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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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How the Lib Dems learned to love all-women shortlists

Yes, the sitting Lib Dem MPs are mostly white, middle-aged middle class men. But the party's not taking any chances. 

I can’t tell you who’ll be the Lib Dem candidate in Southport on 8 June, but I do know one thing about them. As they’re replacing a sitting Lib Dem (John Pugh is retiring) - they’ll be female.

The same is true in many of our top 20 target seats, including places like Lewes (Kelly-Marie Blundell), Yeovil (Daisy Benson), Thornbury and Yate (Clare Young), and Sutton and Cheam (Amna Ahmad). There was air punching in Lib Dem offices all over the country on Tuesday when it was announced Jo Swinson was standing again in East Dunbartonshire.

And while every current Lib Dem constituency MP will get showered with love and attention in the campaign, one will get rather more attention than most - it’s no coincidence that Tim Farron’s first stop of the campaign was in Richmond Park, standing side by side with Sarah Olney.

How so?

Because the party membership took a long look at itself after the 2015 election - and a rather longer look at the eight white, middle-aged middle class men (sorry chaps) who now formed the Parliamentary party and said - "we’ve really got to sort this out".

And so after decades of prevarication, we put a policy in place to deliberately increase the diversity of candidates.

Quietly, over the last two years, the Liberal Democrats have been putting candidates into place in key target constituencies . There were more than 300 in total before this week’s general election call, and many of them have been there for a year or more. And they’ve been selected under new procedures adopted at Lib Dem Spring Conference in 2016, designed to deliberately promote the diversity of candidates in winnable seats

This includes mandating all-women shortlists when selecting candidates who are replacing sitting MPs, similar rules in our strongest electoral regions. In our top 10 per cent of constituencies, there is a requirement that at least two candidates are shortlisted from underrepresented groups on every list. We became the first party to reserve spaces on the shortlists of winnable seats for underrepresented candidates including women, BAME, LGBT+ and disabled candidates

It’s not going to be perfect - the hugely welcome return of Lib Dem grandees like Vince Cable, Ed Davey and Julian Huppert to their old stomping grounds will strengthen the party but not our gender imbalance. But excluding those former MPs coming back to the fray, every top 20 target constituency bar one has to date selected a female candidate.

Equality (together with liberty and community) is one of the three key values framed in the preamble to the Lib Dem constitution. It’s a relief that after this election, the Liberal Democratic party in the Commons will reflect that aspiration rather better than it has done in the past.

Richard Morris blogs at A View From Ham Common, which was named Best New Blog at the 2011 Lib Dem Conference

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