The temporary £20 weekly uplift in Universal Credit was warmly welcomed in helping families cope with the consequences of the pandemic. I have seen how important this uplift has been for my constituents who have suffered additional pressures on their household incomes due to lockdown.
The uplift was just one element of Covid support and these packages of support were always intended to be temporary, but to last for the duration of the pandemic. I will lobby the Chancellor and my Ministerial colleagues at the Treasury to ensure the uplift remains in place given we are still mid-pandemic and the economy is firmly closed. The purpose of Universal Credit is ultimately to simplify the welfare system, supplement low incomes and incentivise paid work.
The Government’s approach throughout this pandemic has been to support all families – particularly those vulnerable and on low incomes – through a range of measures worth over £280 billion, including the Furlough Scheme, £1 billion in catch up funding for schools and vulnerable children, a £500 million Hardship Fund, £170 million to support food poverty this winter, and over £6 billion in increases to welfare.
The Government has already made a number of announcements to support vulnerable and low income families in the next financial year including: increasing the National Living Wage, £670 million in Council Tax support funds (worth £150 each for 3.5 million families), maintaining the £1 billion increase in Local Housing Allowance (benefitting over 1 million families by over £600 each), and a new £220 million Holiday Activities and Food Programme.
Given that we are still in the middle of the pandemic, I do not support withdrawing this temporary uplift in Universal Credit now. However, once the economy begins to open up again, temporary Covid funding and benefits will be gradually scaled back to return to previous levels. Getting the timing right for this is vital to ensure a managed transition for recipients. The Chancellor recognises the importance of this and is constantly reviewing the allocations to ensure that people are supported throughout the pandemic. He has done an excellent job and has undoubtedly saved millions of jobs and livelihoods since the start of the pandemic.
As is the usual practice, we will hear from the Chancellor at the March budget with further information on all Covid support measures including the UC £20 uplift.