Stormont under pressure to plug multi-million pound gap following Universal Credit cut
STORMONT is coming under increasing pressure to find the £55 million needed to mitigate against the cut in Universal Credit.
Ministers will today discuss how to help low-income families after the £20-a-week increase to Universal Credit, brought in to support claimants during the pandemic, was officially withdrawn yesterday.
The cut will see more than 130,000 people in Northern Ireland lose £1,040 a year.
SDLP leader Colum Eastwood has asked First Minister Paul Givan and Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill to direct Finance Minister Conor Murphy to find the £55m needed to continue to fund the uplift until the end of the financial year.
"The cut to Universal Credit represents the largest overnight reduction to basic social security rates since the Second World War and is a direct attack on people in our communities least able to bear that burden," he said.
DUP MLA Carla Lockhart said the removal of the uplift, amid rising fuel and food costs, was a "moral stain" on the British government.
"We need everyone in Government and the NI Executive to step up and see what is in their power to do that helps alleviate this hardship," she said.
Communities minister, Sinn Féin's Deirdre Hargey, wrote to Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Therese Coffey, again over the weekend to call for the uplift to be retained.
A spokesman for the Department for Communities said last night: "Minister Hargey has prioritised support for the most vulnerable in our society and will continue to do so".
"She has also highlighted that we have to be real about our abilities to mitigate yet again another cut by the Tories. The budget is not infinite," he said.
Kevin Higgins, head of policy at Advice NI, said the cut will "plunge every Universal Credit household into deeper poverty".
"This is happening after a decade of austerity," he said.
"Universal Credit has borne the brunt of many cuts to social security. In the advice sector we see people who are on Universal Credit who are in work and also some who are not in work.
"The common refrain is that they find it almost impossible to make ends meet on Universal Credit."
He said the most vulnerable in society will be affected.
"We know that 42% of UC (Universal Credit) households are families with children," he said.
He added: "40% of UC households have a 'no work' requirement which means they are so severely disabled, they are so severely ill, some of them terminally ill, that they cannot work."