Campaigners have been left disappointed after the chancellor Rishi Sunak announced plans to extend but eventually roll back the £20 uplift in the basic level of Universal Credit (UC) payments.
The uplift was introduced soon after the pandemic began in March 2020 with the aim of helping millions of UC claimants keep themselves afloat financially.
There have been widespread calls from campaigners and charities for the government to officially make the extra £20 per week a permanent feature of the UC system but no such commitment was forthcoming from chancellor Rishi Sunak in his recent Budget speech.
In fact, Mr Sunak told MPs in Westminster that he intended to see the £20 uplift taken away in October 2021, which anti-poverty and debt help campaigners have lamented as very bad news for people and families reliant on benefits for their income.
“This makes no sense and will pull hundreds of thousands more people into poverty as we head into winter,” said Helen Barnard from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.
“Ministers know this short extension offers little relief or reassurance to the millions of families, both in and out-of-work, for whom this £20-a-week is helping to stay afloat,” she added.
Citizens Advice Scotland (CAS) has responded to the chancellor’s Budget with similar disappointment on the UC uplift issue and said that the government should be strengthening rather than weakening the “social security safety net”.
“Universal Credit wasn’t enough to live on before the pandemic, and if the uplift ends, whether now or in six months, it will be worth less in real terms than it was when it was first introduced in 2013,” said Nina Ballantyne, a CAS spokesperson.
“If the uplift is removed in October, people on UC face a cash income drop of as much as a quarter,” she added.
The debt help charity StepChange has said that it too wants to see the government keeping the £20 UC uplift in place and suggested that policymakers must be ambitious in how they help people in debt get back on their feet financially in the coming months.
StepChange’s latest estimates suggest there are around 1.2 million people who have been affected by Covid in problem debt and around 3 million at risk of finding themselves in much the same position.
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