LONDON — Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn piled the pressure on Theresa May to pause the government’s planned roll out of Universal Credit in this week’s Prime Minister’s Questions.
Labour MPs cheered as May stuttered “yes” when Corbyn asked if her government would delay the contentious policy, before the prime minister clarified that the policy will be going ahead as planned despite widespread concern.
Wednesday’s exchange between May and Corbyn came on the same day that the Tory government announced it would be scrapping charges for Brits who use the Universal Credit helpline after pressure from opposition MPs.
Work and Pensions Secretary David Gauke told the Work and Pensions select committee on Wednesday: “I have decided that this will change to a free phone number over the next month.”
Addressing the House of Commons on Wednesday, the Labour leader said: “Last week I asked the PM to scrap the unfair charges on the Universal Credit helpline, today she’s finally bowed to that pressure. The fundamental problems of Universal Credit remain the six-week wait, rising indebtedness, rent arrears and evictions — will the PM now pause Universal Credit and fix the problems before pressing ahead with the rollout?”
The fundamental problems of Universal Credit remain the six-week wait, rising indebtedness, rent arrears and evictions — will the PM now pause Universal Credit and fix the problems before pressing ahead with the rollout?”
“Yes, it’s absolutely right,” the prime minister stuttered, before saying “I suggest to Hon Members that they listen to the whole sentence.
“It is absolutely right that we’ve announced we are going to change in relation to the telephone charge. I said last week we were listening to a number of proposals, we have done that.
“I think it’s right to have done this now because there’s a lot of emphasis, a lot of publicity…I want people to know they can ring in, get their advice and do that without being worried about it.”
Watch the exchange:
The PM faced a number of questions from opposition MPs about the Universal Credit policy, which critics say will leave claimants without money to pay for essentials for a number of weeks.
Labour MP Laura Pidcock asked May if the policy was “a matter of gross incompetence or calculated cruelty.”
Corbyn welcomed falling unemployment but asked how May “had the nerve” to talk about the government’s economic record when figures published this week show Britain is suffering from slow growth and rising inflation.
“Most people in work are worse off… Does the PM really believe falling wages are a sign of falling economy?” Corbyn asked.
“How does the PM have the nerve to come here and talk about a strong economy when the figures show the exact opposite?”
May defended the government’s record, responding: “For all his years in Parliament there is one thing he’s failed to recognise. Government has no money of its own.
“It collects money in taxes from businesses and people to pay, to spend on the NHS and on the services people need. If businesses aren’t being set up, if businesses aren’t growing people aren’t in work, government doesn’t have the money to spend on NHS pay, schools and hospitals. The only way you ensure businesses are growing, that people are in jobs…is with a Conservative government.”
Corbyn: “She has finally bowed to that pressure” on UC call charges
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