IAN Chisnall writes a weekly column for The Argus. Here is his view on the Universal Credit row.
The Summer break from Parliament is always an opportunity for local MPs to read documents that are not coming out of their normal sources and that reflect on what has happened previously in Parliament. At the beginning of September, the MPs return to Parliament for a few days before they can then have another long break while the different political groups organise their annual conferences. One wonders if this year there is the prospect for MPs to address some of the mistakes that have been made in the last few months by the Government. After the Conferences the MPs will return to Parliament in early October and by then there will have been at least one significant issue that will have begun to create problems for a large number of people.
As it happens, two weeks ago a Minister in the House of Lords responded to a written question from another member who is the Bishop of St Albans, Alan Smith. His question was a response to a document that he had been reading from an organisation called Christians Against Poverty (CAP). This is an organisation I had the privilege to visit nearly 15 years ago in Bradford where they are based and they continue to play a vital role for many people across the UK. This report is called “Shipshape or sinking ship?” which was published on 21 July. Alan Smith asked a very simple question to the Government
what plans they have to review whether social security meets the basic cost of living?
The Minister who responded is Deborah Stedman-Scott who used to be strongly connected with East Sussex when she was running a local based charity that was established to provide working opportunities for young people. Her first few words clearly responded to that background when she said
Statistics on the number and percentage of children in low income and material deprivation, including by receipt of benefit
and she went on to refer to an annual Governmental publication which collects some of this data. She then referred to Universal Credit as one of the vital elements for young people on very low or non existent incomes.
It would be really encouraging if our local MPs would be willing to obtain a copy of the CAP report while they are currently based in their constituencies. This is because the people they represent who rely on Universal Credit are continuing to benefit from the extra £20 per week that is due to drop out at the end of September. Along with the CAP report that was published three weeks ago the MPs could also contact another charity that has just published another analysis on how young people will be impacted by the reduction of the Universal Credit. That analysis was published by Centrepoint which is based in London but which covers themes that are just as challenging across the nation for young people. The Centrepoint analysis makes a very clear and strong case for the recent decision announced by Therese Coffey to be reversed and for the £20 to continue. They have made a very clear assessment that indicates that young people are much more impacted by the loss of the £20 than people over the age of 25, primarily because of the other funding that is available for people over the age of 25.
It is certainly evident from the speeches and statements that are published from Parliament, that with one exception, there have been no local MPs who have raised any questions or comments on the Universal Credit theme since before Easter. The one exception is Mims Davies who is the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Employment at the Department for Work and Pensions and also the MP for Mid Sussex. She has been answering a myriad of questions about Universal Credit from other MPs. I feel very disappointed to see this lack of questions or comments from our local MPs. Following the analysis from Centrepoint it has been indicated that some of the young people who are going to be most affected by the loss of the £20 a week are not currently aware of this. However come the end of September their experience along with that from all of the other families will emerge very clearly and at that stage all of the MPs will either be taking part in conferences or they will be at home and so they will not be able to speak in Parliament. I wonder if we can all communicate with our MPs to express that we want them to use the first few Parliamentary days in September to stand up and call for a reversal to the cuts that are currently due to take place. Clearly the Government needs to be challenged before this emerges publicly in September.