Tory revolt threatens Rishi Sunak’s plans to slash £20 a week from universal credit

Six former work and pensions secretaries join forces – in unprecedented alliance spanning left and right of party

<p>Payments must be ‘kept at the current level’ says Iain Duncan Smith and many other Tories</p>

Payments must be ‘kept at the current level’ says Iain Duncan Smith and many other Tories

A fresh Conservative revolt is threatening Rishi Sunak’s plans to slash £20 a week from universal credit payments in the autumn.

Six former work and pensions secretaries have joined forces to urge the chancellor to think again, in an unprecedented alliance spanning both left and right wings of the Tory party.

The pressure could see the government defeated on the controversy, with scores of “red wall” MPs also deeply unhappy about reversing an increase brought in when the Covid pandemic struck.

Ministers said recently that the £5bn cut will go ahead at the end of September, as intended, rejecting warnings that thousands of families will be pushed into poverty as “purely speculative”.

But Iain Duncan Smith, Damian Green, Stephen Crabb, David Gauke, Esther McVey and Amber Rudd have penned a letter to the Treasury, saying that would be a mistake.

“As the economy reopens, and the government re-evaluates where it has been spending money, we ask that the current funding for individuals in the universal credit envelope be kept at the current level,” they have written.

“We ask that you protect the investment in universal credit, to strengthen work incentives for those who can work and support more generously those who cannot work.”

The cut – worth £1,000 a year to many hard-up families – would hit 6 million households and push 200,000 more children below the breadline, the Child Poverty Action Group fears.

But the government has continued to insist it was a temporary increase and believes the looming end of Covid restrictions makes the case for ending it.

In the Commons recently, welfare minister Will Quince told MPs the boost “will end once our economy has opened” and dismissed any direct connection to poverty levels.

“It is difficult to isolate the specific impact of one policy and determine its effect on how many people fall below the poverty threshold, which itself changes over time,” MPs were told.

Mr Sunak is eager to start plugging the huge black hole in his finances caused by parts of the economy being shut down – but instead faces a lengthening list of pleas for more money.

Tory MPs also want him to halt his £4bn-a-year overseas aid cuts, ex-Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson warning their party will again be seen as the “nasty party” if he refuses.

Health leaders are demanding to know how much cash they will have to tackle mounting hospital waiting lists and there is fierce criticism of the failure to fund school recovery plans.

Mr Sunak – who will stage a spending review in the autumn – is, however, expected to release around £4bn a year for a bumper increase in the state pension age, next April.

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