In Depth

Instant Opinion: the red wall ‘wants a U‑turn’ from Boris Johnson on universal credit

Your guide to the best columns and commentary on Tuesday 13 October

The Week’s daily round-up highlights the five best opinion pieces from across the British and international media, with excerpts from each.

1. Rachel Sylvester in The Times

on halting a multi-billion pound benefits cut

Red Wall Tories want a U‑turn from Johnson

“In March, the chancellor promised to do ‘whatever it takes’ to help people and businesses get through the coronavirus crisis. ‘We want to look back on this time and remember how we thought first of others and acted with decency,’ he told MPs. Alongside the furlough scheme, he announced a temporary boost to the basic rate of universal credit. It was a clear recognition that the previous level was too low for the growing number of families who would rely on the benefit. But the uplift is due to end in April and in his recent winter economic plan Mr Sunak refused to guarantee that the additional support would continue. If the government sticks to its plan and gets rid of the £20 increase, it would take the level of unemployment support to its lowest in real terms since 1990-91 and its lowest ever relative to average earnings. Of course the uplift was always supposed to be time-limited but voters are loss averse — we are far more likely to be furious when money is taken away from us than to be grateful if we receive more.”

2. Richard Brooks in The Guardian

on ruining the state’s ability to function

The failure of test and trace shows the folly of handing huge contracts to private giants

“The multibillion pound surge in outsourcing of public services during Covid-19 has attracted many headlines, but it is not just a public spending scandal. It is a vivid demonstration of our government’s inability to perform the essential roles society asks of it. Furthermore, this dependency on outsourcing to profit-driven companies undermines any promise to ‘build back better’. After drastic public health services cuts over the past decade – coupled with extensive outsourcing of procurement to commercial logistics companies – a stripped-down health service was under-resourced for the challenge of a pandemic. The only feasible response was what is increasingly the default choice across government: outsource the work required. Covid-19 has prompted a gold rush for government contracts not seen since the heady days of New Labour’s private finance initiative.”

3. Rupert Hawksley in The Independent

on the cold, dark coming months

Don’t kid yourself – a long, hard winter of lockdown awaits

“The government must not assume that we will be okay, simply because we know the routine. The casualness with which local lockdowns have been imposed and lifted, as well as the poor messaging, suggests that this government thinks rounding us up and shutting the gate as and when infections rise is straightforward. It isn’t. If we are required to do it, our mental health cannot be disregarded. As we become increasingly used to living under lockdown, whatever form that takes, the risk is that we accept feeling low as another part of the ‘new normal’. That should never be the case and the government must ensure that adequate support is put in place. A long, hard winter awaits. There is no sugar-coating it, I’m afraid. The temptation will be to hibernate – wake me up when this is over, folks. But succumb and we’ll be doing ourselves and those around us no favours.”

4. Kate Andrews in The Spectator

on the oncoming queues at job centres

Britain’s unemployment crisis is closing in

“When the furlough scheme comes to an end in a few weeks’ time, there will be a painful realisation for many employees that their jobs no longer exist. The Jobs Support Package — set to replace furlough — takes us well into the new year. Some workers who would have discovered this month that their job was no longer viable may now discover that later on when that package draws to a close. In this sense, unemployment still looms large: the IFS Green Budget, published today, expects the rate to increase to around 8 to 8.5 per cent (2.8 million) in the first half of 2021. As well, revisions to the ONS’s methodology for collecting unemployment data have revealed a weaker labour market over the summer than was initially published. As Capital Economics reports: ‘whereas previously employment was thought to have fallen by 94,000 since February, after adding in August’s fall it has now declined by 482,000’ — a significant revision. Meanwhile, redundancies between June and August increased by a record 114,000 on the quarter, totalling 227,000.”

5. Katelyn Beaty in The New York Times

on the Supreme Court nominee

Why Only Amy Coney Barrett Gets to Have It All

“In the Christian tradition, icons are meant to remind flawed humans of what they could become. Paintings of Jesus, the Virgin Mary and the saints remind the devout to aspire to holiness and sacrifice in their daily lives. Meditating on an icon can be a form of prayer: Lord, make me more like them. Amy Coney Barrett, whose Supreme Court confirmation hearing began Monday, is a living icon for conservative Christian women. Judge Barrett has combined the dual pathways of motherhood and career into one, showing that both can be holy vocations. Her judicial record holds out the renewed possibility of a conservative Supreme Court majority for decades; her role as a mother of seven, including two adopted children and one with special needs, is a testament to the ways her pro-life views bear out in her personal life.”

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