Work and Pensions Secretary Therese Coffey resists calls to make £20 Universal Credit uplift permanent as devolved governments urge top-up to be kept beyond October deadline
Therese Coffey has resisted calls from ministers in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland to keep the £20 uplift to Universal Credit in place beyond the current October deadline.
Writing a letter to the work and pensions secretary on Monday, ministers from the devolved governments said the top-up should be made permanent and described the change – which is due to come into effect in October – as “the biggest overnight reduction to a basic rate of social security since the modern welfare state began, more than 70 years ago”.
They also raised concerns about the impact the reduction would have on poverty.
But responding to their letter on Wednesday, Ms Coffey said it is right that the government places emphasis on getting people back into work now that the economy is improving.
“Now the economy has reopened it is right that the government should focus on supporting people back into work and supporting those already employed to progress in their careers,” Ms Coffey said in her reply.
“Our ambition is to support two million people move into and progress in work through our comprehensive £33bn Plan for Jobs.”
The government brought in a £20-per-week uplift as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic but it is due to be removed on 6 October.
The exact date the money stops being paid to an individual will vary depending on the day they usually receive Universal Credit, so for some people this will mean the last payment at the higher rate will be at the end of September.
Ministers are facing mounting pressure over the matter, with some members of their own party calling for plans to cut the payments to be reversed.
Writing a letter last week, Tory MPs Peter Aldous and John Stevenson said the increase should be made permanent “so that low-income families continue to be able to make ends meet”.
The pair said they have “very serious concerns” about the removal of the top-up and urged ministers to listen to the “widespread warnings that are coming from all quarters” on the impact the cut could have on low income families.
They also said the move would go against the prime minister’s levelling-up agenda.
The joint letter, from Scotland’s Social Justice Secretary Shona Robison, Welsh Social Justice Minister Jane Hutt and Northern Ireland’s Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey, said people will lose more than £1,000 a year if the top-up is scrapped.
In it, the ministers expressed the “grave concerns of all three devolved administrations”.
“Failing to maintain the recent uplift to Universal Credit will increase hardship and poverty for people who are already struggling,” the letter stated.
“To support the social and economic recovery, particularly as we ease out of the public health emergency, we urge you to reverse this decision and to strengthen the support offered by Universal Credit, instead of weakening it.”
It comes as the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF), warned against withdrawing the uplift which would see the “biggest overnight cut to the basic rate of social security since the Second World War”.
According to the JRF charity, most constituencies in England, Wales and Scotland will see more than one in three families and their children affected as a result of the £1,040-a-year cut.
And Citizens Advice have warned that a third of people on Universal Credit – over two million people – will end up in debt when the extra payment is removed.
But last month, Chancellor Rishi Sunak confirmed the increase would be scrapped as it was “always intended to be a temporary measure”.
The number of people receiving the benefit has doubled during the pandemic, increasing its cost significantly.
The JRF says the policy change will have “deep and far-reaching consequences on families with children across Britain”.
On Monday, a UK government spokesperson said: “The temporary uplift to Universal Credit was designed to help claimants through the economic shock and financial disruption of the toughest stages of the pandemic, and it has done so.
“Universal Credit will continue to provide a vital safety net and with record vacancies available, alongside the successful vaccination rollout, it’s right that we now focus on our Plan for Jobs, helping claimants to increase their earnings by boosting their skills and getting into work, progressing in work or increasing their hours.”
In the second letter addressed to ministers on the matter in one week, ministers from Holyrood, Cardiff and Stormont criticised the UK government’s plans to axe the uplift “at a time when they need financial support the most”.
Responding to Ms Coffey’s reply, shadow work and pensions secretary Stephen Timms said the government must “change course to prevent severe hardship for many thousands of families”.
Shadow work and pensions secretary Jonathan Reynolds added: “The government’s £1,000 a year cut will be a hammer blow to millions of working families, hitting the lowest paid hardest and hurting our economic recovery.
“Time is running out for the Conservatives to see sense and cancel their cut to Universal Credit. Almost half of those hit by this cut are in work – to claim there is a choice between cancelling this cut and getting people back into work is simply wrong.
“Labour would maintain the uplift until we can replace Universal Credit with a fairer social security system.”
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