Removal of £20 Universal Credit uplift should be paused through winter, ex-Tory leader says

The removal of the £20 Universal Credit uplift should be paused through winter until there is a better understanding of what is happening to the economy after the pandemic, a former Conservative Party leader has said.

Speaking to Sky News, Sir Iain Duncan Smith said the policy has been “the silent ship in the fleet” throughout coronavirus and warned the government there remains “a real need for a support mechanism”.

From Wednesday, no more Universal Credit assessments will include the £20 uplift, meaning that from 13 October – one week later – no payments received will have the extra sum.

Conservative candidate for Chingford and Woodford Green Iain Duncan Smith speaks after winning Britain's general election in Waltham Forest Town Hall, Walthamstow, Britain, December 13, 2019. REUTERS/John Sibley
Image: Former Conservative leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith said the government must think ‘very carefully’ about the repercussions of removing the £20 uplift

Numerous charities have raised concerns that hundreds of people will be plunged into poverty through the move.

But also speaking to Sky News on Wednesday morning, Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab reiterated the government’s position that the uplift was “always meant to be temporary”.

Sir Iain, who designed and built the Universal Credit system alongside others, told Sky News the policy has been “a huge success during the course of the COVID outbreak”.

Referring to the government’s flagship policy of levelling up, he also warned that “you need a floor from which people can start to level up” from.

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The former Conservative leader described the uplift as “an asset that works” and said Prime Minister Boris Johnson must think about the impact of its removal “very carefully”.

“If we take the money out now in this way, two things – even if the government wants to do it, which I think we don’t need to do, but let’s say they do – at least let’s pause and have a look at this for a longer period while we understand what is happening with the economy and know that there is rising prices, cost of living is going to rise, fuel price is rising, lots of difficulties at the moment,” Sir Iain told Sky News.

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Sky’s digital politics editor Tom Rayner takes a look at the Universal Credit cut – and explains how the system works.

“As we run into winter, I just wonder whether or not the government thinks about this carefully – even if they still want to do it – and just pause and figure out where we are going so we understand the nature of it.”

But Mr Raab said the government wants to support more people in to work.

“We are saying that of course the welfare system is there for those most in need, but what we want to do – and there is £2bn going into the Kickstart Scheme, it has been extended – is supporting people off benefits into work,” he told Sky News.

“That must be right in the longer term.”

The removal of the uplift will see 4.4 million households with 3.3 million children see their incomes drop by more than £1,000 according to the Resolution Foundation.

And the charity Save the Children has warned one child every second will be affected by the cut on average over the next month.

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According to the government’s own figures, just over 3.5 million children in the UK are living in households that receive Universal Credit payments.

This equates to 1.3 children being hit by the cut every second on average over the 31-day period from 13 October, Save the Children said.

Helen Barnard, deputy director of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation said the scrapping of the increase “makes a mockery” of the prime minister’s mission to level up.

“Despite overwhelming opposition, he is ploughing ahead with a cut which fundamentally undermines the adequacy of our vital social security system as we face a cost-of-living crisis,” she said.

Work & Pensions Secretary Therese Coffey is ‘happy’ with cuts to universal credit
Image: Work and Pensions Secretary Therese Coffey has faced calls from some members of her own party to keep the uplift

Meanwhile Dr Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said the move “shows the government is out of step with the rising cost of living for low income families”.

A government spokesman said: “We’ve always been clear that the uplift to Universal Credit was 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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