Social Justice

How will universal credit cut hit struggling families? The DWP doesn’t know

The government refused to share research into how cutting universal credit will impact people in poverty - then said none had been carried out

The UK government will go ahead with its planned £1,040-per-year cut to universal credit this autumn despite having carried out no investigation into how it will impact the lives of people on low incomes across the country.

Welfare minister Will Quince told MPs the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) had made no assessment of the cut’s potential effect on women, ethnic minorities and those in deprived parts of the UK – the people worst-affected by pandemic poverty. But ministers would still remove the £20-per-week increase, introduced earlier in the Covid-19 crisis, on October 6.

The DWP said it was “not possible to produce a robust estimate” of how the autumn benefits decrease could impact child poverty or those in work but still struggling to make ends meet, who make up the bulk of the more than 5.5 million people claiming universal credit.

The decreased payments will amount to the “biggest overnight cut to the basic rate of social security since the Second World War”, according to Katie Schmuecker, deputy director of policy and partnerships for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.

Quince’s comments came just days after – in response to a Freedom of Information request by the Poverty Alliance – the DWP refused to disclose any analysis undertaken into how the universal credit cut would impact UK poverty rates because the government did not deem it to be in the public interest. 

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“The public deserve to know what the government expects the impact of this cut to be,” Schmuecker said. “Ministers cannot hide the fact that they are ploughing ahead with a cut despite knowing it will be devastating for millions of families. 

“We all accept governing is about priorities but cutting the incomes of millions of the poorest families and sucking money out of the places in which they live flies in the face of the government’s mission to level up our country. 

“This is not about generosity, it’s a matter of investing in families so they have the dignity of being able to meet their needs and supporting everyone in and out of work to escape poverty.”

The benefit as it stands does not pay enough to help people maintain stable and secure lives, Joseph Rowntree Foundation analysis showed, even for claimants who work full-time.

Campaigners, opposition MPs and former Tory welfare ministers have made repeated calls to the government to scrap the planned cut, and to extend it to those on so-called legacy benefits – primarily disabled people – who did not receive any increase in payments during the pandemic.

A “clear majority” of the British public wants to keep the increase for those most in need, research published earlier this year revealed, with particular support for maintaining the £20-per-week rise for young people, carers and disabled people. 

“This is the most significant cut to social security in modern times, affecting millions of people, yet staggeringly the government haven’t even bothered to assess the impact their actions will have on our economy,” said Jonathan Reynolds, Labour’s shadow work and pensions secretary.

“To press ahead without considering how this cut will drive up in-work poverty or regional inequality shows, yet again, with this government it’s all talk. When push comes to shove, they aren’t on the side of working people.”

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