Sir Keir Starmer will have known he’d hit a nerve over Universal Credit cuts when the Tories edited an attack video to look as if he wanted to end benefits in the middle of a pandemic.
Of course, we know it’s not the Labour leader who wants to cut benefits. It’s the government.
The same government that said at the beginning of the pandemic they would “put their arms around” us all.
But it turns out were intent on taking £1,000 a year off Britain’s poorest families until the opposition forced a vote to stop them.
The pretence of Compassionate Conservatism seems to have disappeared along with 400,000 crime records and the Home Office’s Lord Lucan, Priti Patel.
So, the only reason to attack so hard is that the government knows a £20 cut to Universal Credit is playing as badly with Conservative as Labour voters.
Bright Blue, a Conservative thinktank, showed this week it is precisely the towns of the ‘Red Wall’ that will be hit the hardest by Rishi’s No Meal Deal plan for hard-pressed families.
Hence the letter to the Prime Minister on behalf of the 65s-strong ‘Northern Research Group’ of Tory MPs.
The Chancellor is rumoured to be considering a ‘one-off payment’ instead of keeping the £20 pandemic uplift to UC.
Which is a bit like putting half a pepper, two slices of plastic cheese and a squashed tomato in a coin bag and calling it a school dinner.
The Resolution Foundation has been clear that a further 1.2m people, including 400,000 children, will fall into relative poverty if the cut goes ahead. Meanwhile, it says levels of absolute poverty will soar higher than the 1980s.
New modelling by JRF shows that if the lifeline of the £20 uplift to UC is whipped away in April, 6.2 million families will see an overnight loss of £1,040. While over 60 organisations and religious leaders have publicly expressed deep concern.
In the end, the Chancellor Rishi Sunak did not even turn up to defend himself. Meanwhile, Work and Pensions Secretary Therese Coffey had somewhere more important to be than a debate on the government’s flagship welfare policy.
So, we were left to guess the reasons they might want to cut Universal Credit at the height of the coronavirus pandemic, when foodbanks are already feeding record levels and Britain is facing the worst recession in 300 years.
When debate is already raging over the paltry parcels given to school children, it’s as if the Tories are nostalgic for that old label ‘The Nasty Party’.
Labour leader Keir Starmer, on the other hand, started the day in exactly the right place – a south London foodbank.
Cutting benefits is not a theoretical debate, it’s vicious work, that can only lead to hunger.
The alternative to foodbanks and the indignity of paltry food parcels will take more than cancelling the cut.
To mend the gaping holes left by 11 years of Tory austerity will mean not just £20 on Universal Credit now – and extending that to disabled people and others on legacy benefits – but restoring the social security safety net.
Closing foodbank Britain requires courageous choices. Instead, as our economy heads towards the Brexit-Corona iceberg, the government chose to look the other way.