Readers of the Herald will know I have some concerns about the government’s new(ish) welfare benefits project, Universal Credit, which I have written about a couple of times in my column.
It launched in Eastbourne in October. This week I got an opportunity to press the government twice on two of the elements of UC which I think need fixing. The first was on Monday during the Work and Pensions debate where I pointed out to the minister that UC’s design worked against people who were self-employed. Basically as claimants update their details on a monthly basis this then fixes the following month’s UC but, and here’s the rub, doesn’t allow for the income fluctuations the self-employed often experience. If your income for one month is, for instance, £1,800 but then a lower £1,000 the next month, the amount you get in benefit won’t make up the shortfall of the lower amount in the same way that someone on a regular PAYE £1,800 per month would. This may sound a bit techie but I’d point out that there are an awful lot of self-employed people out there who will lose out as a consequence of being on UC unless the anomaly is fixed. Failure to do so also penalises the very aspirational people UC is supposed to encourage, which is simply wrong in my view. The minister confidently stepped up to the despatch box, and didn’t answer my question.
My second concern around UC I decided to raise directly with Theresa May when I was called during PMQs on Wednesday. The reputable charity, Child Poverty Action Group, recently published a report where they had extrapolated from government figures just how much of an impact the cuts in 2015 to UC are having on single parents with children. And the figure is genuinely shocking; the average single parent family will lose a staggering £2,380 per annum. This would be a deep budget cut for any but the wealthiest of our fellow citizens and I believe most people simply aren’t aware yet of how deep that income drop will be for the two million single parent families in the UK. So I asked the PM a direct question; now that she and her government knew the impact of this savage reduction in income for single parents, did she feel “a sense of shame?” Her disappointing answer was to respond to a completely different question which I hadn’t actually asked. Rest assured I will keep the pressure up on this government, challenge them and hold them to account for their actions because that is how it should be in a democracy.
I am reminded sometimes though when I am up in Westminster that the utterly peerless television programme from years ago - Yes Minister - wasn’t so much a comedy, as more of a documentary! I was also pleased to support the FairFuel campaign in Parliament this week. They reminded me of how despite fuel tax being frozen for the last few years it is still one of the heaviest taxed fuels in the world, and would I support their calls for the Chancellor to maintain the cap? I was more than happy to do this as am well aware how many people locally need to rely on their car or van for work and the current tax level at the pump is high enough in my opinion. It was nice to catch up again with the TV car pundit Quentin Wilson (in the photo) to discuss cars generally. I knew him from the last time I was your MP and he’d realised I was also a bit of a car buff or certainly used to be when I had the time in the old days. In fact not a lot of people know this but I used to race rally cars many years ago - a Ford Escort RS2000 fully prepped. I wasn’t much good to be honest but it really was enormous fun.
That’s it folks. Have a good weekend and I hope to see you around town.