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Government rejects call from UK nations to keep ‘vital’ universal credit uplift

Work and pensions secretary confirms £20-per-week cut will go ahead in October

Adam Forrest
Tuesday 31 August 2021 23:56 BST
Therese Coffey warned in cross-party letter that millions would lose out
Therese Coffey warned in cross-party letter that millions would lose out (PA)

Boris Johnson’s government has rejected calls from senior politicians in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to keep the £20-per-week universal credit uplift in place.

Work and pensions secretary Therese Coffey told cross-party committees from the four nations that the cut will go ahead as planned next month – leaving millions of Britons £1,040 a year worse off.

The cabinet minister confirmed that the increase brought in during the Covid crisis would be axed from 6 October, despite mounting pressure from MPs in all parties to maintain the payment on a permanent basis.

“Now the economy has reopened it is right that the government should focus on supporting people back into work and supporting those already employed to progress in their careers,” Ms Coffey replied in a joint letter to ministers.

The work and pensions secretary added: “Our ambition is to support 2 million people to move into and progress in work through our comprehensive £33bn Plan for Jobs.”

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation has said the universal credit cut will push 500,000 people into poverty, while Citizens Advice has warned that a third of people in receipt of the benefit will be pushed into debt when the uplift is removed.

Cross-party committees from Westminster, the Northern Ireland Assembly, the Welsh Senedd and the Scottish parliament raised concerns about the impact the reduction would have on poverty.

In a joint letter to Ms Coffey, they argued that millions of people would lose £1,000 a year “at time when they need financial support the most”. They also branded the change as the “biggest overnight reduction to a basic rate of social security since the modern welfare state began”.

Stephen Timms, the Labour MP and chair of the Work and Pensions Committee, said the government must “change course to prevent severe hardship for many thousands of families”.

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 by the party yet.

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.

“Our central promise at the last election, that you articulated so well, was to level up,” they wrote – describing the £20-a-week boost as “one of our best legacies from the pandemic”.

In July, six former Tory work and pensions secretaries wrote to the government to say the uplift have proved “vital” to protect incomes and warn any cut could threaten the economic recovery.

As well as the letter from cross-party committees, ministers from Holyrood, Cardiff and Stormont also wrote to Ms Coffey to raised concerns about the impact the universal credit reduction would have on poverty.

Scotland’s social justice secretary Shona Robison, Welsh social justice minister Jane Hutt and Northern Ireland’s communities minister Deirdre Hargey said people will lose money “at time when they need financial support the most”.

Ms Coffey has previously suggested that the £1,000-a-year cut would help encourage some people back into work, with the government saying it was focused on its Plan For Jobs scheme to boost training.

A UK government spokeswoman 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.

“It’s right that we now focus on our Plan for Jobs, helping claimants to increase their earnings by boosting their skills and getting into work, progressing in work or increasing their hours.”

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