Universal Credit is the main reason people were flocking to foodbanks in record numbers, a Tory MP has admitted as he accused government of “frightening” incompetence.
Kevin Hollinrake, who chairs the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Poverty, said it was “crazy” the welfare reforms were driving people to rely on charity as he slammed national and local government for “exacerbating a bad situation”.
It comes as Work and Pensions Secretary David Gauke confirmed Universal Credit would be rolled out as planned, despite a Tory rebellion and calls for the programme to be paused intensifying.
“I think it is frightening how incompetent government can be, locally or nationally, in exacerbating a bad situation, whether that be Universal Credit or sanctions or whatever,” said Hollinrake at a fringe event at the Conservative Party conference in Manchester.
“I do hear that in foodbanks. A lot of my work is visiting foodbanks and most of the problems there are caused by Universal Credit. It’s crazy that that is the situation.”
Labour MP Frank Field MP, chair of the Work and Pensions Committee, meanwhile, said of Gauke’s announcement: “David Gauke has today pressed the button that will cause havoc to hundreds of thousands of poorer people’s lives; building up to a meltdown over Christmas.”
Mark Serwotka General Secretary of the PCS union, added: “The misery being inflicted by the government’s mishandling of this disastrous programme must be stopped and the full roll-out should be suspended immediately.”
Chief Executive of Citizens Advice Gillian Guy said he was “disappointed” there was no pause for the programme “to ensure the problems are fixed before it speeds up significantly”.
Serial Tory rebel MP Heidi Allen had also called for the reforms to be delayed.
Thirsk and Malton MP Hollinrake also used the fringe event to defend zero hours contracts, which, he said, allowed workers to “prove their worth” to bosses.
He added a universal basic income (UBI) was a “scary” idea and the policy threatened to “take away our very purpose” in life, despite a BMG poll for HuffPost UK showing 42% of Tory voters were in favour of it.
Hollinrake, whose APPG will look at new ways to eradicate poverty in the UK, argued not having to work could further disenfranchise people on the edges of society.
“I do worry about this idea of a UBI,” said the Thirsk and Malton MP. “Going back to a point made earlier about work being something more than just earning money.
“It about your purpose in life, or part of your purpose in life. I really find it a scary prospect that Uber, or someone else, would give you money to stop at home and not work.
“I think that would take away our very purpose.”
The son of a milkman also told the fringe meeting he had experienced extreme poverty as a younger man.
The MP co-founded Hunters estate agents, which now has 150 branches, in 1992.
Despite zero hours contracts being more unpopular than ever, Hollinrake insisted they offer people flexibility.
He said “some companies do abuse them” but that he agreed with proposals in the Taylor Review into the so-called gig economy which said people should be allowed to request formal hours.
Answering a question at the event, he said: “Most jobs are not zero hours contracts, of course. It is a very small proportion of jobs of those created since 2010, most are full time jobs.
“Of those that are zero hours contracts, you are right that some companies do abuse them and the Taylor Review has recommended that after a period of time you should be able to request formal hours, guaranteed hours, a proper contract.
“So, some people would start on a zero hours contract (…) and then prove their worth. I don’t think there is anything wrong with that.”
Barry Knight, director of the Barry Knight Memorial Trust, told the same fringe meeting that work had become “partly-tyrannical” as he suggested a UBI policy as a solution to in-work poverty.
He said: “One of the reasons [poverty] is such a stain on our society is we may have replaced 19th Century soup kitchen but what we have replaced it with is the 21st Century foodbank and both of those experiences are humiliating, and we have to improve people’s job security.
“The economy is spewing out lots and lots of jobs. There are more jobs than there has almost ever been and yet the largest single growing group of people in poverty are those in work, and much of that work is simply drudgery.
“Many of us enjoy our work and get a lot of status and feelings of worth from that, but not everybody can.
“I think we need to think about work as partly-tyrannical.”