Universal Credit cut despite widespread opposition, affecting over 250,000 North East families

The biggest ever overnight cut to social security has taken place, with 5.5 million people across the UK seeing their Universal Credit (UC) payments cut by £1,040 per year.

As of Wednesday, the £20 per week uplift - a temporary measure brought in to help people on lower incomes during the coronavirus pandemic - has officially been withdrawn.

Almost 40% of UC claimants are in work. The North East will be disproportionately affected, with 268,000 families thought to be on universal credit.

With furlough coming to an end last week, and with energy, food and petrol prices rising, charities have raised concerns that the cut could have a devastating impact on families.

"It's scary now because of the time of year and it's getting dark and it's getting cold," a Teesside mother, who wishes to remain anonymous, told us.

A recent study by professors at the University of York showed 3.4 million households – covering 6.3 million adults and children – will be unable to pay escalating gas and electricity bills this winter without cutting back on food bills.

The study also indicated 840,000 people have been thrust into fuel poverty this week following the gas and electricity price increases that came in on October 1.

The government has also come under sustained pressure over a major squeeze on living standards due to rising energy bills and price hikes in shops.

The move has been widely condemned by charities and opposition parties while many Conservative MPs are also deeply concerned about the impact on low-income families.

As revealed by ITV Tyne Tees, 46% of families in the North East will be affected when the scheme comes to an end.

A Government spokesperson said: “We’ve always been clear that the uplift to Universal Credit and the furlough scheme were temporary. They were designed to help claimants through the economic shock and financial disruption of the toughest stages of the pandemic, and they have 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.”

When Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak address the Conservative Party conference on Monday, there was no suggestion of a U-turn - as ITV UK editor Paul Brand reported.

The temporary uplift was announced last year at the start of the pandemic to help those on benefits deal with the economic shock and financial disruption of Covid-19.

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