathologising of people who experience disadvantage. It’s not the kind of society I want to leave for my children or grandchildren. We need to fight for positive change together.

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  3. Well elucidated, Kitty. ‘Shame no (s)tory’s’ll be reading this any time soon, though, eh? Hah!

    You said … ” …𝙩𝙝𝙚 𝙂𝙤𝙫𝙚𝙧𝙣𝙢𝙚𝙣𝙩 𝙝𝙖𝙫𝙚 𝙨𝙩𝙞𝙜𝙢𝙖𝙩𝙞𝙨𝙚𝙙, 𝙨𝙘𝙖𝙥𝙚𝙜𝙤𝙖𝙩𝙚𝙙, 𝙤𝙪𝙩𝙜𝙧𝙤𝙪𝙥𝙚𝙙 𝙖𝙣𝙙 𝙙𝙚𝙝𝙪𝙢𝙖𝙣𝙞𝙨𝙚𝙙 𝙥𝙚𝙤𝙥𝙡𝙚 𝙘𝙡𝙖𝙞𝙢𝙞𝙣𝙜 𝙬𝙚𝙡𝙛𝙖𝙧𝙚 𝙨𝙪𝙥𝙥𝙤𝙧𝙩. ….”

    So don’t forget the gaslighting either! Cruel bar-stewards!
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gaslighting

    I think “ครɭٱﻭɦՇٱกﻭ ” was something I first came across when you blogged about it, Kitty.

    BTW – slightly OT, but might make the subject of an interesting blog highlighting (s)tory double-standards re: Have you thought what would happen to a benefit claimant for telling the DWP the sort of Porkies Divver Davis has been telling Parliament lately?
    ‘Divver’ might lose his job, another Daniel Blake might lose three years’ income, and his life!
    Happy Christmas ❤

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    1. My job coach was an ex Fraud investigator for the DWP and was not interested in me telling her that 3 people were actively kicking the arse out of the mobility / disability benefit, I was told to ‘ring the free reporting phone line’ to report them.

      I thought if you can’t be bothered to take this information, I won’t bother. I was being heavily scrutinised and pressured into taking crap minimum hours jobs with companies like Tesco who I don’t like, meanwhile these 3 were ripping off the system.

      One was sitting in a local café all day and drinking tea and watching the world going by and not looking for work and living as a sole occupant of a 3 bedroom house. Another ‘disabled’ was able to use a chainsaw and mow lawns, the third was a ‘glass back’ who could not work due to a bad back, who runs a badminton club and I suspect plays, is the chair of an agricultural show, owns horses and breeds Jack Russell puppies which she sells for £150 a time.

      20 odd years ago I was retired on ill health from the Police service after being injured in the line of duty. My time on UC last year was because a sexist woman Director wanted an all girl office and forced me to resign, that company is going down the pan so it doesn’t bother me and I’m in a better job now, but UC was trying to push me into unsuitable and unviable jobs whilst others could get away with kicking the arse out of the system.
      I was told I could earn money before I lost benefit / or it was under 16 hours a week, when I did 1 day with a company I had applied to work for I lost the amount I earned which was about £80 from the next month’s benefit. UC stinks, it is a disaster. It should go.

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      1. Unless you are a doctor, it’s really not your place to decide if people are disabled or not. I have a condition that affects me so variably that I can be at deaths’ door in intensive care one month, and 3 months later I can do some gardening. Sometimes I can’t walk for weeks on end because my joints and tendons are so swollen and painful and other times I can walk without my sticks. This notion of ‘deserving’ and ‘undeserving’ came from the Tories to justify cutting everyones’ support and it really isn’t helpful for any of us to create a hierarchy of who should be eligible and who shouldn’t. Unless you talk to people, you cannot know how their disability affects them or the difficulties they experience in their day-to-day living. PIP is a benefit that was intended to support people in participating in society, meet their needs and to meet the additional costs of being disabled.

        Furthermore, since when was it acceptable to place restrictions on the activities disabled people do or try to do? Are people not allowed to sit in a cafe and drink tea or potter in their garden because they are disabled? What would you like to see, people hiding away in isolation, trapped in their homes?

        Personally, I try and keep my life as normal as I can when possible, despite enormous problems with my mobility and general health. Regardless of the reasons why someone is disabled, it’s not for others to judge them because they try to participate in activities that others take can for granted. I go on holiday with my family every August. How very dare I, eh? Perish the thought that someone with a medical condition should strive to make their lives better or try to do something constructive when they can.Or enjoy themselves.

        That’s the kind of resentful attitude that has permitted the government to withdraw support from people who really need it. People have died as a consequence of that. Yet the public remain indifferent. And so so some disabled people. But it’s only through uniting and fighting this together that we will make any progress.

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  4. Great blog as ever. But I noticed that even you fell into the trap of saying that the Tories “reduced” – past tense – the waiting times from 6 to 5 weeks.
    The Tories plan to reduce these waiting times – from February 2018. They have yet to DO it. People currently claiming over Christmas are not getting any reduction – just repayable loans.
    And remember how they promised to make the helpline free back in October? Well they finally HAVE done it. Just in time for there to be no staff available to man it over the Christmas period.

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  5. ” Conservative MP Heidi Allen broke down in the House of Commons during the emotional Labour-led debate on Universal Credit on Tuesday, where the government conceded it would finally release the ‘confidential’ reports into the impact of the welfare reform’s rollout. ”

    I feel her crocodile tears were actually due to the thought of the reports getting out and painting these monsters for what they are.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It is no surprise, I found a report on the gov.uk site which was over 70 pages long which was not good reading about Universal Credit. This article is revealing, they want to block under freedom of information act a set of 5 reports into the benefit here at

      https://inews.co.uk/essentials/news/uk/department-work-pensions-refuses-disclose-universal-credit-reports/

      from my own experience this benefit is a disaster and 2 years on I am still fighting a claim against a Universal Credit decision.

      I used FOI requests to get information about a decision, I was blocked, this led to me losing an appeal, I am not going to let this drop.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Personally, I am always a little surprised by the response of politicians such as Frank Field and Heidi Allen to the suffering of claimants. I can only assume that she was crying at the size of her In-Box.

      Frank has been a long-time critic of the welfare system and a former Minister of Welfare Reform. He was a big critic of New Labour’s New Deal (which I have to admit felt like a three week borstal for the unemployed). He also led an independent review on poverty for David Cameron (for which no one should thank him).

      In correspondence, I have always found Frank Field to be polite though not particularly helpful. I contacted him once (in his capacity of W&P committee chairman) to tell him that Jobcentre Plus had been monitoring the bank statements and Amazon accounts of their JSA and NEA claimants, and he seemed rather surprised that I would consider bothering him with such a trifle. After all it’s only a flagrant violation of data protection against the umemployed and self-employed.

      Anyway, he’s not my favourite politician. 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  6. As a long-time anonymous reader of your blog, I just thought I would congratule you on your award, Sue. It’s thoroughly deserved. Politics and Insights and Paul Mason have been my favourite reading for some time now.

    Your analysis of the latest Oposition Day debate on Universal Credit was spot on! I watched that debate and read through Hansard afterwards and it was exactly like a ‘silent disco’ with excellent contributions from Laura Pidcock, Laura Smith, Stephen Lloyd and Margaret Greenwood and the same old rubbish (‘work should always pay’) trotted out from Nusrat Ghani, James Cartlidge.

    In fact Mr Cartlidge, went one further and argued that ‘sometimes we need a stick as well as a carrot’. Only with UC there is no carrot – it’s entirely punitive.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Many thanks for your generous feedback, Rob. It’s much appreciated.

      Spot on, UC is all stick and no carrot. It’s designed to ensure that no-one feels comfortable and secure if they need support. It’s chief aim is disciplining poor people, in an absurd bid to punish them out of their poverty.

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      1. Yes, to be fair to Frank Field, I was pleased when he spoke about UC being part of a wider series of welfare reforms that lead inevitably to destitution. He also spoke about MPs having made a conscious decision to penalise ordinary families while sparing pensioners.

        I think the Tories lost the argument about UC making sure that work always pays when it was pointed out that they have cut £3.2 billion from the very in-work allowances that might have supported such an argument.

        I was also very interested to hear Damian Hinds admit that the so-called ‘5-week wait’ does not actually exist across the devolved administrations. That’s quite an admission!

        Liked by 1 person

    2. Hi Rob, you are right here, UC is a nasty and sanction based system, with very little success of appealing or even getting decisions looked at.

      In my case a secret review of my benefit was done and benefit stopped without any notice or consultation, I am still fighting this almost a year after my claim closed and about 18 months after this decision was made.

      The DWP has blocked my request for information about the decision review process even though it has a duty under the Data Protection act to allow me to see what is low level information, about me. What are they covering up? They have refused to allow me access to the information. What have they got to hide?

      UC must be got rid of and the move to a basic income payment of around £14k a year which will help people on benefit across that spectrum.

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      1. My friend has had the same issue. One of the ‘advisors’ got the hump with him, and since then his benefits have been sanctioned. It started when he was told he was under investigation for running two claims simultaneously..in other words, they had switched him from JSA to UC, and hadn’t signed him off JSA. They made him wait 2 months to ‘decide’ whether or not he was going to eat and pay his rent.
        There he is now, 3 kids and a missus – and there is no money coming in the house because yet again he is being sanctioned.
        This is the chap who worked his nuts off from the age of 15, until his mid 30’s. He paid his way fair and square all that time.
        Last year, he had to stop work due to treatable RSI which he’s on the waiting list for.
        I’ve suggested he sends an FOI to establish if it’s the same person messing his claim up time and again.

        Liked by 1 person

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