Tories slammed over council meeting 'sweepstake' on Universal Credit

26 October 2021, 14:37 | Updated: 26 October 2021, 18:43

Labour councillor Karen Constantine posted a clip of the comment on social media
Labour councillor Karen Constantine posted a clip of the comment on social media. Picture: Kent County Council

By Patrick Grafton-Green

Tory councillors in Kent have been slammed after it was claimed a sweepstake was being held on when the £20 Universal Credit cut would be mentioned in a meeting.

In a clip posted on social media, Labour councillor Karen Constantine refers to the cut during a meeting of Kent County Council's Health Overview and Security Committee.

She says: "I can hear my colleagues groaning but really this is about prevention being better than cure and what we do now stores up enormous problems for the future."

Tory councillor Paul Bartlett, chair of the committee, responds: "The reason why you heard collective groans is because some colleagues have lost the sweepstake as to when the £20 Universal Credit would be mentioned at this meeting.”

Some councillors attending the meeting via video link look visibly shocked at the comment.

Cllr Constantine then says: "I wonder how many of my colleagues have spent time in food banks, or visited the kitchens of people where the cupboards are actually bare, and then we wonder why an eating disorder epidemic."

The meeting took place last month.

She later posted a clip of the exchange on Twitter, writing: "Ever wondered what the Tory’s (sic) really think about poverty? Well - it’s a joke."

Cllr Constantine, who represents Ramsgate, today told LBC: "Hunger and poor health mental and physical are not subjects that politicians should joke about.

"Child poverty in Thanet is 33% and is at 51% in some of the wards I cover. It is not just insensitive it is out of touch and uncaring."

Labour MP and shadow child poverty secretary Wes Streeting described it as "stomach-turning".

He added: "Kent Conservatives running a sweepstake on how long it takes for the Universal Credit cut to be mentioned in their meeting. It’s all just a big laugh to them. They have no idea what losing over £20 a week is doing to families in Kent and across England."

Cllr Bartlett has now apologised, describing his "choice of words" as "insensitive", but he did not deny a sweepstake took place.

He said: "I very much regret the comment that I made during the meeting and apologise that the choice of words was insensitive.

"I would like to stress that I have the utmost sympathy for anyone struggling financially and that my comment was not, in any way, made in order to offend or upset anyone.

"The comment about Universal Credit was made in response to Cllr Constantine raising the issue of health outcomes for those on lower incomes – something that the Health Overview and Scrutiny Committee strives to address in everything we do."