A Tory grandee has revealed the part imposed a harsh benefit cap just to win votes – not to save money, as was claimed.
The £26,000-a-year limit was imposed by George Osborne in 2013, supposedly to help pay off debt incurred during the 2008 financial crash.
Two years later the cap was lowered to £20,000 outside London and £23,000 in the capital, resulting in 190,000 people losing out on benefits.
Barely £190 million of savings were made – just over 0.1 per cent of the country’s £177 billion welfare bill.
But, according to the Mirror, former welfare reform minister Lord Freud now admits labelling the cap an austerity measure was a sham.
He claims Osborne’s chief of staff, Rupert Harrison, told him: “I know it doesn’t make much in the way of savings but when we tested the policy it polled off the charts. We’ve never had such a popular policy.”
Lord Freud told peers that Rishi Sunak should use a spare £25 billon to scrap the cap, saying: “I urge him to use a small proportion of that to alleviate the real hardship suffered by our very poorest citizens.”
Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary Jonathan Reynolds said: “While Conservative MPs pocket millions in second jobs, the Government is taking money out of the poorest households, presiding over a cost-of-living crisis.”
Meanwhile scores of benefits claimants have had their support stopped and been ordered to pay back thousands of pounds after failing to provide a specific form of ID, like a selfie, outside their front door.
The government has been accused of breaching the law by slashing Universal Credit and demanding back payments based on a “blanket presumption” that claimants who have not responded to a request for evidence within a set timeframe are not entitled to the benefit.
According to The Independent, one claimant uploaded all documents requested by the Department for Work and Pensions by the deadline – but was also requested to provide a selfie, which she couldn’t do because she didn’t own a smartphone.
Despite explaining this to the DWP, her Universal Credit award was terminated – and she was told she had to pay back £4,650.
A solicitor at charity Child Poverty Action Group said the government’s conduct is unlawful.
Claire Hall, a solicitor at the charity, told The Independent: “Despite making legitimate claims for universal credit over 18 months ago, people have now received financially devastating debt notices simply because they haven’t been able to comply with requests to verify their details quickly.
“Families will only be able to rest easy if DWP urgently reviews all the cases where they have issued an overpayment notice for not providing evidence, and suspends collection of these supposed debts until they have done so.”
A DWP spokesperson said: “At the onset of the pandemic we suspended certain verification processes as we could no longer see customers face to face, making customers aware that we may return to seek this verification in the future.
“Those who can prove entitlement in a reasonable timeframe will not be asked to repay any money. We have a responsibility to the taxpayer to ensure public money is properly spent. Therefore it is right and lawful that we seek to recover payments that claimants were not entitled to.”