Boris Johnson’s government will stick with plans to slash universal credit payments by £20 a week this autumn in a bid to get more people back into work, the work and pensions secretary has suggested.
Therese Coffey confirmed the uplift given to claimants during the Covid pandemic – worth £1,000 a year to many hard-pressed families – would be cut at the end of September.
“A collective decision was made within government to make sure the £20 uplift was extended for six months, and that is being honoured,” the minister told MPs.
Ms Coffey added: “But a collective decision was made that as we see the economy open up, we shift the focus strongly onto getting people into work and jobs.”
Both Tory and Labour MPs have urged a re-think on the £5bn cut, while charities have warned that it will hit six million households and push 200,000 more children below the breadline.
Appearing before MPs on the Work and Pensions Committee on Wednesday, Ms Coffey denied claims the government was ignoring the financial hardship the £20-a-week cut would cause.
“It’s not assuming everything is going to be okay,” she said. “We’re not putting our head in the sand … We’re not trying to pretend everything is going to work out for every individual, but that’s why we’re investing in people.”
She said the government had invested £3bn in the Restart programme aimed at getting universal credit claimants out of work for between 12 to 18 months enhanced support to find jobs.
Despite the fact almost 40 per cent of universal credit claimants are already in some form of employment, the work and pensions secretary suggested the end of the uplift was part of push to get more people back into work after lockdown.
Ms Coffey pointed out that there were more vacancies in Britain’s hospitality sector than before the pandemic. “We can open up and fill those vacancies and help people back into work,” she said on the government’s plan to lift remaining Covid curbs on 19 July.
The minister said some universal credit claimants will start to see an “adjustment” to their payments in late September, while others will see the £20-a-week cut during October.
Tory MP Nigel Mills criticised the government for taking away the uplift “regardless” of the lack of data on how the move would affect claimants. “It sounds like this is a dates not data decision,” he said.
Earlier this week, six former Tory work and pension secretaries urged the chancellor Rishi Sunak to make the uplift permanent.
Former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith warned that a failure to keep the uplift would “damage living standards, health and opportunities” for those that “need our support most as we emerge from the pandemic”.
The Treasury said this week that it was “right” that financial support was wound down as Covid measures are eased.
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