The government’s defeat in Parliament is to be welcomed, but only pressure from below can save the £20 Universal Credit uplift – and go further, writes Steph Pike
At the weekend Boris Johnson ordered Tory MPs to abstain on Monday’s vote in the House of Commons calling on the government to retain the £20 a week increase in Universal Credit, and to extend free school meals into half-term.
Johnson has accused Labour of using the vote to whip up hatred against the Tories, comparing it to recent events on Capitol Hill. Such ludicrous statements are no longer a surprise from a Prime Minister who is consistently hyperbolic, inarticulate and idiotic. But make no mistake, Johnson is no amiable clown - his buffoonery is an indication of the contempt in which he holds the ordinary people of this country.
The ineptitude and arrogance of the government has already costs the lives of over 100,000 people during the Covid pandemic, and a decision to reduce Universal Credit would push 730,000 more children into poverty at a time when the economic impact of the pandemic is devastating, particularly for the poorest families.
The fact that Labour won Monday’s vote is to be welcomed as it puts more pressure on the government. However, by abstaining, the government effectively refused to take part, the vote has no legal status and is therefore not binding on the government.
Despite this, there is still everything to fight for. This government has shown time and time again that it is for turning; because of pressure from the trade unions and from campaigners it has been forced into more U-turns than we can keep track of. There is every reason to be part of an energetic, vocal campaign that can succeed in forcing the government to retain the £20 uplift.
But the campaign must not stop there. The £20 increase only applies to Universal Credit. We must demand that the £20 increase is extended to income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance, income-based Employment Support Allowance and Income Support, and we must demand that the £20 uplift is made permanent.
After a five year uprating freeze, the pre-covid benefit rates were shamefully low, leaving many of the poorest in society without enough money to meet their basic needs, and fuelling a huge rise in poverty, and an unprecedented demand for food banks.
In 2015 the SNP MP Mhairi Black said that “Food banks are not part of the welfare state. They are a symbol that the welfare state is failing”. But they are a sign of something much worse; they are a symbol not of the failure of the welfare state, but of the deliberate destruction of the welfare state by a Tory government that, over the last decade, has been intent on undermining and dismantling the public services and systems of support that ordinary people rely on.
Securing the £20 Universal Credit uplift is only the start - we must continue to campaign to ensure that all benefits, and all jobs, provide a level of income so that no person or family ever has to go hungry or rely on food banks again.
Steph Pike a is a revolutionary socialist, feminist and People's Assembly activist. She is also a published poet. Her poetry collection 'Petroleuse' is published by Flapjack Press.
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