South Wales Evening Post
For the last year the £20 a week increase to Universal Credit has been a lifeline to some of the most vulnerable in Aberavon and across the country. So, the UK government’s plan to cut the uplift at the end of the month has left many extremely worried about their finances and how they are going to pay their bills.
In Aberavon alone over 7000 households receive Universal Credit, with 2,000 new claimants registering since the start of the pandemic. For those families the £20 a week uplift has been vital. Trussell Trust research has shown that the rise has protected people who have lost income or their jobs from experiencing poverty during the pandemic and has prevented tens of thousands of people from needing to seek help to feed themselves and their families.
Over the last few weeks my inbox has been filled with emails from residents who are anxious about the planned cut and desperate for the UK government to see sense and keep the uplift.
The increase, worth £1000 a year, has made a real difference to family budgets in Aberavon. It’s helped them to meet the cost of essentials, meant that there is food in the fridge and that the heating could be switched on. Those that have contacted me, including frontline workers, have told me how the extra money has allowed them to pay their bills and put food on the table.
They have said if the planned cut goes ahead then they will be back to worrying about their precarious finances and struggling to make ends meet. Without the increase they face the impossible situation of choosing between skipping meals, not putting the heating on this winter, missing rent payments or not paying their bills, just to make their income stretch.
Children will be hit particularly hard by the cut, two out of every five Aberavon households in receipt of Universal Credit include children.
Cutting the uplift would be a false economy, pushing more families into poverty and forcing them to rely on foodbanks. The money is not saved by families but is spent in shops and businesses on our high street, helping to stimulate the local economy.
Even before the pandemic data showed that worrying proportions of people were unable to afford food or everyday bills despite receiving help from Universal Credit. The fact that the UK government had to increase Universal Credit payments demonstrates that the level of support offered by Universal Credit was inadequate. If payment levels are inadequate then Universal Credit will not provide the safety net that it is supposed to, it won’t protect people from poverty and it won’t bring stability.
Defending the cut the Secretary of State said that it would mean two hours extra work every week for claimants. These were insulting and insensitive comments to make and showed a lack of understanding of the difficulties working families are facing.
Around 40% of families claiming Universal Credit are in work, but that work is insecure, or involves short-hours or low pay. They’re not claiming Universal Credit because they’re work-shy, they’re claiming it because the Westminster Tory government are presiding over an economy where jobs aren’t paying the bills and where low-paid people are forced to top up their income.
This is not the first time that the UK government have threatened to cut the uplift. Back in March they eventually saw sense and kept it after Labour forced a vote on it in Parliament. With the UK government intent on going through with the cut this time Labour again forced a vote in the Commons, calling on the UK Government to cancel the cut and keep the £20 a week uplift. It was supported by MPs from across the House.
There is opposition to the cut from the government’s own benches with prominent Conservatives, including Sir Iain Duncan Smith along with five of his successors as DWP Secretary of State, all against it. Dozens of charities have also voiced their support for the campaign to keep the increase, warning that proceeding with cut would push 500,000 more people into poverty.
We need to be doing all we can to support families through tough times, not pulling the rug from under them. If this cut goes ahead it will be the biggest overnight cut to the basic rate of social security since the foundation of the modern welfare state. It would leave thousands of families in Aberavon £1000 a year worse off and see out-of-work support drop to its lowest levels for over three decades.
The UK government should also go further and extent the same level of support to those on legacy benefits such as Employment and Support Allowance, Income Support and Jobseekers Allowance. For too long people in receipt of these benefits have been forced to carry on without the same uplift as those on Universal Credit have received, to refuse them the same uplift is discriminatory and unfair.
The UK government must cancel this cruel and self-defeating cut, and then it must start building an economy that works for all.