Tory revolt threatens Boris Johnson with defeat over £1,000 a year cut to universal credit

Fifty-strong Northern Research Group calls for emergency increase to stay – ahead of Commons vote

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
Friday 15 January 2021 20:33
Universal Credit explained

A Tory revolt is threatening Boris Johnson with defeat over his controversial plans to cut up to £1,000 a year from universal credit payments.

The 50-strong Northern Research Group (NRG) of MPs is calling for the continuation “until lockdown is lifted” of the emergency increase that was brought in to help poorer families cope during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The support for maintaining the payments beyond March comes just days before Labour stages a Commons vote – putting pressure on the prime minister to rethink the cut.

It would hit 6 million families and push 200,000 more children below the breadline, the Child Poverty Action Group is warning.

Stephen Crabb, a Conservative former cabinet minister, hailed the revolt, tweeting: “Good to see colleagues in the Northern Research Group of MPs join call to extend universal credit uplift.

“UC has been especially important in red wall seats supporting low wage workers and those losing jobs.”

The law allows the current lockdown in England to stay in place until the end of March – but some scientists are warning that harsh restrictions will be needed for much longer.

Mr Johnson has made repeated U-turns, over everything from free school meals to the immigration health surcharge, when faced with a backbench revolt.

Ministers from the prime minister down have repeatedly refused to extend the benefits uplift, with the chancellor, Rishi Sunak, eager to start plugging the huge holes in his finances. 

The call by the “red wall” Tories comes in its submission to the Treasury, ahead of the Budget on 3 March. The submission also proposes:

* Higher government borrowing to fund “an infrastructure revolution across the north;

* The speeding up of promised movement of parts of Whitehall departments out of London;

* A business rate “holiday” and a reduction of VAT to 5 per cent for tourism and leisure businesses;

* The abolition of stamp duty on properties under £500,000 – and an extension of the mortgage payments “holiday” for workers on furlough.

Jake Berry, the leader of the NRG – and a former minister for the “northern powerhouse” – said that by March, much of the north of England would have endured tough restrictions for almost a year.

“Lockdowns – although necessary while we wait for the vaccine to be rolled out – only entrench and compound disadvantage already felt by those communities this government has promised to level up.

“Now is the time for the Treasury to provide stability, not uncertainty, to people across the country, by confirming it will stick to task and continue supporting families and businesses.”

Jonathan Reynolds, the shadow work and pensions secretary, said: “Rishi Sunak must end the uncertainty for millions of families and secure our economy by cancelling the cut.

“If he refuses to act, we urge Conservative MPs to vote with Labour on Monday to protect families’ incomes.”

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