Nearly 17,000 working families in Bristol will be hit by the cut to universal credit at the end of this month, the Trades Union Congress has warned.
In addition, the majority of people across the country hit by the £20 per week cut, which will also affect working tax credits, are in work, according to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, a respected poverty charity.
Across the South West, there are 440,000 people on universal credit – 185,000 (42 per cent) of whom are in work – according to the TUC’s analysis.
However, UC payments will drop by £20 per week from the start of October – the equivalent of £1,040 per year – as the government presses ahead with its controversial plan to cut the payment.
The TUC’s regional secretary for the south west, Nigel Costley, said: “Everyone should have enough money to live on and many are struggling to make ends meet here in Bristol.
“But if the universal credit cut goes ahead many working families – and key workers – up and down the region will be forced to get by on much less every week. This is levelling down – not levelling up as we were promised.
“Ministers should abandon this cruel cut that will hit low-income working families. We need a social security system that helps people get back on their feet – not one that locks them in poverty.”
The £20 per week uplift was added to top up universal credit payments from the start of the coronavirus pandemic. That uplift was due to end in March, but the government caved in to pressure from opposition parties, backbench MPs, and campaigners, extending it by six months.
It is now due to stop at the end of this month, despite the cost of living continuing to rise and opposition to the move continuing to mount.
The TUC argues there are better ways to improve the lives of working people. “There are a number of job-supporting and job-creating local initiatives – like becoming a living wage city – that seek to improve the working lives of Bristolians,” Costley said.
“But we need national government to do more to create decent jobs on decent pay for every worker in Bristol.
“That means increasing the minimum wage, increasing national government investment to create good green jobs, and tackling the scourge of insecure work.
“Simply put, cutting universal credit is not the way to create decent work.”
Labour has previously said it would extend the uplift until a “fairer system can be put in place”.
The shadow work and pensions secretary, Jonathan Reynolds, said in July: “The government’s plans to cut universal credit will hit the lowest paid hardest and hurt our economic recovery. Six million families are set to lose £1,000 a year while out of work support will be left at its lowest level in decades.
“There is near-universal opposition to this cut, including from prominent Conservatives. It is time the government saw sense, backed struggling families and cancelled their cut to universal credit.”
The Liberal Democrats have said the government “should commit to extending the uplift and give households the security they need”.
The Scottish National Party said the removal of the £20 uplift “will be a callous act”.
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Also in July, a group of six former work and pensions secretaries, all of them senior Tories, called on the government to keep the uplift.
“As the economy reopens, and the government re-evaluates where it has been spending money, we ask that the current funding for individuals in the universal credit envelope be kept at the current level,” the group, comprising Iain Duncan Smith, Damian Green, Stephen Crabb, David Gauke, Esther McVey, and Amber Rudd, wrote.
“We ask that you protect the investment in universal credit, to strengthen work incentives for those who can work and support more generously those who cannot work.”
Defending the government’s decision, Johnson told the commons liaison committee that “higher skilled jobs” are the “best way forward”.
Asked if he accepted that removing the uplift could cause hardship to many people, the prime minister told the committee: “I think that the best way forward is to get people into higher wage, higher skilled jobs.
“That’s the ambition of this government and if you ask me to make a choice between more welfare or better, higher paid jobs, I’m going to go for better, higher paid jobs.”
Of course, nobody is asking the prime minister to choose between those two options.
About 2.2 million people on universal credit (37 per cent of all claimants) are already in work, and still need benefits to live due to low wages, relative to the cost of living. A further 1.6 million universal credit claimants are unable to work due to childcare demands or ill health.
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The Resolution Foundation, a respected poverty thinktank, says that without the £20 uplift, unemployment benefits will be at their lowest ever when compared to average earnings. The organisation is urging the government to keep the £20 uplift, with its chief executive calling the cut “political and economic madness”.
Stephen Timms, the Labour MP who chairs the cross-party work and pensions committee, said cutting universal credit would “push half a million people – including 200,000 children – below the poverty line”. The government has previously said it doesn’t know how many children will be plunged into poverty by the move.
A government spokesperson said last night: “As announced by the chancellor at the budget, the uplift to universal credit was always temporary. It was designed to help claimants through the economic shock and financial disruption of the toughest stages of the pandemic, and it has done so.
“Universal credit will continue to provide vital support for those both in and out of work and it’s right that the government should focus on our plan for jobs, supporting people back into work and supporting those already employed to progress and earn more.”
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