Boris Johnson is refusing a £20-a-week rise for those hardest hit by his pandemic policy

We can see the U-turn coming, the tyres burning, the wheels screaming. The government will surely sooner or later decide to continue the £20-a-week uplift in universal benefits until the crisis ends. So why not do it now? Boris Johnson today ordered his MPs to abstain on a Labour motion demanding the uplift stays beyond March. He derided it as coming from the same “army of Momentum trolls” who stampeded him into a U-turn on school meals last year. So why set himself up for another humiliation?

Britain’s poorest are plainly the hardest hit by the government’s pandemic policy. When the benefits uplift of £1,000 a year was introduced by Rishi Sunak last spring, few could then have known it would be needed this long. As a prospective rebel Tory MP, John Stevenson, says: “I understand that the government cannot commit to making it permanent … [but it should] continue it for the foreseeable future. That allows us to get a better understanding of where we are.”

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