A COALITION of 100 organisations from across the political spectrum, from groups caring for the disadvantaged to the Conservative think tank Bright Blue, have called on the Prime Minister to halt the planned £20 cut in weekly Universal Credit payments.
In an open letter to Boris Johnson released on Thursday, they write that the country is rapidly approaching a crossroads which will reveal the true depth of the Government’s commitment to improving the lives of families on the lowest incomes. The cut, they say, would fundamentally undermine the Government’s avowed mission to level up.
The £20 uplift was introduced last year by the Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, as the Covid pandemic savaged the national economy. It is due to be withdrawn from October. Earlier this month, senior church leaders in north-eastern England, including the Bishops of Durham, Newcastle, Whitby, Jarrow, and Berwick, urged Mr Sunak to rethink the move (News, 17 August).
The coalition includes Oxfam, Save the Children, the Trussell Trust, Business in the Community, the Royal College of Paediatricians, Child Health, Christians Against Poverty, Church Action on Poverty, Citizens UK, and the Salvation Army. It says that ending the payment would “be effectively the biggest overnight cut to the basic rate of social security since World War II”, adding that it would “pile unnecessary financial pressure on around 5.5 million families”.
The letter continued: “We are at risk of repeating the same mistakes that were made after the last economic crisis, where our country’s recovery was too often not felt by people on the lowest incomes. The erosion of social-security support was one of the main drivers of the rise in in-work and child poverty, and contributed to a soaring need for food banks, rising debt and worsening health inequalities.”
Independent analysis from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, which organised the letter, suggests the cut would push 500,000 people into poverty, including 200,000 children.
“This is not a question of having to choose between a recovery based on getting people into jobs or investing in social security,” say the group. “The reality of the UK labour market means that, to improve living standards, we need to both improve job quality and strengthen the social-security system.
“We all want a social-security system that supports families to escape poverty rather than pulling them deeper into it. However, this cut risks causing immense, immediate, and avoidable hardship.”
In response, a government spokesperson said: “The uplift to Universal Credit was always temporary. It’s right that the Government should focus on our plan for jobs, supporting people back into work, and supporting those already employed to progress and earn more.”