On Tuesday, Labour MPs secured another parliamentary victory over the government, forcing them to release impact assessments on the roll out of Universal Credit.
It is only weeks since the Opposition defeated the Tories on the general principle, with the Commons unanimously voting for a “pause and fix”. Unfortunately, the government has not honoured that vote as they were forced to do yesterday.
Instead, they came forward with various, mostly welcome but inadequate, concessions under cover of the Budget. My constituents in Barnsley are unlikely to notice much difference – we had the Universal Credit imposed in full in July.
But as an analysis has showed, there were some areas which were at least granted a delay while the slightly less punitive version of the Credit is developed. By strange coincidence, those areas include the parliamentary constituencies of the Work and Pensions Secretary David Gauke, Prime Minister Theresa May, de facto Deputy PM Damian Green, and former Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith.
The move means that all three Work and Pensions Secretaries who designed and imposed the Universal Credit across much of the country will all see it delayed for their own seats, with concessions such as a lower waiting time implemented beforehand.
These changes were quietly slipped out in DWP documents the day after last week’s Budget, with Gauke mumbling a few words about a revised schedule from the Despatch Box, and quietly publishing a document titled “Universal Credit Transition Rollout Schedule” on the DWP website, replacing a previous version.
The very people who dreamt up the whole idea and then made such a mess of it are now putting off the consequences in their own seats
A number of documents have been swiftly deleted from the website since I raised this point in the Commons but comparing the new timetable to the previous rollout schedule, the Maidenhead, Ashford, Hemel Hempstead, Walthamstow and Redbridge Job Centres Plus will all now delay the roll out by three months.
These cover the bulk of the constituencies of Maidenhead, Ashford, South West Hertfordshire and Chingford and Woodford Green. Only South Oxhey, a small, working class and generally Labour-voting area of David Gauke’s constituency will continue to have Universal Credit imposed on time. The other Job Centre Plus in the London Borough of Waltham Forest, which serves Labour seats rather than Iain Duncan Smith’s seat, will implement UC earlier.
As MPs we have no say over the timetable. The government implemented the timetable using “commencement orders”, a type of legislation on which Parliament has no say. It is meant to be used simply to bring an Act in to force, rather than make controversial policy decisions. There can be little doubt that this timetable is a political decision – but ministers are able to put it into law at the stroke of a pen.
It is the same pattern I have seen time and again since being elected as an MP in June. We are sent here to agree the law on behalf of our constituents, but instead Tory ministers have grabbed that power to themselves on everything from Brexit to tuition fees.
So we have the situation that even while claiming everything is fine with the Universal Credit, top Tories have quietly delayed it in their own constituencies. So the very people who dreamt up the whole idea and then made such a mess of it are now putting off the consequences in their own seats.
It’s one law for them, another for the rest of us. And it is not a law that they want made by Parliament. Despite – or more accurately because of – their failure to win a majority, they want to set their own rules.
People in Barnsley have had Universal Credit imposed on them by this government in the face of warnings and protests. If the Tories want to pause and fix Universal Credit for themselves, they should do it for all of us.
Stephanie Peacock is the Labour MP for Barnsley East