Social Justice

All the campaigners urging Boris Johnson not to cut universal credit

This is the ever-growing list of 100 plus social workers, doctors, campaigners and MPs putting pressure on ministers to scrap the universal credit cut.

Marcus Rashford visiting FareShare Greater Manchester. Image: Fareshare

The backlash against government plans to cut universal credit on October 6 has proven one of the most unified campaigns facing the government since the Conservatives came to power in 2010.

By reducing payments by £20-per-week – or £1,040 a year – ministers will push half a million people into poverty, analysts estimate.

The benefit was increased at the start of the pandemic to support people through the economic shock of the Covid-19 crisis. But 18 months on and the picture is even bleaker for people in need as the government prepares to axe the furlough scheme while grappling with an energy crisis and doing too little to ensure wages cover the cost of living. 

The £20 increase barely brought payments in line with inflation after years of benefit squeezes, charities said, meaning the overall loss to families could be much more.

A government spokesperson said: “The uplift to universal credit was always temporary. It was designed to help claimants through the economic shock and financial disruption of the toughest stages of the pandemic, and it has done so.”

But homelessness, demand for food banks, child poverty, health inequalities and fuel poverty could all increase when ministers cut universal credit, an army of campaigners – including Marcus Rashford – has warned. All of these groups, charities, ministers and celebrities are urging the government to maintain the vital lifeline.

Anti-inequality organisations and trade unions

  • Joseph Rowntree Foundation
  • Advice NI
  • APLE Collective
  • The Association of Charitable Organisations
  • Caritas Social Action Network
  • Christians Against Poverty
  • Church Action on Poverty
  • Citizens Advice
  • Citizens Advice Scotland
  • Citizens UK
  • End Fuel Poverty Coalition
  • End Furniture Poverty
  • The Equality Trust
  • Greater Manchester Poverty Action
  • Human Rights Watch
  • Hygiene Bank
  • Jubilee Debt Campaign
  • Lloyds Bank Foundation England and Wales
  • Money Advice Trust
  • Octavia
  • Oxfam GB
  • The Poverty Alliance
  • The Poverty Truth Community
  • The Robertson Trust
  • Runnymede Trust
  • Salvation Army
  • Trust for London
  • Trades Union Congress
  • UK Women’s Budget Group
  • Women’s Regional Consortium Northern Ireland
  • Young Women’s Trust
  • Standard Life Foundation
  • StepChange
  • SVP Northern Ireland
  • Turn2us
  • Unite the union

The universal credit cut will hit already disadvantaged people the hardest. People in poverty, women, low-income families with childcare costs, people from ethnic minority backgrounds, disabled people, refugees, those in precarious work and tenants paying expensive rent could all be put at risk. Around 2.3 million people could be pushed into debt, according to Citizens Advice.

Ahead of a bleak winter, Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) analysis showed a lower-income couple – one of whom works full-time – with two young children will need to find an extra £31-a-week after the cut to compensate for increasing living costs and shrinking benefits.

The prime minister and chancellor are “increasingly isolated” in supporting the universal credit cut, said Helen Barnard, deputy director of JRF.

“As energy bills go up, prices on the shelves rise and national insurance is set to increase, the prime minister must urgently keep this support in place, or his premiership risks being defined by plunging people into poverty rather than levelling up,” she said.

Children and family charities

  • Action for Children
  • Become
  • Child Poverty Action Group
  • Children England
  • End Child Poverty Coalition
  • Gingerbread
  • Little Village
  • National Children’s Bureau
  • North East Child Poverty Commission
  • One Parent Families Scotland
  • Save the Children
  • Scottish Out of School Care Network
  • Transforming Lives for Good
  • Working Families
  • 4in10 London’s Child Poverty Network

Around 3.4 million children live in households claiming universal credit, according to government figures, and 200,000 will be pushed into poverty when the cut goes ahead.

Working families including hairdressers, shelf stackers and carers will face the biggest overall drop in their income since 2010, Action for Children said, plunging the children of those already on low incomes into hardship.

“We welcome the government’s levelling-up agenda, but you can’t level up the country by pushing down the living standards of some of the hardest working families in the country,” said Imran Hussain, director of policy and campaigns for the charity.”

Hussain added it is a “recipe for disaster” given it clashes with the end of the furlough scheme when more parents will be at risk of losing their jobs, the extra costs of the school term and a rise in energy bills as we head into the colder months.

Food banks and food charities

  • The Trussell Trust
  • Independent Food Aid Network 
  • Food Foundation
  • Feeding Britain
  • Sustain
  • Feedo Needo

The cut could significantly limit people’s ability to afford food and force 1.2 million people to skip meals, according to research by the Trussell Trust.

“Cutting this lifeline will be a devastating blow for millions of households already struggling to make ends meet,” Emma Revie, chief executive of the charity, said.

“These are families already caught in impossible situations who worry every day about switching on the heating and feeding their children. Families who are nearly at breaking point but just about managing to keep their heads above water.”

Homelessness and housing organisations

  • Centrepoint
  • Communities That Work
  • Crisis
  • End Youth Homelessness
  • Generation Rent
  • Homeless Link
  • National Housing Federation
  • National Residential Landlords Association
  • Northern Housing Consortium
  • PlaceShapers
  • Scottish Federation of Housing Associations
  • Shelter
  • St Mungo’s

Shelter says thousands could be at risk of losing their homes in the winter months.

“The triple whammy of the furlough scheme ending, cuts to universal credit and rocketing fuel prices may be the final straw for many renters barely hanging on to their homes,” said Polly Neate, chief executive for the charity.

Opposition MPs

Labour, the Liberal Democrats, the SNP and Greens across the UK all want the government to scrap plans to cut universal credit.

“I want to knock down the fiction that there is somehow a choice between cancelling this cut versus getting people back into work,” Jonathan Reynolds, the shadow work and pensions secretary, said in the House of Commons as he challenged the government to stop “hiding behind straw men”.

Labour forced an opposition day vote on the cut and – because nearly all Tories abstained, as is usually the case in opposition day motions – MPs voted overwhelmingly to make the £20 increase permanent. But the vote was not binding and has not influenced government policy.

Around 5.5 million people will lose out on income through the cut, Reynolds told the Commons, nearly two million of whom cannot work due to disability, illness or caring responsibilities. Around 40 per cent of people relying on the benefit already have jobs.

“The human cost of taking this money away cannot be overstated,” Reynolds said.

UK-wide, councillors from across the political spectrum have also urged the government to scrap the cut over fears cash-strapped local authorities will be left to pick up the pieces of spiralling poverty.


  • Iain Duncan Smith
  • Stephen Crabb
  • David Davis
  • Esther McVey
  • Amber Rudd
  • Peter Aldous
  • Neil Hudson
  • John Stevenson
  • William Wragg
  • David Gauke
  • Steve Baker
  • Andrew Bridgen
  • Damian Green
  • Robert Halfon
  • Jason McCartney
  • Anne Marie Morris
  • Matthew Offord

Some ministers in Boris Johnson’s own party are also against the plan. On the first formal vote on the cut in the Commons, four Tory MPs rebelled against the prime minister. Two of the rebels, Peter Aldous and John Stevenson, had already written to Boris Johnson opposing the plan. The pair said: “Our central promise at the last election, that you articulated so well, was to level up. Infrastructure is a crucial part of this agenda, but with the emphasis solely on eye-catching projects we are at risk of forgetting the importance of investment in people in these communities, without whom this vision cannot be realised.”

But by far the highest profile opponents were six former work and pensions secretaries, most notably Iain Duncan Smith, the man behind universal credit in the first place. He said: “The chancellor should see the £20 uplift as an investment, not a burden, and retain it beyond the summer.”

As many as 60 Conservative MPs are thought to be against scrapping the £20 increase. Boris Johnson’s own former homelessness adviser, Dame Louise Casey, said cutting the benefit would be an “unnecessary evil” and that she is “so disappointed” in both Johnson and Rishi Sunak.

Teachers and social workers

  • National Association of Head Teachers
  • National Education Union
  • The British Association of Social Workers

More than half of education staff reported seeing an increase in child poverty at their school or college during the pandemic, National Education Union (NEU) research showed. Teachers want the government to make the uplift permanent to cut the attainment gap and ensure kids have stable home lives on which to build successful school lives.

Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the NEU said: “The government must keep the lifeline this October and avoid causing immense, immediate, and avoidable hardship.”

Doctors, healthcare experts and disability charities

  • Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health
  • British Psychological Society
  • The Faculty of Public Health
  • Royal College of Psychiatrists
  • Family Fund
  • Disability Benefits Consortium
  • Disabled People Against Cuts
  • Scope
  • Z2K
  • Carers UK
  • Health Foundation
  • Macmillan Cancer Support
  • Mental Health Foundation
  • Mind
  • MS Society
  • National AIDS Trust
  • National Survivor User Network
  • Rethink Mental Illness
  • Royal National Institute of Blind People
  • Royal National Institute for Deaf People
  • Royal Society for Public Health
  • UCL Institute of Health Equity
  • Young Lives vs Cancer

The cut will increase sickness in areas where people already have the poorest health, according to the Health Foundation.

Decreasing benefits would widen the health gap between rich and poor, researchers warned, piling pressure on the NHS in years to come as well as intensifying the mental health difficulties of people already struggling with rising debts, reduced income and soaring living costs. People could be forced to ration their essential medication too, experts said, as not everyone on universal credit is entitled to free prescriptions.

Disability campaigners are also fighting for the government to scrap the cut, which risks the health and wellbeing of thousands of people unable to work and relying on the benefit. But many disabled people are still on legacy benefits, such as employment and support allowance, which were never increased in the first place. Charities and MPs want their payments to be boosted too.

Think tanks

  • Bevan Foundation
  • Bright Blue
  • Centre for Cities
  • Institute for Public Policy Research
  • Learning and Work Institute
  • New Economics Foundation
  • Policy in Practice

More than £14bn has been cut from the social security system in the last decade, according to the New Economics Foundation (NEF). The £20 increase to universal credit – worth around £6bn – only replaced around half of this.

​“The UK is in the midst of a cost-of-living crisis, and it is due to sharpen significantly for those on the lowest incomes over the next few months,” said Sarah Arnold, senior economist at the NEF.

​“The UK safety net is already one of the weakest both among advanced economies and in the UK’s own post-war history. Yet this is about to be compounded by the largest overnight cut to welfare in 70 years, hitting families disproportionately in the North East, West Midlands, and Yorkshire and the Humber. It makes a mockery of the government’s intention to ​level up.

“The widespread deprivation that will result is devastating for the health and wellbeing of those affected. And there will be significant wider social and economic implications. The cut risks jeopardising any economic recovery from the Covid-related downturn, by cutting the incomes of those most likely to spend money to keep the economy moving.”

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