Cllr Paul Bartlett told a Kent County Council committee that some colleagues ‘lost the sweepstake as to when the £20 Universal Credit would be mentioned’
Tories have been accused of treating the cruel cuts to Universal credit as a “big laugh” by running a sweepstake on the issue at a local council meeting.
Footage from a Kent County Council meeting shared on social media showed Labour councillor Karen Constantine complaining about hearing groans when she raised the impact of the £20-a-week cut to the lifeline benefit.
She said: “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, who was chairing the Health Overview and Scrutiny Committee meeting, replied: “The reason why you heard collective groans is because some colleagues have lost the sweepstake as to when the £20 Universal Credit cut would be mentioned at this meeting.”
His remarks were met with shock by some councillors dialling in by video link.
Cllr Constantine replied: “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 exchange sparked fury, with Labour councillor Alex Paterson branding it “sickening and sociopathic”.
Kent MP Rosie Duffield, who represents Canterbury, said the comments were “really disappointing”.
She tweeted: “Non politically-motivated food bank volunteers telling MPs that the £20 a week that’s disappeared from UC has increased demand hugely.
“We all know the rising cost of living means that £20 is needed more than it was during lockdown. How is that funny?!”
Shadow Child Poverty Secretary Wes Streeting said: “This is stomach-turning: 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.”
The Government axed the £20-a-week temporary uplift to Universal Credit earlier this month despite pleas from campaigners to keep the lifeline in place.
Cllr Bartlett apologised for the remarks and said that he had taken issue with Cllr Constantine linking the UC cut to health outcomes.
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.”