Entering the Universal Credit debate last week proved another bruising but learning experience for me. I made it clear-as long as six months ago, that whilst a raising income tax threshold policy was of course to be welcomed, actually whilst over three quarters of people who benefit from that policy are in the top half of income earners in places like Plymouth, it would be sensible to consider scrapping these rises – (essentially giving this cohort more money), and re-investing it into taper rates and work allowances in Universal Credit which would specifically target our most vulnerable constituents.
The response was telling. Universal Credit – something that resourced as it was initially intended could be a defining marker of a modern compassionate Conservative party – has swiftly become a poisoned debate. Too many horrific experiences have happened in too many of our most vulnerable communities, have been reacted to too slowly. The Government has tried hard in the past: reduction in waiting times, same day advances, landlords portal-so that cash can be paid directly to landlords – and transition payments show a willingness to learn and get this right. But the negativity continues.
Why? Too many bad experiences (still), but fanned by too many on the left in politics in it only for themselves. For the life-changing nature of UC speaks to everything most politicians get into politics for. It markedly improves life chances, living standards, mental health and opportunities on our most deprived areas.
Those who believe in it must step up. Our job as politicians is to advocate, to lead, to bring people with us to a brighter future. The evidence is with us in this one – 92% of claimants in Plymouth receive their first payment on time. Ministers must earn their Government pay-roll, and not leave back benchers like me and a few others dangling in the wind on this like last weekend.
This could and should be a defining policy area outside of BREXIT that speaks to a modern Conservative party meeting the challenges of a modern Britain. Let’s not drop the ball on this one too.