Politics

‘Unconscionable’ universal credit cut breaks human rights law, says UN envoy


The decision to cut universal credit by £20 a week is “unconscionable” and could plunge hundreds of thousands of households into poverty, a top United Nations official has warned.

Ministers have come under continued pressure to reverse the decision to end the £20-a-week uplift introduced to support families during the Covid-19 pandemic, with recipients expected to lose out on £1,040 annually if the cut goes ahead.

Olivier De Schutter, the UN’s special rapporteur on extreme poverty, has warned the move breaches international human rights law and could cause half a million low-income households, including 200,000 children, to fall below the poverty line.

In a letter to the UK government, he urged ministers to reconsider the proposed cut “since it is prima facie doubtful whether the removal of the £20 uplift conforms to international human rights law and standards”.

Mr De Schutter told the Guardian it was “unconscionable at this point in time to remove this benefit”.

He also warned £20 a week “makes a huge difference and could be the difference between falling into extreme poverty or remaining just above that poverty line” for many of those receiving universal credit.

Labour urged Conservative MPs who oppose the welfare cut to “do the right thing” and back a vote calling for the government to scrap the plans on Wednesday.

MPs supported the motion by 253 votes to zero, but it is non-binding and does not force the government to act.

Boris Johnson refused to explain how claimants can make up the lost £20 a week, after cabinet minister Therese Coffey on Monday got her sums wrong and claimed recipients would only need to work an extra two hours a week.

The prime minister declined to say whether the true figure was higher or lower after experts concluded the answer was up to nine hours.

Ministers plan to begin phasing out the uplift from the end of September, based on individual claimants’ payment dates.

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