Universal Credit: Weekly benefit £20 boost is 'difference between eating and not eating' for Preston families

Families relying on Universal Credit have spoken out against the possible cuts to their payments, as they say claimants on benefits are 'already living hand to mouth'.

By James Holt
Thursday, 2nd September 2021, 4:09 pm

Weekly cuts to Universal Credit payments could leave some families in Lancashire out of pocket by more than £80 a month from October.

The 'temporary' uplift of £20 per week, which was introduced during the Covid-19 pandemic is set to be abolished from next month, but Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been urged to abandon the cuts over fears it would cause 'immediate hardships' for the poorer families.

Parents in Preston are just some of those worried about how the reduction would impact them, with fears looming over childcare costs, rising energy payments and putting food on the table.

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And Labour leader of Preston City Council Matthew Brown has said the Government need to 'have more compassion' and consider what the cuts could potentially do to some of the country's lowest-income families.

Mum-of-five Adele Thomas, who struggles to work full-time due to her disabilities, said the uplift of £20 a week was the 'difference between eating and not eating' for families during the Covid-19 pandemic.

She recently started volunteering for the local Here for Humanity group, giving out food parcels to people who are struggling after she and her partner found themselves at rock bottom.

Families are concerned that the temporary uplift will be removed and leave them out of pocket

She also claims a Personal Independence Payment (PIP) due to her disabilities.

She said: "For someone like me with five children, £20 a week is really a lot of money and can make such a difference. The fact that this could be cut is just so concerning, especially with so many families still struggling from the last year.

"It doesn't take into account people's own circumstances. My partner and I are both disabled so are limited to what we can do, and Universal Credit is not well designed to be accessible for people like us.

"There was a time in lockdown that we were so desperate for money that we couldn't even afford to go food shopping and had to rely on foodbanks to feed our family. Now we are in a slightly better position and I wanted to volunteer by helping others in the same place we were in.

Adele Thomas was among thousands of families who had to rely on foodbanks during the pandemic

"As a volunteer, we are still seeing more and more emergency referrals and that is even before any scraps to the payments. If people are already struggling it is scary to think how many people would struggle to survive without the payment.

"The amount of people who worry about just paying bills or filling their cupboards is heartbreaking. Covid is still here, it hasn't gone away, and people are still out of jobs or struggling financially that bringing this cut in would just be unfair.

"Something has to be done to stop this, as I know so many people that really would struggle to cope."

The Government has announced plans to start phasing out the £20 increase from the end of this month.

Families could lose out on as much as £80 if the cuts are made next month

At the start of the pandemic, 2.6 million families were claiming UC but, since then, the number on UC has nearly doubled to 5 million in February 2021.

But a coalition of 100 groups including children's charities, former Work and Pensions secretaries, teachers and MPs has warned that axing the weekly uplift risks causing 'immense, immediate and avoidable hardship' in an open letter to Boris Johnson.

It is thought there are 151,080 people currently claiming Universal Credit across all boroughs of Lancashire, with 58,087 of them currently in work, according to The Lancashire Association of Trades Union Councils.

Penwortham mum-of-two Hannah Kelly, 28, who works in admin, has joined the list of parents and families worried about how the £85 monthly cut would impact them.

She is currently on maternity leave from work with her seven-month-old child, with her payments set to end later this month, meaning her partner is now forced to do overtime to help give the couple a much-needed boost.

She said: "I have already had a notification telling me that our Universal Credit payments will be cut, we will be around £85 a month worse off than before, which is a lot of money to us.

Protests were held by Trade Unionists in Wigan yesterday

"I am currently on maternity leave and my partner works full time earning just over the living minimum wage, but with benefits, we never know what we will get from month to month because they look at your circumstances.

"My maternity payment ends later this month so we will essentially be living on one wage for two people and two children. We have always had two incomes, but when I went off work with my first child during the pandemic we have always been used to the new uplift and haven't had to live without it.

"I am really worried about how the cut will impact us, especially when you take into account rent prices, cost of living, car insurance and food shopping. There are so many outgoings, then there are childcare costs and clothes that my children are constantly growing out of.

"The Government are wanting to cut this uplift before people have had the chance to get back to normal. People have not been able to save during the pandemic and so many people have been on furlough earning just a percentage of their usual salary, so it is so unfair.

"People will start relying on credit cards and borrowing money. People on benefits are already living hand to mouth as it is and have to struggle to budget for the month so to cut this back even further would be a disaster.

"It is a shame that there is not more in place to help people who work hard like us. I can see why so many people are worried. You try to do the best for yourself and your family and then are faced with a sudden drop. People who work should not need to rely on top-ups just to be able to feed their children."

Work and Pensions Secretary Dr Therese Coffey resisted calls this week to maintain the uplift, saying the time was right to focus on supporting people back into work and helping workers to progress in their careers.

The news comes asprotests were held in Wigan by Trade Unionists yesterday, outside the job centre before they handed out leaflets opposing the scrap.

Data from the Department of Work and Pensions shows that in May, there were 15,558 Universal Credit claimants in Preston - a figure that has nearly doubled since February 2020 with 8,205 claimants.

Coun Matthew Brown, Leader of Preston City Council has joined calls on the Government to stop the scrap, adding that we 'need to all have more compassion after the difficult time we have been through'.

He told the Post: "I think it is wrong that the Government is considering cutting these payments and I believe it should remain a permanent uplift. The pandemic has exposed so many structural inequalities in society and showed us how many people across the region live in poverty.

"I think there needs to be some reflection on what has been a difficult year and how it has exposed who is well off and who isn't. The reality is that hundreds of thousands of children, over 200,000 risks falling into poverty currently and we have a responsibility to help them.

"Many people are on benefits through no fault of their own, they may have lost their jobs due to the pandemic and seen a reduction in their incomes. It comes down to political choice because the money for these families could be found.

"We have found millions to bail out the banking system, found tens of billions to fight wars in Afghanistan and found public money during the pandemic to protect the economy, so I hope as a society we can re-orientate our values.

"In a richer country like ours, people should not be at risk of not even being able to cook a meal for their children. This is about our values as a society. We can afford to make sure people are looked after but the Government is reluctant to do so.

"Cross-party I hope we can change that mindset, find the money for the things that really matter and have a more compassionate and kinder approach to people."

Mum of two Hannah Kelly said she is worried about the possible cuts