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Government’s Universal Credit cut would breach human rights obligations, says HRW

Scrapping uplift would lead to ‘increase in poverty and queues for aid at food banks,’ claims rights group

Tom Batchelor
Friday 03 September 2021 17:00 BST
Claimants may need to use a food bank if the £20 weekly increase is not kept in place, campaigners have warned
Claimants may need to use a food bank if the £20 weekly increase is not kept in place, campaigners have warned (PA)

Human Rights Watch (HRW) is appealing to MPs to block the government’s proposed cut to Universal Credit, saying the “retrogressive” step would violate the UK’s “international human rights obligations”.

The £20-a-week increase, which was introduced temporarily to help claimants during the coronavirus pandemic, is set to be phased out from the end of the month.

But HRW has joined charities and campaign groups in warning that the move would cause “deep harm” with an “increase in poverty and queues for aid at food banks”.

A letter, signed by Yasmine Ahmed, HRW’s UK director, appeals to more than 350 parliamentarians returning to the Commons on Monday to “use your influence” to stop the proposed cut.

“If the government were to proceed with the proposed cut, it would be in violation of its international human rights obligations, in particular the binding International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, signed by the UK in 1968 and ratified in 1976, which sets out the rights to an adequate standard of living and to social security,” she said.

“Cutting the basic rate of support to people living on low incomes, many of whom are already in work, by more than £1000 per year would leave many in a position where the government’s social security system cannot guarantee their human right to an adequate standard of living.”

The letter continued: “Cutting up to £1040 per year from social security support would be retrogressive.”

Ms Ahmed said “evidence of the harm that will be done is copious” and the “decision by the government to proceed with the planned cut will cause deep harm”.

It follows after the Joseph Rowntree Foundation warned that scrapping the £20 uplift would impose the biggest overnight cut to the basic rate of social security since the foundation of the modern welfare state.

Citizens Advice also estimated that three-quarters of people receiving the increased Universal Credit would not have enough money to cover daily costs if the cut went ahead, pushing vulnerable people into debt.

Earlier this week, more than 100 organisations implored the government to abandon the cut, warning it would “fundamentally undermine” the Tories' supposed mission to level up.

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