More than 50 charities and organisations have signed a letter asking the chancellor to permanently increase Universal Credit benefits by £20 a week.
The £20 uplift was introduced by the government at the start of the pandemic, and is meant to be a temporary measure lasting until the end of the financial year, in April 2021.
But charities are now asking for the change to be made permanent and for it to be extended to people on benefits that pre-date the Universal Credit scheme, in a letter coordinated by Joseph Rowntree Foundation.
Together with major homelessness and poverty charities such as Shelter and the Salvation Army, a wide range of organisations supporting different causes signed the letter, including children’s charities, disability groups and health charities. Macmillan Cancer Support, Barnardo’s, Mind and the Lloyds Bank Foundation for England & Wales are among them.
300,000 children pulled into poverty
The letter comes in response to Rishi Sunak’s economy statement last week. When announcing the new Job Support Scheme, the chancellor said that he “cannot save” every business or every job.
The letter says: “Your statement last week made clear that many families will see job losses over the months to come.”
It then argues that the £20 increase has been a “lifeline” during the pandemic, and that scaling it back would lead to 16 million people facing an income loss of £1,040 a year per household. Some 700,000 people, including 300,000 children, will be pulled into poverty, the letter says.
People on “legacy benefits” have not received the additional financial support so far, which the letter claims “it is simply not right”. This term refers to the benefit system that was in place before the introduction of Universal Credit. People on these benefits are mostly sick or disabled people and carers, the letter says.
‘Overwhelming support for this lifeline’
Helen Barnard, director of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, said: “Today’s letter shows the overwhelming support that exists for this lifeline which is playing a critical role in helping many families keep their heads above water in extremely turbulent times. Building on existing cross-party support in parliament, we are coming together to urge ministers not to cut social security at precisely the moment our country needs it most.
“It’s only right to prioritise those hardest hit, pulling families worst affected by the pandemic back from the brink. We are united in calling on the chancellor to keep doing the right thing by making the uplift to Universal Credit permanent and extending it to those claiming legacy benefits.”
Steven McIntosh, director of policy, campaigns and influence at Macmillan Cancer Support, said: “If you’re living with cancer, you shouldn’t have to worry if you can pay the bills. During the coronavirus pandemic financial pressures have increased, from the costs of travelling further for treatment to higher bills from living in isolation.
“The action the government took to support vulnerable people on low incomes during the pandemic has been a lifeline. However, as people living with cancer continue to face the impact of coronavirus on their finances, the government must not take away the £20 increase in Universal Credit.”