Citizens Advice Gateshead supports campaign to extend Universal Credit uplift
by Molly Hall (Research and Campaigns volunteer)
Citizens Advice Gateshead joins the national Citizens Advice campaign to make the £20 benefit increase permanent.
Last spring, the chancellor increased two key benefits - Universal Credit and the basic element of working tax credit - by £20 a week to support those in need as the pandemic struck. The move added an extra £1,040 to claimants’ annual incomes.
The uplift was meant to be temporary, running only until April 2021. But, with lockdowns set to continue well into 2021 and the country at risk of a double-dip recession, Citizens Advice joins charities and campaigners like Marcus Rashford in supporting its extension.
Citizens Advice has helped over a quarter of a million people across the UK with Universal Credit since March. Seven in 10 of these people had never come to Citizens Advice for help before, indicative of the far-reaching consequences of the pandemic on people’s livelihoods.
In Gateshead, Citizens Advice has helped over 5,000 clients with Universal Credits since March 2020. Currently, there are around 18,000 Gateshead households receiving Universal Credit (as of August 2020) - all of whom would be impacted by the income reduction.
Analysis published in October of Citizens Advice’s clients with debt shows that 75% wouldn’t be able to cover their essential household bills if the uplift is removed. Furthermore, the Child Poverty Action Group warned that withdrawal of the uplift will hit 6 million families and push 200,000 more children below the breadline.
Pandemic aside, the £20 cut would reduce basic unemployment benefits to their lowest level since 1992, according to the Resolution Foundation, or the lowest proportion of average weekly earnings since the Second World War. The year-on-year increase in food bank usage since 2015 would suggest benefit rates were not adequate during ‘normal’ times, let alone during a crisis.
Furthermore, the current circumstances are unprecedented. New research by the Resolution Foundation shows that lockdowns have increased living costs for low-income families. Higher food and energy bills, additional costs associated with home-schooling, and costly local food shops have increased financial pressures on these families. Losing out on over £1000 of yearly income would only serve to increase pressures on the most vulnerable.
The chancellor is due to deliver his Spring Budget and make a decision on whether or not to extend the uplift on 3rd March. You can help support the campaign by writing to your local Gateshead MP.