Westminster insiders, buzzing about last night’s meeting of Tory MPs plotting to oust Theresa May, may have expected PMQs to be an embarrassment for the Prime Minister on account of her mutinous party.
And indeed, embarrassment was delivered – but not because the Labour leader sought to exploit Tory divisions.
Wise to avoid highlighting the cross-Commons issue of backbench dissent, Jeremy Corbyn instead backed May into a corner on her own measure of success: fixing the “burning injustice” of racial, class, health and generational inequality running through British society, which she outlined upon becoming Prime Minister.
“If you’re just managing, I want to address you directly,” she told the public two years ago, outside the frontdoor of No 10. “The government I lead will be driven, not by the interests of the privileged few, but by yours.”
Running through the failings of the Conservatives’ flagship welfare system, Universal Credit, Corbyn used each of his questions to dismantle May’s claim that this reform would “encourage people into work” and “make sure work always pays”.
Citing the government’s own survey of Universal Credit claimants, as well as the National Audit Office and numerous expert organisations and charities, Corbyn challenged May with the “flawed and failing” reality of the policy.
His most powerful evidence?
The Child Poverty Action Group figures the two-child Universal Credit limit will put 200,000 children in poverty once the change is fully rolled out.
The charity Gingerbread has found that work “doesn’t pay” for single parents on Universal Credit.
The government’s own survey found four in ten claimants were struggling to keep up with bills eight-nine months into claiming Universal Credit, and over a third were in rent arrears.
A National Audit Office report in June found the system is causing hardship and could cost more to implement than it’s supposed to save. It also highlighted its flawed implementation and chronic delays.
Food bank charity the Trussell Trust has found a 52 per cent average increase in food bank use in areas where Universal Credit’s been in place for a year.
Corbyn went on to warn that people with mental health problems and disabilities would be next to suffer from moving over to the new benefits system.
“The Prime Minister is not challenging the burning injustices in our society – she’s pouring petrol on the crisis. When will she stop inflicting misery on people in this country?” he roared, in one of his most passionate and effective turns at PMQs to date.
It was telling that the only response she could give to challenging “the burning injustices” mentioned was her work against racist stop-and-search during her time as home secretary. She’s been Prime Minister for two years since she promised to tackle inequality in July 2016. And aside from tinkering around the edges of the universally discredited new welfare system, she has nothing to show for it.