The number of children in poverty is rocketing. Who is protecting them?

It’s telling that those zealots who want to defend the ‘unborn child’ are complicit in policies that impoverish women and children

Child on council estate
 ‘Avoiding this hypocritical ‘concern for children’ does not require a complex position: a civilised society would give women the choice not to continue with a pregnancy and in turn support a child’s wellbeing if they are born.’ 

One of the most remarkable things that came out of the Irish referendum was the personal testimony of women who had been forced to journey to England for medical care. But some – poor or migrant or disabled women – recounted how even this option wasn’t available to them; unable to travel, they had no choice but to take the gamble of a pill bought from the internet. It’s a striking insight into the black-and-white thinking imposed on pregnancy: women who could not even afford a flight on Ryanair for a safe abortion were somehow expected to be able to afford to feed, house and clothe a child.

Beyond Ireland, this denial of the material reality of raising a child is an ongoing issue – in abortion debates and beyond. Indeed, the same voices so ardently protecting the “unborn child” are often strangely quiet when it comes to support for children once they are outside the womb. This convenient cognitive dissonance has long been a feature of rightwing attitudes: arguing to restrict a woman’s reproductive rights while supporting measures that push children into poverty. (Some British rightwing – often male – journalists couldn’t resist stepping in over the Irish debate too.)

Avoiding this hypocritical “concern for children” does not require a particularly complex position: a civilised society would give women the choice not to continue with a pregnancy and in turn support a child’s wellbeing if they are born. And yet it is a concept with which many still seem to struggle, including our own government. The Conservatives have long positioned themselves as the party of family – from cruel so-called protection of the “traditional family” such as the anti-LGBT Section 28, 30 years old this month, to David Cameron’s pledge to use the family to solve social problems, and 2017’s backbench Manifesto to Strengthen the Family, pitched as Theresa May’s key social narrative.

At the same time, their small-state ideology can make it devastatingly difficult for a low-income parent to look after a child. Look at the controversial “two-child” limit to child tax credits under universal credit (UC). From its inception, it was predicted the policy would lead to hundreds of thousands of additional children living in poverty, but it’s now emerging that some women are even feeling forced to have abortions because they can’t afford to go ahead with the pregnancy. “It wasn’t planned but it was very much wanted. I was crying as they wheeled me in,” one woman told the Mirror this month about her abortion; without the safety net of tax credits, she had no way to afford another baby. Women in Northern Ireland in similar positions have an even more restricted choice: the rape-exemption clause that gives some women on UC a financial reprieve endangers women who haven’t reported their attack to the police (in Northern Ireland, failure to report a crime is an offence) and, as the renewed calls for reproductive rightsin light of the Irish vote has highlighted, Northern Irish women have no legal access to abortion in their own country if they feel they can’t raise a child.

Recent years have in fact seen a determined removal of support from low-income mothers – everything from forcing single parents (90% of whom are women) to look for work once their child turns three or have their benefits sanctioned, to the benefit cap, a policy so regressive it was actually ruled to be unlawful when forced on single parents with toddlers.

Just this week, it came out that a third of low-income families are missing out on state-funded free food vouchers – a scheme designed to help pregnant women and those with young children afford fruit, vegetables and milk.

Much like Sure Start and child tax credits, these vouchers were brought in by a Labour government to reduce inequalities between wealthy and poor children, based on the understanding that if it takes a village to raise a child, it often requires a government to ensure they don’t live in poverty. It’s no coincidence that, as the welfare state has been pulled back, the number of children in poverty is rocketing to record levels.

In the post-crash austerity era, this sense of social solidarity towards children has noticeably lessened. Under each policy to remove state support from parents there’s a lurking narrative that working-class women are “breeding too much” or that low-income children are drains on the “hardworking taxpayer”. (“Why should I pay for someone else to have more kids?” is the rejoinder on most articles advocating child benefits). In the real world, pregnancy is rarely predictable – contraception fails, relationships end, and jobs are lost – and besides, even the most ardent individualist would admit low-income children have done nothing to “deserve” their own poverty.

We are at the point in which it is not rare to hear of infants living in B&Bssleeping on cardboard, or even scrambling for food in school bins. If the ongoing debate over abortion rights teaches us anything, it’s that there are no shortage of voices content to defend the “unborn”. It’s a shame few are willing to give the same care to those children who are already here. HEAR HEAR!!!



‘I was screaming for help but people looked away’


Photo shows Carrie-Ann, William and Ann, who spoke to the BBC about their experiences
The BBC spoke to Carrie-Ann Lightley, William Peace and Ann Webster about strangers trying to push their wheelchairs.

A tweet by a woman detailing how a stranger took control of her wheelchair has prompted other people to share similar stories and support.

In the tweet Bronwyn Berg recounts how passers-by didn’t intervene despite her “screaming for help”.

Twitter post by @BergBronwyn: If you see a person in a wheelchair (especially a woman) being pushed by someone and she’s screaming Stop! No! Help! For the love of humanity help her!A guy grabbed my wheelchair today and just started pushing me, not a single passerby helped even though I was screaming for helpMs Berg’s tweet has received a huge reaction online, garnering nearly 65,000 likes and 20,000 retweets, with many people expressing their outrage and offering words of support, including Baroness Tanni 
Twitter post by @Tanni_GT: That is awful. And scary.Ms Berg wrote on Twitter that she was “most upset that no one helped,” adding “the way people looked away when I was calling for help makes me feel a lot less safe in the world”.

Many wheelchair users identified with the “horrifying” tweet, and were moved to share their experiences.

Photo shows Carrie-Ann Lightley in a gardenTravel blogger Carrie-Ann Lightley says she has experienced similar behaviour

Carrie-Ann Lightley runs a blog about accessible tourism and is used to travelling alone. She wasn’t surprised when she read the tweet.

“I thought it was awful, but I’ve had similar experiences,” she told the BBC.

Carrie-Ann says it is “dangerous” and “scary” when complete strangers come up behind her and touch her wheelchair without permission.

Twitter post by @CarrieALightley: Happens to me a lot at Euston Station. Pushing myself up the long ramp from the platforms when assistance is delayed. I may *look* like I'm struggling but that's just how I push! People just grab my handles without asking/speaking to me.“It makes me feel like society doesn’t see me as an independent person, a young woman travelling, working and in a rush to get to places just like everyone else – they see me as someone who must be struggling.”

Some responded to Ms Berg’s tweet to suggest that, while their actions may be misguided, people might just be trying to help.

Carrie-Ann said that while “kindness makes the world a better place”, she suggested people “always ask me before touching me or my wheelchair.”

Twitter post by @ruth_murran: It happens to me often. When I bought my chair I was advised to pay extra for flip down handles because it's so common. They help, but don't deter everybody.


Ann Webster was on her way home from work one evening when a man approached her and said “here hold these”.

“He thrust some rolled up newspapers on my knee and started to push me.

“I kept saying no. I felt powerless.”

Ann remembers that while the stranger did eventually stop, he made it clear he thought Ann was “being horrible” for challenging his actions.

“It’s always been men who have attempted to push me,” Ann said, “and yes I do feel vulnerable.”

Ann has recently developed a technique to “get back in control”.

“By spinning my chair around to face the offender, it shocks them into letting go,” she said.

Twitter post by @wjpeace9: That has happened to me too. It is very dangerous. No idea what people are thinking when they do this. It is wildly wrong.

William Peace told the BBC that when he challenges people who try to push his wheelchair without permission he is often told to “shut up and accept help” and accused of being “bitter”.

When he read Ms Berg’s tweet, William said it made him think that “when people see a wheelchair that is exactly what they see – a wheelchair – not a human being”.

When asked why he thought passers-by didn’t step in to assist Ms Berg he suggested that harassment against those with disabilities is not taken seriously.

“I have been discriminated against my entire adult life and cannot think of any occasion when a typical bodied stranger offered to help,” he said.

“People with a disability are seen as ‘less than’, and often infantilised and assumed to be physically and mentally deficient.”

One Twitter user described how “terrifying” it is to be accosted from behind:

Twitter post by @clothosspindle: I’m sorry. I’ve had this happen to me also. It is terrifying to feel someone grab you from behind and not be able to see behind you.My wheelchair is an extension of my body. NO RANDOM GRABBING!Presentational white space

Ms Berg confirmed that, despite feeling “shaken up” by the experience, she was “okay”.


Universal Credit causing rise in shoplifting


Dundee sheriff expresses concerns after hearing woman shoplifted to eat

A senior Dundee sheriff has voiced “considerable concern” about the new Universal Credit system after it emerged a woman caught stealing food only had £90 a month on which to survive.Sheriff Alistair Brown was due to sentence Maria Blair, of Blackness Road, for stealing steaks and chicken from the M&S store in Broughty Ferry. However, he deferred sentencing for further reports into her circumstances after being told she was a foodbank user who had been denied disability benefits.

The court was told Blair, 39, was only in receipt of Universal Credit and had £90 left to live on after paying back a previous over-payment of Employment Support Allowance (ESA).

Her solicitor, Grant Bruce, explained: “She has been to foodbanks.

“She has applied for Personal Independence Payment (PIP) and ESA but that has been refused. She has appealed.

“She is in receipt of Universal Credit and has £90 a month to live on. She is using a fair amount of that to pay the electricity in her home. That is the reason (for committing the offence).”

Sheriff Brown expressed disbelief at her circumstances, asking “is that all she gets?

So the defence is she’s stealing food to eat?”, to which Mr Bruce replied “yes”. Brown pled guilty to stealing packets of steak and chicken worth £154 on January 9 and packets of steak worth £204.20 on January 12, from M&S on Brook Street, while on three bail orders.

Sheriff Brown said: “It is a matter of considerable concern that someone is trying to live on £90 per month. “That is impossible to do. I’m deferring sentence for criminal justice and social work reports as I want to know what is going on.

“On one hand I’m hearing from the DWP that they are advising of loans being available so that people are not in this position. “On the other hand I hear from solicitors regularly that that wasn’t working as planned for their clients.”

Sheriff Brown deferred sentencing until February 18 and released Blair, who has been assigned a social work mentor, on bail.

Judge appalled after hearing woman on Universal Credit had to ‘steal to eat’

Universal Credit was launched in 2018, merging six previous benefits including Job Seekers’ Allowance, Housing Benefit and Child Tax Credit, among others, under one umbrella.

The benefit has been criticised by charities and campaigners over reports of long delays in payments and an alleged link to rent arrears and food bank use. However, a DWP spokesperson said:“There is no evidence to link trends in crime to changes in the welfare system. We continue to spend £90 billion a year on working-age benefits.

“Anyone coming onto UC can get a 100% advance as soon as they start their claim.”


Changes to disability benefits cost £4bn in extra welfare payments

Be it PIP, Universal Credit, ESA it has cost more to implement than the status quo, but then we all know the welfare “reforms” were never about saving money:
The central objective has not been, as is generally claimed, to save money but rather to ensure a level of desperation that drives people into low wage precarious work and depresses the level of real wages. source

Changes to disability benefits cost £4bn in extra welfare payments, OBR’s figures will bolster disability groups’ calls for overhaul of PIP system

Person in wheelchair
 The OBR said the growing number of appeals from disabled people was one of several causes of the unexpected rise in costs.

Changes to the disability benefits system that has caused huge hardship to some of the country’s most vulnerable people has cost the government more than £4bn more in extra welfare payments than ministers estimated.

The Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR), the Treasury’s independent forecasting unit, said predictions by the Department for Work and Pensions dramatically under-estimated the costs of rolling out the personal independent payments (PIP) system, which began to replace disability living allowance (DLA) in 2013.

Read More

A saving of £2bn was expected by 2018, but that has since been revised to an over-spend by £1.5bn to £2bn, leaving an estimated £4.2bn gap in the public finances. The figures are expected to bolster calls by disability groups for an overhaul of the PIP system, which has been described as a “vicious attack” on disabled people. MPs on the work and pensions select committee concluded an investigation last year that found the assessments of claimants by private sector contractors to be “shoddy and error strewn”, leading to hundreds of thousands of successful appeals.

One charity, Parkinson’s UK, complained that about a quarter of people living with the disease in Britain had lost some or all of their support after benefit reassessments, only to have the payments reinstated on appeal.

The OBR said the growing number of appeals was one of several causes of the unexpected rise in costs. It said the system had also come under pressure from legal challenges, which had altered the scope of the scheme, and an increase in claimants, especially of working age adults when this group was due to see a large fall.

The OBR said: “The government assumed initially that PIP would be rolled out by 2015-16 and that it would cost 20% less than DLA would have done. In fact, by 2017-18 it was costing around 15 to 20% more, with rollout only around two-thirds complete.”


Ministers claimed, when the system was launched, that a programme of rolling medical assessments by three private sector contractors would ensure payments were only made for as long as a claimant needed them.

Critical of the system run by public sector staff, the DWP expected that independent medical reassessments would lead to a dramatic fall in the number of people staying on benefits.

A report in 2016 by the OBR described the PIP system as “a failure” after it reduced the forecasts of cost savings to 5%. In its latest report it said the inability to achieve savings, which were now nearer -20%, had pushed its forecasting of the welfare budget significantly off track.


Frank Field, who chairs the Commons work and pensions committee, said: “DWP told us PIP would save taxpayers money and introduce a fair, transparent assessment process. Today’s report lays bare that it has achieved neither. PIP will cost a fifth more than the system it replaces: a sorry situation largely thanks to DWP’s failure to cost the reform accurately before bringing it in.

“Far worse, though, is that the PIP assessments are riddled with repeated and serious errors and have caused untold anxiety and misery for far too many of the people who rely on the benefit to live. The cost of those mistakes is also knocked forward into the tribunal system, not back to the contractors who made them.”


Man ‘surviving off can of tuna a day’ as he cares for both parents

A son caring for both his parents is “surviving off a can of tuna a day” and has ended up in rental arrears because his slashed benefits can’t cover his living costs.

photo credit: MTSOfan via photopin cc

John McDermott, 47, of Pilgrims Way, has been the sole carer for his father, Patrick, who suffers from severe incontinence and dementia, and his schizophrenic mother, Katherine, both 77, for four years.

He spends 18 hours a day caring for both of them at his mother’s flat, at Margaret Macmillan House, in Hazellville Road, but says he went six months without getting Carers Allowance from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and had been living off just £93 a week paid via a direct care arrangement involving his sister, Mary, and Islington Council.

“It’s been like hell for four years,” he said. “I’m 47 years old but I feel 101. I’ve gone grey and have an ulcer in my stomach. “The last four years fighting for what is just has left me a nervous wreck – I’ve been screaming out for help.

“I’m surviving on a can of sweetcorn and tuna a day and have been for the past few years now.” John received a back payment of £1,300 from the DWP in late December, paying back about six months’ worth of £62 weekly payments, which have now resumed.

A DWP spokesperson said it was “important people tell us about their circumstances […] to ensure they get the right level of support”. His father spent a year in Highbury New Park Care Home but was discharged in 2014 because he felt Patrick’s care needs weren’t being met there.

Patrick is now back living with Katherine with John as their sole carer. “Mum is a schizophrenic,” John added. “And she has been absolutely failed as well. “She just rocks back and forth every day and thinks shadow people are trying to kill her. “It’s a great stress on me and all they do is come and give her an injection once every month.”

In October Islington Council sent John a letter saying his housing benefit would be “recalculated” due to a “change in circumstances”, adding that he owes them £2,578. He believes this is because he’s seen as employed, owing to the £93 a week he gets to care for his parents.

An Islington Council spokesperson said: “We’re concerned about the issues raised by Mr McDermott and will meet him to discuss these further. “A care package is in place and is kept under review. “We’re working with Mr McDermott to help sort out his benefits and his rent arrears.

“We have not begun any legal action relating to his rent arrears, and he is not at risk of eviction. “We will do everything we can to help people with housing benefit and will avoid evictions for arrears wherever possible. “If people are struggling with benefit issues or arrears we recommend they contact us as soon as possible so we can help.”


Why Universal Credit is like the Victorian workhouse


The UK’s Universal Credit programme, which aims to roll six forms of state welfare including unemployment and housing benefits into one, was launched in 2010 with the aim of supporting people to work. So far it has resulted in real hardship for numerous claimants. In early January, the minister in charge of its rollout, Amber Rudd, announced reforms to its design, including piloting new ways to ease the payments system.

While the lessons of history are sometimes rather hard to discern, in this case there is a clear precedent that supports those calling for Universal Credit to be paused, or even scrapped: the Victorian workhouse.

The overall Universal Credit policy coheres quite closely to that of amendments to the poor law in 1834, which kickstarted a large programme to build workhouses. The two policies, nearly 200 years apart, were prompted by some of the same economic concerns.

At the time the 1834 law was passed, the high cost of the parish poor relief had been a focus of anxious public attention for some time. Parishes gave people some money to live on if they could not make ends meet, but this technically gave them a purchasing power they had not earned through work.

The rising costs of poor relief in the early 19th century, combined with post-war recession after 1815, inspired an increasingly austere attitude towards the poor. The fear among local taxpayers was that the list of poor-law beneficiaries was being artificially swollen by people who were physically capable of work, but who preferred to live on parish subsidies. This fear was based on rhetorical narrative rather than research, and talk among legislators was quickly translated actions driven by ideology.

Read more: Universal Credit: from benefits panacea to government blunder 

Sent to the workhouse

The laws governing welfare before 1834 were notoriously flexible, and some parishes chose to experiment by imposing strict boundaries on the allocation of poor relief in the lead up to the statutory change.

The parish of Southwell in Nottinghamshire, for example, piloted a stringent suppression of claims for relief. The goal was to make welfare simpler, more affordable, and more likely to encourage the poor back into self-supporting work, by ending all forms of assistance outside of the workhouse. A workhouse built in 1824 was central to the scheme, and it still exists today, owned by the National Trust. Life in the workhousewas planned to deter the lazy from asking for help. The subtext of this sort of “support” to work was to chastise people into productivity.

Southwell workhouse, now owned by the National Trust. CC BY-NC

When a special commission was formed in 1832 to consider the existing poor laws, the example offered by Southwell was a specific focus of attention. The commissioners sought advice from George Nicholls, a former official or overseer of the poor in Southwell. They made the abolition of relief outside of workhouses a central tenet of their recommendations, based on a desire to eradicate “idleness”, and to punish the people capable of work but not in work. The national legislation of 1834 was framed on the basis of the commission’s report, and Nicholls was appointed as one of the three men charged with implementing the new law.

As a result, in the second half of the 1830s, England and Wales embarked on a programme of workhouse building to rival even the raft of 21st-century private finance initiatives. The investment of effort and cash was extraordinary: newly elected boards of guardians raised local taxes, purchased land, commissioned brickmakers and architects, signed contracts and sought workhouse staff. By 1838, around 95% of all parish locations had been incorporated into larger administrative units or “unions”, the vast majority with a repurposed or newly-built workhouse.

The workhouses were intended to be large and all encompassing: universal in their capacity. They were designed to cater for all varieties of poverty separately. There were discrete accommodations for men, women, and children with further adult subdivisions to differentiate the elderly, sick, and disabled from the vigorous, able-bodied and morally dubious.

Bad economics

But the delivery of welfare through workhouse placements only was never going to work as the ideologues intended. The austere sentiment, and the premise on which the law was founded, was faulty: the welfare bill was not being overblown by the capable poor, but was rising owing to the complexity and severity of need. Legislators had been afraid that people preferred to live idly on parish relief rather than work, when in fact subsequent research has shown they had been unable to earn enough to support themselves even if they were in full employment.

A workhouse regime could be imposed that coerced or compelled groups of people to undertake laundry, cooking, nursing or gardening. It could not deter people out of underemployment, age, or extreme youth. The result across the Victorian period was an expensive, burdensome, and frequently stigmatising set of institutions that never fulfilled their intentions. At the same time, money given to poor people outside of the workhouse was never abolished, and spending on this “outdoor relief” remained at least twice as high as spending on workhouses throughout the 19th century. Meanwhile, the workhouse very effectively punished the elderly and the unfortunate whose scope for work was very limited or nil.

Despite campaigns to abolish workhouses, the suffering of inmates, and potential applicants, continued well beyond the Victorian period. From 1930, workhouses became “public assistance institutions” – workhouses in all but name – and most surviving buildings entered ownership of the NHS in 1948 to be used as hospitals for the chronically ill.

In many ways, the desire to pull all of those in poverty under one roof, literally or figuratively in the case of Universal Credit, stems from the same impulses today as it did in 1834: a desire to drive down spending and make people work, or work harder. In both cases, a simple injection of cash, whether on buildings or for other purposes like the administrative integration of a new policy, cannot overcome the essential complexity of needs among those in poverty. When it comes to humane support, there is no such thing as “one strategy fits all”.


Universal Credit: MP brandishes ‘rape clause’ form in Commons

Universal Credit: MP brandishes ‘rape clause’ form in Commons in blast at two-child limit

Alison Thewliss  [above] demanded the “cruel and pernicious” two-child limit on benefits is scrapped in a furious blast at the Tory policy.  She clutched the eight-page document as she attacked “cruel and pernicious” rules under new benefit Universal Credit.

Since April 2017, people can only claim Child Tax Credits or Universal Credit for their first two children, a cut of up to £2,780 per child. There are exceptions for some children including those born of rape. But raped mums must fill out an 8-page government form – hitting nearly 200 women in the policy’s first year.

The SNP MP warned the policy is “forcing women into termination healthy pregnancies” And slammed ministers for cancelling an extension of the limit to 15,000 children born before April 2017 – yet defending it overall as “fair”.


Ms Thewliss told welfare minister Alok Sharma: “Why does he feel this policy, with its cruel and pernicious policy with this form, must continue even though it’s been ruled unfair for other people? “Does he not see this creates a two tier system in Universal Credit depending when children were born?”

Labour’s Margaret Greenwood demanded the two-child limit on benefits was scrapped altogether – and Universal Credit was halted.

Yet Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) minister Mr Sharma told the Commons: “We do believe the overall policy is fair. “Ultimately those who are receiving support in the welfare system should be facing the same sort of choices as those who support themselves solely through work do.

Raped mums must fill out an 8-page government form

“It’s worth pointing out that for a family that supports themselves solely through work if they decide to have another child they wouldn’t automatically expect their wages to go up – this is about sustainability.” He also defended the four-year cap on benefits, blaming “the absolutely awful financial mess left to us by the last Labour government.”

Mr Sharma added any women giving evidence could do so indirectly through rape crisis charities, not to the DWP. He said: “The individuals dealing with this are third party professionals who already have experience in supporting vulnerable women.”

Last week Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd insisted not a single woman claiming to have been raped has been turned down under the two-child limit.

Speaking after a speech about Universal Credit reforms on Friday, she said: “I’ve been through the form myself and talked to the department about whether we’ve got it right. I believe we have.

“The form requires a third party, probably Women’s Aid or Refuge, to join with the woman who is filling in the form. “But otherwise apart from that it’s almost a self-declaration. “We haven’t turned down any application that’s come through that route.

“There’s no application direct to the department, it’s always through a third party. “So I believe that under the circumstances, the legislation set out, it is working as carefully and as compassionately as possible.”


DWP accused of sneaking out pension cut to retired couples

Limiting pension credit access could reduce joint incomes by up to £7,000, it is claimed.

Ministers have been accused of “sneaking out” changes to state pensions which experts on Monday night said could leave some retired couples more than £7,000 a year worse off. On the eve of a crucial Brexit vote, the Department for Work and Pensions announced changes that would limit access to pension credit, a top-up for the poorest pensioners, from May.

Image result for pensions uk

The change was set out in a statement by Guy Opperman, pensions minister, published on the parliamentary website on Monday evening. The change will restrict pension credit payments for couples where both are not over state pension age, currently 65 for men and women. Currently, an older couple can claim pension credit if they are “mixed age” or where one is over state pension age and one is not.

“Pension credit is designed to provide long-term support for pensioner households who are no longer economically active,” said the minister in the written statement. “It is not designed to support working-age claimants.” Mr Opperman wrote that the change would ensure that the same work incentives applied to the younger partner as applied to people of the same age. The reforms were approved by parliament in 2012.

Last year, Mr Opperman said he would implement the change once universal credit was available nationally for new claims. Steve Webb, who was a Liberal Democrat pension minister in the coalition when the reform was approved in 2012, said he had argued for measures to minimise the “cliff edge” implementation impact of the reform. He estimates the change in eligibility for pension credit could leave some couples more than £7,000 a year worse off, because the rate of pension credit is typically higher than working-age benefits.

“The change will apply for new claims made after May 15, which means that a difference of just one day in the timing of a claim could cost a couple over £7,000 in the following year, as well as putting pressure on the younger member of the couple to seek work,” said Sir Steve, director of policy with Royal London, a pension provider. “Under the proposed rules, couples where one partner is over pension age and is not expected to seek work will get the same rate as a couple where both partners are under pension age and both are expected to seek work,” he added. “People who may be affected deserve to know about this change and not have it sneaked out on a day when ministers were no doubt hoping that everyone’s attention was directed somewhere else.”

Margret Greenwood MP, Labour’s shadow work and pensions secretary, criticised the move at a time when she said “pension poverty is already on the rise”. “People who are retired on very low income should not lose out on pension credit simply because they have a younger partner,” Ms Greenwood said. “This announcement sneaked out on the eve of the Brexit vote will mean mixed-age couples are forced to claim the government’s flawed universal credit with the younger partner potentially subject to the sanctions regime.”