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Amber Rudd used her first appearance in the House of Commons as Work and Pensions Secretary to blast the recent UN report as “wholly inappropriate” due to it political language. What was noticeable however was the lack of denial that any of the facts in the report are correct.
For anyone who thought that Esther McVey’s departure from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) would signal a change of direction, her successor Amber Rudd put that myth firmly to bed.
Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, Margaret Greenwood asked the new head of the DWP if she would end the Tories “state of denial” on poverty and halt the roll-out of Universal Credit. Greenwood made this call after UN Special Rapporteur Professor Philip Alston warned that Universal Credit risks leaving more people at risk of destitution.
Giving his preliminary findings on Friday, Mr Alston told a packed out press conference and thousands of viewer on a livestream;
“What I found in my discussions with ministers, is basically a state of denial. The ministers with whom I met have told me that things are going well, that they don’t see any big problems, and they are happy with the way in which their policies are playing out.
“But it’s of course not the story that I heard in my travels through Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and in quite a few cities in England.”
Rudd’s response to Greenwood showed that as expected, the government would go after Professor Alston rather than the report’s findings. Rudd told the Commons;
“I have seen the report by the rapporteur and I must say I was disappointed to say the least by the extraordinary political nature of his language. We on this side of the House will always engage with professionals, with experts, with NGOs, we are not so proud we don’t think we can learn as we try to adjust universal credit for the benefit of everybody.
“But that sort of language was wholly inappropriate and discredited a lot of what he was saying, but we look forward to working with experts in the area to make sure we get the right outcome for the people we want to look after.”
Attack on Alston but not the facts
What was noticeable throughout yesterday’s debate was that while Amber Rudd attacked Alston for his political language, she did little to dispute the facts contained within the report.
Yes, other Tory MPs did speak up in defence of Universal Credit. The minister for Family support, Housing and Child Maintenance, Justin Tomlinson hit out by saying that the government “disagreed” with Prof Alston’s findings.
He then described Universal Credit as a “simplified benefit system that helps some of the most vulnerable people in society”.
Clearly Mr Tomlinson hadn’t read the days news reports detailing how the underfire benefit is pushing women in Merseyside into sex work just so they can feed their families. If that’s helping vulnerable people, then we really are in trouble.
The full force of the UK government has been out to try and discredit the UN report. On Sunday, new appointed junior Brexit Minister, Kwasi Kwarteng came under fire for conduct on BBC politics show; Marr.
When asked about a Universal Credit claimant who suffers from vCJD, commonly know as mad cow disease, and how she and her mother faced losing her home, Kwarteng responded by highlighting what he’d done in government, (he was a Secretary for the Chancellor). He continued on about how the deficit had come down adding that yes “it’s a sad story,” before continuing to plug himself unchallenged by Andrew Marr.
There have been no less than 4 damning UN reports in the last 8 years. Each time the government have responded to by ridiculing them and their authors. This one, although more publicized, will be no different.
Add in that Amber Rudd is ultra loyal to Theresa May, it’s highly unlikely she would do anything that looked like previous decisions have been wrong.
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