Universal credit: 100 civil society groups urge Boris Johnson to abandon benefit cut

PM told move will ‘pile unnecessary financial pressure’ on 5.5 million households

Adam Forrest
Thursday 02 September 2021 08:10 BST
Children’s commissioner calls for universal credit uplift for pandemic to be extended

A coalition of 100 groups has urged Boris Johnson to abandon the looming cut to universal credit – claiming it will “fundamentally undermine” his stated mission to address inequality.

Ending the £20-a-week uplift introduced to help claimants weather the storm of the Covid crisis will cause “immense, immediate and avoidable hardship”, the charities, unions and think-tanks said.

The government plans to start phasing out the £1,040-a-year increase in universal credit and working tax credit from the end of September, based on claimants’ payment dates.

Work and pensions secretary Therese Coffey resisted calls this week to keep the uplift, insisting the time is right to focus on encouraging people back into work.

However, the coalition said most people who will be affected by the cut are already in work and warn it will damage the government’s mission to “level up” the country.

In an open letter to Mr Johnson, the campaigners wrote: “We are rapidly approaching a national crossroads which will reveal the true depth of the government’s commitment to improving the lives of families on the lowest incomes.”

They added: “Imposing what is effectively the biggest overnight cut to the basic rate of social security since World War II will pile unnecessary financial pressure on around 5.5 million families, both in and out of work.

“This cut risks causing immense, immediate, and avoidable hardship. A strong social security system is a crucial first step to building back better. We strongly urge you to make the right decision.”

The coalition – which includes Save the Children, Citizens Advice and the National Education Union – said 413 parliamentary constituencies across Britain will see at least a third of working-age families with children affected.

Save the Children said 3.5 million children live in households that will be hit by the cut, while Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) research shows the move could push 500,000 people into poverty, including 200,000 children.

The move is now opposed by many of the country’s leading civil society groups, six former work and pensions secretaries and MPs across the political spectrum, including a growing number of Conservative backbenchers.

Disquiet in Tory ranks has been growing over the summer. Last week two “red wall” Tory MPs from the north of England – Peter Aldous and John Stevenson – wrote to the PM urging him to ditch plans to cut the uplift.

Mr Johnson could face a Commons vote on a planned cut to universal credit two days after MPs return from summer recess. A source told The Independent that Labour was “likely” to force a vote on the issue, but this hasn’t been officially confirmed yet.

But if the prime minister presses ahead with the cut, it will formally come into effect on 6 October – the same day as his Tory Party conference speech.

The open letter from charities follows calls from leading politicians in each of the four UK nations this week. Cross-party committees from Westminster, Stormont, Holyrood and the Senedd wrote to Ms Coffey calling on the government to make the extra payment permanent.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has not published its impact assessment for the imminent move. A government spokesperson said: “The temporary uplift to universal credit was designed to help claimants through the economic shock and financial disruption of the toughest stages of the pandemic, and it has done so.”

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