This weeks Labour Conference brought a lot of uncertainty to those hoping Labour would commit to scrapping the controversial benefit Universal Credit. In an exclusive, a senior Labour MP has told me that scrapping Universal Credit WILL be included in the next Labour Manifesto.
At this weeks Labour Party conference there have been mixed messages on the party’s plan for the controversial Tory flagship welfare reform Universal Credit. The first blow came when motions calling for the benefit to be scrapped were voted down in favour of those on Brexit and Open Selection.
A motion to debate welfare was accepted but there no real message in it. On Sunday night supporters were already predicting what was going to come. As I previously predicted, members were very disappointed by Labour’s inaction on Universal Credit. Disappointed isn’t right, angry and betrayed is a better way of putting it.
Greenwood deals a blow
On Monday Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary Margaret Greenwood took to the podium to deliver her keynote speech to the conference.
When the Mirror story emerged on Sunday I wrote that I thought the story was little more than a PR exercise to drum up support for her speech the next day. It appears that I was right as what she said did not commit to anything other than a year long review.
She set out that she would scrap “punitive sanctions” like those given to claimants late to jobcentre appointments. What she didn’t say is that under her plans Labour would keep other sanctions in place.
What angered many activists including myself, was that she indicated that her department would carry out a year long review to see what options are available. Then alarmingly she used the term “pause and fix” which was Labour’s policy on Universal Credit going into the conference.
All in all the speech was seen by many as a betrayal. The TUC and Unite had both called for it to be scrapped, as had thousands of others. Greenwood’s nonchalant promise to overhaul and change the system was seen as nothing other than lip service.
Throughout Monday and into Tuesday claimants and supporters were voicing their anger about the announcement of yet another review. At last year’s conference the party had committed to the very same thing so nothing had changed in a year.
Journalist and welfare activist Charlotte Hughes is a loyal Labour member but even she felt let down by what was said.
NOT good enough regarding Universal Credit. They could have done better, they should have done better but haven’t. Not impressed. https://t.co/selIYNZAN2
— Charlotte Hughes (@charlotteh71) September 24, 2018
Her blog can be viewed here I highly recommend everyone visits it.
I was at the Transform The World (TWT) festival that runs alongside the party conference and the feedback I was getting there and across social media was not a good. People were very very angry. Some even saying they wouldn’t bother voting at the next election as they felt their voice had been ignored. I spoke to RTUK News about what claimants thought about Greenwood’s pledges and speech in general.
Labour MP revives hope of scrapping it
It was on Tuesday that I received a message from a senior Labour MP. They had seen what I had written and wanted to let me know of something.
“Margaret is a really decent woman who wants to do the best for everyone on social security. I’m afraid her difficulties are not of her making.”
I responded by saying
“There are hundreds of disability activists very angry and obviously they blame Margaret unfortunately. Many people feel we now have no real welfare policy should we have a general election.”
“I understand unfortunately there’s a lot of internal party politics going on but welfare claimants need clarity.”
What came next caught me off guard and confused me. They responded with a revelation that questions Greenwood’s need for a year long review.
I was surprised I have to say & although I haven’t read her speech I think when it comes to a GE I’m pretty sure scrapping UC will be in there. There are position papers on a whole range of proposals built around a totally new system. But you’re spot on with the internal party politics as well.
Why are Labour holding a year long review? Why on earth would internal party politics delay what is an incredibly vital decision like this? More questions come out of this than answers. While promising that they have said it will be in the next Labour manifesto, why didn’t they use the platform of a conference to announce it?
John McDonnell backs scrapping it
After the Labour MP had revealed this to me Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell gave a talk at a conference fringe event that backed up what I had been told.
Speaking alongside Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) General Secretary Mark Serwotka, McDonnell spoke about Universal Credit. He told those at the event;
“Margaret in doing the review will obviously come forward with conclusions about Universal Credit itself.
“But all the messages we’re getting at the moment are that this is a system that just doesn’t work, won’t work, and not only needs reform but needs replacing.”
Serwotka who’s union represents thousands of Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) staff added;
“We believe it needs to be stopped. We think this debate is crucial… we believe we’ve got to have this debate.”
So the messages coming from Labour have been mixed but following the backlash from Margret Greenwood’s speech I think that the Party realised that they took their eye off of the ball. The conference was overshadowed by arguments over Open Selection and Brexit which left the import issues like welfare pushed to the side.
I have more hope now that Universal Credit will be scrapped but will be keeping a close eye on how things progress.
With Theresa May failing spectacularly at Brexit talks and having her own MPs plotting against her a General Election is ever more likely. Should she fail to get a deal with the EU and then parliament vote against a no deal, it is inconceivable that she could go on.
Whether MPs will carry out their duty to vote for the best interest of their constituents is another matter altogether.
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