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Bishop's Stortford MP Julie Marson on the attack over Labour's Universal Credit vote

Bishop's Stortford's MP has attacked Labour in a House of Commons debate about ending extra Universal Credit for six million struggling families.

Julie Marson's robust defence of the Government's welfare record was in contrast to that of her Harlow constituency neighbour, fellow Conservative Robert Halfon, who defied instructions to abstain and was one of six Tories who voted with the Opposition.

Mr Halfon, who shares a constituency office in Harlow with Mrs Marson, told the BBC: "I absolutely believe that Universal Credit should be extended."

MPs Robert Halfon (Harlow) and Julie Marson (Hertford and Stortford)
MPs Robert Halfon (Harlow) and Julie Marson (Hertford and Stortford)

He joined former Work and Pensions Secretary Stephen Crabb, Peter Aldous, Jason McCartney, Anne Marie Morris and Matthew Offord, and the non-binding Labour motion calling for the Universal Credit top-up of around £20 a week to be kept in place beyond March 31 passed by 278 votes to none. Mr Halfon previously rebelled against the Government on free school meals.

Labour Shadow Secretary for Work and Pensions Jonathan Reynolds moved the motion on Monday (Jan 18), saying: "The Government should stop the planned cut in Universal Credit and Working Tax Credit in April and give certainty today to the six million families for whom it is worth an extra £1,000 a year."

He added: "I am not here to claim that Conservative MPs are heartless, lack compassion or have insufficient regard for the poorest people in this country. I know that after the vote on free school meals, many Conservative MPs, mainly after comments made by other Conservative MPs, received a high degree of personal abuse, and I want to make it clear unequivocally that that is wrong.

"I am here to put forward a clear and, I believe, compelling case that reducing Universal Credit and Working Tax Credit this April would be fundamentally the wrong decision. It would be a profound mistake for families, for the economy and for our ability to effectively tackle and recover from the Covid pandemic."

Mrs Marson weighed in: "I am proud to state clearly once more that the support the Government has provided to people and businesses during the pandemic has been unparalleled and unprecedented. It is one of the most comprehensive packages of support provided by any Government anywhere in the world, with £280 billion committed in support for jobs and incomes.

"The emergency response has included the furlough scheme; Government-backed loans; support for the self-employed; mortgage holidays; protection for renters; support for people with housing costs; and a £500 million council tax hardship fund. We extended the energy price cap and provided a £750 million package to support charities and £1 billion in catch-up funding for schools and vulnerable children.

"The Government have increased the living wage, raised the national insurance threshold to boost pay and, of course, provided a £7 billion injection into the welfare system to support millions of households.

"We are the party of jobs and job creation. We know that work is the best route to recovery. We have put in place a £30 billion transformative plan for jobs to create jobs and enhance skills because we know that work, not welfare, is the route to recovery and out of poverty.

"The Chancellor will make his economic announcements, including those involving Universal Credit, at the Budget in March. That is entirely right and proper. Long-term decisions of this nature have to be taken in the context of a range of economic levers and situations, and, of course, in the context of paying for them.

"As this is an Opposition day debate, let us reflect just for a moment on an Opposition who want to abolish the Universal Credit system without which our welfare system would have collapsed, let alone coped with one million more applicants.

"They once told us that they would abolish boom and bust, and they opposed every measure to get the nation's finances back on a sound footing after the financial crisis. And let us not forget that it was only a little over a year ago that they were campaigning to make Jeremy Corbyn our Prime Minister and John McDonnell our Chancellor."

Her attack prompted an intervention by deputy speaker Nigel Evans, who said: "Just a gentle reminder: please do not refer to current Members of Parliament by their names."

Mrs Marson concluded: "There is no legislative impact from today's vote and it has no bearing on policy or decision-making. What my constituents need is a Government who will deliver real support and real change. That is what this Government are doing. That is what we will set out at the Budget in March."

Yesterday, before the parliamentary debate, Josh Dean, chairman of Hertford and Stortford Labour Party, said: "As the pandemic drags on, businesses are under strain and people in our communities are losing work.

"This cut to Universal Credit would be a hammer blow to those in our community who are struggling to make ends meet. It would be frankly immoral to force the poorest households in Britain to shoulder the economic burden for the coronavirus crisis and that's why I've written to Julie Marson calling on her to vote to scrap the cut."

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