The Tories just showed their utter contempt for those hurt by Universal Credit

The government didn't even try to defend their controversial welfare reforms, failing to take part in a vote last night.

Labour scored a symbolic victory over the government last night, winning a vote condemning the huge flaws in the government’s Universal Credit scheme.

Labour’s motion to “pause and fix” the rollout of Universal Credit won unanimous support in the House of Commons, MPs voting 299 to zero in favour. But for one reason: Tory MPs failed to vote to support their own policy.

Attempting to avoid a potential defeat, the government are believed to have issued a three-line whip to their MPs, forcing them to abstain on the final vote.

The defeat occurred just hours after the government conceded they’d drop the 55p-a-minute charge to the Universal Credit helpline.

The dropping of the helpline fee and the vote – although a non-binding opposition day motion – represent Theresa May’s third big defeat in the Commons in just over a month.

In September they were forced to lift the 1 per cent pay cap for some public sector workers. On the same day, the DUP sided with Labour on a motion to stop the government raising tuition fees.

The government are on the back-foot. But this is no excuse to avoid parliamentary scrutiny and the damning concerns raised about Universal Credit.

The rollout of the scheme — where six welfare payments are merged into one — has been condemned as an utter shambles in the press and on both sides of the House of Commons.

Claimants are having to wait six weeks before they can claim the first instalment of the scheme, plunging many into poverty and even homelessness.

One woman who went without any income for two weeks told the BBC her five-year-old daughter searched bins for food because she was starving.

Families across the country are being made homeless because they’re being left without money for rent for weeks on end. A charity in Manchester said 80 per cent of claimants living in some housing associations have fallen behind with rent.

Even where the new welfare system is fully up and running, it appears to be failing to meet basic needs.

The Trussell Trust claims that in areas where the system has been fully rolled out, they’ve seen a marked increase in the use of food banks, which they run.

So the fact that Tory MPs were too frightened to vote defending Universal Credit speaks of the party’s contempt for not only Parliamentary democracy but those feeling the brunt of their failing policy.

One Tory even missed the vote because he was attending a football match in Barcelona; Downing Street defended his absence as a “better” use of his time.

The speaker John Bercow was vocal on the point: “We are elected to come to this place to debate and to decide what our position is on motions.”

“The government in light of the result should come to the house and show respect for the institution by indicating what it intends to do”

The Tories can’t hide from more Commons defeats for long, but their absence yesterday shows they might try.

The brutal fact for them though is this: this bungled scheme can’t stumble on for much longer without millions losing out from their ineptitude – or the government swallowing their pride and conceding to last night’s vote. Which will it be?

Oscar Webb is a reporter for Left Foot Forward. He tweets here.

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