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Labour will force a House of Commons vote on the looming £20-a-week cut to universal credit in an attempt to increase the pressure on the government to cancel it.
The chancellor, Rishi Sunak, increased two key benefits, universal credit and the basic element of working tax credit, by £20 a week during the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic last spring.
The uplift was only expected to last 12 months, but charities and anti-poverty campaigners have urged the government not to go ahead with cutting the benefits while the virus is still raging.
Boris Johnson appeared to hint that he was minded to go ahead with the reduction on Wednesday. When asked about the issue at the cross-party liaison committee of senior MPs, he said: “I think that what we want to see is jobs, we want people in employment and we want to see the economy bouncing back.
“And I think most people in this country want to see a focus on jobs and growth in wages than on welfare, but clearly we have to keep all of these things under review.”
Labour has been granted two opposition day debates on Monday, and has said it will use them to hold votes on the benefit cut and on free school meals provision.
Votes on opposition day debates are non-binding but can cause embarrassment for the government.
The shadow work and pensions secretary, Jonathan Reynolds, said: “Under the Conservatives, families come last. The government’s mishandling of the coronavirus pandemic means Britain is facing one of the worst recessions of any major economy. Boris Johnson’s decision to cut universal credit will hit millions of families who are already struggling to get by.
“There cannot be another repeat of the government’s indecision and mismanagement of the free school meals scandal. The government must put families first during this lockdown and act now instead of waiting until the last minute. If ministers refuse, Conservative MPs have the opportunity to vote with Labour and give families the support they need to get through this pandemic.”
A recent report by the Resolution Foundation thinktank found that more than a third of the UK’s poorest families had their already meagre incomes squeezed during the pandemic because they had had to spend more on food, energy and home schooling.
The chancellor is due to deliver his budget on 3 March. He has stressed the need for “hard choices” to deal with the dramatic deterioration in public finances as a result of the pandemic.
Source: The Guardian
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