Conservative MPs and former cabinet ministers have called on Boris Johnson not to go through with the universal credit cut due in September, calling Rishi Sunak’s spring Budget proposal ‘a mistake”.
Cutting universal credit by £20 per week would be “a blow to possibly millions of people”, said MPs from the Tory Reform Group and One Nation Conservative caucus , after the pandemic had an “unequal effect” on poor UK families. The two groups are believed to comprise “more than 100” Tory MPs.
“It is undeniable that younger people and children, lower income essential workers, and people in developing nations, are more disadvantaged than those of us who have been able to shield and maintain our incomes,” said Damien Green, Tory MP for Ashford and One Nation chair.
The benefit increase was brought in as a temporary measure last March and was extended beyond its original cut-off date in April, now set to end in September.
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The boosted payment has “thrown a vital lifeline to people on low incomes” during the pandemic, the group said in a report on the country’s route out of the Covid-19 crisis.
“Removing this uplift in just a few months’ time, while our economy is still recovering from the pandemic would be a mistake,” it added.
The MPs, including former health minister Stephen Hammond and former transport minister George Freeman, urged the Government to commit to keeping the increase to support the UK’s most vulnerable people.
A record six million people are claiming universal credit, according to official Government figures, which is double the number who received the benefit before Covid-19 hit the UK.
Anti-poverty experts welcomed the report, which echoes unified calls from campaigners to make the weekly £20 increase permanent.
The MPs’ calls were “great to see”, a Joseph Rowntree Foundation spokesperson said, adding that it would be “totally wrong to cut vital support to millions of families” later this year.
Pandemic-driven redundancies, income cuts and increased living costs pushed more families into poverty, with 446 people making a new claim for universal credit every hour in the first week of 2021.
It was “brilliant to hear” that Conservative MPs were urging the Government to make the increase permanent, according to a Save the Children spokesperson.
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“Taking this lifeline away just as furlough ends will leave many families unable to cope.
It’s clear what needs to happen here,” they added.
More than 620,000 families with kids were among the new claimants, charity Save the Children said, a 51 per cent increase since March.
Universal credit “continues to support millions of people during their time of need,” said Will Quince, the Government’s welfare delivery minister.
He added: “It is a vital safety net that has stood up to the challenge of the pandemic, and with thousands of new work coaches we are helping claimants across the country get back on their feet with one-to-one tailored support.”
The MPs’ report also called for a £500 one-off payment for all 18-24-year-olds in the UK as a “gesture” for a “generation that has really suffered” during the pandemic.