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MPs call for year-long extension of £20 Universal Credit uplift

Emma Lunn
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Emma Lunn

An influential group of MPs says hundreds of thousands of households risk falling into poverty if the benefit is cut in April as planned.

The Work and Pensions Committee said any plans to replace the £20 per week increase in Universal Credit (UC) and Working Tax with one-off payments must be abandoned amid concerns over fraud and impact on vulnerable.

When the coronavirus pandemic first hit, the government increased Universal Credit payments by £20 each week. But this uplift is due to end in April.

The report from the Work and Pensions Committee notes that since March the number of people claiming UC has doubled to around six million, while job vacancies remain far below pre-pandemic levels.

It warns that removing the payment as planned in April, while the effects of the pandemic are still being felt, would ‘plunge hundreds of thousands of households, including children into poverty’ while dragging those already in poverty ‘down into destitution’.

While the committee recognises that continuing with the increase would come at a ‘substantial cost’, the committee argues that this should be seen in the context of the Treasury’s own £280bn figure for total spending on coronavirus support measures this year.

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation has estimated that keeping the £20 rise would cost around £6.4bn in the next financial year.

The report also calls on the government to abandon any plans for one-off payments to replace the weekly rise.

Stephen Timms MP, chair of the Work and Pensions Committee, said: “Removing the extra payment in March would represent a failure by government – failure to recognise the reality of people struggling. Without regular support, hundreds of thousands of families will be swept into poverty or even destitution. Government must end the uncertainty and commit to extending this lifeline.

“The chancellor faces difficult decisions about the public finances. He may find it hard at present to make the increase permanent. But the pandemic’s impact on the economy and livelihoods will, sadly, be with us for some time. An extension for a year should be the bare minimum.”

Last week the Trussell Trust reported that nearly a quarter of a million parents feared not being able to feed their children properly if the £20 uplift was removed.

Last month saw MPs take place in a non-binding vote on maintaining the Universal Credit uplift. There were 278 votes in favour of the motion, with no votes against, with most Conservative MPs abstaining.

Meanwhile, the Centre for Policy Studies (CPS) is calling for the uplift to be replaced by a Coronavirus Hardship Payment.