A LABOUR councillor has questioned how Conservative councillors can ‘sleep easy at night’ over universal credit cuts.

Councillors debated a motion to reverse the universal credit cut at a full council meeting, despite the opposition accusing them of “political grandstanding”.

The motion called for an emergency food hub to feed the most vulnerable; free school meals for disadvantaged children and young people; and 100 per cent council tax reduction scheme for those in need.

It also called for the council leader, Rajbir Singh, to write to the secretary of state for work and pensions to continue the £20-a-week increase to universal credit and working tax credit early contributions.

Cllr Ahmad Bostan, Labour representative for Abbey and cabinet member for environment, who proposed the motion, said: “Much has been said recently about us all being in this together, and now is not the time simply for slogans and words but for real actions.

“We are asking that the government grasps this real opportunity to help our most vulnerable in our society who have been most hard-hit by the pandemic by reversing its decision to remove the £20 universal credit uplift.

Speaking after the meeting, Cllr Bostan argued Conservative councillors have gone “one step further” by voting against the universal credit uplift.

He said: “Cllr Archer Williams (Conservative councillor for Princes End) said ‘nothing will be done by the government’. In my view, Williams has confirmed this Conservative government doesn’t care about Sandwell and its most vulnerable residents.

“I don’t know how Sandwell Conservative councillors can sleep easy at night knowing they have voted in support of taking away basic human dignity from our poorest constituents as we come out of this most terrible pandemic.”

But Conservative councillors argued the motion presented to the full council meeting on Tuesday at Sandwell Council was “political grandstanding” with no real purpose at all.

Cllr David Fisher, Conservative councillor for Charlemont with Grove Vale, said: “There needs to be clarity on this motion. It is not a ‘cut’, its intention is to be a temporary uplift.

“Those opposite are always quick to criticise. But let me just remind everyone, that out of the £3.5m issued to Sandwell as part of the £670m local council tax support scheme issued by the government, £100,000 still remains unspent.

“Why are you not passing this money onto struggling families? This is a result of 47 years of Labour failing our area, and nothing to do with central government, but the poor lack of leadership and wasteful spending of this Labour controlled authority that has historically allowed the misuse of public funds.”

Cllr Rajbir Singh, Labour councillor for Bristnall, and leader of Sandwell Council, said: “With spiralling energy prices, soaring food and living costs and the end of furlough, now is not the time to reduce over £1,000 per year from our lowest income families.

“If the Government does not reconsider its action many people will be left in the unacceptable position of having to choose whether to heat or eat this winter, to be followed by a spring in which workers will also be hit with an increase in national insurance.

“As a society, we cannot expect the heaviest burdens to be shouldered by the most vulnerable, I urge the Government to see sense and not punish the poorest in our community.”

In July 2021 Sandwell had the seventh highest number of people claiming Universal Credit in all English metropolitan boroughs.

There were 42,104 people claiming universal credit or tax credits of which 15,876 (38 per cent) of people were in employment and 1,396 were aged between 16-19.

In addition, the number of children entitled to free school meals has increased by in Sandwell by 23 per cent from 14,112 in March 2020 to 17,417 in September 2021.

The motion to ask the council leader to write to the secretary of state for work and pensions was carried at a full council meeting held on Tuesday October 12.