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The government’s own logic shows Universal Credit makes no sense

Controversial monthly payments are supposed to reflect the world of work. 

Universal Credit, the new “simple” benefit that has made life infinitely more complex for those being moved onto it, comes in a monthly rather than fortnightly payment. Mounting evidence suggests claimants are finding it hard to budget over this time period, leading to debt and eviction notices, while the six week wait before the first payment is leaving some close to starvation.

The government, though, has maintained the idea that payments should be monthly. The reason for this, it argues, is because a monthly payment mirrors the world of work.

There’s only one problem. It’s not true.

The Resolution Foundation and Lloyds Banking Group examined bank transactions, and found that among new Universal Credit claimants who were jobless, 58 per cent were paid either fortnightly or weekly in their previous job. The vast majority of those – nearly half of all claimants studied – were used to being paid weekly.

It’s certainly the case that among all workers in all jobs, two-thirds are paid at the end of the month. But Universal Credit claimants aren’t all workers. They are the recently unemployed with little savings to fall back on (anyone with £16,000 in savings or more cannot claim in the first place), the low-paid workers previously receiving tax credits, and those unable to go into full-time work for caring or health reasons. 

According to the government’s own logic, then, a system that reflected the world of work would pay claimants weekly, rather than monthly. Yet another reason to pause the roll out.

Julia Rampen is the digital news editor of the New Statesman (previously editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog). She has also been deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines. 

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Tackling tuition fees may not be the vote-winner the government is hoping for

In theory, Theresa May is right to try to match Labour’s policy. But could it work?

Part of the art of politics is to increase the importance of the issues you win on and to decrease or neutralise the importance of the issues your opponent wins on. That's part of why Labour will continue to major on police cuts, as a device to make the usually Labour-unfriendly territory of security more perilous for the Tories.

One of the advantages the Conservatives have is that they are in government – I know it doesn't always look like it – and so they can do a lot more to decrease the importance of Labour's issues than the Opposition can do to theirs.

So the theory of Theresa May's big speech today on higher education funding and her announcement of a government review into the future of the university system is sound. Tuition fees are an area that Labour win on, so it makes sense to find a way to neutralise the issue.

Except there are a couple of problems with May's approach. The first is that she has managed to find a way to make a simple political question incredibly difficult for herself. The Labour offer is “no tuition fees”, so the Conservatives essentially either need to match that or move on. But the one option that has been left off the table is abolition, the only policy lever that could match Labour electorally.

The second, even bigger problem is that it it turns out that tuition fees might not have been the big election-moving event that we initially thought they were. The British Electoral Survey caused an earthquake of their own by finding that the “youthquake” – the increase in turn-out among 18-24-year-olds – never happened. Younger voters were decisive, both in how they switched to Labour and in the overall increase in turnout among younger voters, but it was in that slightly older 25-35 bracket (and indeed the 35-45 one as well) that the big action occurred.

There is an astonishingly powerful belief among the Conservative grassroots, such as it is, that Jeremy Corbyn's NME interview in which the he said that existing tuition fee debt would be “dealt with” was decisive. That belief, I'm told, extends all the way up to May's press chief, Robbie Gibb. Gibb is the subject of increasing concern among Tory MPs and ministers, who regularly ask journalists what they make of Robbie, if Robbie is doing alright, before revealing that they find his preoccupations – Venezuela, Corbyn's supposed pledge to abolish tuition fee debt – troublingly marginal.

Because the third problem is that any policy action on tuition fees comes at a huge cost to the Treasury, a cost that could be spent easing the pressures on the NHS, which could neutralise a Labour strength, or the financial strains on schools, another area of Labour strength. Both of which are of far greater concern to the average thirtysomething than what anyone says or does about tuition fees.

Small wonder that Team Corbyn are in an ebullient mood as Parliament returns from recess.

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman and the PSA's Journalist of the Year. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.