Ending the £20 Universal Credit uplift will be like 'taking one leg off' people, campaigner says

  • Video report by ITV Wales reporter Ian Lang

The £20 Universal Credit uplift has proven to be a vital lifeline for families across Wales and should not be scrapped, a campaigner has said.

Sheila Powell, a retiree from Flintshire who herself claims Universal Credit and works with local charities to support people who are struggling financially, said removing the uplift would be like "taking one leg off" those struggling.

The Universal Credit uplift was introduced as an economic support measure to help families on lower incomes at the beginning of the pandemic, with the UK Chancellor announcing it in his March 2020 Budget.

Working Tax Credits were also topped up by £20 as part of the UK Government's uplift.

The Universal Credit uplift was subsequently extended in March 2021 for another six months and is due to expire at the end of September.

Those claiming Working Tax Credits were given a one-off £500 payment earlier this year around the time the UC uplift extension was announced.

UK Government Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced the £20 uplift to Universal Credit in his March 2020 Budget Credit: PA Images

However Sheila, a former councillor, believes that removing the uplift would intensify the struggles many are currently facing in Wales.

"The £20 has helped," she said.

"Now the Government is thinking of taking it away when we haven't got back to routine properly."

Through her experiences of working with vulnerable families, Sheila said she knew of some parents going hungry to feed their children.

Referring to UK child poverty statistics for the year 2019-20, Sheila said: "In this country, in Great Britain, there are 4.3 million children living in poverty.

"If you take away that £20, there are going to be more.

"There will be more homelessness. People will have to choose between eating, paying their rent, eating themselves or feeding their children.

"I know a family who, quite often during the school holidays, have gone to the chip shop and bought one bag of chips and split it between four children."

More children would be driven into poverty if the Universal Credit uplift is ended as planned in September, Sheila said Credit: PA Images

There have been calls for the Universal Credit uplift to be made permanent from various corners of the political spectrum and from the voluntary sector.

Laura Courtney, Policy and External Affairs Manager at Community Housing Cymru, said: "Our report lays bare the difference the additional £20 per week has had on people, and is a stark reminder of the realities many face when it comes to the choice between paying bills and feeding themselves and their families.

"We are grateful to all the tenants who shared their experiences of Universal Credit with their housing associations as part of this research into the real term impact of the uplift. What is alarming is that many people who responded are currently in work, but are still struggling to make ends meet on low wages. Others are seeking work, and need support with paying the bills in order to do so.  

"The UK government must keep this uplift of £20 per week, and listen to the experiences of claimants and what the planned reduction will signify. The additional £20 per week has proven vital to those who claim Universal Credit, providing the support that was so desperately needed even before the pandemic. Removing it will only push people into debt."

Making the uplift permanent would cost the UK Government an extra £6billion a year "in the long run", according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies.

In response, the UK Government said the Universal Credit was always intended as a temporary measure.

It said its intention was to help people learn new skills to progress in their careers, increase their hours or find new work.

A UK Government spokesperson said: "Universal Credit has provided a vital safety net for six million people during the pandemic, and we announced the temporary uplift as part of a £400 billion package of measures put in place that will last well beyond the end of the roadmap.

"Our focus now is on our multi-billion pound Plan for Jobs, which will support people in the long-term by helping them learn new skills and increase their hours or find new work."