Tory MP breaks down in tears at Labour MP's story about family invited to a funeral just so they could eat

Heidi Allen urges colleagues to 'make this better' after hearing tales of despair the policy is causing

Benjamin Kentish
Tuesday 05 December 2017 23:01 GMT
Heidi Allen reduced to tears by debate on Universal Credit

A Conservative MP was moved to tears after listening to a Labour colleague describe how the Government’s universal credit left one of his constituents contemplating suicide and others forced to attend a funeral in order to eat.

Heidi Allen was visibly upset as she rose to speak in a debate on the controversial policy, the implementation of which has been the subject of criticism from across the political spectrum.

The South Cambridgeshire MP was speaking moments after Labour’s Frank Field, who represents Birkenhead, told the Commons he had had to persuade a man not to take his own life because of the “destitution” the welfare policy has caused.

Speaking immediately afterwards, Ms Allen paused and said: “I don't know where to start after that. I'm humbled by the words from my honourable, good friend from Birkenhead.

"No government is perfect, no benefits system is perfect, no debate, no motion is perfect, but by God we work together and make this better."

She began talking about the work of the Work and Pensions Committee, which she sits on, but her voice cracked as she fought to control her emotions. “I’m not very good at this job, am I?” she said.

Mr Field, who chairs the committee, intervened to give Ms Allen a chance to compose herself, saying: "I'm just amazed for the first time I've been able to report those events publicly without weeping.

"I'm so affected by them, I'm affected as she is. That's the debate we're really having - how do we represent here the desperateness of many of our constituents when many of us feel we can't offer them hope."

In his speech, he had described having to urge one constituent not to take his own life amid despair among many of those who are in receipt of universal credit.

The Birkenhead MP said: "I've done surgeries for 38 years. On my last surgery Friday, for the first time ever a gentleman rose after we had spoken, I had tried to persuade him not to commit suicide, such was the desperateness that he saw the future for himself, and I realised the hand that shook my hand was wet.

He'd been crying. And the hand that shook my hand was the hand that wiped away those tears.”

Mr Field also recounted how a charity in his constituency had helped a family who brought in a child that was “crying with hunger”.

The family were so short of money that they had been invited to a funeral by their neighbours so that they could finish the food left by other guests, according to the MP.

He said: "The father said it had been a lucky week for him because neighbours had taken pity and invited him to a funeral so they could finish off the food after the other funeral guests had been fed.

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"When the little boy was shown a shelf where toys were, but also on that shelf were lunch packs, he chose the lunch pack.

"This is the background of growing destitution that I see in my constituency and against which we have to judge Universal Credit and the debate we're having today."

He said the cumulative effect of welfare changes in recent years is that many of his constituents have been left in “destitution”.

"We've made decisions in this House to favour pensioner households against ordinary families,” he said.

The debate was called by Labour in an attempt to force the Government to release reports on the impact of universal credit.

Facing the prospect of a binding vote, ministers backed down and agreed to publish the assessments before Christmas.

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