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Esther McVey: Some to be poorer under universal credit

Image copyright EPA

Some people will be worse off under universal credit – but they can take on more work to increase their income, the minster in charge says.

Work and Pensions Secretary Esther McVey defended the new benefit system amid reports 3.2 million households will lose more than £2,000 year.

She told the BBC some people would lose out because the government had made "tough" spending decisions in 2015.

But she insisted the most vulnerable would be protected.

Speaking at Prime Minister's Questions on Wednesday, Theresa May said "people who are moved on to universal credit… will not see any reduction" in their benefits.

Labour's shadow work and pensions secretary Margaret Greenwood said: "Now that Esther McVey has admitted that people will be worse off under universal credit, this Conservative government has no excuse for pushing ahead with their shameful programme.

"This exposes Number 10's claim this week that no family will receive less money under universal credit as fiction."

Ms McVey is reported to have privately told cabinet colleagues that many claimants could lose as much as £200 a month as a result of the switch to universal credit, which replaces a range of existing benefits.

  • Major: Universal credit like 80s poll tax
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  • Benefit plan 'risks social unrest' – Brown

Asked about those reports, she told BBC News: "Some people could be worse off on this benefit. But a thousand people every day since 2010 have gone in to work."

Asked about those who would lose out, she said: "If those people can work, what they will be losing is benefits, but what they have got now is work. Work will be paying. Their wage will be increasing."

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Media captionPMQs: May quizzed by Labour MP on universal credit cuts

Ms McVey also hit back at criticism from Sir John Major who has warned that universal credit could hurt current prime minister Theresa May in the same way poll tax hurt the then prime minister Margaret Thatcher in 1989 and 1990.

She said she "knows more about universal credit" than the former Conservative prime minister.

But the government is facing growing calls from Conservative MPs – including the architect of the system Iain Duncan Smith and other backbenchers facing complaints from constituents – to scrap a promised income tax cut and instead pump more more money into universal credit.

Image Copyright @JohnnyMercerUK @JohnnyMercerUK Report
Twitter post by @JohnnyMercerUK: Ester’s in a tough spot here. It’s not her fault; Universal Credit was designed so that no-one would be worse off. Stop the tax-free allowance rise and re-invest into UC, or I can’t support it. Not politically deliverable in Plymouth I’m afraid. Image Copyright @JohnnyMercerUK @JohnnyMercerUK Report

Universal credit is a new benefit for working-age people that consolidates into one monthly payment six separate benefits:

  • income support
  • income-based jobseeker's allowance
  • income-related employment and support allowance
  • housing benefit
  • child tax credit
  • working tax credit

Read more: What is universal credit?

Currently being phased in for different types of claimant across the UK, universal credit is aimed at making the benefits system simpler and more flexible so people who are able to work are rewarded for doing so.

Universal credit has been criticised for running over budget and causing delays to people's payments, but the plan is to move all existing benefit claimants on to it next year.

Ms McVey claimed it was working "much better than the old system" which "kept people out of work" and she said the government was putting £3.1bn into helping people affected by the transition to the new system.

But the Resolution Foundation think tank said less than 20% of affected families are expected to receive support from the government to change to the new system.

People whose circumstances change, who make a brand new claim, or who come off benefits and then go back on them, will not be protected.

Image copyright PA
Image caption Jeremy Corbyn: Nobody would be worse off under Labour plans

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said the universal credit system "has to change very very rapidly" and that Labour will be proposing "a more comprehensive system" in which nobody would be "worse off".

Speaking in Bristol, Mr Corbyn said that Labour would "immediately stop the process" of the nationwide rollout and would maintain "existing levels of benefit immediately".

"We will be proposing a more comprehensive system but essentially our benchmarks have been nobody should be worse off and nobody should have their homes put at risk because of universal credit."

The switch to universal credit will create some winners, the Resolution Foundation says, with 1.1 million households an average of £53 a week better off.

But, overall, working families will be worse off than under the current benefit system, with the biggest losers likely to be people with children who are currently in receipt of tax credits, analysts say.

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Jamal Khashoggi’s death exposes Saudi regime

Jamal Khashoggi was a gracious, polite and gentle man to meet.

Not the type to risk a fight with a bunch of goons behind closed doors in a consulate, or anywhere else for that matter.

For those who met and knew him, the latest storyline out of Riyadh is preposterous.

It also contradicts the shrill Saudi denials of the past two weeks that anything untoward happened in the consulate, leaving the credibility of the Saudi government in shreds.

The most likely explanation must remain Mr Khashoggi's killing was ordered by Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman.

Khashoggi 1:43
Video: CCTV has captured journalist Jamal Khashoggi and his fiancee at their apartment on the day he disappeared.

Second most likely is an interrogation, intimidation or rendition operation, authorised or not by the prince, that went badly wrong.

If that was the case it is unthinkable the Crown Prince did not know what happened. He is after all Crown Prince and defence minister: intelligence agencies answer to him. He would have been told.

So he was either complicit in the killing and ordered it.

Or it was a botched operation which he soon learned about.

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If that was the case, inexplicably he waited two and a half weeks before letting the world know.

Two and a half weeks of damaging diplomatic fallout.

In that time his government, and supporters in the media angrily denied claims the writer died in the consulate. Claims they now say are true. The fortnight damaged both Saudi credibility and relations with allies.

Donald Trump says he believes the Saudi government's account of events is credible 7:07
Video: The White House reaction

That would make him incompetent.

So either a rash impetuous ruler who dispatches assassins to kill journalists or an inept one. Neither are what America or Britain seek as a partner in this crucial region.

Critics say this is the price America pays for giving the young prince free rein.

 1:03
Video: Saudi Arabia said Mr Khashoggi was killed after a fight broke out.

Mr Trump's amoral foreign policy has led to an immoral one as the administration scrambles to give cover to its ally. A rogue ally that has caused considerable damage but is now too important to lose.

In his short time in office, MBS has presented himself as a twenty first century form of enlightened despot.

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An absolute ruler but one who wants to use his authoritarian power to reform and modernise his country.

That image may well have died with Jamal Khashoggi at considerable cost to his country and support from the west.

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US Mega Millions lottery jackpot hits record $1.6bn

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A record-breaking US lottery jackpot of $1.6bn (£1.2bn) is up for grabs after players failed to pick the winning ticket in a $1bn Mega Millions draw.

The competition, which saw 15 "second-tier" tickets scoop about $1m each, had people lining up at service stations and stores nationwide on Friday.

The odds of choosing the matching six numbers to win the Mega Millions prize are said to be one in 302,575,350.

Another draw for the huge US jackpot will be held on Tuesday.

  • Three tickets scoop record lottery jackpot
  • Video: Mum quits job after massive win

The Mega Millions draws, tickets for which are sold in 44 US states, the District of Columbia and the US Virgin Islands, have failed to produce a top prize winner since July.

The competition was created in 2002 and has seen a number of changes to the rules over the years that have reduced the odds of winning, leading to larger jackpots.

Top five US jackpot wins

  • $1.58bn: A Powerball win in 2016. The prize was split three ways by ticket holders from California, Florida and Tennessee
  • $758.7m: Won in 2017 by mother-of-two Mavis Wanczyk from Massachusetts. She said she had picked the numbers based on relatives' birthdays
  • $656m: A Mega Millions top prize win in 2012, shared between three winners who purchased tickets in Maryland, Kansas and Illinois
  • $648m: Another Mega Millions win, this time in 2013 by two ticket holders; a woman in Georgia and a man in California
  • $590.5m: A Powerball jackpot won by an 84-year-old Florida woman

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Spain will NOT VETO final Brexit deal – Madrid DROPS Gibraltar demand

SPAIN has hinted it will not veto any final Brexit deal following negotiations between Madrid and London over Gibraltar this weekend, with Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez accused of "wasting" the country’s powers to veto the UK’s exit from the EU.

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Sturgeon boycotts event in far-right row

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Steve Bannon left his White House job amid reports of a power struggle

Nicola Sturgeon has pulled out of a conference in Edinburgh next month because Donald Trump's ex-strategist Steve Bannon was also due to speak.

The first minister had been scheduled to take part in the three-day News Xchange event, which is being co-hosted by the BBC, on 13 November.

However, she said that giving Mr Bannon a platform risked "legitimising or normalising far-right, racist views".

Steve Bannon was one of Donald Trump's most trusted aides until August 2017.

He left the US government after losing his seat on the National Security Council amid claims of a power struggle among President Trump's top team.

'Balanced judgements'

Since leaving the White House, Mr Bannon has continued to champion right-wing political causes, although his appearance at events has proved controversial.

In September he was disinvited from the New Yorker Festival after a high-profile backlash by actor Jim Carrey, producer Judd Apatow and presenter Jimmy Fallon.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Nicola Sturgeon said Steve Bannon's inclusion in the event risked normalising far-right views.

Nicola Sturgeon was due to be introduced by the BBC's Scotland editor Sarah Smith on the opening evening of the conference on 13 November.

Steve Bannon is expected to take part in a session the next morning, which is also due to be moderated by Sarah Smith at the Edinburgh International Conference Centre.

'Influential figure'

In a tweet, Ms Sturgeon said she regretted the position she had been put in by the BBC.

She said: "I believe passionately in free speech but as @ScotGovFM I have to make balanced judgments – and I will not be part of any process that risks legitimising or normalising far right, racist views. I regret that the BBC has put me and others in this position."

She also attacked the event's description of Mr Bannon as a "powerful and influential figure…promoting an anti-elite movement."

She added: "This kind of language to describe views that many would describe as fascist does seem to me to run the risk of normalisation."

Image caption The event is due to be moderated by BBC Scotland editor Sarah Smith

In a statement the BBC said Steve Bannon had been invited on behalf of the European Broadcasting Union's (EBU) News Xchange committee.

They added: "Good journalism in a world of fake news and disinformation is more vital than ever.

"Journalism is about asking tough questions and understanding what is happening in the world and why.

"A conference designed to analyse the big issues impacting that world isn't an endorsement of anyone or anything – it is a function of what journalism is."

'Relevant viewpoints'

Event organisers, the EBU, said the News Xchange event sought to explore industry trends and challenge delegates to understand the wider political and social context.

They said: "Steve Bannon is a key influencer in the rise of populism – one of the dominant political trends of our times.

"He has been invited to speak at News Xchange this year because his views are relevant to today's society at large and therefore to the media industry.

"We also consider it our journalistic responsibility to share and scrutinise a range of relevant viewpoints within the framework of a balanced debate.

"He will be interviewed about his views by a BBC journalist, followed by an open Q&A with delegates."

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