Boris Johnson ‘determined to unite and level up’ as Universal Credit cut plunges thousands into poverty

Boris Johnson will announce his plans to focus on levelling up the country, amid concerns that cuts to benefits will actively work against it.

The Prime Minister is to address the Conservative Party conference tomorrow, where he will announce his intention to “get on with our job of uniting and levelling up across the UK”.

His landmark speech comes on the same day as his government will cut the £20 per week rise to Universal Credit, which was brought in earlier in the pandemic to help those most in need.

Members of his own party, charities and opposition politicians have been outraged at the move, which they say will plunge thousands of families into extreme poverty.

Earlier today Alister Jack, Scottish Secretary, admitted that he did not know anyone in receipt of Universal Credit when challenged by journalists. 

READ MORE: Scottish Secretary Alister Jack admits he does not know anyone on Universal Credit

Addressing Conservative delegates, the Prime Minister is expected to say he want to “deal with the biggest issues facing the country…that no government has had the guts to tackle before.”

He will say his party is embarking on a “change of direction that has been long overdue in the UK economy” to create a “high wage, high skill, high productivity economy.”

Following on from Priti Patel’s speech, he will also make reference to “uncontrolled immigration” and the effects he claims it is having on wages and skilled jobs.

He is expected to say: “We are not going back to the same old broken model with low wages, low growth, low skills and low productivity, all of it enabled and assisted by uncontrolled immigration. 

“And the answer is not to reach for the same old lever of uncontrolled migration to keep wages low. 

“The answer is to control immigration, to allow people of talent to come to this country but not to use immigration as an excuse for failure to invest in people, in skills and in the equipment or machinery they need to do their jobs. 

“And that is the direction in which this country is going – towards a high wage, high skill, high productivity economy that the people of this country need and deserve, in which everyone can take pride in their work and the quality of their work.”

He will also attempt to brand the Conservatives under his leadership as the “can-do” and “reforming” government and is expected to refer to “decades of drift and dither” from administrations in the past.

He will say that the mission of “uniting and levelling up” is the “greatest project that any government can embark on” and will add: “There is no reason why the inhabitants of one part of the country should be geographically fated to be poorer than others.

“Or why people should feel they have to move away from their loved ones, or communities to reach their potential. 

“Levelling up works for the whole country – and is the right and responsible policy.”

He is to emphasise the wealth and breadth of talent “across the country” which is not being fully utilised, saying: “There are all kinds of improvements you can make to people’s lives without diminishing anyone else, and they are the tools of levelling up.

“If you want the idea in a nutshell it is that you will find talent, genius, flair, imagination, enthusiasm – all of them evenly distributed around this country – but opportunity is not, and it is our mission as conservatives to promote opportunity with every tool we have.”

His speech this morning will be met with anger from Labour and the SNP as they launch high-profile campaigns against the cuts to Universal Credit taking place today.

Kirsten Oswald, the SNP’s deputy leader, said Mr Johnson had to get his “head out of the sand” and face the “grim reality” the country is experiencing.

She said there was a “Tory-made cost of living crisis which is hitting households and businesses at the worst possible time” and added: “It should come as no surprise that the Tory government’s emergency visa scheme has failed to attract the numbers needed to properly tackle the Brexit crisis – the scheme is already woefully inadequate and barely acts as a sticking plaster.”

Yesterday it was reported that the UK Government’s scheme to give HGV drivers from the EU temporary visas to work in the UK, to help with the fuel crisis, had attracted just 27 applicants despite Westminster’s hopes of attracting 5000 new drivers by Christmas.

Ms Oswald added: “With each day that passes, the consequences of the Tories’ decision to impose Brexit in the middle of a pandemic becomes clearer – with severe issues around staff shortages, empty supermarket shelves, soaring costs, and the ongoing fuel crisis burdening businesses and households further.”

She said her party would “continue to press the Prime Minister and Chancellor to bring forward meaningful measures to address the crisis”, but insisted the only way to protect Scotland was for it to become an independent country.

Meanwhile Labour is to plan a political stunt as the Prime Minister gets on his feet in the Manchester conference hall today, unveiling a poster calling for the government to reverse the cut to universal credit.

The poster will be displayed on the side of a van, which will be driven round the venue as Mr Johnson addresses delegates inside.

Jonathan Reynolds MP, the party’s Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, said: “Today, the Prime Minister made a choice to cut the incomes of hardworking families.

“Any promise the Prime Minister makes to raise the living standards of people in this country rings hollow while this cut goes ahead.

“Under this government prices are up, bills are up and taxes are up, yet the Prime Minister has pressed ahead with the biggest cut to social security ever in the face of widespread opposition.

“Labour would maintain the uplift until we replace Universal Credit with a fairer social security system that lets people keep more of the money they earn.”

The Herald Scotland

The Herald Scotland

The Herald is a Scottish broadsheet newspaper founded in 1783. The Herald is the longest running national newspaper in the world and is the eighth oldest daily paper in the world. The title was simplified from The Glasgow Herald in 1992