Frank Field urges Government to help families hit hardest by benefit cuts first
FAMILIES hit hardest by benefits cuts should be the first to "feel the relaxation of the whip of austerity", ministers have been told.
Frank Field, the Independent MP who chairs the Work and Pensions Committee, said "enough is enough" when it came to cuts to those on benefits and advised the Government to take action next month when delivering the Spring Statement.
Speaking during an estimates day debate on the Department for Work and Pensions, Mr Field said: "Most of the cuts that have occurred in public expenditure to rid us of the deficit have taken place on families and poor families on benefits, so I hope if there's one message that goes out from this debate to the Chancellor, it is enough is enough.
"The Prime Minister has talked about that we're now through the austerity period - then if we are, the first groups that should feel the relaxation of the whip of austerity should be those families who've been so badly hit by the cuts imposed upon them to try and balance the books."
Mr Field said the poorest constituents, facing destitution, had "paid the most to bring the budget deficit down and they should be first in the queue" for financial relief from Chancellor Philip Hammond.
He said he had witnessed "not an issue now of poverty but of people who struggle with all their might to maintain a roof over their heads".
Mr Field went on: "They go without food, they go without heat, they go without basic necessities.
"So the debate for me is the first time really in this House that we now have to confront for those of our poorest constituents who don't just face poverty but face destitution.
"They are the ones that have paid the most to bring the budget deficit down and they should be first in the queue as far as the Chancellor's concerned to get relief when he makes that Spring Statement."
Independent Group MP Heidi Allen (South Cambridgeshire), a former Conservative, intervened to say: "Employment is up but for the parts of the country that (Mr Field) and I have seen in our tour - and I hate that word because it sounds like a holiday - of foodbanks.
"What we are seeing is people utterly, utterly on the edge and UC (Universal Credit) is not, with the greatest respect, built to deal with people who have no financial resilience at all, and they are the people that we're talking about and these cuts have absolutely cut them to the bone."
Labour MP Ruth George (High Peak) earlier said welfare reform had taken the UK "back to the 1930s" before the welfare state was set up to "create a country fit for heroes" in 1945 after the Second World War.
She said: "But 70 years later across Britain we are seeing an increase in situations we think of as part of a bygone era of the 1930s.
"We see, even around our Parliament today, people sleeping rough on our streets, we've seen them dying in the freezing cold, across the country we see families queuing up for foodbanks and disabled people left isolated without the care they need.
"Shamefully 1.5 million people, including 365,000 children, now live in destitution unable to afford even basic necessities."
Labour former minister Liam Byrne urged the Government to "put the compassion back" into the welfare system as he raised the "spiralling" problem of homelessness.
The MP for Birmingham Hodge Hill said: "A few hours ago our city bid goodbye to Kane Walker. He was a young man who died on our streets in the cold of January.
"A man gone. A man who should still be with us. A man who together we have failed to save."
Work and Pensions minister Justin Tomlinson defended the Government's record on jobs and welfare reform, telling MPs: "There are improvements that are needed and many of the people who have spoken tonight have helped change Universal Credit since its inception.
"There is still much more to do but we all welcome the additional £4.5 billion worth of investment into Universal Credit set out over the last two budgets, which means we will be spending £2 billion more on Universal Credit than the legacy benefits."
Mr Tomlinson went on to describe other changes, including to advanced payments and increases to the work allowance.