Biggest overnight cut in benefits since Second World War: Joseph Rowntree Foundation voices fears over end of Universal Credit uplift

A charity has raised its concerns about the looming end of the £20-a-week uplift to Universal Credit, describing it as the “biggest overnight cut in benefits since the Second World War”. 

According to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, 413 out of a total of 632 parliamentary constituencies in England, Wales and Scotland will see more than one in three families and their children affected as a result of the £1,040 a year cut.

Of these constituencies, 191 are held by Conservative MPs and 53 were won at the last general election or in a subsequent by-election.

In some Labour-held areas, more than three-quarters of families with children will be affected.

The JRF report comes as Citizens Advice warns that if the planned cut goes ahead, 38% of those on Universal Credit would be in debt after paying just their essential bills, rising to nearly half (49%) of households on Universal Credit in so-called “Red Wall” areas.

The temporary increase in Universal Credit was introduced last year amid the COVID-19 pandemic and extended for six months in March, but MPs and charities have called for it to stay.

The cut, which is due to come into force on 6 October, is expected to have the most severe impact in Yorkshire and the Humber, the North East, North West, and West Midlands.

But the JRF has said the policy change will have “deep and far-reaching consequences on families with children across Britain”.

Katie Schmuecker, the charity’s deputy director of policy and partnerships, said: “We are just over a month away from the UK government imposing the biggest overnight cut to the basic rate of social security since the Second World War.

“This latest analysis lays bare the deep and far-reaching impact that cutting Universal Credit will have on millions of low-income families across Britain.

“MPs from across the political spectrum are already expressing their deep concerns about this planned cut. Now is the time for all MPs to step up and oppose this cut to their constituents’ living standards.

“Plunging low-income families into deeper poverty and debt as well as sucking billions of pounds out of local economies is no way to level up. It’s not too late for the prime minister and chancellor to listen to the huge opposition to this damaging cut and change course.”

Two examples cited by the JRF are in Peterborough (Conservative), where 64% of working-age families with children will be hit and Bradford West (Labour), where 82% of families with children will be affected.

Naz Shah, MP for the latter constituency, said “additional funding” was needed in her area instead of the planned cut.

She said: “The same party that refused to pay for free school meals to feed hungry children is now refusing to keep the Universal Credit uplift which as research shows will put 500,000 people into poverty and impact those already struggling in my constituency.”

According to analysis from the JRF, on average 21% of all working-age families in Great Britain will see a £1,040 a year cut to their incomes on 6 October.

In the 58 seats newly won by the Tories, that average is 23%, the charity found.

Labour has said it would keep the uplift in place if it was in power and has pledged to eventually replace UC with a “fairer” system.

The party’s shadow work and pensions secretary Jonathan Reynolds said: “The government’s £1,000 a year cut will be a hammer blow to millions of families, hitting the lowest paid hardest and hurting our economic recovery.

“Time is running out for the Conservatives to see sense, back struggling families and cancel their cut to Universal Credit.”

Responding to the report, a government spokesperson said: “The temporary uplift to Universal Credit 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 a vital safety net and with record vacancies available, alongside the successful vaccination rollout, it’s right that we now focus on our Plan for Jobs, helping claimants to increase their earnings by boosting their skills and getting into work, progressing in work or increasing their hours.”

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