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Even if Universal Credit is eventually implemented, most will now lose out

Frank Field's new report shows how the benefits of a programme hailed as revolutionary will be almost non-existent. 

Perhaps no government reform has been billed as more transformative than Universal Credit. From the moment it was first conceived in opposition by Iain Duncan Smith, it was said that the programme would remake the welfare state and "improve the lives of millions of claimants by incentivising work and making it pay". 

But the more time has passed, the less plausible this rhetoric has become. Universal Credit's botched implementation means that there have been just 250,000 claims to date, compared to an original target of 4.46 million by 2015-16. But even if the reform eventually crawls to the finishing line (at a cost of £2bn), its effect will be far from transformative.

The potential benefits of Universal Credit were always oversold. From a previous level of 73p in the pound, the typical withdrawal rate for benefit claimants would fall to 65p - a marginal, not a revolutionary shift. But as Frank Field, the work and pensions select commitee chair, notes in his new Civitas report, the reality is even less impressive. The decision to exclude council tax and free school meals from the reform and the cuts progressively made to the work allowance (the level of earnings exempt from withdrawal) means that the majority of claimants will lose out under Universal Credit. 

Of those low-paid workers who make a new claim and do not receive help with housing costs, childless workers will be £866 worse off compared with what they would have got under the current system, lone parents will be £2,629 worse off and couples with children will be £1,084 worse off. Of those who receive help with housing costs, childless workers will be £866 worse off, lone parents will be £554 worse off and couples with children will be £234 worse off. Field damningly concludes: "If creating an incentive to work is the goal the present system for the vast majority of claimants meets that goal more effectively. Any reduction in the marginal tax rate will only come for particular groups of Universal Credit claimants should the benefit be introduced". Has more time and money ever been devoted to a reform for so little gain? 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Benn vs McDonnell: how Brexit has exposed the fight over Labour's party machine

In the wake of Brexit, should Labour MPs listen more closely to voters, or their own party members?

Two Labour MPs on primetime TV. Two prominent politicians ruling themselves out of a Labour leadership contest. But that was as far as the similarity went.

Hilary Benn was speaking hours after he resigned - or was sacked - from the Shadow Cabinet. He described Jeremy Corbyn as a "good and decent man" but not a leader.

Framing his overnight removal as a matter of conscience, Benn told the BBC's Andrew Marr: "I no longer have confidence in him [Corbyn] and I think the right thing to do would be for him to take that decision."

In Benn's view, diehard leftie pin ups do not go down well in the real world, or on the ballot papers of middle England. 

But while Benn may be drawing on a New Labour truism, this in turn rests on the assumption that voters matter more than the party members when it comes to winning elections.

That assumption was contested moments later by Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell.

Dismissive of the personal appeal of Shadow Cabinet ministers - "we can replace them" - McDonnell's message was that Labour under Corbyn had rejuvenated its electoral machine.

Pointing to success in by-elections and the London mayoral election, McDonnell warned would-be rebels: "Who is sovereign in our party? The people who are soverign are the party members. 

"I'm saying respect the party members. And in that way we can hold together and win the next election."

Indeed, nearly a year on from Corbyn's surprise election to the Labour leadership, it is worth remembering he captured nearly 60% of the 400,000 votes cast. Momentum, the grassroots organisation formed in the wake of his success, now has more than 50 branches around the country.

Come the next election, it will be these grassroots members who will knock on doors, hand out leaflets and perhaps even threaten to deselect MPs.

The question for wavering Labour MPs will be whether what they trust more - their own connection with voters, or this potentially unbiddable party machine.