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DISCREDITED; May scraps 55p-a-minute benefit hotline; Tory defeat in vote to halt welfare reform.

Byline: DAN BLOOM Political Reporter

A VOTE to halt the disastrous rollout of Universal Credit passed last night after Tory MPs refused to take part.

The 299 votes to nil result heaps huge pressure on Prime Minister Theresa May, despite the Government insisting the Labour motion is not binding.

She earlier tried to appease Tory rebels by scrapping the controversial 55p-aminute Universal Credit hotline.

Labour wants to "pause and fix" benefit reforms which have left debt-ridden families waiting six weeks for cash.

Sarah Wollaston, a GP, was the only Tory MP to vote against the Government last night.

Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary Debbie Abrahams accused Tory whips and the PM of "strong-arming" MPs.

She said: "This is a major defeat for the Government on their flagship social security programme. Yet again the Prime Minister and the Tories cannot command a majority in the House of Commons."

Commons Speaker John Bercow said he expected a minister to explain why the Tories abstained. He said it was "a statement of fact" Labour's motion was passed, adding: "I think it highly desirable that the Government, in the light of the result, should come to the House and show respect for the institution by indicating what it intends to do."

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said: "The Tories must now act on the clearly expressed will of Parliament and pause its roll-out." Anger had mounted before the vote as Work and Pensions Secretary David Gauke failed to payment delays would cause a surge in demand for foodbanks. He did admit one in 25 claimants, or 2,000 a month, wait at least 10 weeks for full payment. Labour blasted the benefits overhaul during the debate, with Angela Eagle saying parents will be "destitute for Christmas Day".

While Mrs May insisted, "It is a system that is working", Tory rebel Dr Wollaston said: "I can't support it moving forward until we've addressed those fundamental flaws."

The vote came after Mr Gauke faced a fiery hearing of the Work and Pensions Committee, and claimed just one family had faced eviction by a housing association due to the benefit- despite 1,242 tenants in one borough alone, Southwark in London, having "eviction-level arrears".


Q & A

What is Universal Credit?

One system to replace six benefits: Child Tax Credit, Working Tax Credit, Jobseeker's Allowance, Income Support, Employment Support Allowance and Housing Benefits. Launched in 2013, it was Iain Duncan Smith's pet project, supposedly to make work pay.

Who claims it? Low earners, the jobless and the sick or disabled. Already 610,000 people are on UC - 8% of benefit claimants. It is rolled out to individual Jobcentres, 52 of them this month.

What are the problems? Debtridden claimants must wait six weeks for the first payment - 19% waiting longer, 4% for 10 weeks. Research also suggests UC leaves many working families worse off than the old system because payments taper away at 63p for every PS1 earned. The timetable, put back seven times, will not be completed until March 2022.

Yet again the PM and Tories can't command a Commons majority DEBBIE ABRAHAMS FOR LABOUR YESTERDAY 19% of new claimants don't receive their first full payment within 6 weeks 2000 claimants wait at least 10 weeks for full payment of universal credit benefits



REELING Theresa May with Philip Hammond in the Commons yesterday
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Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Oct 19, 2017
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