There were heated exchanges of views over the introduction of universal credit in Nottinghamshire at a meeting at County Hall today ( 22 March ).
The controversial benefit will affect anyone who currently claims one of six benefits, including Jobseeker’s Allowance, Child Tax Credits and Housing Benefit.
At a meeting today, the Conservative Mansfield MP and Hucknall councillor Ben Bradley said Labour were “weaponising poor people” and “scaremongering rubbish”.
He was then told by several Labour councillors he should be “ashamed of himself”, and that his “reputation was in tatters”.
The leader of the council, Kay Cutts, several times asked for proceedings to be halted, and the chairman said there should be less “offensive” language.
Labour councillor Michael Payne, who represents Arnold North, quoted parts of a blog written by Mr Bradley’s, in which he said people on benefits should have vasectomies.
Mr Bradley replied by saying several Labour MPs supported universal credit.
Councillors at Nottinghamshire County Council were engaged in a row at a meeting of the full council today after the Ashfield Independents put forward a motion calling on the council to formally condemn the new benefit.
The motion was eventually rejected after the Conservative councillors, who make up the largest group, voted against it.
The benefit, which has been beset by teething problems, will be rolled out at Newark in May, Mansfield in September, Nottingham in October, and Ashfield, Beeston and Arnold in November.
It has already been introduced in other parts of the country.
Ashfield Independent councillor Jason Zadrozny, who brought the motion, said where it had been brought in, universal credit had caused “misery for some of the poorest residents and families”.
He said: “It has led to evictions, excessive debt, increased use for food bank and destitution. The implementation of universal credit has been a disaster and it is unacceptable to roll this out in our county until problems that the DWP admit are sorted out.
“Almost half of all council tenants across the 105 local authorities who currently receive the housing element of universal credit – which replaces housing benefit – are at least a month behind on their rent, with 30 percent two months behind.”
Mr Bradley said: “It’s a good idea and it’s the right thing to do. There are many cases where it has not worked as it was supposed to, and that’s why we have rolled it out so slowly.
“Rolling anything out on this scale is challenging, it’s a massive thing to change.
“Staff at job centres tell me the biggest challenge is not universal credit, it’s the fear of universal credit stirred up by the Labour Party.
“Staff at job centres tell me they are excited about the rollout of universal credit because it will make people’s lives simpler. History will show this is a sensible proposal.”
Councillor Payne said: “Your reputation lies in tatters, we’ll take no lectures from you on this matter.
“We made a list of demands of things they could change, all of which you should know would make a difference, but your party in a dogmatic fashion chose to ignore them.
“You are the MP who tweeted out that you were looking forward to the rollout. Before you come to this chamber you should check your own morals.”
Stuart Wallace, who is the Conservative councillor for Newark East, added: “This motion is about universal credit policy, which while it’s relevant to people in the county, it is not within our control. It has been subject to lengthy debate in parliament.
“All residents have access to their MPs and the future of this policy will be decided in Westminster and not in this county.”
Councillor Kate Foale represents Labour, and is the spokeswoman on the issue, as well as being the councillor for the Beeston Central and Ryland ward.
She said: “Sadly, this most-recent introduction to the universal credit roll out demonstrates very clearly how this Conservative government regards families who are on the breadline and are working hard to try and make ends meet.
“Universal credit has been, and continues to be introduced without the local resources needed to support families and individuals to make sure they can access it, and without any regard, or care, for how it will affect people who are working hard but are either unable to work, or earn low wages.”
Councillor Alan Rhodes, who is the leader of the Labour group, and a councillor for Worksop North, said: “I think the introduction of universal credit is only going to make people’s lives harder.
“It’s cruel, it’s callous, and it’s unnecessary.”
The motion, which called on the council to write to the Government objecting to the Universal Credit plans, was rejected by 32 to 28.