PRIME Minister Theresa May’s refusal to pause her government’s madcap gallop to roll out Universal Credit (UC) indicates that the nasty party is still alive and kicking.
Her answer to Labour backbencher Laura Pidcock’s question as to whether this is because of “gross incompetence or calculated cruelty” should have been that it’s a bit of both.
Whatever the proclaimed advantages to claimants of UC, government attachment to it is based on the savings it expects to make.
And if late delivery of benefit forces some claimants to sign up for unpredictable zero-hours jobs or notional self-employment, May will insist that this confirms the scheme’s ability to “help” the jobless into work.
Her multimillionaire Cabinet members have no experience of falling into rent arrears because benefits haven’t been paid.
Nor have they empathy with people, many in full-time employment, obliged to undergo this nightmare and the fear of eviction.
May herself displays a similar lack of human emotion towards the victims of UC as she did by snubbing Grenfell Tower survivors, declaring that the overall system works well.
She boasts that the standard of service delivery is not as bad as it was, even though one-fifth of claimants do not receive their benefit within six weeks and some are still waiting after 10 weeks.
Her belated acquiescence to Labour demands to make UC hotline calls free will be welcomed by desperate claimants, but they may well ask why it took so long.
Cynics might suggest that extending freephone provision to UC and other Department for Work and Pensions numbers might have more to do with persuading a couple of dozen Tory MPs to drop criticism of government policy.
Downing Street’s indication that Tory MPs would be instructed to abstain in last night’s vote on Labour’s non-binding motion to pause UC rollout — as happened previously for votes on NHS pay and tuition fee increases — indicates ongoing government uneasiness over back-bench MPs’ commitment to policies against which their constituents have kicked up.
Labour’s well-co-ordinated skewering of May at Prime Minister’s Questions, as backbenchers piled home the advantage established by Jeremy Corbyn, laid bare the class interest defended by the Tories.
Both May and her predecessor David Cameron have made much of their governments’ supposed economic expertise, claiming that this is essential to provide the funds for welfare spending, tax cuts and infrastructure investment.
Corbyn drove a coach and horses through May’s assertion that a further 40,000 fall in the official unemployment level displays evidence of a successful economy.
The Labour leader pointed out that real wages are lower now than they were a decade ago, with in-work poverty at a record high, weak growth, reduced productivity and falling investment.
Successive governments have declared that getting off benefits and into the world of work is the way out of poverty — and so it ought to be, but the Tories’ obsession with freezing workers’ pay ensures that it is not.
This counterintuitive fact dovetails with another striking reality about the capitalist austerity agenda backed by the Tories, Liberal Democrats and, before them, New Labour.
Young people today can expect a lower standard of living than their parents’ generation, are less likely to afford a home of their own and will witness an ever-expanding wealth gap between rich and poor.
That is May’s “successful” economy. Successful for the top 10 per cent but a torment for most working people.