Leading article

Scrapping of £20 Universal Credit uplift will hit most vulnerable

When Universal Credit was first introduced in 2017 as part of Conservative Party reforms to the welfare system, the change caused hardship to many families.

The benefit, which combined six benefits into one single payment, was found to have delivered poor value for money for taxpayers and caused huge difficulties for struggling families, according to a critical 2018 National Audit Office (NAO) report.

The NAO noted that since Universal Credit's introduction "there have been increases in rent arrears and the use of food banks”.

At the start of the pandemic, thousands more people were forced to reply on Universal Credit, amid deep uncertainty over jobs.

A temporary £20 increase to payments was introduced to reflect the economic shock of Covid.

While the government's furlough scheme brought some security to the job market, this is due to stop completely by the end of this month.

Just days later, on October 5, the £20-per-week Universal Credit boost will also stop.

With the end of furlough and children returning to school, the planned cut could not come at a worse time.

According to the latest figures, taken on November 2020, a total of 118,510 households in the north are on Universal Credit.

Save the Children and the Child Poverty Action Group have already warned that an extra 11,000 children in the north could fall into poverty if the cut goes ahead.

Ministers from Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales yesterday called on the British government to scrap plans to axe the £20 increase and instead make the higher rate of payment permanent.

In a letter to Work and Pensions Secretary Therese Coffey, they said the cut would be the "biggest overnight reduction to a basic rate of social security since the modern welfare state began, more than 70 years ago".

£20 is a huge amount of money to lose every week.

Citizens Advice has estimated that a third of people on Universal Credit will end up in debt, with an average shortfall of up to £55 a month.

The government has suggested that claimants should now focus on “boosting their skills and getting into work, progressing in work or increasing their hours” amid a record number of job vacancies.

However, it takes time to gain employment and obtain new skills.

While there are signs that the north is beginning to recover from the pandemic, the ending of furlough will cause greater uncertainty.

Westminster should not pull the rug from under the most vulnerable benefit claimants just as they are looking to get back on their feet.

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