BORIS Johnson will face down Tory MPs over Universal Credit this afternoon as Labour demand they extend the £20 a week extra benefit.
The PM is expected to swerve a rebellion today as he will allow his MPs to abstain and not vote at all in tonight’s crunch ‘opposition day’ vote.
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Labour’s Sir Keir Starmer is demanding the Government extend the £20 a week Universal Credit uplift again, which was put in place to help hard-up families during the coronavirus pandemic.
But the Tories have blasted him for agreeing to scrap the system completely and overhaul the welfare system – which could cost an eye-watering £55billion and could plunge millions of people into poverty too.
The cost of extending the uplift will cost £6billion a year alone.
Labour hasn’t said what it will replace the scheme with either, or how their alternative system would work.
Already the furlough scheme has been extended until the end of April, but it’s unclear what will happen to uplift for the six-in-one benefits system, scheduled to conclude at the end of March.
The Northern Research Group of Tory ‘Red Wall’ seats is expected to abstain as planned tonight on the vote – but have said they want the uplift to continue until restrictions are lifted.
It’s unlikely that all of the lockdown rules will be lifted by the end of March – when the uplift is set to end – putting the Government on a collision course for a Budget fight next month.
The extra cash is due to run until the end of March at the moment, but ministers haven’t made any firm decisions about what will happen next.
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said on Sunday it was a “temporary measure” and that the government’s plans to support people on low incomes will be laid out at the Budget on March 3.
The Sun revealed last week that people would have to wait at least six weeks to find out whether the cash would continue.
Today at least two Tory MPs have said they will vote with Labour to call on the Government to extend the benefit.
Stephen Crabb, former DWP boss said today: “If we do decide to extend it to 12 months, that comes with a price tag, it will cost around £6billion or more.
“There are difficult pressures on the Chancellor, I understand that.
“I think there is a way of going about it that is correct – that is to have a proper plan, a clear explanation, a clear justification for those difficult decisions, and to do it in a properly, timely way.
“Just withdrawing that £20 a week at the end of March, which is so vital, for so many families, right now in the middle of a pandemic, isn’t the right thing to do, I am very, very clear about that.”
And influential chair of the Education select committee, Rob Halfon told the BBC: “I absolutely believe that Universal Credit should be extended. It was paired away in the austerity years, and the £20 restores some of that balance.
“Depending on what the Government says later, I am most likely to vote for the Labour motion unless the Government makes absolutely clear it will be extended.”
But Amanda Milling MP, Co-Chairman of the Conservative Party, said today: “Keir Starmer’s reckless plan to scrap Universal Credit would leave millions of people without vital financial support.
“Throughout the pandemic this Conservative Government has provided £7.4 million of welfare support as part of our £280 billion package of support to protect jobs, livelihoods and public services.
“The Conservatives will continue to put families and communities at the heart of every decision we take as we deliver on our promises to the British people.”
Boris Johnson said last week of the Universal Credit uplift: “we’ll of course keep this under review.”
The PM’s press secretary, Allegra Stratton, said today that no decision had yet been made – and the Chancellor would do so “in due course”.
She said: “This is not the right and proper moment for the Government to be talking about Universal Credit and the £20 uplift.
“The Chancellor has said he will be coming back to the house in due course with his decision of what should be done with the £20 uplift.”
Charities have called on the Chancellor to keep it in place to help hard-up families.
Emma Revie, chief executive at the Trussell Trust, said: “The £20 increase to Universal Credit introduced at the start of the pandemic has been vital in protecting tens of thousands of people from being swept into serious financial hardship.
“But this lifeline is set to be cut in April. This isn’t right.”
DWP sources said that the benefits system has stood up to the challenge of the pandemic and helped huge amounts of people.
Around 6 million people are now claiming it – around 40 per cent of whom are in work.
Universal Credit minister Will Quince will open this afternoon’s debate, with a vote – which is non-binding – expected at around 7pm.