Universal Credit: What impact has removing the £20 uplift had on people in Wales?

ITV Cymru Wales' programme Wales This Week spoke to people on lower incomes in Wales to hear how the removal of the £20 universal credit uplift has impacted them.

The £20 Universal Credit uplift provided a vital lifeline to thousands of people across Wales. 

The uplift, which was given as a top-up payment to those on Universal Credit, was introduced by the UK Government, who say it was a temporary measure to help people on lower incomes through the height of the coronavirus pandemic. 

It was widely praised by people and politicians alike as a sign of a stately and compassionate government in a time of crisis.

But, almost two months on from the removal of the £20 uplift, what kind of impact has it had on people and how much more difficult has life become?

Colin Ridgway is unable to work due to ill health

Colin Ridgway, from Wrexham, is one of over a quarter of a million people in Wales receiving Universal Credit. 

A former lorry driver and business owner, Colin had been working and earning a steady income before deteriorating health meant he was unable to work. 

He said the £20 uplift provided a "lifeline" through some challenging times. 

"Life is now incredibly, incredibly difficult," he said. 

"That [uplift] made a real difference. After I pay everything out I am left with £6.60 a day to live on for food, for washing up, for the basic essentials. People do not realise what a lifeline that £20 was. 

"It was still not brilliant but instead of drowning you were at least treading water.

"You are having to make sacrifices whether it is food or heating. You are looking to cut down on everything. 

"It is getting towards despair."

Colin said he now keeps to a strict rule where he will only have his heating on for half an hour a day. 

Rishi Sunak, the UK Government Chancellor, was widely praised for introducing the temporary uplift Credit: PA Images

Christmas, he says, is not a time of the year he is looking forward to. 

He said: "It is making me very sad thinking about Christmas. I am going to struggle to buy things for my grandchildren. It was my grandson's birthday a couple of weeks ago and I couldn't afford to buy him a present. That made me feel awful.

"I am actually dreading Christmas."

And what kind of difference would it make - as some have called for - if the £20 uplift was reinstated? 

"It would make a massive difference," he said. 

"I would not be sitting here in the cold. Instead of half an hour for the heating I could maybe afford to have my heating on for a little longer. 

"I would like to see it made permanent. Social security is meant to be a security blanket."

Cerina, from Cardiff, relies on a mobility scooter to get around and says losing the £20 uplift has had a big impact on her

Cerina Wembridge from Cardiff has felt the impact of losing the uplift. 

She is also disabled, receives Personal Independence Payments (PIP) and relies on a mobility scooter to get around. 

Getting by each month is a challenge, she says. 

"By the time you pay everything out, you are left with nothing." she explains. 

"[This winter] it's going to be hard. I pay my bills quarterly. The prices are going up and up and up; it is ridiculous. 

"My energy bills are now going up. I try to resist putting on the heating."

It did not take long for Cerina to feel the impacts of losing that extra £20 a week. Something, she says, would make a "big difference" if it were reinstated. 

"I am struggling. Since they took the £20 a week I find it hard to pay all my bills," she says.

"I noticed the difference within two weeks. I get paid one day and it’s gone the next. Now, with winter coming, we're going to have to pay more for gas and electricity. I am worried because it's getting really cold.

Universal Credit: Some of the numbers

  • 276,109 people in Wales receive Universal Credit, according to Department for Work and Pensions figures

  • £6bn - Making the uplift permanent would cost around £6bn a year, the Institute for Fiscal Studies estimates

  • £10.6bn - UK Government spending on welfare in Wales in 2019/20, a figure that has risen every year since 2013/14

"All the bills are coming in at once and everything is going up. I was £20 down last month and had to miss a bill. 

"It [the £20 uplift] would make a big difference if it was brought back."

Married couple John and Carole say they have to stick to a very strict budget each month to get by

Husband and wife team John and Carole just about manage to get by.

The couple from Ammanford volunteer at - and rely on - a local Salvation Army foodbank. 

John said they have managed to offset the very worst of the impacts due to budgeting and trying to prepare for the end of the uplift, but they expect to feel it sooner or later. 

"When it was first taken off it was a shock to the system but we were prepared for it," John said. 

"It will be this month and coming into Christmas that we will really feel it. 

"In the realistic world it is a big shock to the system. But that is what the government said, that it was only temporary. It is hard to say how we feel, we won't know until time goes on. 

That uncertainty, John says, is causing the couple to worry about the upcoming winter period. 

He said: "We are thinking: how are we going to get through this winter? We will have to think about how we are going to budget and get through it."

The couple volunteer at a local Salvation Army foodbank

"I think by Christmas we will really start to feel it. What do you cut down on? The heating? This is what everybody is facing. Do you pick up an extra tin of beans or [put on] an extra bar on the fire?"

Being volunteers at their local foodbank, John said he is beginning to see more people coming through the doors and expects to see an increase in the coming weeks.

"We are starting to see more people coming. You can have a quiet week and then it is suddenly a busy week," he explained.

"It varies. It all depends when people get Universal Credit. 

"That is the biggest thing that is impacting people, the £20 going. It does not seem a lot but when you take it over a month it is a lot of money. We are seeing people coming through our system, people are saying they are feeling a big drop."

The Bevan Foundation, an anti-poverty think tank that conducts research and makes policy proposals to the Welsh and UK governments, believes the impact of removing the uplift has been huge for people and families on low incomes.  

"I think it’s been massive," says Victoria Winckler, the Bevan Foundation's director.

"I think it's hard to overstate how serious an impact that has had. We've heard people saying they literally don’t know how they’re going to cope because their outgoings have stayed the same and, although people are going back to work, as the covid restrictions ease, not everybody is going back to the same number of hours. 

"So we really are seeing people being very hard hit."

A UK Government spokesperson said: "We are committed to supporting people on low incomes and the changes we have made to Universal Credit will see nearly two million of the lowest paid better off by around £1,000 a year.

"The most vulnerable, including those who can't work, can get additional help with essential costs through our new £500 million support fund."

Meanwhile the Welsh Government said it had also taken steps to help those on lower incomes. 

A spokesperson said: "Households in Wales are under unprecedented financial pressure, compounded by the cost-of-living crisis and the cruel decision by the UK Government to end the uplift to Universal Credit, which has plunged many more adults and children into poverty.

"We have many schemes in place to help people, including our ‘Claim What’s Yours’ benefits take-up campaign and we’ve funded advice services which have helped people claim more than £17m of additional income.

"We are launching a £51m fund to support families hardest hit by the cost-of-living crisis – this includes a £38m winter fuel scheme for households in receipt of working-age means-tested benefits. Although it will not fully compensate people who've lost the £20 Universal Credit uplift payment, it will help people to keep their homes warm this winter."

You can watch Wales This Week: Making Ends Meet on ITV Cymru Wales on Monday 29 November. The programme will also be available online after its transmission.