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Universal Credit cut is ‘national disgrace’ say Cambridge city councillors

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Scrapping the £20 Universal Credit uplift is a “national disgrace” and will have a “devastating” impact on those who are already struggling in Cambridge, councillors have said.

The Guildhall in Cambridge Picture: Local Democracy Reporting Service (52545609)
The Guildhall in Cambridge Picture: Local Democracy Reporting Service (52545609)

Cambridge city councillors unanimously backed an amended motion to call on the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak, to reverse the cut at a meeting yesterday evening (Thursday, October 21).

Proposed by Councillor Daniel Lee (Lib Dem, Queen Edith’s) he said it was a “bittersweet moment” when presenting the motion in his maiden council speech.

Cllr Lee said: “In 2021 the pressing issues for this council should be tackling the climate crisis or setting out how we can use Cambridge’s growth to create a more equal and affordable city, not fighting the national government to protect some of the most vulnerable people in our city by asking them to reinstate the Universal Credit uplift.

“I’m sad that it is necessary to implore the national government to reverse this cut and remind them of their duty of care to the poorest and the need to combat poverty, but here we are and at this point I feel like asking this Tory government to do anything for the poorest in society is akin to the fabled frog asking the scorpion to stop it stinging.

“Unfortunately I’m not an international football player to shame the government into feeding hungry school children.

“Under the Conservative’s omnishambolic leadership poverty in the UK has increased markedly, the standard of living across the country is falling, more and more people are barely surviving thanks to ever more numerous food banks.

“Indeed there’s a food bank a stone’s throw away from my house, showing the disparity in Queen Edith’s with multi-million-pound houses metres, not miles, from council houses whose occupants already rely on food banks.

“Skyrocketing energy prices mean many this winter will face the difficult choice between eating, or heating their home. All of this is on top of rising food prices due to shortages in supply chains, a direct consequence of the Tories hard Brexit.

“There is no doubt that the damage from leaving the European Union has been compounded by Covid-19, on which the government loves to blame everything whilst simultaneously pretending everything is fine. Yesterday there were 49,139 new cases in the UK, this is as nearly as many reported by the entire EU combined.

“Clearly Covid-19 is still here, so it logically follows that some of the challenges that caused the introduction of the uplift in the first place are not over.”

Cllr Lee added that the cut not only “dramatically exacerbated” the struggles of people who are already struggling, but described it as “morally wrong in a civilised society” to treat people that way.

He said: “It is crucial that the uplift be restored and made permanent.

“It is crucial not only because poverty affects those already most vulnerable; not only because we know that deprivation affects children’s attainment in school; not only because we know financial hardship affects health at a time when the NHS is already creaking; it is crucial because it is the right thing to do.

“And so, I implore my fellow councillors to vote for this motion, so that we can send a message to the billionaire Chancellor that what they are doing is wrong, and that Cambridge City Council neither agree nor approves.”

An amendment was added to the motion to include a paragraph welcoming the Welsh Government’s “bold vision” and “commitment to tackling inequality” through the trial of a Universal Basic Income.

Cllr Lee said that he welcomed the support for the motion, however he felt that the Universal Basic Income deserved a motion of its own.

Councillor Sarah Baigent (Lab, Castle), who proposed the amendment, spoke in support of the motion to call for a reversal of the Universal Credit cut and that she could not ‘highlight the importance of the issue enough’.

She argued there is a “lived experience gap” with the government not understanding the “full impact” the cut will have on working and non-working people.

Cllr Baigent said she has had families from her ward contact her to say that buying school uniforms for their children has “compromised” their ability to pay the council tax.

She said: “Shame on you Boris Johnson that there even needs to be food hubs.

“These food hubs around our cities, sometimes with queues of anxious people having to wait to go in and get basic provisions and essential items to feed their families.

“Do not forget these essential food hubs support the most basic standard of living and survival.”

The amended motion was unanimously supported by the councillors.

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