CHURCH leaders in the north-east of England, where levels of poverty are among the highest in the UK, have urged the Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, not to end the temporary £20 uplift in Universal Credit in October (News, 23 July).
While complimenting him on the increase and the success of the furlough scheme, introduced to combat the financial effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, the 14 clerics, including five bishops, express concern about the effect that the cut will have on the nation’s poorest families. “This will come at the very point when the furlough scheme ends,” they say in an open letter to Mr Sunak, published on Tuesday.
“It will also coincide with significant increased costs for electricity and gas just when the weather begins to turn. We note that this concern has been expressed widely by all organisations who work with the poorest, and those who monitor the impact of such policies on them.”
A recent survey by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation found that the north-east was the worst for destitution, officially defined as when a household cannot afford two or more of the essentials needed to live, such as shelter, food, heating, or clothing (News, 18 December 2020). Last month, the region’s 12 directors of children’s services warned that “shameful” levels of poverty in the region were driving dramatic rises in child-protection intervention and the number of children in care. The region has the highest rate of referrals to children’s social care in the UK.
The letter is signed by the Bishops of Durham, Newcastle, Whitby, Jarrow, and Berwick, as well the Roman Catholic Bishops of Middlesbrough, and Hexham & Newcastle. Other signatories include regional leaders of the Methodist, Baptist, and United Reformed Churches, and the Salvation Army.
They write: “The past 18 months have been the most challenging our nation has faced since the end of World War II. As Chancellor you have had to confront deep challenges. We recognise that you have made some very tough decisions and thank you for the work done on the furlough scheme and the £20 uplift in Universal Credit. Both have been hugely significant in helping the nation through the pandemic.
“As church leaders in the North East we are aware through our churches on the ground serving communities of the continuing struggles faced by large numbers of families. Many of these are not unemployed, but in low-paid work, and need the additional income provided by Universal Credit.
“We accept that this is a major cost to the nation as a whole, but believe that those in most need must be protected by the nation. We urge you to make the £20 uplift permanent to ensure that UC really does achieve its purpose.”