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CABINET minister Therese Coffey met a furious backlash today after suggesting that people facing a universal credit cut should simply work extra hours to make up the difference.
The Work and Pensions Secretary was also accused of getting her figures wrong as she admitted that she was “entirely happy” to be ending the £20-per-week uplift from next month.
Ms Coffey told BBC Breakfast: “I’m conscious that £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, but ideally also to make sure they’re also in a place to get better paid jobs as well.”
But welfare experts pointed out that, due to the benefit’s taper rate and work allowance rules, some would need to work closer to an extra nine hours a week to make up for the cut.
This is because claimants only take home 37p per extra pound earned above a set work allowance, falling to 25p if they earn enough to pay tax and National Insurance, the Resolution Foundation think tank explained.
It cited the example of a claimant earning the full minimum wage and making an income of at least £6,100 a year. Due to the system’s rules, they would see their take-home pay fall to £2.24 per hour once taxes, National Insurance, pension contributions or additional childcare or travel costs are taken into account.
This means they would have to work an extra nine hours a week to make up for the benefit cut.
The think tank also pointed out that more than one in four claimants are not expected to work due to health problems or because they are caring for a young child.
Deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner also pointed to the benefit’s taper rules and said: “The Work and Pensions Secretary either knows she’s lying or shouldn’t be in the job.”
Shadow work and pensions secretary Jonathan Reynolds said that the minister’s comments were an insult to hard-working families and that Labour would force a vote in Parliament this week in a bid to cancel the cut.
The party is expected to call the vote as part of an opposition day debate in the Commons tomorrow. Unite Community members plan to stage a protest outside Parliament as the debate takes place.
Disabled People Against Cuts activist Linda Burnip said: “Disabled people often need extra support to be able to work or may find it impossible to use public transport at certain times of the day.
“So to make such a ridiculous suggestion without plans to remove such barriers highlights how ignorant this government is about disabled people’s needs.”
Black Activists Rising Against Cuts national chairwoman Zita Holbourne said that Ms Coffey’s comments fail to take into account that “workers cannot simply snap their fingers” to receive additional hours.
She warned that minority ethnic and migrant workers are more likely to be in precarious part-time work and on zero-hours contracts, with no control over their existing hours let alone over the decision to take on additional hours.
“It doesn’t take into account that people, predominantly women, have caring responsibilities and may not be able to take on additional hours even if available at a convenient time to them, and that they would have to pay for additional childcare or other caring costs,” she added.
“Working people are struggling and having to go to foodbanks to survive.
“Twenty pounds is a lot of money for someone in that position and could be the difference between putting food on the table or not.
“This is a disgraceful move when we are still in a pandemic.”
Unite assistant general secretary Steve Turner was incredulous at Ms Coffey’s remarks.
“Our members have told us that the £20 isn’t paying for luxuries but for food, children’s shoes, school uniforms and warm clothes,” he said.
“The Chancellor is making a deliberate and cruel decision to punish the country’s working poor, pushing six million people – over a third of which are already in work – into poverty and debt overnight.”
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