Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Majority say £20 Universal Credit boost should be permanent as half a million UK children languish in extreme poverty

Chancellor Rishi Sunak has so far refused to commit to extending the £20 a week uplift beyond April.

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More than half of people polled by Survation on behalf of Unite the union agree that the £20 a week uplift to Universal Credit should be made permament and extended to legacy benefits.

The survey found that 54 per cent of those polled wanted the £20 boost to Universal Credit, already claimed by six million people in the UK, to be extended beyond next April 2021.

The £20 uplift was introduced at the beginning of the Coronavirus pandemic to help families whose incomes had reduced due to the impact of the outbreak.

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Initially, the uplift was only meant to be a temporary measure, but the Government has come under pressure from charities and poverty campaigners who argue that ending the increase will plunge thousands more households into poverty.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak has so far refused to commit to retaining the uplift beyond April next year.

Unite assistant general secretary Steve Turner said: “If Rishi Sunak presses ahead with slashing Universal Credit in April, we will see state support fall to its lowest real-terms level since 1990-91, its lowest ever level relative to average earnings.

“The basic level of out-of-work support prior to the March boost was – at just £73 a week (£3,800 a year) – less than half the absolute poverty line. People are being asked to get by on a tenner a day.

“With savage and heart-breaking rising unemployment, some six million people in this country rely on Universal Credit. The £20 uplift may seem like pennies to the government, but it is literally the difference between turning the heating on or buying a warm coat for the kids for millions.

“Snatching back this cash will be cruel in the extreme – and will certainly offend the voting public.

“The IMF and World Bank both warn this is not the time for governments to attack the incomes of the poorest and that to do so would be to imperil recovery.

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“We are urging the chancellor to make Christmas for the poorest families by saying that the £20 uplift will stay beyond next April. Just do the decent thing and give them this small income security.

“This Survation survey provides further strong evidence as why we’re asking Unite members stand in solidarity and to call on councillors and others to join us in a coalition to force the government to retain the £20 increase, end the waiting time and extend payment to all legacy benefits.

“What Covid-19 has cruelly exposed is the inadequacy of the current welfare system, one of the meanest in Europe, and the entrenched inequalities for some of the country’s most vulnerable and disadvantaged families.

“The permanent uplift of £20-a-week would be a small step in easing the already immense burden of thousands of people struggling financially to pay for the essentials of life on a daily basis.”

Half a million UK children experiencing extreme hardship

Council housing dwarfed by London’s financial district. Photo: Oxfam.

The findings of a new study published today by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) found that half a million children in the UK are experiencing severe hardship.

The study, which was carried out by Heriot-Watt University, blames inadequate benefit levels and debt deductions, particularly the repayable advance many people are forced to borrow to cover the minimum five-week wait for Universal Credit.

JRF is calling for urgent action to make the £20 per week uplift to Universal Credit permanent and extend it to legacy benefits.

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Helen Barnard, Director of JRF said: “It is appalling that so many people are going through this distressing and degrading experience, and we should not tolerate it.

“No one in our society should be unable to afford to eat or keep clean and sheltered. We can and must do more.

“The pandemic has shown just how much we want to look out for each other in difficult times, but the sobering truth is that even before Covid-19 hit, the number of people in destitution was rising sharply.

“Our social security system should act as an anchor to hold us steady when we’re pulled down by powerful currents like job loss, illness or relationship breakdown. But right now, our system is not doing enough to protect people from destitution.

“The Government can act now to confirm that the £20 boost added to Universal Credit will be made permanent and extended to people receiving legacy benefits.

“And by working with people with experience of receiving social security, the Government can re-design our systems so that they keep people afloat, rather than drag people down.”

Professor Suzanne Fitzpatrick, from the Institute for Social Policy, Housing, Equalities Research (I-SPHERE) at Heriot-Watt University, added: “Our findings clearly show that levels of destitution in the UK were already rising sharply prior to the pandemic and the impact of Covid-19 has intensified the difficulties many people face accessing the help they need to meet their most fundamental needs.

“The sheer scale of the issue is unacceptable in one of the world’s richest countries and starkly reveals the devastating impact of the gaps, flaws and deductions in Universal Credit and other aspects of the social security system that lead to destitution by design.”

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DWP faces judicial review after mentally ill man found ‘starved to death’

Errol Graham starved to death in June 2018 after the DWP stopped his benefits.