Speaking in the House of Commons during this week’s Prime Minister’s Questions, Labour MP for Newcastle upon Tyne Central Chi Onwurah stressed the importance of the Universal Credit uplift to low income households. “Child poverty is evil; I know – I grew up with it,” she began.
“The North East Child Poverty Commission reports that our region suffered the country’s biggest increase in child poverty between 2015 and 2019 when half of children in Newcastle City Central were growing up poor – and that’s before covid.
“And yet 15,000 of the poorest households in my constituency stand to lose £1,000 a year because of planned cuts to Universal Credit in April.
“So, instead of damaging last-minute U-turns, will the Prime Minister now commit to maintaining Universal Credit at at least the current rate?”
Responding via video link, Boris Johnson – who is currently self-isolating following contact from NHS Test and Trace – declined to take the opportunity to announce an extension to the uplift.
He said: “Mr Speaker, she’s right in what she says about the impact of child poverty, and that’s why this government has worked so hard to combat child poverty.
“That’s why we did indeed update Universal Credit, as it was right for the exceptional circumstances that we’re in, by £1,000 per household.
“We will continue to support people throughout this country.
“But the most important thing we can do is to ensure that we get people into work and to support families to get the jobs that they need.
“And it’s the record of this country in creating jobs – new jobs in particular – that has meant actually 400,000 children have been lifted out of poverty in the last 10 years.
“And that is progress. It’s not enough but it’s progress.”
In a speech on March 20 this year, Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak announced the uplift.
“To strengthen the safety net, I’m increasing today the Universal Credit standard allowance, for the next 12 months, by £1,000 a year,” he said.
“For the next twelve months, I’m increasing the Working Tax Credit basic element by the same amount as well.
“Together these measures will benefit over 4 million of our most vulnerable households.
“And I’m strengthening the safety net for self-employed people too, by suspending the minimum income floor for everyone affected by the economic impacts of coronavirus.
“That means every self-employed person can now access, in full, Universal Credit at a rate equivalent to Statutory Sick Pay for employees.”
Elsewhere in Universal Credit news today, campaigners have handed a petition signed by more than 119,000 people to the Chancellor, which calls for the same uplift to legacy benefits.
The ‘Don’t Leave Disabled People Behind’ petition was set up by the Disability Benefits Consortium (DBC), and the petition was handed to Mr Sunak ahead of the spending review and annual benefit uprating.
Ella Abraham, Z2K’s Policy and Campaigns Officer and Campaigns Co-Chair of the DBC, says: “For disabled people and others on legacy benefits, being denied the £20 per week life line that those on Universal Credit have received has meant real hardship.
“It is unacceptable for the Government to maintain that only those who have had to claim Universal Credit as a result of the pandemic are in financial need.
“The Government must take this opportunity in the upcoming Spending Review to act now, end this discriminatory two tier welfare state and ensure that the 2 million people on legacy benefits receive this vital extra support and are no longer left behind.”
A Government spokesperson said: “We are wholly committed to supporting disabled people through the pandemic, boosting welfare support by £9.3 billion to help those most in need, introducing the Covid Winter Support Package for those on low incomes and making £3.7 billion available to local authorities to help address pressures on local services including adult social care.”