Stephen Daisley Stephen Daisley

What are the limits of Boris’s ‘levelling-up’ agenda?

(Getty images)

No doubt Boris Johnson has many qualities but the only one that comes to mind is this: he is not a conservative. That realisation may be dawning a little late on his more spirited supporters, who gave short shrift to anyone making this point during the flaxen-haired dauphin’s campaign for the crown, but it sunk in some time ago with his savvier opponents. 

Boris’s non-conservatism is not the primary obstacle to the Labour party (or the broader left) regaining parliamentary power. But it is an added hindrance that could be done without. However, it also presents an opportunity to use a nominally Tory government to advance policies that wouldn’t ordinarily appear in a Tory election manifesto.

A timely example is the £20 uplift to Universal Credit, which was introduced at the outset of the pandemic and also applies to the basic element of Working Tax Credit, but runs out in October. The chairs of four parliamentary welfare committees — Labour’s Stephen Timms (Commons), the SNP’s Neil Gray (Holyrood), the DUP’s Paula Bradley (Stormont) and Labour’s Jenny Rathbone (Senedd) — have written to Rishi Sunak and work and pensions secretary Therese Coffey to urge them to ‘consider making this uplift permanent and extending it to legacy benefits, which are disproportionately claimed by disabled people’. 

They make all the usual points about the consequences of reversing the uplift: six million families will lose £1,040 a year; half a million Britons will go into poverty, including 200,000 children; single-parent families and families with disabled members will be hardest hit.

The Prime Minister is not a conservative but nor is he going to do the right thing by these six million families out of the goodness of his heart

Timms asked the Prime Minister about the letter at PMQs and, after recapitulating its main points, asked him to ‘follow his own policy’ and ‘level up’ by keeping the uplift in place.

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