The Conservative Party is staring into oblivion after not being able to muster a majority to vote to protect their flagship policy – Iain Duncan Smith’s vilified Universal Credit.
The Labour Party voted to pause the botched benefits reforms with 299 votes to 0 to win another popular victory after their recent unchallenged vote to roll back nurses’ pay cap.
“The ayes to the right 299, the noes to the left, 0. – The ayes have it, the ayes have it,” was House of Commons speaker John Bercow’s astonishing announcement.
Labour’s Debbie Abrahams who led the debate said “this is a major defeat for the government on their flagship social security programme in a panicked attempt to appease Tory MPs, yet again the PM cannot command a majority in parliament.”
Labour’s motion that: “this house calls on the government to pause the rollout of universal credit full service”, was passed with no opposition.
It was a bad day for the Conservative government. Prime Minister’s Questions was a disaster for Theresa May and Work and Pensions Secretary David Gauke was forced to cave in and make the deeply unpopular 55p a minute phone line to complain if you were left without benefits a free phone line. Jeremy Corbyn had for weeks berated the Conservatives at how unfair the premium rate phone line and how chaotic and cruel the Government’s Universal Credit benefits are.
Speaking after Gauke’s announcement, Debbie Abrahams, the Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, said: “The Conservatives have finally listened to Labour and scrapped the premium phone helpline for claimants, now they need to listen to the calls of charities and councils and back Labour’s motion to immediately pause and fix the roll out of Universal Credit, before more people are pushed into rent arrears, poverty and homelessness.”
Universal Benefit had left struggling families facing eviction as many waited up to six weeks without benefits.
The Democratic Unionist Party MPs announced they would abstain on any vote to pause the despised new welfare system due to replace six separate working age benefits. Both DUP and rebel Tory MP’s had expressed disquiet about the suffering the old out of the new system was causing vulnerable families.
After the shock defeat in which Tory MPs abstained to avoid pressure for a vote of no confidence, the Government insisted that the vote was not binding.
But even former Conservative minister Sir Edward Leigh questioned what the point of the House of Commons was if debates and votes occur just “for the sake of it” in a point of order following the humiliating vote.
He said he had voted hundreds of times in his 34 years in the Commons, “under the impression that it served some purpose,” adding: “and what worries me is that surely there is some sort of precedent here.
“This is not and should not be a university debating society, what is the point of the House of Commons if we just express opinions for the sake of it and surely when we vote it should have some effect?”
Jeremy Corbyn, too insisted that the Government “must now act on clearly expressed will of Parliament and pause its roll out.”
Labour's motion on Universal Credit passed unanimously. The Tories must now act on clearly expressed will of Parliament & pause its roll out https://t.co/J1d4IFGie1
— Jeremy Corbyn (@jeremycorbyn) October 18, 2017
Earlier today, Theresa May had tried to face off a rebellion by her own MP’s against the maligned policy by scrapping its’ sky-high phone line, while refusing to pause Universal Credit.
But in a moving debate, many Labour MP’s talked about their own experiences at points relying on the welfare system, and spoke of the unspeakable cruelty many now faced.
Welsh Labour MP Anna McMorrin told of how the botched Conservative policy had left a family evicted, forced to live in a park in a tent, with their two children taken away into care “not because they weren’t loved, not because they weren’t cared for, but because this government failed them.”
Humiliated Work and Pensions Secretary David Gauke was unable to deny that his party’s welfare measures would lead to a “surge” on foodbanks, with Birkenhead asking for 15 tonnes of donations. He was also forced to admit that 2,000 claimants each month were forced to wait over ten weeks for a payment.