Millions of families on Universal Credit are facing “agonising uncertainty” after the Government’s spending review did not address calls for benefit increases to be extended, charities have warned. Since April this year, Universal Credit claimants were given a £20-a-week boost in response to the coronavirus pandemic. The temporary measure is due to come to an end in April 2021 but Chancellor Rishi Sunak is yet to address the deadline. Confronting Treasury Minister Stephen Barclay, ITV host Robert Peston said a scrap of the £20 boost would be “appalling”.
He blasted: “Your own projections say that you are going to take away the £20 increase in Universal Credit.
“Given what everybody has gone through in the last few months, surely that is another appallingly heartless decision.”
Mr Barclay replied: “We always said this is a temporary measure that we brought in alongside with Covid and in response to that.”
He added: “Of course these things are kept under review but it’s not a decision for the spending review.”
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Charities are calling on the Government to extend and even make permanent the welfare increase beyond the impending deadline.
However, Chancellor Rishi Sunak did not address these calls when he set out his one-year Spending Review at the House of Commons, leading to community figures urging him to reconsider.
Youth homelessness charity Centrepoint said it had argued strongly for the retention of the £20 uplift in Universal Credit, which has made “a huge day-to-day difference for thousands of unemployed young people”.
Paul Noblet, head of public affairs at Centrepoint, said: “The Government’s failure to commit to retaining the current uplift in Universal Credit is hugely disappointing and will weigh heavily on the minds of millions of people for whom the £20 a week increase has made a huge difference.
“There is still time for the Government to reflect on this issue between now and the end of March and we urge them to think again.”
Director of policy and campaigns at children’s charity Action for Children, Imran Hussain, said: “It’s not right that low-income families face a £1,000 cut to their Universal Credit help from next year – adding even more stress to a second lockdown, the arrival of winter and with Christmas around the corner.
“The Government must put this right – right now – to prevent a generation of children from being scarred by poverty and the pandemic which would carry significant long-term costs to the public finances.”
Charity Turn2us, which helps people in financial hardship, said the Spending Review does not go far enough for low-income households.
Thomas Lawson, chief executive at Turn2us, said: “For a society that believes in compassion and fairness, the lack of commitment to maintaining the vital £20 uplift to Universal Credit will make it impossible for so many of us to get back on our feet.
“Our own research into people’s financial resilience shows how one in three of us have had to rely on credit since the pandemic took hold.
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“We urge the Government to prevent a rising tide of destitution.”
Their sentiments were shared by the Disability Benefits Consortium (DBC), a network of more than 100 charities and organisations including the MS Society, Z2K, Disability Rights UK and Inclusion London.
Anastasia Berry, policy co-chair of the DBC and policy manager at the MS Society, praised the Government for recognising the extra help Universal Credit claimants needed during the crisis, but added: “Those on legacy benefits, like Employment and Support Allowance and Jobseekers Allowance, were disgracefully refused the same financial lifeline.”
She added: “Instead, for eight months, around two million disabled people have been discriminated against, leaving them struggling to eat a cooked meal a day, pay to heat their homes and get vital medical treatment.
“Despite multiple letters and a 119,000-signature-strong petition sent to the Chancellor to call for a £20 a week increase, today’s spending review was another example of the Government refusing to acknowledge the financial challenges these disabled people are facing as a result of this pandemic.
“Granting them an additional 37p – in line with inflation – has left us lost for words.”