Former prime minister compares Universal Credit to poll tax as families reported to lose thousands

PUBLISHED: 07:40 11 October 2018 | UPDATED: 17:02 11 October 2018

Sir John Major has spoken out against Universal Credit. Picture: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

Sir John Major has spoken out against Universal Credit. Picture: Brian Lawless/PA Wire


Former Conservative Prime Minister Sir John Major has compared the government’s welfare reform to poll tax after reports that families could lose thousands.

Sir John Major. Picture: Lynne Cameron/PA WireSir John Major. Picture: Lynne Cameron/PA Wire

It has been more than two years since Universal Credit was brought to the region, first to Great Yarmouth, with many saying they have had problems with payments.

The system has been rolled out across the rest of the county, including King’s Lynn, Lowestoft and Dereham and is to be introduced in Norwich this month.

The 1990 to 1997 prime minister said there are issues about how fast Universal Credit has been rolled out and it could cause the same reaction as the poll tax in the 1980s.

He said voters would think it unfair that families were losing money, which could lead to “deep political trouble”.

Margaret Thatcher in Wisbech in 1978. Picture: ArchantMargaret Thatcher in Wisbech in 1978. Picture: Archant

Universal Credit combines six monthly benefit payments into one. While under the previous housing benefit system rent was also paid directly to the landlord, it goes to the claimant under Universal Credit.

In Great Yarmouth rent arrears surged as tenants had to wait for the first payment, leaving them without money.

Landlords reported some tenants leaving without paying rent when they got the first payment.

It has come under-fire has people complain of late payments, being underpaid, as well as overpaid. Great Yarmouth Food Bank said that use of the bank was up 90pc since April 2016 but the Government claims that it is a simpler system than before.

Talking to the BBC’s Political Thinking podcast, Mr Major said the idea was “entirely logical” but warned it came in “too soon and in the wrong circumstances”.

He then compared Universal Credit to poll tax, which was supposed to make council finance fairer and more accountable but triggered riots and unrest contributing to the fall of Margaret Thatcher.

Mr Major scrapped the poll tax when he replaced her in Downing Street.

On Wednesday, October 10, former prime minister Gordon Brown called for it to be halted.

Mr Major was talking in reference to reports that millions of households across the country face losing £2,400 a year.

He said: “I am saying that if you have people who have that degree of loss, that is not something that the majority of the British population would think of as fair.

“And if people think you have to remove yourself from fairness, then you are in deep political trouble.”

The government has said no-one moving on to universal credit would lose out.

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