The £20 uplift to Universal Credit was a temporary measure brought in during the pandemic, and has provided an unprecedented lifeline during the extended period of the pandemic. This support adds up to between £6-9billion per year, and were it to remain, this would need to be paid for by an additional tax rise for hard working families across the UK.
This is not to say that I do not understand, and have great sympathy with the individual cases that will find the readjustment of family budgets by £86 per month difficult. I sit on the Work and Pensions’ Select Committee and hear much evidence from across the country on the situation. But there are many people under the Universal Credit umbrella who are looking for work, and certainly here in North Devon, there are an abundance of job vacancies, and we know that the best route out of poverty is through work. I recognise that 38% of those on Universal Credit are already in work, even if part time, and I have met with Ministers in Westminster and am assured that the Skills for Life and other programmes coming forward will help those in jobs, get better jobs, or be able to work for more hours if currently part time.
I personally hope we will find a way to help those families that need the additional support and who for whatever reason are unable to work at this time. Our Barnstaple Job Centre Plus, that covers North Devon do a fantastic job helping people into work, and I urge those families concerned about this change in benefits to contact their work coach to ensure they are claiming everything that they are entitled to, but that is now targeted support that is needed for families with specific needs.
As this IFS report shows https://ifs.org.uk/publications/15528, many of the new claimants to Universal Credit since the onset of the pandemic are single people without children, indeed 63% of the increase in the Universal Credit caseload has been from single people without children who therefore have a lower entitlement. This will mean that the withdrawal of the temporary uplift, as a percentage of their income, will be larger, but given the number of job vacancies that we have I am sure the earnings can be made up via the workplace.
The Universal Credit system has stood up incredibly well during the pandemic and has provided the lifeline needed for millions. It is important to note that the opposition would replace Universal Credit, yet have no plan what they would replace it with.
I commit to continue to work with Ministers and the Select Committee at Westminster to highlight how better targeted support can reach those in our community who need it. I will continue to call on government to develop a poverty strategy to provide appropriate targeted support which I believe is a combination of help with childcare costs, debt management and particularly an issue around the cost of housing in many parts of the country, which outweigh any income rises.