'Despicable': Tory MPs condemned for ignoring vote to scrap universal credit cuts

Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks during Prime Minister's Questions in the House of Commons, London. (Photo by House of Commons/PA Images via Getty Images)
Boris Johnson was hammered over the cut during prime minister's questions. (Getty)

Conservative MPs have been called a “disgrace” and “despicable” after ignoring a vote to scrap universal credit cuts.

Tory MPs abstained after Labour called a vote on the planned £20 cut as part of an opposition day debate in the Commons on Wednesday.

Boris Johnson is expected to ignore the vote, which passed with a majority of 253, and continue with the cut because it's not legally binding.

Labour MP Angela Eagle said: “Is it not a disgrace the government have now developed this habit of abstaining completely from opposition day votes because they haven’t got the guts to vote in the lobbies for things we’re suggesting they oppose because they’re frightened of the affect it will have in their constituencies.

She added: “Is it not a disgrace and is there anything as a house that we can do to prevent this despicable behaviour.”

Watch: PM refuses to explain how universal credit claimants can recoup lost £20

The universal credit uplift was introduced to support families during the coronavirus pandemic.

But the extra payments will be phased out from the end of this month, with the cut affecting around 4.4 million households from mid-October.

During prime minister’s questions on Wednesday, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer accused Boris Johnson of “hammering” workers by ending the universal credit boost and hiking national insurance from 22 April.

The two policies are predicted to result in millions of people losing more than £1,000 a year.

Starmer asked the PM how many extra hours a week a single parent working full time on the minimum wage would have to complete to get back the £20.

Work and pensions secretary Therese Coffey was criticised after suggesting it would take them just two extra hours to earn this amount.

Starmer said that person actually needed to work more than nine hours a week extra to get the money back.

He said: “The truth is that these low-paid workers can’t work longer hours to get back the money the prime minister is cutting from them.

“He knows it, they know it, millions of working families will be hit hard, very hard by the prime minister’s universal credit cut.”

A man walks past a sign with the email address of 'universal credit' outside the offices of 'jobcentreplus' in Oldham, Lancashire on March 26, 2020, during a country-wide lockdown to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus COVID-19. (Photo by Oli SCARFF / AFP) (Photo by OLI SCARFF/AFP via Getty Images)
The universal credit cut will affect around 4.4 million households from mid-October. (Getty)

The cut was not universally welcomed by Tory MPs.

Andrew Bridgen, Conservative MP for North West Leicestershire, tweeted: “I won't vote for a non-binding Opposition Day motion on Universal Credit but let me be clear as I have been for several months - the £20 weekly uplift that was introduced at the start of the pandemic should be made permanent. It's the right thing to do.”

The Resolution Foundation think-tank claimed the universal credit cut would be the biggest overnight cut to benefits ever.

"If the (government) goes ahead with this cut, it would be the largest overnight benefit reduction that has ever happened," it said a report released last Monday.

"That should give policymakers reason to pause as to whether this is a good idea – politically, economically or morally."

Scottish first minister Nicola Sturgeon previously said Johnson would expose an “absence of basic humanity and moral compass” if he goes ahead with a cut to universal credit.

She questioned how the prime minister’s conscience could allow him to implement the “biggest overnight reduction” in social security payments since the 1930s, and suggested Johnson “has no shame”.

The UK government has repeatedly insisted that the £20 uplift was always intended to be temporary and ministers have indicated it will end as planned next month.

Analysis from Labour suggests the universal credit cut would take £2.5bn from the economies of the north of England and the Midlands.