Politics

'Annoyed but not surprised': Outrage as benefits, welfare and DWP all but absent from election debate

'The Tories and Labour seem to be acting like disabled people are invisible during the election campaign'

Wallet containing £20 notes and a Monzo card

Charities and campaigners speak out as benefits and welfare absent from election debate (Toa Heftiba/Unsplash)

Charities and campaigners have spoken out about feeling “invisible” as key topics like poverty, benefits and welfare were largely left out of ITV’s election debate between Rishi Sunak and Keir Starmer on Tuesday (4 June). 

The debate, which saw prime minister Sunak face off with Labour leader Starmer, did mention the cost of living crisis, but left out discussion on benefits and welfare, which many have said is critical to the upcoming election. 

After being asked about the cost of living by audience member Paula from Huddersfield, Sunak claimed the Conservatives’ plan to “bring inflation back to normal” has been in effect, and that the furlough scheme during the pandemic had supported working families. 

Starmer claimed that “this government has lost control” over the cost of living, and that Sunak’s predecessor Liz Truss had “crashed the economy”. 

But campaigners have said the conversion did not go far enough, and that a clear plan on the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP), benefits, and the universal credit system is desperately needed. 

Journalist and disability activist Rachel Charlton-Dailey told the Big Issue they were “annoyed but not surprised” at the lack of discussion around benefits during the debate.

“The Tories and Labour seem to be acting like disabled people are invisible during the election campaign,” she explained. 

“This is either in the hope nobody brings up cruel reforms or so they don’t have to commit to any plans. It was saddening no questions were asked about welfare as it reminds us how little we’re thought of.”

They added that ahead of the general election, all parties need to consider those on personal independence payments (PIP) and universal credit, telling politicians they must “do your research and engage with those with lived experience”.

“Benefits, welfare and poverty should be a huge part of campaigns. We’re living through the toughest times and people need to know they’re going to be protected even if they can’t work,” she added. 

“The lack of discussion around welfare when the Tories have spent the last few months banging on about reforms is eerie.”

Food bank charity the Trussell Trust added that 79% of the UK public agree that “poverty in the UK is a big problem”, with almost three in four believing “it’s the government’s responsibility to change this”. 

“Neither leader seemed to have a plan to address this,” Helen Barnard, director of policy at the Trussell Trust, told Big Issue. 

“We see people coming through the doors of food banks every day because they cannot afford to make ends meet. They haven’t got enough money, because their income is too low, to afford even the essentials, like food, heating, and toiletries. 

“Despite the disappointment of this most pressing of issues being ignored in the first leadership debate, we hope that in the coming weeks all major political parties will urgently prioritise hunger and hardship, and outline how they would end the need for food banks in the UK for good.”

Poverty charity Turn2us added that the demand for a system that “truly supports and reassures” those struggling the most is “loud and clear” across the UK, and that politicians must “listen to people’s experiences”. 

The charity’s call echoes one of the main asks of Big Issue’s Blueprint for Change, which calls for the next government to reform the benefits system and replace it with a system that helps those most in need.

“This means ensuring benefits cover essential living costs and abolishing the two-child benefit limit and sanctions,” Claire Atchia McMaster, director of income and external affairs at Turn2us, told Big Issue. 

“People who contact Turn2us describe the welfare system as punitive and broken. Policies like benefit sanctions, the two-child limit, and stricter conditionality are destroying trust, damaging health, and deterring people when they need help the most.”

Big Issue is demanding an end to poverty this general election. Will you sign our open letter to party leaders?

Do you have a story to tell or opinions to share about this? We want to hear from you. Get in touch and tell us more

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