Dr Thérèse Coffey, the Work and Pensions Secretary, has responded to a letter from cross-party committees in Westminster, Northern Ireland’s Assembly, Wales’ Senedd, and the Scottish Parliament.
The joint letter, issued in July, had urged the Government to prolong the £20 weekly boost in Universal Credit’s basic payment, which is set to expire in October. This reduces the normal monthly rate to £257.33 for single claimants under the age of 25, and to £324.84 for single claimants above the age of 25.
The answer from the Secretary of State indicates that the increase will stop on 6 October as scheduled.
She said: “Now the economy has reopened it is right that the Government should focus on supporting people back into work and supporting those already employed to progress in their careers.
“Our ambition is to support two million people move into and progress in work through our comprehensive £33 billion Plan for Jobs.”
Neil Gray MSP, Convener of Holyrood’s Social Justice and Social Security Committee, Stephen Timms MP, Chair of Westminster’s Work and Pensions Select Committee, Paula Bradley MLA, Chair of Stormont’s Committee for Communities, and Jenny Rathbone MS, Chair of the Senedd’s Equality and Social Justice Committee, signed the original letter.
According to government data, there will be six million recipients of Universal Credit by January 2021, up from around three million in March 2020.
The Work and Pensions Committee will hear from individuals who have firsthand experience claiming Universal Credit during the epidemic at its first oral evidence session following the summer holiday. The hearing is scheduled on Wednesday, September 8th, at 9.30 a.m.
Stephen Timms MP, Chair of the Work and Pensions Committee, said: “The £20 cut will plunge hundreds of thousands, including children, into poverty. Instead, the Government should extend the lifeline beyond September.
“The Secretary of State’s dismissive response to our letter suggests that the Government is still in denial about the impact of ending the increase.
“The Government’s new employment support schemes are welcome, but 40% of Universal Credit claimants are already in work.
“The cut will hit many working families hard. Benefit rates have not kept up with the rising cost of living, and the Government’s plan means that, in real terms, they will fall to their lowest level in over 30 years.
“The Government must change course to prevent severe hardship for many thousands of families.”
Paula Bradley MLA, Chair, Committee for Communities, said: “The stark reality is that this £20 per week uplift has been a lifeline for many families across Northern Ireland.
“Faced with the unprecedented challenges posed by the pandemic, the decision by the Government to increase the level of payment was welcome as many families faced a drop in household income, while bills and living costs needed met.
“However, while this move was always intended to be temporary, the impact of the pandemic remains. Indeed, it is becoming more acute with the phasing out of furlough.
“Furthermore, the price of food is rising, and it is widely expected that we will, like in GB, see energy price rises over the coming months. This will plunge more families into financial crisis.
“This enhanced safety net of Universal Credit simply cannot be cut faced with the current and impending pressures on household budgets.”
Neil Gray MSP, Convener of the Social Justice and Social Security Committee, said: “The response from the Secretary of State failed to engage on the issues we raised and recognise the large proportion of Universal Credit recipients who are already in work.
“If this cut is to go ahead it would be the single biggest social security cut since the second world war as we are still assessing the impact the pandemic has had on poverty levels for those in and out of work.
“UK Ministers must reflect on the damage this cut will do, particularly to those groups already suffering the most from the pandemic such – children, disabled people, single parents and people from BAME communities – and keep this key support in place.”
Jenny Rathbone MS, Chair, Equality and Social Justice Committee, said: “The Government’s new employment support schemes are welcome, but 40% of Universal Credit claimants are already in work.
“This cut will hit many working families hard. So the £20 cut will plunge hundreds of thousands, including children, into poverty.
“The Government should extend the lifeline beyond September, but the Secretary of State’s dismissive response to our letter suggests that the Government is still in denial about the impact of ending the increase.
“Benefit rates have not kept up with the rising cost of living, and the Government’s plan means that, in real terms, they will fall to their lowest level in over 30 years. The Government must change course to prevent severe hardship for many thousands of families.”