BISHOPS have echoed calls for the coronavirus-inspired increase in Universal Credit (UC) to be retained, after MPs voted to extend the £20-a-week uplift.
At the start of the pandemic last year, the Government boosted the amount of the weekly benefit by £20. That temporary measure is due to expire in April (News, 15 January).
The Labour Party forced a debate in the House of Commons on the issue on Monday, and, after Boris Johnson ordered his MPs to abstain on the non-binding vote, passed a motion unanimously calling for the top-up to Universal Credit to be kept in place.
Many bishops have expressed support on Twitter for keeping the uplift. The Bishop of Liverpool, the Rt Revd Paul Bayes, described UC as a “broken system”, but went on to say that “cutting the recent boost will make it worse still”.
The Bishop of Warrington, the Rt Revd Beverley Mason, said that cutting UC would be “preposterous” and a “poor decision which hit our poorest hardest”.
The Bishop of Durham, the Rt Revd Paul Butler, retweeted Bishop Mason’s message, and called for a similar increase in the legacy benefits that preceded UC, including working tax credit and employment and support allowance.
The Joseph Rowntree Foundation has said that about 500,000 people would be forced into poverty if the £20-a-week boost was removed, and the situation of a further 500,000 already in poverty would deteriorate even further. The Treasury has indicated that the annual cost of retaining the UC bonus would be about £6 billion.
But the think tank the Institute for Fiscal Studies noted that the increase amounted to an average of 13 per cent of an average UC recipient’s total entitlement, and criticised reports that the Government would delay deciding whether it would keep the uplift until the Budget in March.
The Labour leader, Sir Keir Starmer, said: “If we don’t give a helping hand to families through this pandemic, then we are going to slow our economic recovery as we come out it. We urge Boris Johnson to change course and give families certainty today that their incomes will be protected.”
Mr Johnson, however, described the non-binding vote in Parliament as a “stunt”, and told Conservative MPs to abstain. Nevertheless, six of them voted with Labour to extend the uplift.
Cautious welcome for care review. Children’s charities have expressed both optimism and concern about a newly announced government review of the social-care system for children in England.
The review is to look at child protection, fostering, care homes, and support for vulnerable families, and will be chaired by Josh MacAlister, the chief executive of social-work charity Frontline.
The Children’s Society welcomed the appointment and urged Mr MacAlister to be bold in reform. “The system is creaking under the strain of rising demand and funding cuts, and too often failing to ensure vulnerable children get the help they need to stay safe and thrive,” the society’s policy manager, Iryna Pona, said.