Rudd says she’s willing to listen on Universal Credit, but lashes out at UN poverty expert

Ben Wray

The UN Special Rapporteur said that child poverty was “not just a disgrace, but a social calamity and an economic disaster”

AMBER RUDD MP has spoken in the House of Commons for the first time in her new role as DWP Secretary, signalling a shift in tone on Universal Credit while denouncing the UN Special Rapporteur’s analysis that poverty is a political choice in the UK.

Rudd, who only resigned as Home Secretary in April following the Windrush scandal, replaced Esther McVey MP, who stepped down last week in opposition to the Prime Minister’s Brexit withdrawal deal. She is widely seen as a ‘loyalist’ to Theresa May.

In the Budget last month, the Tories agreed to put an extra one billion into Universal Credit and make reforms to its roll out in an attempt to reduce payment delays. Labour and the SNP have called for the roll out to be halted due to the widespread evidence of hardship and destitution resulting from the introduction of the new benefit.

READ MORE – Hilary Long: The UN’s findings on poverty in the UK reveal the rotten heart of Tory Britain

Rudd suggested that she would not be halting the roll out, but did shift tone in her remarks from her predecessor, saying that she would “make sure vulnerable claimants are moved smoothly onto Universal Credit” and that she was “going to be listening very carefully” to concerns about the roll out.

“We do learn from any errors, and we will adjust it to make sure it serves the people the way it is supposed to,” she added.

Phillip Alston, the UN Special Rapporteur, issued a damning indictment of the UK Government after his week-long investigation of poverty in Britain, finding that the austerity had caused “great misery” with “punitive, mean-spirited, and often callous” welfare benefits cuts. He said child poverty was “not just a disgrace, but a social calamity and an economic disaster”, and concluded that “poverty is a political choice” and the austerity measures since 2010 were in breach of four UN human rights agreements relating to women, children, disabled people and economic & social rights.

READ MORE: ‘Money left for 2 weeks = £10.50’: Universal credit diary goes viral

In response to questions about Alston’s findings, Rudd hit back, saying his remarks were “extraordinary political nature of his language” and that it was “wholly inappropriate”, adding that it was “outrageous” and “discredited a lot of what he was saying”.

“My views on the UN special rapporteur are absolutely clear,” she told the House. “If only he would listen to what we are saying, and if he would look at the evidence.”

3.1 million children with working parents are now living in poverty in the UK, a one million increase since 2010.

Figures published earlier this year showed poverty is on the rise in Scotland, with 24 per cent of childen in relative poverty from 2014-17, up one per cent on 2010-2013. By 2022, that number is expected to rise to one in three, according to an IFS report, also published in March, which found growth in living standards had slowed to a 60 year low.

READ MORE: Rising financial emergency in Scottish households as Universal Credit continues roll-out

New research has showed that ending the benefits freeze could lift 200,000 people out of poverty.

In former Chancellor George Osborne’s 2015 Budget, he froze most working age benefits and tax credits until 2020. Research by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation has shown that ending the freeze, combined with changes to Universal Credit announced in last month’s Budget, would see 400,000 fewer people in poverty in total by 2020. Ending the benefits freeze would cost the UK Government £1.4 billion, JRF found.

Helen Barnard, deputy director for policy at the JRF, said: “It’s unacceptable that people struggling to make ends meet are seeing their incomes falling further and further behind their needs because of the benefits freeze. The social security system should help people escape poverty, not lock them in it. Low-income families will not feel that austerity has ended until they see more money in their pockets.”