Social Justice

'Clear majority' of British public backs universal credit increase

Researchers found a "groundswell" in support for keeping the £20-per-week universal credit increase for 4.6 million households

A majority of the public also wants reforms to stop working parents being priced out of childcare. universal credit

Childcare costs have risen and campaigners are calling on the government to tackle the crisis. Image: Pexels

A “clear majority” of the British public wants the social security system to pay more to people in need, new research has revealed, including keeping the £20-per-week universal credit increase for young people, carers and disabled people.

The Fabian Society report showed a surge in support for keeping the increase for around 4.6 million households, with the amount paid to under-25s raised to match what older adults receive.

“Our politicians need to catch up with public thinking, giving people a fair chance to get back on their feet and helping people when they fall on hard times,” said Mubin Haq, chief executive of Standard Life Foundation, which funded the study.

“The cost to government spending is significant, but the human cost of inaction is even greater.”

A strong social security system is “essential” to prevent poverty, the report said.

“The growth of in-work poverty at a time when the minimum wage has been rising is proof that reforms to markets cannot deliver alone.”

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The public also backs childcare reforms to ensure working parents and carers are not trapped in poverty, according to the work of a citizens’ jury and survey of more than 1,600 people.

Recent research by the Institute of Public Policy Research showed in-work poverty hit a record high just before the pandemic – with one in six working households trapped in hardship – largely driven by unaffordable childcare.

“This report confirms that there is strong public support for a social security system in the UK that offers a decent safety net to all,” said Jonathan Reynolds, Labour’s shadow work and pensions secretary.

“The pandemic has shown universal credit to be inadequate, leaving too many people to fall through the gaps.

“These findings will make an important contribution to Labour’s plans for a replacement of universal credit which guarantees a proper standard of living and makes work pay.”

Researchers pitched fictional scenarios to people and asked if they believed particular demographics should be better supported by the welfare system. More than 70 per cent wanted increased payments for disabled adults who work part-time for the minimum wage, while 68 per cent supported higher benefits for single parents, with two pre-school children, who work part-time for the minimum wage.

“The majority of the public are not convinced our social security offers the safety net it should be providing,” said Haq added.

“It has too many holes and is unfair and insufficient.

“The pandemic has shown many of us are vulnerable and we need a more comprehensive package of support.”

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The public backed greater payments for people out of work, too. Around 77 per cent of people said the government should pay more to severely disabled people who may not work again, while 75 per cent wanted higher benefits for adult carers.

“The public particularly want to help disabled people, young adults, working lone parents and people caring for babies and disabled relatives,” said Andrew Harrop, general secretary of the Fabian Society and co-author of the report. “These groups make up 4.6 million households or three quarters of everyone who will get Universal Credit.”

However more than half the public wants to retain the two-child limit, which places a cap on the amount of money a family can receive in universal credit. Recent research suggested the policy was having a detrimental effect on the mental health of parents and carers.

“Jurors responded warmly to arguments that no child should be left without their reasonable needs being met, whatever their circumstances,” the report said, “but for a majority this did not trump strongly held views about parents taking responsibility for their circumstances and how many children they had.”

The Department for Work and Pensions has been approached for comment.

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