MPs today voted in favour of cancelling Boris Johnson’s swingeing £20-a-week cut to Universal Credit.
A Labour motion that “called on” the government to halt the cut next month passed by 253 votes to 0 – after Tory MPs were told to sit it out.
But the Prime Minister is set to ignore the vote because it was not legally binding – and forge on with the cut anyway.
It comes after a furious debate and a protest by Universal Credit claimants, one of whom told the Mirror they would no longer be able to afford their painkillers.
Another claimant called Kieran, 26, who asked for us not to use her surname, added: “I won’t even be able to afford clean clothing to leave my house.
“Rishi Sunak should try and live a week in my shoes to understand what this uplift means to people like me. The Government is completely out of touch.”
The vote took place while the Prime Minister was reshuffling his Cabinet – a move Labour claimed showed his “warped priorities”.
The £20 “uplift” to Universal Credit has been in place since April 2020 but is now being removed, despite warnings from opposition parties, unions, landlords, debt charities, mortgage lenders and some Tory MPs.
The reshuffle may have helped keep some Tory rebels in line – but one, Peter Aldous, warned the government it would be wrong to “hastily remove” the £20 uplift.
He warned: “We have a duty and a responsibility to protect those on the lowest incomes and the most vulnerable in society.
“All the evidence shows that a sudden reduction in income of this magnitude will hit a lot of people very hard.”
A second rebel, Conservative MP John Stevenson said he would support Labour’s motion, adding: “We must remember that 40% of people on UC are, in fact, in work, 35% of those on UC are actually seeking work and probably half of those around on Universal Credit at present have never known anything other than the rate they’re presently receiving – they have, in reality, got used to having it.
“Imagine somebody on £30,000 a year being told that they’re having to take a £1,000 salary cut. They would not in the least bit be happy – and it’s even harder for those on less.”
Just four Tory MPs formally rebelled and backed Labour’s motion. The other two were Neil Hudson and William Wragg.
Tory former Work and Pensions Secretary Stephen Crabb – who did not vote either way – said “a modern Conservative Party should be standing on the side of” supermarket workers, cleaners and care workers – many of whom claim UC to top up poverty wages.
He said: “I came to the view a while ago that the level of Universal Credit in March 2020 was too low.
“One of the reasons why that in-work poverty did increase in the years leading up to the pandemic was, I’m afraid, directly related to the fact that we had frozen the main rate of working age benefits that supported families on low income.”
He went on: “Anybody who thinks that we have generous benefits in this country, I’m afraid, is wrong. Either looking at it internationally, looking at it historically, in no way can you describe UK benefits as generous, we don’t have generous benefits.”
Mr Crabb also slammed Work and Pensions Secretary Therese Coffey’s claim that families could simply take extra hours to make up for the cut.
Boris Johnson Cabinet reshuffle
Research has suggested they would have to take nine extra hours.
Mr Crabb said: “The evidence shows if you are a family living in destitution, living with anxiety, mental health problems directly as a result of your financial circumstances, you are less well able to engage with the labour market productively and increase your earnings, increase those hours.”
Work and Pensions Secretary Therese Coffey told the Commons the Government timed the end of the Universal Credit uplift to match the end of the furlough scheme.
She said more people would benefit from plans to boost “pay, prospects and prosperity” in work as the £20 uplift ends.
She added opposition parties had “demonised” Universal Credit and said more people would be “better off” if they moved over to the system from legacy benefits, even without the £20 uplift.
But Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary Jonathan Reynolds compared the sudden drop in £16,000 payoffs that could go to each of three sacked Tory Cabinet ministers in today’s reshuffle.
Mr Reynolds said: “I hear there are rumours of a reshuffle possibly being under way. As members will know, if a Cabinet minister today were to lose their job and return to the backbenches they would receive a payoff of £15,000 each.
“Will anyone in this debate say that’s unaffordable? Because it always seems to be a different rule for the people we’re talking about than everybody else in the country.”
He added: “Charities say it will be cutting a lifeline to millions. Economists say it will be sucking spending from our local highstreets. Even the Government’s own internal analysis makes clear it will be catastrophic. No one in this House can say they didn’t know. No one will be able to say that they weren’t warned.
“The effects of this cut are clear as day. It is wrong for our constituents, wrong for the British economy, quite simply it’s wrong for Britain.”
Downing Street had earlier revealed it did not intend for Conservatives to vote against Labour’s pleas, with MPs being ordered to abstain.
The Prime Minister’s Press Secretary said: “As a general rule we don’t vote on opposition day debates”.
This precedent was set during the days of Theresa May – when she lost humiliating but non-binding votes due to her slim majority in the Commons.
Asked if the government would carry out the wishes of the motion once it passed, the PM’s Press Secretary replied: “I think we’ve set out very clearly our plans around Universal Credit and our plan for jobs and encouraging a high-wage, high-skilled economy and we will stick to that position.”
Asked if that meant “no” she replied: “I think we’ve set this out very clearly in terms of our position.”
Today’s decision prompted furious recriminations from Labour, who tabled the desperate plea to stop the cut in a Commons debate and said its wishes should be carried out.
A Labour spokeswoman said: “This is a major cut that will affect millions of families across the country.
“We have given Tory MPs the chance to do the right thing. We would expect them to vote on a motion that will have a major impact on people’s lives.
“We think that if a motion is passed by the House, the House has indicated a clear will.
“If the Government is not willing to oppose it, they should stand with the Labour Party and cancel this cut that would affect millions of families”.