THERESA MAY’S holding statement to MPs on Brexit negotiations, and Northern Ireland ‘backstops’, was preceded by tetchy exchanges on the rollout of Universal Credit which will also have a significant bearing on the country’s future.
If this flagship policy works in practice, helps the long-term jobless find employment and reduces this benefits bill, it still has the potential to transform social mobility.
The key word here is ‘potential’ – and Esther McVey, the Work and Pensions Secretary, needs to devote more time to her day job, and getting the implementation of this policy right, rather than threatening to quit the Cabinet over Brexit. She’s clearly been distracted. After all, Sir John Major, Gordon Brown – and religious leaders including the Archbishop of York – can’t all be wrong with their criticisms of a policy, which in the words of the Minister herself, will leave some recipients worse off.
Yet, while the Treasury’s decision to axe transitional funding of £2bn can, in fairness, be traced back to George Osborne’s last Budget in 2016, the policy is clearly not working. Veteran Labour MP Frank Field, who heads the Work and Pensions Select Committee, claimed in the Commons that some of his constituents have been forced to start work as prostitutes for the first time to make ends meet. That is morally wrong. And while Brexit is fundamental to Britain’s future prosperity and trading relationship with the world, it is the introduction of policies, like Universal Credit, which will define this Government’s domestic record and whether it is capable of managing effective welfare reform in a humane way.