Forty thousand people in Southwark would be hit hard by scrapping the £20-a-week Universal Credit uplift, new figures show.
The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Thérèse Coffey, has announced that the boost will be ‘phased out’ from this October, a move slammed by Labour politicians who say it will leave families struggling to put food on the table.
The government has said with reopening the economy its priority has to be getting people back into work.
The decision has received internal Tory opposition, with six former work and pensions secretaries including Iain Duncan Smith writing to chancellor Rishi Sunak urging him to make the uplift permanent, saying it was ‘essential’ to help poorer families ‘live with dignity’.
The uplift was introduced in March 2020 as the pandemic took hold and extended to October 2021.
According to research from the Resolution Foundation, the poorest families reliant on the benefit could see five per cent of their income wiped out overnight if the uplift is scrapped as planned.
Southwark and Lambeth assembly member, Marina Ahmad, said: “The pandemic has put huge pressure on the finances of local people, and removing this lifeline will impact the poorest in our borough, the most.
“This extra £20 a week could make all the difference for some families struggling to put food on the table, make their rent or put the heating on in the winter.
“The government shouldn’t be weakening the safety net at a time when we should be driving forward with an economic recovery that works for everyone.
“Universal Credit doesn’t need to be cut. What it does need is wholesale reform, including the scrapping of the benefit cap and the five-week wait for initial payments”.
Ahmad is also calling for the benefit cap to be scrapped, saying it affects people whose employment opportunities have been limited during the pandemic.
According to the latest figures available, around 1,822 households in Southwark are subject to the cap.
The pandemic saw a steep rise in first time Universal Credit claimants in Southwark, and food bank dependency.
In November 2020, we reported that more than 11,000 emergency food parcels were given to desperate families in Southwark between April and September, according to data from Trussell Trust; 279 per cent increase compared with the same period in 2019.
Soon after lockdown, in the three weeks from April 6 to Friday, April 24, the council reported a ten-fold rise in Universal Credit applications compared with the same time last year.