Lancashire calls for permanent £20 universal credit top-up in chancellor's budget
Lancashire county councillors have made a cross-party call to the government to retain the £20 weekly increase in universal credit that it introduced at the start of the pandemic.
The chancellor, Rishi Sunak, has been under pressure from various quarters to make permanent the temporary uplift when he delivers his budget on Wednesday. The enhanced rate is currently due to finish at the end of March.
A Lancashire County Council meeting unanimously backed a motion by the Labour member for Skelmersdale West, Julie Gibson, who described the top-up payment as a “vital lifeline”.
Figures show that there was a 74 percent increase in the number of Lancashire households applying for universal credit between January and August 2020.
According to the Office for National Statistics, the county also had a rising unemployment rate of 5.9 percent in November last year – equivalent to 43,430 residents.
“Many people who are facing unemployment for the very first time will move on to claim universal credit and, for many, it is a daunting experience,” said County Cllr Gibson, who has previously worked in welfare rights services.
“For those under 25, the rate [for a single person, prior to the pandemic uplift] is £256.05 per month and for those over 25 it is £323.22 per month.
“Can you imagine having come from a job, where, in a lot of cases, this is what you earned as a weekly wage, to find out this is what you now have to survive on for a month?
“This £20 uplift is the difference between families not having to worry about whether they can heat their homes and have enough electricity to power their laptops needed for homeschooling or to provide enough food for their children or having to use a food bank.”
It is estimated that the weekly hike would cost the government in excess of £6bn per year if it were to remain in place indefinitely.
However, County Cllr Gibson said that it would provide a “kickstart” to local economies, because there was evidence to show that is where benefit recipients tended to spend any increase in their payments.
Conservative cabinet member for health and wellbeing Shaun Turner said that the ruling group backed Labour’s call, but amended the wording in order to “explain how helpful [the increase] has been – and how helpful it is likely to be as we recover from the pandemic”.
The change was accepted by County Cllr Gibson and the motion was voted through unanimously.
Green Party county councillor Gina Dowding also called for the “bolder” move of introducing a universal basic income, which would eradicate the notion of “the deserving poor and the undeserving poor”.