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Theresa May urged to end Conservatives’ benefits freeze or risk losing voters at next election

The Independent logo The Independent 08/11/2018 Lizzy Buchan
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Senior Conservatives have warned Theresa May that the party will suffer at the ballot box if it fails to lift the benefits freeze.

Five former Tory cabinet ministers, including David Davis and Justine Greening, piled the pressure on Ms May to raise benefits in line with inflation, in a £1.4bn move that would end the squeeze on some of the poorest families.

The benefits cap, which was introduced by ex-chancellor George Osborne in 2015, means low-income households could be more than £200 worse off next year due to rising inflation, according to the Resolution Foundation thinktank.

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The warning comes amid growing political pressure on Ms May over universal credit, which Work and Pensions Secretary Esther McVey apparently told cabinet colleagues could leave some families up to £2,400 a year worse off.

Chancellor Philip Hammond bowed to calls from charities and politicians by ploughing £1bn into the troubled welfare reform in the recent Budget but concerns remain about the roll-out of the scheme, which has been blamed for pushing people into poverty.

Nicky Morgan, the former education secretary, called on the government to look again the freeze and said there should be a link between benefits and wages.

Read more: Universal Credit: Girl, 9, forced to beg after mum died and dad lost job (Daily Mirror)

“We always have to be wary as a party of being seen to know the cost of everything and the value of nothing," she told The Times.

Ex-Brexit secretary, Mr Davis, said that the freeze was “in contradiction to the basic Tory notion of having a robust safety net and an effective ladder out of poverty."

Ms Greening, the former education secretary, said: “The problem with a continued benefits freeze is it does not sit alongside recognition by ministers on public sector pay caps being lifted because of the need to keep pace with inflation. The system has to protect the most vulnerable.”

Her concerns were echoed by Iain Duncan Smith, the architect of universal credit, who said he would be “very happy” if the freeze were scrapped.

Read more: Universal Credit could be greatest administrative blunder by a British government yet (The Independent)

Influential backbencher Heidi Allen, who led a revolt over universal credit ahead of the Budget, said: “The benefit freeze has gone on for too long; it does not make logical or moral sense to say that everybody else’s cost of living is increasing but people on benefits — often in work — that their cost of living isn't increasing.

"You can’t give with one hand on work allowances and take with the other on the benefits freeze.

"Public sector pay has increased, wages are going up but the people who are left behind are those with the least financial resilience”.

Watch: May questioned over link between suicide and benefits assessments (The Independent)

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Several influential Tory committee chairs have also raised concerns about the deprivation caused by ongoing austerity measures, including Dr Sarah Wollaston, who leads the Health Committee, and Tom Tughendhat, who heads up the Foreign Affairs Committee.

Frank Field, the independent chairman of the work and pensions committee, said that the benefit freeze “has acted as a recruiting sergeant for money lenders and particularly food banks which have grown in a parallel with the Victorian workhouses that provided food for the poor and destitute.”

A government spokesman said: “Tackling poverty is one of our fundamental goals and with this government’s changes there are now one million fewer people living in absolute poverty compared with 2010, including 300,000 fewer children.

“We know the best route out of poverty is through work, and universal credit is supporting people into work faster and helping them stay in work longer.

"Last week we announced that 2.4 million households would be £630 better off a year as a result of raising the work allowance.

“Since 2010 we’ve seen 1,000 people move into work each and every day and the increase to the national living wage has given the lowest earners a significant pay rise.”

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