LOUISE Casey, the UK Government’s former homelessness adviser, has warned that the Conservatives would “go back to being the Nasty Party” if they went ahead and withdrew the £20-a-week increase to Universal Credit paid to millions of low-paid people to help them through the pandemic.
In an interview with the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg, she said: “I can understand this Chancellor doesn’t want to be the Chancellor that says his chequebook is forever open but the problem we’ve got at the moment is that we’re seeing lots of very small and potentially reactive announcements and that’s really difficult to manage. And in the end, as a former Whitehall person, that’s more costly.”
Dame Louise argued the Treasury needed to step back and not feel a constant responsibility to close the books all the time and fight and fight and fight.
“They need to step back and think if we really want to rebuild Britain, what type of economic policy do we need to put in place that will…not take the knees out from under people.
“To remove that £20 a week, it’s too punitive, it’s not the right thing to do and they just go back to being the Nasty Party.”
The former Whitehall adviser said the country had been “torn to shreds” by the pandemic, saying that beyond the health crisis, the “wounds it’s inflicted on the country are far deeper and greater than anything I’ve ever seen in my lifetime in terms of ordinary folk, having to claim Universal Credit, ordinary people having to turn to food banks, ordinary people becoming homeless and we will need to have a big plan to deal with the wounds inflicted by this pandemic once everybody’s vaccinated.
“And the Government needs to turn its attention to that now and not leave it until the summer.”
On Monday, the Labour Party passed a non-binding motion in the House of Commons to extend the payment. However, as yet Boris Johnson has not committed to extending it. Ministers have pointed to Rishi Sunak making a decision in his March 3 Budget. It is estimated that making the uplift permanent would cost the Treasury £6 billion.
A Government spokesman said: “We are committed to supporting the lowest-paid families through the pandemic and beyond to ensure that nobody is left behind.
“That’s why we’ve targeted our support to those most in need by raising the living wage, spending hundreds of billions to safeguard jobs, boosting welfare support by billions and introducing the £170m Covid Winter Grant Scheme to help children and families stay warm and well-fed during the coldest months.”
He added: “No decisions have yet been made on a range of Covid support measures that run through until the end of March and April and it is right to wait until we know more about where we are in the vaccination process before making any decisions.”
For Labour, Jonathan Reynolds, the Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, said: “The Government needs to take this warning from its own former adviser seriously and do the right thing for family incomes.”