“It would be a terrible mistake for ministers to instead weaken universal credit further by going ahead with the planned £20-a-week cut this October, leaving millions of families unable to meet their needs.”
A government spokesperson told The Big Issue it would focus on helping people in need to “learn new skills to progress in their career, increase their hours or find new work”.
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JRF has produced the study every year since 2008 and, with the help of Loughborough University, quizzes members of the public in different groups to define a minimum income standard to pay for a basic level of household needs.
The 2021 iteration found unstable work, inadequate pay and a sub-par benefits system is stopping people on low incomes from reaching the standard.
JRF experts said single people needed to earn £20,400 a year to reach an income that will enable them to cover rent, housing costs, food and other bills. But millions of single workers fall short as they only earn £17,400 working full-time on the national living wage.
Those in part-time work fall even further from the minimum income standard and, while 80 per cent of employed people with children still work full-time, the precarity of work has restricted job options for younger adults during the pandemic.
A single parent will fall £46-a-week short of an MIS even while working full-time on a living wage and would need to reach £27,500 to have an acceptable income. If the universal credit cut goes ahead in October, that gap rises to £66-a-week and hits £140-a-week if they are out of work.
Two-parent families find themselves 40 per cent below an MIS if they are out of work, even with the £20 universal credit increase introduced during the pandemic.
If both parents work full-time on a national living wage, they will both earn £17,400 a year and just about exceed the MIS of £34,200.
The findings show the need to keep the £20 universal credit increase, JRF experts said.
When they are at their most vulnerable, people need support, not the threat of destitutionDr. Dora-Olivia Vicol, executive director of the Work Rights Centre<span data-ogsc="black">Dr. Dora-Olivia Vicol, executive director of the Work Rights Centre</span>
Abigail Davis, one of the report’s authors and associate director of Loughborough’s Centre for Research in Social Policy, said: “As Covid constraints lift for many, it’s worth bearing in mind that for a lot of households the restrictions of not being able to go out, take kids to after school activities or go on a family holiday remain because those are the things people go without when there isn’t enough to make ends meet.
“Taking money away from low-income households will make it even harder for them to meet this standard of living.”
Dora-Olivia Vicol, executive director of the Work Rights Centre, told The Big Issue removing the £20 universal credit increase threatens to have a bigger impact on migrant workers.
“The planned cuts to universal credit will be devastating for families who struggle to make ends meet,” said Dr Vicol. “Ending the £20 uplift would mean returning to one of the least generous welfare systems in the OECD. This is unlivable.
“A decent welfare system can constitute a real lifeline. We just need to stop seeing it as a drain, and acknowledge that, when they are at their most vulnerable, people need support, not the threat of destitution.”
A spokesperson from the Department of Work and Pensions said the universal credit increase will end on October 1 with the government switching its focus towards helping people into work through its Kickstart and Restart schemes.
A government spokesperson said: “The temporary universal credit uplift was brought in to support those with the lowest incomes during the pandemic. Now that restrictions are ending it is right that the government should focus its support – through our multi-billion-pound Plan for Jobs –to help people learn new skills to progress in their career, increase their hours or find new work.”
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