Politics

UK Covid live: Starmer says PM's decision to abstain on extending £20-per-week benefit uplift 'pathetic'


Good morning. This week the government in England is starting to invite people over the age of 70 and people who are “clinically extremely vulnerable” to attend appointments for a vaccination. These are people in the third and fourth priority groups for the vaccine, and the government is taking this step because of the good progress being made in vaccinating everyone in priority groups one and two (care home residents and their carers, the over-80s and health and social care workers). Boris Johnson is expected to visit a vaccination centre today to promote the news.

But this development will be at least partially overshadowed by a Commons row about what the government is doing to protect those facing worsening poverty because of the pandemic. Today is one of the days allocated for a debate on an opposition motion and this evening MPs will vote on a motion tabled by Sir Keir Starmer saying the government should abandon plans to scrap the £20-a-week uplift to universal credit announced when the pandemic started. The increase was only meant to be temporary, and making it permanent would cost around £6bn a year.

Johnson has ordered his MPs to abstain on the motion. That means the Labour motion will pass, which will be embarrassing for the government – although not binding on it. Ministers can, and do, ignore motions passed by the House of Commons if they are not related to legislation or Commons procedure. But Johnson has calculated that this will be less embarrassing then sending his MPs through the lobbies to actually vote against retaining the increase. Johnson has still not said what will happen from April when the uplift comes to an end. An announcement is due in the budget in March.

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Here is our overnight preview story, highlighting research from the Resolution Foundation thinktank saying “the withdrawal of the extra £20 on universal credit (UC) and working tax credits (WTC), due to expire in April 2021, and the expected increase in unemployment of 900,000 in 2021-22 as the [furlough scheme] comes to an end, together mean that typical non-pensioner household incomes are projected to fall by 0.4% in 2021-22.”

This morning Nadhim Zahawi, the vaccine deployment minister, dismissed the Commons vote as a “political stunt”. He told Sky News:


It’s unfortunate that Labour has chosen a political stunt. This debate today has no real impact on the outcome on those families, other than a political little stunt for Labour.

Zahawi’s reliance on this line of attack is indicative of the weakness of the government’s stance on this issue. Debating and voting on policy is exactly what the Commons is there for. It is hard to see how it is inappropriate.

Here is the agenda for the day.

12pm: Downing Street is expected to hold its daily lobby briefing.

12.15pm: Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s first minister, holds her daily coronavirus briefing.

12.15pm: The Welsh government is expected to hold a coronavirus briefing.

2.30pm: Dido Harding, head of NHS Test and Trace, gives evidence to the Commons public accounts committee.

After 3.30pm: MPs begin the debate on the Labour motion opposing the proposed cut to universal credit.

5pm: A UK government minister is expected to hold a press conference.

Politics Live is now doubling up as the UK coronavirus live blog and, given the way the Covid crisis eclipses everything, this will continue for the foreseeable future. But we will be covering non-Covid political stories too, and when they seem more important or more interesting, they will take precedence. (The debate on universal credit is somewhere in between. It is not directly relevant to Covid, but it is about the economic consequences of the pandemic.)

Here is our global coronavirus live blog.

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