More than half the country would support the £20-a-week increase to Universal Credit being made permanent, according to a survey conducted by the Unite union on a “day of action” calling on the Government to maintain the benefit boost.
New polling by the union found 54 per cent of people were in favour of the raise, which is claimed by up to six million people and has been described as a “lifeline” for many.
The increase was introduced at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic but is due to end in April 2021, despite almost constant campaigning by anti-poverty charities.
Steve Turner, Unite assistant general secretary, said scrapping the increase could plunge millions into hardship and mean many would struggle to afford essentials.
— Unite Politics (@UnitePolitics) December 9, 2020
Turner said: “If Rishi Sunak presses ahead with slashing Universal Credit in April, we will see state support fall to its lowest real-terms level since 1990, its lowest ever level relative to average earnings.
“The basic level of out-of-work support prior to the March boost was – at just £73 a week or £3,800 a year – less than half the absolute poverty line. People are being asked to get by on a tenner a day.
“With savage and heart-breaking rising unemployment, some six million people in this country rely on Universal Credit.
“The £20 uplift may seem like pennies to the Government, but it is literally the difference between turning the heating on or buying a warm coat for the kids for millions.”
Unite unveiled the research following a day of campaigning to “galvanise” nationwide support.
The survey of nearly 3,000 Brits, conducted by Survation, showed 40 per cent of Conservative supporters backed the uplift, with 70 per cent of Labour supporters in favour. Unite said 51 per cent of those earning £40,000 a year and over were also supportive of the rise being made permanent.
The union also urged councils to lobby the Government to make the increase permanent and extend the rise to claimants on old-style “legacy” benefits.
Universal Credit claims have soared during the pandemic as Covid-19 ravages the economy and people find themselves out of work or on reduced wages. The Government has insisted it is “wholly committed” to supporting people on lower incomes.
The new polling comes after a report by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) which revealed five million people could face destitution following the pandemic and be unable to afford essentials like shelter, food, heating and clothing.
JRF director Helen Barnard also called for the Universal Credit increase to be made permanent and said we “can and must do more” to help the most vulnerable in society.
Our new research shows that, even before the #COVID19 storm struck, around 550,000 children experienced destitution. That means going without the essentials needed to eat, stay warm and dry, and keep clean. This is unacceptable in our society. https://t.co/skyNfU7IzC pic.twitter.com/PHiX3jumPV
— Joseph Rowntree Foundation (@jrf_uk) December 9, 2020
Turner added “snatching” back the extra cash would be “cruel in the extreme” and said Covid-19 had laid bare the “inadequacy” of the welfare system.
He said: “We are urging the chancellor to make Christmas for the poorest families by saying that the £20 uplift will stay beyond next April. Just do the decent thing and give them this small income security.
“This survey provides further strong evidence as to why we’re asking Unite members stand in solidarity and to call on councillors and others to join us in a coalition to force the Government to retain the £20 increase, end the waiting time and extend payment to all legacy benefits.
“What Covid-19 has cruelly exposed is the inadequacy of the current welfare system, one of the meanest in Europe, and the entrenched inequalities for some of the country’s most vulnerable and disadvantaged families.
“The permanent uplift of £20-a-week would be a small step in easing the already immense burden of thousands of people struggling financially to pay for the essentials of life on a daily basis.”
A Government spokesperson said: “We are wholly committed to supporting people on lower incomes and have paid out more than £100 billion in welfare support this year.
“The temporary £20 increase to Universal Credit continues to be in place until the end of March 2021.”