Work and pensions secretary Thérèse Coffey has been accused of failing to understand Universal Credit and the implications of the impending £20 a week cut that will leave 6m households more than £1000 worse off each year.
Coffey was slammed by Unite and others for being out of touch, when she recently suggested that families facing the cut – the biggest overnight benefit cut since the Second World War — should simply work longer hours instead.
Speaking to BBC Breakfast, Coffey said, “I’m conscious that £20 a week is about two hours’ extra work every week – we will be seeing what we can do to help people perhaps secure those extra hours, but ideally also to make sure they’re also in a place to get better paid jobs, as well.”
But critics highlighted that this was not how the Universal Credit system works because of the taper that decreases UC payments for additional hours worked. The Universal Credit taper is set at 63 per cent, meaning that for every pound earned in work above the work allowance, the benefit is reduced by 63p.
Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner tweeted that Coffey “either knows she’s lying or shouldn’t be in the job”.
“An additional £20 for a UC claimant isn’t 2 hours work, that’s not how the taper works. An extra £20 would require £50+ worth of hours, that is how the UC system works,” she said.
The Resolution Foundation’s chief executive Torsten Bell further broke down Coffey’s claim, noting that a Universal Credit claimant who is in work and pays tax and National Insurance would have to work an astonishing nine extra hours a week to make up for the £20 a week cut.
“A single parent working three days a week, eight hours a day, on £10 an hour, would need to increase their earnings by a third (working an extra eight hours) simply to stand still,” Bell added in a tweet. “And that’s (ludicrously) assuming no childcare costs.”
Bell went on to write, “The focus on working more hours also ignores the HUGE fact that many claimants are not able or expected to be in work in the first place: over one-in-four claimants are – by the government’s own rules – not expected to work” because, for example, they have a health problem or a young child.
Criticism of the work and pension secretary’s claims comes as Unite Community is set to host an event outside Parliament in support of Labour’s opposition day debate on Wednesday (September 14) which will force a vote on the £20 a week cut.
Holding banners up that will read ‘Keep our families fed’ and ‘Food is not a luxury’, the Unite activists are standing up for the six million people in Britain who rely on Universal Credit to get by – 40 per cent of whom are in work.
Charities estimate that one million households will lose 10 per cent of their income overnight when the chancellor, Rishi Sunak, snatches back the £20 a week – £1,040 a year – with one in four children made poorer as a result.
Speaking ahead of the event, Unite assistant general secretary Steve Turner said, “Thérèse Coffey lives on a different planet to the rest of us if she thinks already hard-pressed people can work their way to make up for the £20 being snatched from their household budget overnight.
“Someone on Universal Credit bringing in £200 a week would need to earn an extra £67 a week to make up the £20 loss,” he added. “Then there will be additional childcare and travel costs so making up that stolen cash is impossible and the minister knows it.
“Our members have told us that the £20 isn’t paying for luxuries, but for food, children’s shoes, school uniforms and warm clothes,” Turner went on to say. “The chancellor is making a deliberate and cruel decision to punish the country’s working poor pushing six million people, over a third of which are already in work, into poverty and debt overnight.
“Many of them have worked right through the pandemic – in social care, in the NHS and as refuse collectors – and they deserve so much better from this government than this assault on their already poverty-level incomes,” he continued.
“Unite Community members will not rest in their determined efforts to fight against this needless hardship. Tory ministers and MPs will never be allowed to forget what they are doing to our children and communities.”
Stay tuned tomorrow (Wednesday, September 15) for UniteLive coverage of tomorrow’s Universal Credit cut demo outside Parliament ahead of Labour’s opposition day debate.
By Hajera Blagg