Behind the Britannia Unchained Tories

The Guardian has taken a look at the influential Tories behind next month's Britannia Unchained

The Guardian has followed up on the unfavourable reaction to the extracts the Evening Standard published from Britannia Unchained, the new book by a group of five 2010 intake Tories which aims to present ways to radically overhaul Britain for the 21st century, lest we face "an inevitable slide into mediocrity".

Andy Beckett speaks to Dominic Raab, one of the book's authors, about the leaked passages, which revealed the authors think the British are "among the worst idlers in the world." Beckett writes:

When I speak to Raab again after the Evening Standard extract, he says it gave "a skewed and inaccurate reflection of what is in the book".

(For what it's worth, the passage – which goes on to state that "we work among the lowest hours, we retire early and our productivity is poor" – gives a "skewed and inaccurate reflection" of the British work ethic itself, as Chris Dillow pointed out in a response. Hopefully the rest of the book uses actual figures.)

Tim Montgomerie, the editor of Conservative Home, tells Beckett that these five MPs, and the Free Enterprise Group of libertarian Tories whose thinking they epitomise, are the best hope of the party:

"It's a pretty depressing time for the Conservative party, but the thing that gives me hope is the [parliamentary] class of 2010, and all the groups they've formed. Of those groups, the Free Enterprise Group is the group. They're quite spiky in their opinions, but well respected by the Conservative leadership. They are George Osborne's favourites. He has spoken to them. In some ways, it helps him to have them, so he can say, 'I'm not the [government's rightwing] outrider.'"

The whole piece is a thoughtful examination of a certain tendency in the Tory party which is growing in importance daily; until the embargo is lifted on the book itself, it may be the best place to go to understand them.

Britannia Chained. Photograph: Getty Images

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

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Single parent families are already struggling - universal credit is making things worse

Austerity and financial hardship are not inevitable – politicians have a choice.

“I don’t live, I merely keep existing”. So says one single parent in Gingerbread’s final report from a project tracking single parent finances since 2013. Their experience is typical of single parents across the country. The majority we surveyed are struggling financially and three-quarters have had to borrow from friends, family or lenders to make ends meet.

This is not the story that the government wants to hear. With a focus on a jobs boom and a promise to "make work pay", a relentlessly positive outlook shines from the DWP. The reality is somewhat different. Benefit cuts have taken their toll, and single parents have been among the hardest hit. Estimates suggest over six per cent of their annual income was lost through reforms under the 2010-15 government. The 2015 Summer Budget cuts will add another 7.6 per cent loss on top by 2020, even after wage and tax gains.

What’s more, for all the talk of tackling worklessness, working families have not escaped unscathed. Single parent employment is at a record high – thanks in no small part to their own tenacity in a tough environment. But the squeeze on incomes has hit those in work too. The original one per cent cap on uprating benefits meant a single parent working part-time lost around £900 over three years. Benefits are now frozen, rapidly losing value as inflation rises. On top of stagnant and often low pay and high living costs, it’s perhaps unsurprising that we found working single parents surveyed just as likely to run out of money as those out of work – shockingly, around half didn’t have enough to reach the end of the month.

Single parent families – along with many others on low incomes – are being pushed into precarious financial positions. One in eight single parents had turned to emergency provision, including payday lenders and food banks. Debt in particular casts a long shadow over families. A third of single parents surveyed were behind on payments, and they described how debt often lingers for a long time as they struggle to pay it off from already stretched budgets.

All of this may be depressingly familiar to some – but it comes at something of a crossroads for politicians. With the accelerated roll-out of universal credit around the corner, the government risks putting many more people under significant strain – and potentially into debt. Encouragingly, the increasing noise around the delays to a first payment is raising red flags across political parties. Perhaps most alarming is that delays are not purely administrative, but deliberate – they reflect in-built, intentional, cost-saving measures. These choices serve no constructive purpose: they risk debt and anxiety for families the government intended to help, and costs for the services left to pick up the pieces.

But will the recent warning signs be enough? Despite new data showing around half of new claimants needed "advance payments" (loans to deal with financial hardship while waiting for a first payment), the Department for Work and Pensions stuck doggedly to its lines, lauding the universal credit project that “lies at the heart of welfare reform to help “people to improve their lives”.

And, as valuable as additional scrutiny is, must we wait for committees to gather and report on yet more evidence, and for the National Audit Office to forensically examine and report on progress once again? The reality is glaringly evident. Families have already been pushed to the brink without universal credit. Those entering the new system – and those supporting them, including councils – have made it abundantly clear that moving onto universal credit makes things worse for too many.

This is not to dismiss universal credit in its entirety. It’s hard to argue with the original intention to simplify the benefit system and make sure work pays. It was always going to be an ambitious (possibly over-ambitious) project. But salami slicing the promised support – from the added seven day "waiting period" for a first payment, to the slashed work allowances intended to herald improved work incentives – leaves us with a system that won’t merely overpromise and under-deliver, but endanger many families’ already fragile financial security. The impact should not be underestimated – this is not just about finances, but families’ lives and the emotional stress and turmoil that can follow.

With increasing political and economic uncertainty, with Brexit looming, this is not the time for petty leadership squabbles, but a time to reassure voters and revitalise the government’s promises to the nation. The DWP committed to a "test and learn" approach to rolling out universal credit – to pause and fix these urgent problems is no U-turn. And of course, the Prime Minister promised a transformed social justice agenda, tackling the "burning injustices" of the day. Nearly all of the UK’s 2 million single parent families will be eligible for universal credit once it is fully rolled out; making this flagship support fit for purpose would surely be a good place to start.

Sumi Rabindrakumar is a research officer at single parents charity Gingerbread.