Don’t believe the commentators who said Theresa May walked Prime Minister’s Questions yesterday – she came seriously unstuck over Universal Credit.
Jeremy Corbyn led the attack, pointing out that a property letting agent in Lincolnshire has issued pre-emptive eviction notices to tenants who will be put onto Universal Credit.
He said: “I was passed a letter from a lettings agency in Lincolnshire, where universal credit is about to be rolled out. The agency—and I have the letter here—is issuing all of its tenants with a pre-emptive notice of eviction, because universal credit has driven up arrears where it has been rolled out. The letter says: ‘GAP Property cannot sustain arrears at the potential levels Universal Credit could create’.
“Will the Prime Minister pause universal credit so it can be fixed, or does she think it is right to put thousands of families, through Christmas, in the trauma of knowing they are about to be evicted because they are in rent arrears because of universal credit?”
You can read the letter itself in the following tweet:
letter Corbyn brandished during PMQs Grimsby letting agents issuing a "notice seeking possession" because of 6 week universal credit gap pic.twitter.com/ZrdtJn3vCS
— Faisal Islam (@faisalislam) November 15, 2017
The letter, and the government’s indifference to the plight of people being put on its flagship benefit-deprivation system, has stirred up considerable unrest:
This is the eviction notice @jeremycorbyn highlighted today at PMQs. The Government are putting families through unthinkable stress and difficulty over the Christmas period. @Number10gov and @DavidGauke must act and fix Universal Credit now. #PMQs #UniversalCredit https://t.co/o2dMjuIYLT
— Kate Hollern (@Kate_HollernMP) November 15, 2017
But Mrs May couldn’t care less. She avoided Jeremy Corbyn’s question by answering one that he did not ask:
“There have been concerns raised—there have been concerns raised in this House previously—over the issue of people managing their budgets to pay rent, but we see that, after four months, the number of people on universal credit in arrears has fallen by a third.”
That was not the issue. The question was about letting agents evicting people who had not yet fallen into arrears.
Mrs May asked for a copy of the letter. This is a delaying tactic, of course.
According to the HuffPost, the boss of the letting agent said Theresa May should rethink the benefit and “sort it out”:
Gap Property director Guy Piggott said no thought had been given to the most vulnerable and it was “great” that Corbyn had raised the issue.
“It seemed like Theresa May was saying it’s alright, don’t worry. That’s just not good enough in a town like Grimsby. It’s so poor here, the average wage is about £17,000.
“My message to Theresa May is this: ‘You’ve got to sort it out. Consider what it does to a family living hand to mouth. Imagine if you’ve got no savings, if all of your money stops and from the middle of December your next pay is February, what would you do about feeding yourself, keeping your house warm?’
“It’s great Jeremy Corbyn has raised it, he’s done the right thing in alerting people. I agree the welfare state needs to be reformed but you have to do it in a more sensitive way. Nobody’s given any thought into how this affects the most vulnerable.”
Joe Halewood, who writes the excellent SPEYEJOE blog, provided the information that Mrs May would not [bolding mine]:
What Theresa May fails to say is that this is still a 23% increase in arrears after 4 months and directly caused by universal credit. What Theresa May knowingly and very conveniently failed to state was the number of tenants in arrears from universal credit implementation increase by 85% from week 1 and thus a fall of one-third or 33% after 4 months is still a huge increase.
Let me patronise you with the most basic arithmetic reader, the basic arithmetic Theresa May patronises you with and hopes that you do not comprehend.
- The number of tenants in arrears pre universal credit is 100
- The introduction of UC increases this by 85% to 185 tenants in arrears
- 4 months go by and 185 tenant in arrears falls by 33% to 124 tenants in arrears.
Thus the original number of tenants in arrears increases from 100 to 124 which is a 24% increase in tenants in arrears and directly attributable to Universal Credit.
Theresa may was guilt of an error of omission and of commission. If she knows the percentage figures for UC created arrears after 4 months then she clearly knows the initial position and percentage increase in arrears that UC creates.
Put simply Theresa May has knowingly deceived the House of Commons.
Put even more simply she told a huge whopping lie.
Yes – yet again a representative of the minority Conservative government has lied to Parliament, and to the nation.
Tracy Brabin followed up on this by pointing out that people are being denied Universal Credit because they don’t have photo ID.
I asked the PM about Universal Credit at #PMQs seems ridiculous that application on my constituents has been delayed because they have no photo ID, especially when they are already on the system! May refuses to apply common sense. pic.twitter.com/A0DiHZNthc
— Tracy Brabin MP (@TracyBrabin) November 15, 2017
Chris Giles, below, knows why the designers of the benefit failed to allow for this:
— Chris Giles (@ChrisGiles7) November 15, 2017
It seems nobody on the Tory benches could care less. When Drew Hendry said the following…
“Had the Prime Minister accepted my invitation to the universal credit summit in Inverness, she would have heard harrowing testimony from constituents and multiple agencies alike, including Macmillan Cancer CAB Partnership, who told us not only about patients dying while awaiting their payments, but about now being forced to self-declare that they are dying, even if they did not want the doctor to tell them their fate. Will she stop this wait, and end this cruel condition?”
… they laughed.
Tories *genuinely* laughing at @drewhendrySNP explaining to the Prime Minister that people are suffering due to Universal Credit.
Please point out what could possibly be funny?… #PMQs
— Mhairi Black MP (@MhairiBlack) November 15, 2017
In fact, the government had announced that it is backing down on its commitment to make UC claimants wait six weeks for their first payment – but it couldn’t even do that right.
The announcement was released to the media before Parliament knew anything about it. As Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary Debbie Abrahams made clear, this was not acceptable:
Making a Point of Order to Mr Speaker at the moment on media reports that the Government plan to cut #UniversalCredit waiting time and have indicated this to the media not the Commons
— Debbie Abrahams (@Debbie_abrahams) November 15, 2017
I raised a Point of Order to the Speaker on Gov't plans to cut Universal Credit waiting time, which was announced in media in am. It's an affront to the Commons, to both sides & to people who we represent that policy decisions are being announced to the media & not to the Commons pic.twitter.com/zJ6CStT8zw
— Debbie Abrahams (@Debbie_abrahams) November 15, 2017
Speaker John Bercow made it clear that announcements made to the media before the Commons are not welcome:
“There are two points. First, policy announcements, particularly when a change is involved, should first be made to the House. Secondly, my understanding is that there is a debate tomorrow in the Chamber that is being led by, or taking place under the auspices of, the Chair of the Select Committee on Work and Pensions. That debate will be an obvious and perfectly proper platform for an exchanges of ideas, and indeed for any announcement that the Government might have to make.
If there is an announcement to make, and I do not know whether there is, it should be made in the Chamber; it should not be briefed out to the media first. I very much hope that that has not happened, and it should not happen. I imagine that the hon. Lady or a member of her team will be present for tomorrow’s debate—in all likelihood she will be present—and I trust that she will make her views on that point and others with her characteristic force.”
So Theresa May has lied and the Conservative government has done wrong on multiple issues.
It is clear that Universal Credit is a serious weakness for it.
Let us hope it will contribute to the Tories’ downfall.
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