Two former prime ministers, one Labour and one Conservative, have warned against the rollout of universal credit in the last two days.
Yesterday Gordon Brown said that UC would lead to “poll tax-style chaos in a summer of discontent”.
Brown pointed out that it had been hard to roll out tax credits even when Labour were spending billions more on benefits.
“But to impose universal credit – and to force 3 million to reapply for their benefits next year when, on top of a child benefits freeze, the government is spending £3bn less, is chaotic, cruel and vindictive, far beyond austerity.
“For the first time that any of us can remember, the safety net is not now the welfare state but charity – and the lifeline for families in need is not social security but food banks. Voluntary groups are now being swamped with desperate and almost unanswerable requests for help.”
Brown also referred to the use of Citizens Advice to “aid the rollout”:
“The online application process is so difficult that only 38% who try to complete the identity check succeed. Esther McVey would not be announcing last week millions for Citizens Advice to aid the rollout of universal credit unless they were not deeply worried about the chaos ahead. And it is the fear of a poverty crisis that has led Michael Gove to announce funding for food for food banks.”
Today John Major also waded into the controversy, warning against proceeding with the rollout until problems with UC have been fixed and comparing UC to the poll tax.
“In order to introduce something like universal credit you need to look at those people who in the short term are going to lose, and protect them, or you will run into the sort of problems the Conservative party ran into in the late 1980s.
“If you have people who face that degree of loss, that is not something the majority of the British population would think of as fair, and if people think you have removed yourself from fairness then you are in deep political trouble.”
It is becoming increasingly difficult for the government to find anyone who is prepared to support next year’s rollout of UC, without major concessions in terms of how the rollout is managed and how much extra cash is pumped into the UC budget to replace the millions that George Osborne removed.