I arrived at Gateshead Civic Centre yesterday morning for a scruting meeting with DWP officers about the introduction of Universal Credit, open minded about how the new system will function. It was clear that Labour turned up with an expectation of a lecture on a system destined to failure. After all, that’s their narrative, at least locally. Any benefits reform has been attacked by them though they may have overlooked the absence of any commitment from Labour nationally to scrap Universal Credit. Last week, chair of the committee John Eagle had even warned us “not to shoot the messenger” at this meeting. Sadly for Labour their narrative was completely undermined by the solid presentation by the DWP officers who showed that many working people on low incomes are better off under the system if they get a job or take on more hours.
There were sensible questions from both sides but also some unhelpful interventions from the Labour. Martin Verbosity-Gannon rambled on for ages about how terrible it is that the benefits system subsidises employers to pay low wages but moved off this subject when he was asked to put a question by the chairman and was reminded by me that the huge number of in-work benefits were introduced by his beloved New Labour government (he was a major fan of Blair, something he prefers people not to be reminded about.)
Tommy Ultra-Verbosity-Graham rambled on for ages about, well goodness knows what. The only thing I remember from what he said was his announcement that he decided to spend his last 10 years of his working years as a civil servant as he wanted an easier life. I’m not sure what the civil servants he was addressing thought of his remarks.
And finally, Malcolm Brain swung into action with a comment that struck me as the result of the employment of a scraping device on the bottom of an empty liquid storage cntainer. Universal Credit was, according to him, terrible because people getting a job would be worse off because they would have to buy clothes and lunch. “Oh, so all unemployed people are naked and starving!?” I asked.
There are still rough edges with Universal Credit and some issues to resolve. Some changes will probably be needed as the system gets up and running. The overall system however is moving in the right direction, making sure people are better off in work. Labour in Gateshead simply hate the idea of another Coalition reform that is working.