'Leave that £20 well alone'

Six former Tory work and pensions secretaries call on chancellor to halt planned Universal Credit cut

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A growing number of Tory ministers have joined the chorus of calls to permanently maintain the extra £20 a week to Universal Credit payments that is due to end in September.

This week, six Tory ex-welfare ministers, including former work and pensions secretary and creator of the Universal Credit system Sir Iain Duncan Smith, have called on the government to make permanent the £20 a week increase to Universal Credit that was first introduced as an emergency measure last March.

Duncan Smith was joined by all five of his successors, including Damian Green, Stephen Crabb, David Gauke, Esther McVey, and Amber Rudd in writing a joint letter to chancellor Rishi Sunak urging him to halt plans to cut Universal Credit payments in September.

“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 ex-welfare ministers wrote in their letter to Sunak.

“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,” the letter continued.

In a separate statement, Duncan Smith explained why it was so vital that the increase to Universal Credit is maintained permanently.

“Universal Credit has held up well as a system for distributing money to those who need it, and the extra £20 added to has been essential in allowing people to live with dignity,” he said.

“A failure to act would mean not grasping this opportunity to invest in a future with more work and less poverty and would damage living standards, health and opportunities for some of the families that need our support most as we emerge from the pandemic.”

The Mirror reports that it is also believed that current work and pensions secretary Therese Coffey also wants to make the £20 a week permanent as discussions with the Treasury continue.

Dozens of other Tory MPs have publicly stated that they likewise want increased Universal Credit payments to be maintained permanently.

Growing calls from politicians on all sides against cutting Universal Credit reflects the public mood – a survey of more than 1,600 people published by The Fabian Society in May showed widespread public support for permanently maintaining the £20 increase to Universal Credit.

Research from the Child Action Poverty group has shown that if Universal Credit is cut as planned in September – a move which would make about 6m families £1000 worse off each year – then an additional 200,000 children would be plunged into poverty.

Last week, Tory minister Will Quince said that his full ‘expectation’ is that Universal Credit will be cut in September. When asked, he admitted that the government had undertaken no assessment of its own on the impact the cut would have on child poverty, dismissing such assessments as “inherently speculative”.

Unite Community has long campaigned to make the extra £20 in Universal Credit payments permanent, and successfully lobbied to extend the payment beyond the initial cut-off date of April this year.

Unite Community continues to make the case that Universal Credit payments are already far too low – even with the £20, the basic Universal Credit rate is worth just a sixth of average weekly pay. Unite Community has also called for the £20 to be extended to those on legacy benefits who are currently excluded.

Commenting, Unite assistant general secretary Steve Turner with responsibility for Unite Community said, “Six former Tory welfare ministers calling for Sunak not to cut the £20 in Universal Credit surely must make the chancellor listen.

“The problem is not the £20 but the epidemic of poverty pay in this country,” he added. “The majority of those on UC are in work, and that is a scandal.

“A government that takes cash off those most in need is one that will deepen this country’s already shocking levels of poverty and inequality,” Turner went on to say. “It certainly makes a lie out of their empty claims to be `levelling up’.

“But the fact is that cutting that £20 also makes no economic sense,” he continued.” That’s money spent on our struggling high streets, on food and clothes for children and families, not hidden offshore in some dodgy Cayman Island’s account.

“If the chancellor is serious about getting our country back on its feet, he will leave that £20 well alone.”

By Hajera Blagg

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