Boris Johnson is under pressure to maintain a raise in Universal Credit, worth £20 a week to the UK’s poorest families.
The cut would result in many families on low incomes losing around £1,000 per year in total.
Under current plans, the benefit increase is due to be scrapped in April, with as many as six million families likely to be impacted.
The issue will be debated by MPs today (18 Jan) as an opposition day motion, which means the vote is largely symbolic and a way for the Labour Party to highlight certain political issues.
Who supports the measure?
Maintaining the £20 per week uplift is supported by the Labour Party, the Liberal Democrats, Greens and the SNP, as well as some Conservative MPs.
The Northern Research Group, made up primarily of new Conservative MPs from the north of England, wrote a letter urging the Government to extend the uplift until Covid restrictions are lifted, “to ensure that individuals and families who have been worst affected by this pandemic are supported through our recovery with the security they need”.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak is thought to be the minister most set on reducing Universal Credit by £20, while some members of the cabinet (including Welfare Minister Therese Coffey) are understood to be trying to convince him to maintain the £20 uplift.
MPs who back scrapping the benefit increase argue that the Government’s focus is on getting people into work, with Conservative MP Bim Afolami telling BBC Westminster Hour, “The best way of getting people out of poverty is into work.”
Opposition MPs have argued that many Universal Credit claimants are already in work, and that adequately funding welfare services mean people who are out of a job will be better equipped to secure a new one.
Labour’s deputy leader, Angela Rayner, tweeted last night saying, “Tory MPs are talking about people getting on the ‘work ladder’ instead of Universal Credit on Westminster Hour. 2.2m recipients of UC are *working* & 70% of children in poverty are in working families. The problem is poverty pay”.
‘Army of momentum trolls’
Many Tory MPs are likely to abstain on the vote, after a message was reportedly sent out in Conservative WhatsApp groups from the Prime Minister, comparing Labour voters and people unhappy with government policies to violent Trump insurrectionists in America.
In a message to Conservative MPs, Boris Johnson is said to have written: “After the shameful way in which [Labour] used their army of momentum trolls last time to misrepresent the outcome and to lie about its meaning and frankly to intimate and threaten colleagues - especially female colleagues - I have decided not to give them that opportunity.”
He advised Tory MPs to abstain on the votes to prevent Labour from “inciting the worst kind of hatred and bullying (of a kind seen sadly across the Atlantic)”.
Many Tory MPs were heavily criticised, with some even receiving online abuse or having their constituency offices vandalised, after voting against providing free school meals for struggling families throughout the pandemic.
Boris Johnson was heavily criticised in late 2019 for continually referring to a piece of Brexit legislation as the “surrender bill”, which some MPs claimed was leading to an increase in abuse and death threats.