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Politics

Only 30 MPs turn up to debate cutting universal credit

When Labour forced a vote on the universal credit cut, it was the culmination of a furious year-long campaign to keep the £20-per-week. But few MPs were there to hear the argument

MPs have been relaying the experiences of their constituents due to have their income devastated by the universal credit cut, but hardly anyone has been there to hear it.

The Commons voted whether to cut universal credit on Wednesday, but despite repeated warnings from experts that it will push thousands into poverty – coupled with a fervent defence from the government that the focus should be on jobs, not welfare – the Commons benches were noticeably empty during the debate.

Speaking in parliament, MPs relayed anecdotal evidence from struggling families in their constituencies and exchanged accusations of failure – on the economy, on jobs and on social security – with opposing parties.

But, while politicians came and went during the debate – which kicked off shortly after Prime Minister’s Questions – there were few more than 30 present in the Commons chamber at times. Some 253 opposition MPs voted for Labour’s motion not to cut the benefit, and zero voted against.

Conservatives abstained, meaning the motion could pass, but it is not binding and the government intends to cut universal credit anyway.

Zarah Sultana, Labour MP for Coventry South, tweeted during the debate after noticing a dwindling number of Conservative MPs taking part.

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“The benches opposite me are almost totally empty,” she said.

“Conservative MPs are too cowardly to defend their cruel attack on the working class.”

While those in Commons discussed the impact of the cut on universal credit claimants, high-ranking ministers were seen going in and out of Number 10 after the prime minister launched a cabinet reshuffle.

Gavin Williamson was among the casualties of the team redesign, losing his role as education secretary. Robert Buckland was pushed out of the justice secretary job, and Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab – fresh from criticism over his handling of the Afghanistan crisis – was demoted to justice secretary and lord chancellor.

But rumours of a reshuffle had swirled for days, and some speculated the prime minister had pulled the trigger this afternoon to distract from the universal credit debate.

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While Johnson fired and hired ministers, Dulwich and West Norwood MP Helen Hayes was telling parliament – and the six remaining Conservative MPs at the time – the planned universal credit cut is “cruel, illogical and unnecessary”. 

“Maybe the cabinet reshuffle is a distraction from a certain universal credit vote today…?” one person tweeted.

“All a distraction from the universal credit vote anyway,” another said. “Don’t think any of it will mean anything in the long run.”

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Labour activist Barbara Cannon said: “A great distraction technique to take eyes away from debate about universal credit is to have a reshuffle.

“No amount of moving the deckchairs around will make a difference.”

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