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Cutting universal credit will crush Britain’s poorest – but at least Rishi Sunak got his new swimming pool

The staggering, yawning chasm between the rich and poor in the UK is ever widening. Sometimes I wonder how far the Tories can go before we decide enough is enough

Harriet Williamson
Tuesday 31 August 2021 08:55 BST
(AFP via Getty Images)

Rishi Sunak, chancellor of the exchequer and husband of one of Britain’s most obscenely wealthy women, has been granted planning permission for a gym, swimming pool and tennis court at his private, grade II listed home in North Yorkshire.

Congratulations to Mr Sunak, I guess. I think I’d be less bitter about the planned improvements to Sunak’s manor house if he wasn’t busy planning to slash universal credit by £20 per week. The £20 uplift to universal credit has been a lifeline for some of the poorest and most vulnerable people in Britain during the pandemic. Sunak is going to take that away.

If you’re thinking that I’m getting my knickers in a twist over a paltry sum of money, you’d be quite right. It is mere chicken feed, and that’s because universal credit, by its very design, is not generous. Regardless, that extra £20, small as it is, means a great deal to a great many people.

There are 6 million people in the UK currently needing universal credit to make ends meet, and even on the benefit, the ends often don’t quite come together. In many cases, the benefit is simply poured into the pockets of private landlords or used to top up poverty wages. 40 per cent of people receiving UC are currently in work.

According to Citizen’s Advice, the planned cut could push an estimated 2.3 million people into debt. It will inevitably mean that parents cut back on their own meals so they can feed their kids, that there isn’t enough money for school uniforms and shoes, that homes are cold and essential bills go unpaid.

Back to Dishy Rishy. Sunak’s wife, Akshata Murthy, owns shares worth £430m in her family’s firm, making her richer than the Queen. Educated at the £43,000 per year Winchester College, Sunak is a multi-millionaire in his own right, having worked in a slew of investment firms. He set up his own hedge fund, Theleme Partners, in 2010 with an initial fund of £536m.

The manor house in North Yorkshire, purchased for £1.5m in 2015, isn’t Sunak and Murthy’s only property. They also own a house in Kensington and a flat in Santa Monica, California.

The prime minister has defended the planned cut to universal credit, saying that claimants should “rely on their own efforts” to get by. Just like he did, I suppose, when he got a Tory peer and the Conservative Party to pay for his pricey flat renovation.

The staggering, yawning chasm between the rich and poor in Britain is ever widening, and the Tories have delighted in making it so. It should sicken every single person in this country that we’re being run by a bunch of over-privileged toffs who have no experience of poverty and exercise their power to take away from those who don’t have enough to begin with.

Sometimes I wonder how far the Tories can go when they put the boot into the poorest people in Britain, before we decide enough is enough. The sad fact is that too many of us are pleased to see the meagre help afforded to the vulnerable stripped away, for a number of reasons.

Whether it’s a basic lack of compassion, swallowing the tired narrative about “scroungers and shirkers”, or never having experienced the crushing, miserable nightmare of this country’s benefits system. It’s probably worth mentioning that most of us are much closer to poverty than we are to living the life of the Rishi Sunaks of this world.

In the parable of the good Samaritan, a man is beaten, robbed and left at the side of the road. Two people who could’ve helped him pass by on the other side, ignoring his plight. These two people are like Boris Johnson and his government, if instead of ignoring the man, they went up to him, stamped on his head and then told him to “rely on his own efforts” to get up again.

The proposed cut to universal credit will be devastating to Britain’s most vulnerable families. Hope Rishi enjoys the new swimming pool, gym and tennis courts though.

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