The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions has come under fierce criticism after making the highly misleading claim that those facing the impending £20 a week cut to Universal Credit could avoid the impact by simply doing “two hours extra work every week”.
Speaking on BBC Breakfast, DWP Secretary Thérèse Coffey was asked about the impact of the £20-a-week cut to Universal Credit which has recently started hitting – and is predicted to devastate – many claimants, including single parents and disabled people.
In an attempt to justify her government’s actions, the Tory DWP Secretary said:
“£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.”
Extraordinarily, considering her role as the Tory Welfare chief, Coffey appears to have completely misunderstood the very system she is supposed to administer.
Coffey’s ‘simple fix’ of simply doing a couple of hours extra work a week, at a rate of £10 per hour, seems to ignore many factors – such as childcare issues, caring responsibilities, lack of accessible work, and a minimum wage ranging from £6.56 to £8.91 per hour depending on age.
However, perhaps most striking is Coffey’s complete lack of knowledge about the 63% Universal Credit earnings taper, as explained on the Government’s own website:
“The Universal Credit earnings taper rate is currently 63%. This means that for every £1 you earn over your work allowance (if you are eligible for one) your Universal Credit will be reduced by 63p. This amount will be deducted automatically from your Universal Credit payment.”
Therefore, given the taper – which Coffey really should be acutely aware of – added to all the other factors that she has conveniently overlooked, it would actually take around 7 extra hours for UC claimants to make back the lost £20 a week:
Key issue: 63% taper rate in Universal Credit (of POST-tax earnings) means claimants only take home 37p of extra £1 earned. That falls to 25.2p if they earn enough to pay income tax and National Insurance (falling to 24.7p next April when National Insurance rises)
— Torsten Bell (@TorstenBell) September 13, 2021
Therese Coffey appears not to know that the 'taper' rate on Universal Credit would force a minimum wage worker to work an extra eight or nine hours to make an extra twenty quid
— David__Osland (@David__Osland) September 13, 2021
In truth, it is far from easy to replace the Universal Credit cut, which adds up to over £1000 per year. Below is a screenshot of a table from Debt Camel that shows the actual extra earnings needed to replace the UC cut:
A cruel cut
The £20 a week uplift was initially introduced to help ease pressure on claimants during the global Covid-19 pandemic – but the Tories have now withdrawn it, claiming that the economy opening back up will protect claimants.
However, with significantly higher energy and food costs compared to before the pandemic began, the £20 a week cut is expected to plunge 2.3 million people into debt. Not to mention that the pandemic is far from over, with 252,011 cases in the last 7 days as reported on 13th September 2021.
It really is no exaggeration to say that the impact of this cut will be devastating. According to an analysis by the independent Joseph Rowntree Foundation, 500,000 families will be plunged into poverty, including 200,000 children.
The Universal Credit system is notoriously complicated, and it has understandably concerned and outraged many to see that Coffey, in her position of authority as Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, has given an entirely misleading impression of how the impact of the cut can be avoided. And the fact she was allowed to air her misinformation, completely unchallenged, on the most widely-viewed Breakfast show in the country, only compounds things further.
Far from simple
The Tories have continuously pushed the narrative that avoiding the impact of the Universal Credit cut is as simple as “getting people into work”. However, that ignores the fact that many claimants have always been willing to find accessible work – they just struggle to find any, because in many cases it simply doesn’t exist. And, if things weren’t already tough enough, even more redundancies are expected shortly, as the furlough scheme comes to a total end this month, inevitably pushing even more people on to Universal Credit.
A typically conservative demonisation of the poor, where it is consistently implied that claimants “refuse” to help themselves, has been successful over the years – a narrative pushed by the UK’s overwhelmingly right-wing media, in order to divide ordinary people against each other, rather than against those at the top who actually hold power.
After a decade of often-unchallenged claims and attacks coming directly from the Tories and their media poodles, many members of the public are now extremely quick to blame vulnerable people and other minorities, rather than the actual people making the decisions, for virtually all of society’s ills.
All whilst the voices of those who are actually affected by the government’s actions are forever sidelined – excluded, silenced, and literally cancelled by the UK’s despicably callous, and astonishingly hypocritical, establishment elite.