A Labour MP has been criticised for failing to adequately answer a question on “double standards” in the wake of the Universal Credit helpline controversy, having being caught off guard during an interview on Thursday.
Debbie Abrahams, the shadow work and pensions secretary, was condemning the Government’s use of a 0345 number for claimants - which HuffPost yesterday revealed could leave callers significantly out of pocket - when she was ensnared by LBC host Jim Diamond.
Abrahams was exercised about the 55p per minute call charges which Theresa May had been forced to defend during Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday, accusing the Conservatives of lacking “humanity”.
“People can be racking up costs if they are using their mobile, if they don’t have a landline... at an average of £3.30 a call.
“Someone on a low-income to get the support they need to have to pay £3.30... that is a lot of money.”
Diamond then informed Abrahams that Labour uses an 0345 number for people wanting to sign up as members and asked, “if it is so bad” why does the party use it?
But as listeners were quick to point out, there was an easy defence for the Labour MP:
A clearly flummoxed Abrahams replied: ” I don’t know. I think you make a very valid point. I had no idea about this and yes, we need to get our own house in order as well.”
When Diamond pushed her further, Abrahams tried to steer the conversation back to the Conservatives: “Lets not forget this is a Government programme and you’ve got me on here taking about this.”
After Diamond interjected to reaffirm his point, Abrahams concluded: “I agree with you. So can we move on.”
HuffPost tried contacting the government helpline on Wednesday and waited up to 12 and a half minutes to be answered in person. The call taker then refused to call us back straight away due to data protection rules.
The call would have cost some Universal Credit claimants more than 11 percent of their weekly allowance, which is meant to “help with living costs”.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn yesterday urged the PM to “show some humanity” and scrap the cost altogether.
The PM’s official spokesperson later suggested there was an immediate call back option, with advisors able to return calls at no cost to the claimant “straight away”.
But Downing Street’s claim prompted derision from Labour, with Corbyn’s spokesperson saying: “The No.10 line that you can ask for a ‘call back’ is a joke as they’ve cut so many staff you can’t get through and are held in a queue.”