The transport secretary and the shadow justice secretary were at loggerheads on BBC Question Time as Lammy demanded a U-turn over the upcoming £20-a-week reduction.
Lammy said: “When given a choice, the government is always choosing not to side with the poorest in society.
“I remember it was not that long ago that the Conservatives were described as the nasty party.”
Glancing at the Tory minister, Lammy added: “Grant, you can stare at your notes as much as you like, you’re not going to find the answers.”
“Grant, you can stare at your notes as much as you like, you’re not going to find the answers.”
“It’s not like the system’s been perfect in the past”
Conservative @grantshapps & Labour’s @DavidLammy clash over the reversal of a £20-per-week increase in universal credit. #bbcqtpic.twitter.com/dC46gDphYr
— BBC Question Time (@bbcquestiontime) September 23, 2021
He continued: “This cut should not be being made, it’s as simple as that.”
The government is trying to take the universal credit back to pre-pandemic levels with this £20 cut, but recent analysis seen by The Observer has predicted that the cut would push 840,000 people into poverty.
Lammy pointed out that the £20 a week could, for example, cover the average energy bill and so described it as “mean, nasty and unnecessary”.
He also noted that the cut was “coming alongside an increase in national insurance, economists are predicting an inflation rise and certainly interest rates going up by next February”.
Defending the government, Shapps said: “OK, look, you say you would do all of these things, but the effective tax raise for people on Universal Credit was 90%.
“There were cliff edges for people working 60, 24 and 30 hours.
“It’s not like the system’s been perfect in the past.”
Shapps concluded: “We have to work on the facts here, and the facts are we need to pay for whatever it is we do provide, the universal credit system is working vastly better than the system it replaced and actually handled the coronavirus [pandemic].”
Yet, even some Tory backbenchers were reportedly pushing for a compromise deal as it will undermine the prime minister’s promise to “level up” the UK.
There have also been reports that ministers are now looking to increase benefit payments to cushion the universal credit cut.
This article originally appeared on HuffPost UK and has been updated.