Tag: Wendy Morton

Gaslighting Conservative MP says Universal Credit protest is a ‘political stunt’

A Conservative MP, Simon Clarke, has condemned a protest against Universal Credit in Guisborough, dismissing it as a “political stunt”.

Clarke said the protest will ‘disrupt local businesses’ on one of the busiest days in the run up to Christmas.

Local Labour MPs and unions are holding a march in the town on Saturday. They join thousands of other people, accusing the government of a “callous approach”.

They said the so-called flagship reform – which replaces six existing benefits, and has been introduced across Teesside in recent months – was “causing real poverty and hardship in our communities”.

Redcar and Cleveland Council has written to the Government three times to delay the roll-out until after Christmas, saying that claimants’ waiting five weeks for their first payment would leave families penniless over the Christmas period.

However Clarke, whose Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland is the only Conservative seat on Teesside, claims he has not had a single constituent flag any problems with the system.

Clarke claims: “At the heart of Universal Credit is the principle that work should always pay and those who need support should receive it.” 

“That is what it delivers – bringing an end to the broken culture we inherited from Labour, where the number of households where nobody had ever worked doubled between 1997 and 2010.”

Clarke continued with his myth making: “I have liaised really closely with the brilliant team at Loftus Job Centre in recent weeks. The team there could not have been clearer: they think Universal Credit will help people, they are well trained to deliver it and they are fed up of being demonised by politicians who only want to frighten their clients unnecessarily.”

However, it is very problematic to accept the narratives of administrators and to completely discount the negative experiences and citizen accounts of those Universal Credit is being imposed on. The system is so riddled with design flaws and process faults that it is practically guaranteed to generate mistakes and delays that would push vulnerable benefit claimants into hardship, according to administrative whistleblowers. 

Service centre workers have told the Guardian that glitches and errors in the “cobbled-together” system have commonly led to peoples’ benefit payments being delayed for weeks or wrongly reduced by hundreds of pounds. Mistakes and delays can add on average an extra three weeks to the formal 35-day wait for an initial benefit payment, pushing claimants into debt, rent arrears, and reliance on food banks.

Campaigners warn that the problems may get worse next year when more than 3 million claimants start to be “migrated” to the new system.

One employee said: “The IT system on which Universal Credit is built is so fundamentally broken and poorly designed that it guarantees severe problems with claims.”

He said the system was “overcomplex and prone to errors that affected payments and often proved slow to correct.”

“In practical terms, it is not working the way it was intended and it is having an actively harmful effect on a huge number of claimants.”

Bayard Tarpley, who left the Grimsby service centre after two years as a telephony agent, told the Guardian that he had been dealing with distressed claimants every day. “My hope is that by speaking out I can help explain why these processes have such a significant, harmful impact on claimants.”

He gave several examples of where poor system design and practice caused delays and payment errors, including:

  • Staff are not notified when claimants leave messages on their online journal; for example, if they wish to challenge payment errors. As a result, messages sent to officials can go unanswered for days or weeks unless claimants pursue the inquiry by phone.
  • Claimants are discouraged by staff from phoning in to resolve problems or to book a home visit and instead are actively persuaded to go online, using a technique called “deflection”, even when callers insist they are unable to access or use the internet.
  • Callers have often been given wrong or contradictory advice about their entitlements by DWP officials. These include telling severely disabled claimants who are moving on to universal credit from existing benefits that they must undergo a new “fit for work” test to receive full payment.
  • Although the system is equipped to receive scanned documents, claimants instead are told to present paper evidence used to verify their claim, such as medical reports, either at the local job centre or through the post, further slowing down the payment process.
  • Small delays or fluctuations in the timing of employers’ reporting of working claimants’ monthly wages via the real time information system can lead to them being left hundreds of pounds out of pocket through no fault of their own.

Food banks are regarded as a formal backstop for when the system fails, he said. Officials are told to advise those claimants who are in hardship and who do not qualify for cash advances to contact charities or their council for help. However, many councils have closed local welfare provision as a result of central government cuts to funding.

These disclosures add to the mounting concerns over Universal Credit, and provides evidence that the system is not supporting people with even their most basic living costs. Universal Credit roll out is six years behind schedule but will eventually handle £63bn of welfare support going to 8 million people.

Campaigners and researchers say their concerns have been met with a “defensive and insular” approach to managing welfare reform by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP). 

The department came under withering fire from a cross-party group of MPs who accused it of a “culture of indifference” after it had repeatedly ignored warnings of basic process errors that led to 70,000 disabled benefit claimants being underpaid an estimated £500m over six years.

The then work and pensions secretary, Esther McVey, sought to limit the damage in a speech in which she admitted there were problems with Universal Credit, and promised to listen to campaigners, claimants and frontline staff to find ways to change and improve the system.

If Universal Credit is so ‘helpful’ for citizens, wouldn’t you think that the United Nations would have recognised that this was the case during the recent inquiry? As it is, Philip Alston said that Universal Credit is “entrenching people in poverty” and inflicting “unnecessary misery” on citizens, because of the government’s “radical social re-engineering programe”. 

Alston concluded: “In the fifth richest country in the world, this is not just a disgrace, but a social calamity and an economic disaster, all rolled into one.” 

He also warned that the motivation behind the controversial benefit reform was to slash spending, despite finding little evidence that there had been any savings, and that the message to claimants is, “You are alone” and that state assistance is the “last resort”.

Yet Clarke says: “Since roll-out began here last month, not a single constituent has come forward with a problem for me to help with. My staff have all received training if anyone does. No amount of staff training, however, can ensure that people have enough money to meet their basic living costs within a punitive framework that is purposely designed to create a hostile environment to deter people from claiming social security support. 

“But I think people in Guisborough will rightly be unimpressed that their town is being disrupted on one of the busiest shopping days before Christmas by what is frankly a political stunt,” said Clarke, using what is frankly a deplorable gaslighting technique.

I can’t imagine that many people experiencing problems with their Universal Credit claim would find Clarke particularly approachable. He seems to be surrounded by an impervious wall of denial.

Redcar MP Anna Turley has also called for the roll out of Universal Credit to be stopped until flaws in the system are put right. She said that low income families and vulnerable people would be left reliant on food banks and forced into personal debt.

A similar protest, organised by Unite the Union, was held in Redcar last weekend.

Cllr Sue Jeffrey, leader of Redcar and Cleveland Council, said: “I am dismayed at the callous approach being taken by this Government.

“We know that there is likely to be difficulties for many people who are forced to move onto Universal Credit in the month before Christmas.”

The TUC said that the Conservatives “are in denial about the hardship Universal Credit will cause in our area”.

Accusing the accuser: Conservative techniques of neutralisation and perception management

However, it’s an intentional, evidence-vaulting sort of deliberated response – a habitualised, patterned, crib sheet, ‘strategic communication’ (communication tactically aligned with the government’s overall strategy and ideological aims, to enhance its strategic positioning) kind of denial:

Another MP who called for an end to “scaremongering” about Universal Credit last year is Wendy Morton. Speaking in a Commons debate about Universal Credit, she said: “It is this government who are helping people, which is why I am disappointed to have sat through a lot of this debate and heard scaremongering stories from Opposition Members.”

She responded with the sloganised, detached and meaningless comment: Universal Credit “makes work pay and helps people into work” and staff at job centres, who administer the benefit, were “working hard to get it right.” 

In October, during a parliamentary debate, St Austell and Newquay’s MP, Steve Double, claimed that jobcentre staff “love it, and claimants like it” and that “one of the problems is all the scaremongering, primarily from the Labour party.”

The evidence from a wide variety of sources, however, strongly suggests otherwise. 

As Labour MP Liz McInnes said at the time: “If these claims are in fact true, who could possibly object to impact assessments being released? They will no doubt reflect the happiness and joy being spread to Universal Credit claimants in beautiful Cornwall. One would think that the Government would be shouting this marvellous news from the rooftops – if it were true.”

Esther McVey memorably refused to agree to meet with the women so bady affected by Universal Credit that they were forced into sex work to avoid destitution. She coldly asked former Labour minister Frank Field, who raised his concerns, to remind them “there are now record job opportunities” in the UK.

During that particular debate, Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary Margaret Greenwood called on the government to stop the  roll-out, adding: “There’s a real danger that hundreds of thousands of people could fall out of the social security system altogether and be pushed into poverty and left at risk of destitution.”

McVey dismissed those concerns as “scaremongering”. And again in March, McVey accused Labour of “scaremongering and misinformation”, saying an extra 50,000 children would benefit under the Universal Credit system, when MPs raised concerns of growing childhood poverty.

In March, at a meeting ,the Conservative Mansfield MP and Hucknall councillor Ben Bradley said, ludicrously, that Labour were “weaponising poor people” and “scaremongering rubbish”.

The government are weaponising social security.

And Labour councillor Michael Payne, who represents Arnold North, quoted parts of a disgraceful blog written by Bradley in which he said people on benefits should have vasectomies

There are many on the Opposition Benches who have expressed legitimate concerns about the catastrophic Universal Credit roll out on behalf of their constituents only to have them passed off as “scaremongering.”

However, the government should not ignore the concerns shared by affected citizens, many outside the House, by the charities and organisations at the forefront of supporting people through such difficult and distressing periods when they don’t have the means to meet even their basic living needs, leaving them extremely vulnerable. 

Last week I wrote about Dan Carden’s letter to Amber Rudd, also asking her to postpone the roll out of Universal Credit in his Liverpool Walton constituency. 

He said: “We have families experiencing poverty on an unprecedented scale and now facing further avoidable hardship in the run up to Christmas. 

“I have now been informed that job centres across Liverpool are advancing payments to my constituents to obtain provisional driving licences for the purposes of identification and then deducting the cost from their benefits.

“Constituents are also having to pay for postal orders, passport photographs and postage, just to obtain provisional licences.”

He explained that the DVLA says there is a five-week wait for provisional licences, and highlighted the delays before the first payments are made when someone is transferred on to Universal Credit.

Carden added: “Continuing with this roll-out will leave many of the most vulnerable families in Liverpool Walton destitute by Christmas and I am therefore asking you to intervene as a matter of urgency.”

The secretary of state for work and pensions, responded despicably and oppressively, as follows:

However, it seems Rudd failed to bother checking her own government’s web site for advice and evidence.

When people apply for Universal Credit, they are asked to verify their identity online via the GOV.Verify service. 

To do so, you need either;

  • A valid UK driving license
  • A valid UK passport.

Of course this creates problems for those without the documents. Their Universal Credit claim cannot go ‘live’ without conforming to the ID verification framework. People generally can’t get an advance because their claim isn’t live. Once they’ve received their new ID document, (takes around 6-8 weeks usually), it’s then a further 5 weeks (at least) until their first Universal Credit payment.

According to the government web site, you can only apply for an advance on your first payment if you have already verified your identity.

You can apply for an advance payment in your online account or through your Jobcentre Plus work coach.

You’ll need to:

  • explain why you need an advance
  • verify your identity (you do this online when you submit your Universal Credit claim or at your first Jobcentre Plus interview)
  • provide bank account details for the advance (talk to your work coach if you cannot open an account.)

It seems that the “terrific” job coaches are not applying rules consistently, leading to a post code lottery concerning the verification requirements for claims. 

The Verify framework:

 

The response from Rudd and other ministers has become a deplorable, standardised and authoritarian tactic of repressing legitimate criticism for the Conservatives, however. Other ministers who have habitually used the term ‘scaremonger’ as a gaslighting technique include Sarah Newton and David Gauke among others. 

Traditional Conservative prejudices about poverty: blame the victims

Gordon Henderson the Conservative MP for Sittingbourne and Sheppey in Kent, has tried to argue that the move to Universal Credit was not responsible for a significant rise in the use of foodbanks.

He said that he had secured information from a local foodbank about claimants who had faced difficulties with Universal Credit, and he claimed he had ‘discovered’ that many of them were “living in a local hostel that provides temporary accommodation for homeless adults” conflating cause with effects as a matter of prejudice, ideological preference and despicable politcal expediency.

He went on that it “soon became obvious that some of them suffered from underlying problems that affected their ability to manage the transition to Universal Credit, and that forced them into using the food bank”, such as “drug addiction, alcoholism, mental health problems, an inability to manage money, or plain fecklessness”.

It’s not possible to ‘manage’ no money, or amounts that are insufficient to meet basic survival needs. 

He added, disgracefully, that making Universal Credit perfect overnight would not “solve their mental health problems” and issues with drugs and alcohol and “would not make them less feckless” and that “they would still have the same problems, whatever benefits system was put in place”. 

He concluded that he was “glad” that such people were “in the minority” and appeared to suggest that those with mental health problems – and seemingly people with learning difficulties – were to blame for their difficulties with Universal Credit, after adding that there were also “some people who have genuine concerns”.

In 2014, Anglican bishops and the new Roman Catholic Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster joined the Left to claim that a national crisis had driven half a million people to use food banks.

Deplorable right wing ideologue Simon Heffer said “Government ministers knew that was nonsense. The level of benefits is, they believe, sufficient to feed those who receive them.”

Yet a huge and growing amount of evidence says otherwise.

He continued: “Though Leftists cynically exploit the existence of food banks as proof that a Tory-led government has inflicted terrible hardship on the poor, there is a widespread belief that some people use them because they have chosen to spend their money, instead, on drink, tobacco, slot machines, tattoos or pornography. This leaves little cash to buy food.” Heffer was advocating the use of prepaid cards welfare cards, to restrict what people can spend their money on, to “incentivise them out of dependency and into work”. 

Exposing Conservative mythologies

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One of the biggest myths that the Conservatives peddle is that of ‘intergenerational dependency on welfare’. However, only 0.3% of households have two generations that have not worked, according to studies of the Labour Force Survey.  The majority of these households included children who had only come out of education within the last five years and in a third of these households, the member of the younger generation had been out of work for less than a year. The Conservative folk devils created from the “longterm undeserving benefit claimant” sponger stereotype is very much exaggerated.  

Detailed research into what ordinary people think should go into a minimum household budget showed that actual out of work benefits are no way near as generous as some politicians would have you believe – and were actually well below the minimum level before the welfare cuts were implemented.

Research by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation found that while pensioners did receive 100% of what people think they need, a single adult of working age received just 40% of the weekly minimum and a couple with two children received just 62% of the weekly minimum. Those amounts have been further reduced because of the welfare caps, Universal Credit, bedroom tax and reductions in Emloyment and Support Allowance (ESA), council tax support, in a context of ever-rising living costs.   

The biggest part of social security spending – 53% – actually goes to pensioners. Overall, out-of-work benefits account for under a quarter of all welfare spending. Even excluding pensioners’ benefits, nearly half of welfare spending goes on benefits such as Disability Living Allowance or Personal Independence Payment, which helps disabled people (both in and out of work) with extra costs; Child Benefit and Tax Credits or Universal Credit to working families; and Statutory Maternity Pay. The majority of children and working age adults in poverty in the UK live in working, not “workless” households. 

Cuts to the social security budget are having a huge impact, and will continue to have an even bigger impact on those in work, especially the poorest families. 

Furthermore, the idea that social security spending has increased and is currently out of control is shown to be incorrect as spending in 2011-12 accounted for 10.4% of GDP, lower than an average of 11% in the mid-1980s and 12% in the mid 1990s. 

The commonly held public perceptions of large numbers of long-term social security claimants are incorrect as less than 10% of Job Seekers Allowance claimants claimed for more than one year. Moreover the majority of people claiming social security support are in work.

An interesting Conservative council’s report on Universal Credit: off the crib sheet 

Sedgemoor in Somerset has a Conservative district council.  Last year the council produced a report about the impact of Universal Credit, which was rolled out in 2016 in Somerset. The intention behind the report was to formally present the findings to the Department for Work and Pensions. 

The authors of the report say that although they support Universal Credit, they are concerned about the way in which the system is being rolled out.  They say that Sedgemoor District Council’s experiences mirror those of both Citizens Advice and Digilink, particularly in terms of the level of support required.

However, they also raised concerns around the administration of the scheme and the additional costs to local service providers. They maintain Universal Credit Telephone Records (and a sample of these are attached as Appendix B in the report).

Here is a list of some of the concerns expressed in the report, which contradict the Conservatives’ official line:

Inadequate support for most vulnerable in Society;
 Lack of understanding of the nature and often severity of some customers’ personal circumstances (see case study 6 on the report);
 Delay in receiving first payment and the need to budget carefully (case study 7);
 Rent element of UC not paid in the first instance and clients using the personal element on housing to stay in their homes until the ‘top-up’ is received;
 Additional work with tenants to prevent them going into arrears (and the additional cost of this to service providers);
 Some concerns that the administration of the virtual call centres around the country are failing, for example through providing inadequate answers and explanation, and these cases are being picked up by Citizens Advice and others;
 The policy of the scheme is set centrally and the delivery of the scheme is controlled  nationally, yet solutions on a local level are needed; 
 Specific issues with some customers unable to make an online application due to no computer/internet access or the skills to do so;
 Inadequate funding to support the scheme, e.g. the £6,000 for Digilink sessions;
 Lack of understanding and explanation of the scheme and the frustration this causes (case studies 8 and 9).

Other concerns raised were that the “DWP’s approach encourages all applicants to take responsibility for their own claim, which means that service providers cannot interact with the DWP without the client being present. Unfortunately, this does not take into account that many of the most vulnerable residents are not in a position to fully manage their own claim, for example, if they do not have the technological skills.”

Despite some Conservatives disgracefully attempting to link food bank use with individuals’ “fecklessness”, in the council’s report it says that the Trussell Trust, which runs foodbanks in Somerset, has reported nationally that benefit delays/changes remain the biggest cause of foodbank use, accounting for 42% of all referrals, up from about a third the previous year. Around 10,000 emergency food parcels were distributed in Somerset in 2015/16. Bridgwater has seen an increase in referrals in the last year.

The government claim that the social security system is designed to target and provide for those who need support. Yet the report above raises concerns that those most in need are not getting the support they need.

However, it is clear that Conservatives generally believe that many people needing support don’t ‘deserve’ it because of traditionally held Conservative prejudices about poor people. These prejudices are plainly evident in their narratives that justify punitive ‘behavioural change’ policies and the creation of a hostile environment to deter members of the public from accessing a public service that most of them have paid for via taxes and national insurance contributions. 


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Conservative MPs accuse citizens of ‘scaremongering stories’ about experiences of Universal Credit.

Conservative MP Wendy Morton says Universal Credit ‘helps’ people into work and criticises opposition MPs for ‘scaremongering.’ However, the new benefit has pushed people into debt and rent arrears, with some forced to rely on food banks to survive. It’s difficult to see precisely how a social security benefit that creates those circumstances could possibly help people into work.

The introduction of Universal Credit was aimed at ‘incentivising’ people into work and to work longer hours, by ensuring that for those needing to claim welfare support, the experience was as uncomfortable as possible. Under the Conservatives, social security has been transformed into a system that metes out discipline,  coercing citizens into compliance with state-defined economic outcomes, rather than serving as a national insurance-funded provision to meet people’s basic necessities, should they need it – which was the original intention behind the welfare state. 

The introduction of ordeals and harsh conditionality in the process of welfare administration was designed to ensure that no-one felt secure or ‘entitled’ to claim support. The Conservatives believe provision for meeting people’s basic survival needs when they experience financial disadvantage somehow produces ‘perverse incentives’ that make being out of work a more favourable option than looking for work.

However, much research – both historic and recent – has indicated that unless people are secure in being able to meet their basic needs – which requires having sufficient resources to cover the cost of fundamental necessities such as food, fuel and shelter consistently – then it is highly unlikely they will be able to fulfil higher level psychosocial needs, including looking for work. In short, absolute poverty limits human potential. It’s therefore simply not possible to  punish people out of being poor.  The problem of poverty is structural and material, it doesn’t arise because of some kind of moral, character or behavioural deficit on the part of poor people.

We learned this through the consequences of the punitive 1834 Poor Law, the research of Benjamin Seebohm Rowntree and the later work of Peter Townsend. Rowntree’s discovery was that poverty arises as the result of low wages, which went against the traditionally held view that poor people were somehow responsible for their own circumstances. The Conservatives view is a regressive one. 

The Government has claimed that disciplinary sanctions are a method of enforcing “cultural and behavioural change” of people claiming both in-work and out-of-work social security. This of course assumes that people’s behaviours are a problem in the first place.

Sanctions don’t address the decision-making of employers – who are ultimately responsible for establishing rates of pay and the hours of work for employees – nor do they address exploitation or structural problems, such as political decision-making that results in inequality, poverty, reduced access to opportunity and resources and a deregulated labour market that creates constraints for those looking for work.

Sanctions are one of the government’s draconian methods of ‘making work pay’. This is what Conservatives like Morton mean by ‘helping people into work. She means that people are being systematically punished into increasing their economic productivity, regardless of whether that actually ‘pays’ for them and alleviates poverty. It means that the Government has abdicated responsibility for the consequences of its own policy and decision-making regarding the UK’s socioeconomic organisation, choosing instead to scapegoat the casualties of those policies and decisions.

Furthermore, contrary to the government’s claims, international research has shown that generous welfare provision actually increases the likelihood that people will have a stronger work ethic and be much more willing and able to look for work. 

The Institute for Fiscal Study (IFS) carried out an independent study of Universal Credit and have estimated that the government’s social security reform will cut welfare spending by £2.7bn a year, and will hit working people on low incomes particularly hard. Single parents who work and two-parent households where both work are most likely to lose out, the study found. 

Robert Joyce, an associate director at the IFS and one of the report’s authors, said the long-run effect of the introduction of universal credit would be “to reduce benefits for working families on average – a reversal of the original [stated] intention”.

The Department for Work and Pensions claimed that Universal Credit was “transforming lives across the country, with claimants moving into work significantly faster and earning more than under the old system”. Universal credit would be in all jobcentres by the spring and once fully rolled out it would generate £6.7bn in economic benefit every year.”

It’s certainly changing lives. But not in the way it’s claimed to.

The government have never hidden the fact that they aim to make big savings through their systematic welfare ‘reforms’ (a word that has become a Conservative euphemism for cuts).

The road to tyranny

Last month, the leader of the House of Commons, Andrea Leadsom, was accused by senior Conservatives MPs of paving the way for tyranny, after the government whipped its MPs to abstain on a Labour motion on universal credit. Labour’s motion  passed unanimously despite the concerns of several Conservative rebels, but some Tory MPs were infuriated at being urged by their own party to ignore it.

Leadsom faced criticism from some Conservative MPs because she said the government was not bound by the resolution, which called for the rollout of the controversial welfare changes to be paused.

Valerie Vaz, the shadow leader of the house, pressed Leadsom on the government’s response. She said: “This is where we make the law. This is not a school debating chamber. This is a disorganised government, disrespectful to the house.”

“I know the government didn’t want to hear about people in rent arrears struggling to feed their families when they’re in work, but that’s the reality when government policy is failing.”

Conservative MP Heidi Allen broke down in the House of Commons during the emotional Labour-led debate on Universal Credit on Tuesday, where the government conceded it would finally release the ‘confidential’ reports into the impact of the welfare reform’s rollout. 

The debate came as the government pledged it will make universal credit reports from between 2012 and 2015 available to the select committee in a concession to Labour, but work and pensions secretary David Gauke said they should not be made public. A ruling in August was made by the information commissioner that five of the government’s reports should be released to campaigners because their publication would be in the public interest.

The Government have said they would continue to challenge the reports being released to the public, even though the reports will be given to the committee, after Labour used a parliamentary device called a ‘humble address’ to the Queen, requesting ministers release project assessment reviews conducted into the welfare reform. 

The Information Commissioner’s Office has already said the papers should be published publicly and in full.

Mind you, we are still waiting for the public release of the Health and Social Care risk register, and have been since 2012.

Perish the thought that the Government should value democratic transparency and accountability. Or that it should face the consequences of its own policies and decision-making.

Field had intervened to give 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,” he said.

Earlier Field had said, remarkably, that his constituents were being hit by the cumulative impact of reforms under both Labour and Conservative governments.

He said: “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.” 

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.

Field said: “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.” 

Labour and some Conservative MPs have repeatedly voiced concern about the long wait faced by fresh claimants to be paid benefits once they apply for universal credit, originally six weeks but reduced to five in last month’s budget.

The concerns about Universal Credit arose because of the harrowing accounts of experiences that MPs have heard directly from their constituents. Charities have also fedback to MPs about the distress and hardship they have witnessed from people going through the system. For example, the Trussell Trust, a charity which provides food banks, said demand had risen in areas where Universal Credit was introduced.

It said at the House of Commons inquiry into Universal Credit: “In 2016-17 food banks in areas of full Universal Credit rollout saw a 16.85% average increase in referrals for emergency food, more than double the national average of 6.64%.” 

Newcastle Council have also said during the House of Commons inquiry: “We think that Universal Credit can place some vulnerable residents at risk of destitution and homelessness.” And the body which manages Newcastle’s council houses said Universal Credit claimants were more than £1 million in arrears on their rent.

Liverpool City Council reported “an increasing number of citizens contacting the service for assistance through local welfare provision, to provide funds for food and other essentials”. 

The council, already dealing with funding cuts, said it was “encountering significant financial losses” because it was having to provide temporary accommodation for people who had been made homeless.

The debate on Tuesday happened because some citizens are experiencing extreme distress and hardship and have reported their circumstances to their MPs. This is, after all, how a democracy works. MPs represent their constituents.

Now more than one Conservative MP has dismissed those citizens’ accounts as ‘scaremongering,’ which is an attempt to deny that those experiences are true, while also denying culpability.

Morton (Conservative MP for Aldridge Brownhills) said Universal Credit, which ‘replaces’ a range of existing benefits including Housing Benefit, was ‘helping’ people find work. However, Universal Credit doesn’t entirely replace the amount that the range of benefits provided to meet people’s basic needs. 

Speaking in the Commons debate about Universal Credit, she said: “It is this Government who are helping people, which is why I am disappointed to have sat through a lot of this debate and heard scaremongering stories from Opposition Members.

I flinch when I hear the government say they are going to ‘help’ people, especially when that ‘help’ is directed at marginalised social groups. Who among us really needs that draconian and Dickensian brand of help?

The Conservatives seem to think that their strictly class-based and ‘helpful’ punishment is somehow in people’s’ best interests. They claim with a straight face that the system of punishing sanctions being inflicted on the poorest citizens is ‘fair’. There isn’t a system in place that punishes people fairly who hoard their wealth offshore, however, causing such damage to the economy that the Government say they were somehow forced to impose austerity on the poorest citizens so the nation could ‘live within its means’. Well, some of the nation. For many don’t have the means to live, now.

It’s not poor people who need to change their behaviours. It is a Government that is happy to preside over growing inequality, increasing absolute poverty and social injustice. It is those very wealthy people who feel they are not obliged to contribute to a society that they have taken so much from. 

The Department for Work and Pensions has said no claimant needed to wait that long without funds, saying emergency payments to cover the period can be requested and received within three days and paid back over 12 months.

Speaking in the debate, Gauke also accused Labour politicians and the media of ‘scaremongering’, which he said was leading families to believe they had no way of accessing help.

However, they don’t have any way of accessing help.

Gauke spoke the language of despots fluently when he said that he was granting the request on an ‘exceptional basis’ and said the reports would only give a partial picture of the policy’s impact, given how it had subsequently ‘been revised.’ He also said he would consider redacting certain information, such as that which is ‘commercially sensitive’, while the documents were being handed over in exceptional circumstances and did not ‘set a precedent.’ 

Field was clearly uneasy about the condition that his committee keep the reports confidential, and said that he would seek guidance from Commons Speaker John Bercow  about “what sense of secrecy or of honour binds us” when the committee finally do get the documents.