A Tory peer who helped the government to set up the Universal Credit system has called for an urgent increase to benefits in light of the country’s growing cost of living crisis.
Baroness Stroud, a former advisor to ex-party leader Iain Duncan Smith, has said that the government had a responsibility to increase the benefits in line with inflation to help vulnerable people.
She told The Independent that the £20 a week ‘uplift’ introduced to help families during the heigh of the Covid-19 pandemic should be restored to stop more families from falling into poverty.
Telling the paper it was the government’s responsibility to ‘help vulnerable people’, she added that the government ‘has the opportunity to intervene’, pointing to how it ‘has done so in the past’.
She told the paper: “We are sitting on a cost of living crisis; we have the opportunity to intervene; we have done so in the past under difficult situations when it affected everybody, but if governments have a responsibility to do anything, it is to act on behalf of vulnerable people.
“This is a moment to do that.”
Her comments follow increasing pressure on the Chancellor to do more to help struggling families, as government figures show that poverty is rising fastest among under-fives, and one in three preschool children are now living in poverty.
Lady Stroud, CEO of the Legatum Institute think tank, told The Independent: “I just genuinely think the benefits should be uprated in line with the current inflation – they should be brought forward.
“That would be entirely possible to do. The defense has been made that it can’t be done immediately. I have spoken with DWP officials, who’ve said [an increase in] universal credit can be done immediately.
“I know the legacy benefits are much harder to do,” she added. “You could do a one-off payment for the equivalent value for those on legacy.”
“We’re going to start seeing very, very difficult choices being made. We’ve already started seeing very difficult choices being made.”
The Tory peer added that the initial introduction of the uplift was “recognition that the levels of welfare are too low”, continuing: “If it wasn’t right for groups of people during Covid, it can’t be right now.”
“I never thought it should be taken away, and I think it should be restored.
“The fact we were able to bring it in so swiftly at the time of the pandemic demonstrates just how easy it would be to restore it now.”
In April, it was revealed that inflation in the UK has soared to a 40-year-high of 9% and is predicted by the Bank of England to hit 10% before the end of the year.
Meanwhile, according to government figures, there are now more working people on Universal Credit than ever before, with 42% of claimants recorded as being in employment on 9 December 2021 – up from 39% on 10 December 2020.
At the same time, the UK’s unemployment rate is currently at its lowest since 1974 at 3.7 percent. This means that there were fewer people out of work than there were job openings in nearly 50 years.
Martha Mackenzie, Save the Children Director of UK Poverty Policy, Advocacy and Campaigns, said: “Poverty is rising fastest among the under-fives in the UK. One in three preschool children are living in poverty. That’s more than any other age group – and is disastrous for the future life-chances of these children.
“Poverty has a profound impact on children from the very start of their lives. Poorer children are more likely to start primary school without the basic skills they need, such as being able to speak in full sentences. We know that many of these children may never catch up.
“The Government have said they are committed to boosting social mobility. Yet today’s figures show that we are going backwards, and even more pre-school children are sinking into poverty. This must be a wakeup call – we need urgent action to reverse this trend.”
Speaking ahead of the weekend, the Prime Minister told reports he was “not going to pretend we can magic away every single expense that people are going to face as a result of the global spike in energy prices”.
He added: “Be in no doubt, this will come down, we will get people through it. We will use the firepower we’ve built up to put our arms around people, just as we did during the pandemic.”
Tributes pour in for Manchester City legend and former chairman Franny Lee
Tributes are being paid to Manchester City legend and former chairman Francis ‘Franny’ Lee CBE, who has passed away aged 79.
The ex-Man City, Bolton Wanderers, Derby County and England star is said to have passed away in the early hours on Monday morning, 2 October, following a long battle with cancer.
Speaking via a club statement, his wife Gill along with children Charlotte, Jonny and Nik said, “He will be sorely missed and would like to thank everyone for their kind words”.
Both Manchester teams led tributes to the British footballing legend, with avid City fan Liam Gallagher and countless others joining in paying their respects.
Franny Lee scored 148 goals in 330 appearances during eight-year City, helping the club win multiple honours during their first periods of success, including the old First Division title back in 1968.
Born in Lancashire and starting out elsewhere in Greater Manchester at Bolton Wanderers, he also went on to play for Derby following his time with the Blues, helping the Rams to their second-ever title in 1975.
The striker also had 27 caps for England between 1968–1972, scoring 10 goals and winning FA Cup, League Cup, European Cup Winners’ Cup and the Charity Shield twice at club level during that period.
Honouring their former centre-forward who went on to serve as Chairman for four years from 1994 onwards, the club statement read, “It is with the deepest sadness and heaviest of hearts we announce the passing of former Manchester City player and Chairman Francis Lee, aged 79”, adding that flags around the Etihad Campus are flying at half-mast.
His first club, Bolton, said of the former marksman, “All at Bolton Wanderers are saddened to learn of the passing of former forward, Francis Lee. The thoughts of everyone at the club are with Francis’ family, friends and loved ones at this difficult time.”
As for legacy as for his time in Blue, the club had already planned to immortalise Lee prior to his death, announcing the erection of a statue back in May 2022, the reveal date of which will no doubt be moved up following his passing.
The club has also assured that “more tributes will follow in the coming days.”
Rest in peace to a legend.
Featured Image — Manchester City/England/Bolton Wanderers (via Twitter)
Government set to announce ban on mobile phones at all schools in England
A ban on mobile phones at all schools in England is expected to be announced by the Government this week.
Although many education institutions nationwide already have their own measures in place, according to reports in several major media outlets today – including BBC News, Sky News, The Guardian, and more – Education Secretary Gillian Keegan is pushing for a move to issue a ‘blanket ban’ on mobile phone usage at all schools in England.
She is poised to announce the ban at the Conservative Party Conference – which is currently happening here in Manchester.
If the ban is successfully introduced, it’s believed that under the new Government guidance, head teachers will be told to prevent all pupils from using mobile phones during the entire school day.
The Department for Education wants the devices banned on breaks too, as well as in class time.
While the Education Secretary appears to be adamant that the ban on the devices is a necessary one, reports are indicating, however, that it will be just guidance and would not actually be enforceable by law, which means the final call will be left up to individual schools to decide on their policy and how they’ll implemented.
It’s also unclear at this stage when the guidance will be published, if approved and introduced, according to Sky News.
Reports on the ban of mobile phones today come after the Government estimated back in 2018 that 95% of schools in England have already imposed restrictions, and also come after both former Schools Minister Nick Gibb, and former Education Secretary Gavin Willamson saying they favoured similar restrictions back in in 2019 and 2021, respectively.
Despite this, however, the Education Department said back in 2022 that blanket national rules were not actually needed, as the majority of schools nationwide were already taking action.
This is likely why some eyebrows at Gillian Keegan’s plans today have been raised.
Dr Patrick Roach, who is the general secretary of teaching union NASUWT, said the Government needs to “focus on properly supporting the work of teachers and headteachers”, rather than announcements “designed to detract attention from more than a decade of policy failure”.
Similarly, the general secretary of the National Education Union, Daniel Kebede, said he hopes the Education Secretary will use her Conference speech today to “announce positive measures that face up to the deep challenges in our schools” instead of “distracting attention from them”.