As a Tory candidate is exposed calling for a ‘cull’ of benefit claimants, government is slammed for cynicism in confirming the widely expected end of the benefits freeze ahead of a general election.
The announcement of the thaw found a frosty reception when set against would-be Gower MP Francesca O’Brien saying the claimants she saw on TV’s Benefits Street should be ‘put down’
O’Brien’s Facebook comments have still to be condemned by the government as pressure increases for her to be removed as a candidate for the marginal seat she was selected for last month.
In posts that have since been deleted, O’Brien wrote in January 2014: “Benefit Street..anyone else watching this?? Wow, these people are unreal!!!”
Responding to a friend’s comment, she wrote: “My blood is boiling, these people need putting down.”
In further comments under her post, O’Brien apparently endorsed a friend’s suggestion for “twat a tramp Tuesday” to “take your batts [sic] to the streets”.
O’Brien has apologised for comments she claimed were “off the cuff”.
With government seemingly standing by O’Brien, DWP Secretary of State Thérèse Coffey was herself accused of “contempt” for the poor by stressing O’Brien’s apology when pressed on the candidates future.
Coffey said O’Brien’s comments were “clearly wrong” and “not ones with which I would associate myself in any way” but added: “She has apologised I’ve been told. That is important.”
Asked if she was “happy” for Ms O’Brien to be a candidate, Coffey replied: “I think it’s a matter for the people of Gower on whether they want her to be their next MP.
Labour said Coffey’s comments reflected wider thinking within the party.
“Removing a candidate who used such vile language about people on benefits should be a no brainer,” said Labour chairman Ian Lavery.
Shadow education secretary Angela Rayner was less circumspect calling O’Brien’s comments “absolutely disgusting” and revealing the cruelty at the heart of the Tories’ benefits cuts.
“Universal credit was deliberately designed to punish people who are out of work,” said Rayner.
“Many of us have relied on social security support at some point in our lives and it is nothing to be ashamed of. The condemnation of O’Brien comes as government confirmed the freeze in benefit payments is to end next year.
“(O’Brien) is not fit to be an MP and Boris Johnson should remove her as a candidate.”
In a move seen as little more than an election-pitch, working-age benefits such as Universal Credit and jobseeker’s allowance are expected to rise by 1.7% from April 2020, the Department for Work and Pensions said.
Just last month, Thérèse Coffey refused to confirm an end to the four-year freeze, telling the Commons Work and Pensions Committee only of “talks with the Treasury” over 120 benefit rates.
Announced in the 2015 Budget, the freeze intended to last until the end of the current financial year.
Former chancellor Philip Hammond said in March that the freeze would end as planned and that the then administration had “no intention of repeating the current freeze”.
With increases in benefits to resume in line with [the CPI rate of inflation] .
The freeze has cut an average of £560 per year from the income of the country’s poorest seven million families since 2016, according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies.
As reported by 24housing, the DWP estimates it will cost around £800m to restore Local Housing Allowance rates to the 30th percentile in 2020/21.
Charities and campaigners have called for an increase in LHA payments so that they cover at least the bottom 30% of private rent homes in any local area as the benefit freeze pushes low income families to the brink.
“While the government may have finally called time on its benefits freeze, the proposed rise in support is so tiny it won’t make a dent in the damage already done,” said Shelter chief executive Polly Neate.
“The truth is housing benefit is now so out of step with the cost of private renting – it will take a lot more to free families on lower incomes from the shackles of poverty and homelessness that many have become trapped by.
“The government must go much further and increase housing benefit to cover the cheapest third of private rents, alongside a commitment to build genuinely affordable and secure social homes that would reduce our need for benefits in the first place,” she said.