Just 14 MPs turned up to the Commons debate on the damning United Nations report into UK poverty. Those present heard the government’s response to the report branded as one of “complete and utter disdain”.
Under-secretary of state for work and pensions Justin Tomlinson defended the government’s stance on the report.
In the absence of ‘boss’ Amber Rudd, Tomlinson offered specific statistical interpretations of government performance on poverty – with a concession that government was considering the report seriously while “obviously” not agreeing with all its points.
The DWP, said Tomlinson, would “keep on working with all stakeholders and partnership organisations to ensure that those in most need in society receive the support that they should”.
Apparently, according to Tomlinson, the DWP was also “looking at homelessness”.
Shadow Minister for Children Emma Lewell-Buck was also present. She said that because the government uses four different measures of poverty, it can essentially “say what it wants” about poverty figures.
It was she whom Tories had treated the “well-evidenced and thorough” report with “complete and utter disdain”.
The findings, said Lewell-Buck, confirmed what she claimed many Labour members had known for some time – that when it comes to welfare reform and this government’s policy agenda overall “the evidence points to the conclusion that the driving force has not been economic but rather a commitment to achieving radical social re-engineering”.
Claiming Universal Credit was never intended to get support to those who needed it, she said: “In reality, like all welfare reform measures from this government, it was about creating a hostile environment and demonising and dehumanising benefit claimants.”
The DUP’s Jim Shannon cited his own constituency office as a reference point – being only yards away from the social security office.
He said: “And I have had numerous distressed people come from the social security office to my office looking for advice.
“I have written perhaps not to the Minister directly but to his Department to outline some of the changes that we feel should be made – in the light of those things, perhaps more needs to be done in the social security office to address the issues early on.”
The House heard that in Shannon’s Strangford constituency, the Trussell Trust food bank had a 20% increase in take-up over the Christmas period because of debts due to delays in first Universal Credit payments.
Labour’s Thelma Walker, a former head teacher, spoke of former colleagues washing children’s clothes and giving them breakfast and lunch because they were “starving”.
To Labour’s Hugh Gaffney, it was beyond unacceptable that government should ignore the UN findings.
It was, said Gaffney, “shameful”.