UK Government defeated on Universal Credit after one single MP rebels

Written by Tom Freeman and Emilio Casalicchio on 19 October 2017 in News

Government criticised of treating Westminster like a "university debating society" after abstaining in Universal Credits debate

Commons - PA

The UK Government was defeated in a vote to suspend the rollout of Universal credits last night after every Conservative MP but one abstained.

This meant the Labour motion to pause the flagship benefits reform was passed unanimously.

As many as 25 Tory MPs had reportedly threatened to vote with the Labour party, leading Theresa May to instead call for her MPs to abstain.


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In the end Health Select Committee chair Dr Sarah Wollaston was the only rebel to join Labour and SNP MPs, meaning the motion was passed by 299 votes to none.

The opposition-tabled motion is not binding on ministers but is an embarrassment for Theresa May and highlights her weakness in the Commons after losing her majority in June.

Speaker John Bercow warned ministers they couldn't claim not to have lost the vote and called on them to resond to the wishes of the house.

"This institution is bigger than any one party, and frankly it is bigger than any one government. This place and what we do here matters very much," he said.

Concerns have been raised by Citizens Advice and others over Universal Credit claimants having to wait six weeks for their first payment - with others struggling to manage cash as they adapt to the new system.

Wollaston noted the six-week wait as she vowed to vote against the Government.

“Why are we undermining a policy with the potential to change lives for the better by not addressing a fundamental flaw at its heart?” she asked during the debate.

“Our constituents who are living on the edge are going to start this process in debt and in arrears.

“I want to hear from the frontbench in summing up that they recognise this and that they are going to address the six-week wait.”

Chair of the Work and Pensions Committee Frank Field warned that his local foodbank would need an extra 15 tons of food over Christmas to cover the rollout of Universal Credit.

Conservative MP Sir Edward Leigh questioned the tactic of abstention.

"What worries me is that surely there is some sort of precedent here... this is not and should not be a university debating society.

"What is the point of the House of Commons if we just express opinions for the sake of it? Surely when we vote, it should have some effect."

shadow work and pensions secretary Debbie Abrahams said the vote showed the government was "in office but not in power", but Work and Pensions Secretary David Gauke said the DWP would press on with Universal Credit.

“What we are hearing today is not constructive opposition, not a plan to reform Universal Credit, but an attempt to wreck it," he told MPs.

“An attempt to paralyse a policy that will help 250,000 more people get into work, an attempt to block a reform that will increase opportunity, an attempt to play politics but no attempt to set out a real alternative.”

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