Universal credit cuts will have ‘deep and far-reaching impact’, says poverty charity

'To give people enough relief to offset their problems, even just a little bit, and then to take it away, feels cruel,' says one victim of the cuts.

Half a million people in the UK, including 200,000 children, will be thrown into poverty by the planned cuts to benefits, new analysis has found.

According to research by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, the £20 a week cut to Universal Credit on October 6 will see on average 21% of all working-age families – with or without children – lose £1,040 a year.

Families with children will be disproportionately impacted and 60% of all single-parent families in the UK will be impacted.

Katie Schmuecker, the Deputy Director of Policy & Partnerships at the charity, has called for the government to reverse the decision, saying it will have a “deep and far-reaching impact”.

The government increased Universal Credit and Working Tax Credit in March 2020 to help people struggling with the fallout of the pandemic. The rise in Universal Credit is set to be reversed in October.

Ralph, from Scotland, who will lose around £86 in benefits a month, said: “It’s brutal and it feels heartless. It feels completely remorseless to do it, especially when they must be fully aware that there are millions of people who are going to be devastated by this.”

The 28-year-old used to work in a customer service role, but was furloughed after the pandemic hit. After realising that the money from furlough would not be enough to cover his costs, he quit his job and signed up to Universal Credit in January this year.

Ralph has been looking for a new job since then but customer service jobs are few and far between. After paying housing costs, including rent and bills, he has £120 a month to cover all other costs, including food.

He said: “I’ve been cost-cutting to the extreme to the point where over the last couple of months I’ve been removing any kind of additional cost at all from life. 

“I’m walking instead of getting the bus. Some days I’m not eating at all, and if I do eat it’s always whatever is the cheapest option available.”

The cuts will leave him with just £33 a month after housing costs.

He said: “There is this ticking time bomb where that decision to not buy food today is going to become, do you not buy food at all? Do you sell everything you own? Do you have to give up on having a flat and go and just sleep on someone’s couch?

“Over the last year, with furlough and with Covid relief, the government has proven that in an emergency they can be compassionate and helpful. I don’t understand how disabled people commiting suicide or single mothers not being able to feed their children isn’t an emergency all the time. 

“To give people enough relief to offset those problems, even just a little bit, and then to take it away, feels cruel.”

The cut will have the most severe impact in Yorkshire & the Humber, the North East, North West and West Midlands. 

The constituency worst affected will be Birmingham, Hodge Hill, where 54% of families with or without children will be affected. This is followed by Bradford West, Bradford East, Birmingham, Perry Barr and Edmonton.

Katie Schmuecker, Deputy Director of Policy & Partnerships at the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, said: “We are just over a month away from the UK Government imposing the biggest overnight cut to the basic rate of social security since the Second World War. This latest analysis lays bare the deep and far-reaching impact that cutting Universal Credit will have on millions of low-income families across Britain.

“Plunging low-income families into deeper poverty and debt as well as sucking billions of pounds out of local economies is no way to level up. It’s not too late for the Prime Minister and Chancellor to listen to the huge opposition to this damaging cut and change course.”

The reduction in benefits has been opposed by Labour, the SNP, over 100 Conservative MPs and former Tory welfare secretaries Amber Rudd, Esther McVey, Damian Green, Stephen Crabb, Sir Iain Duncan Smith and David Gauke.

The Work and Pensions Committee, the Lords Economic Affairs Committee, the Conservative Northern Research Group and the Conservative One Nation Caucus have also advised against the cuts.

A Government spokesperson said: “The temporary uplift to Universal Credit was designed to help claimants through the economic shock and financial disruption of the toughest stages of the pandemic, and it has done so.

“Universal Credit will continue to provide a vital safety net and with record vacancies available, alongside the successful vaccination rollout, it’s right that we now focus on our Plan for Jobs, helping claimants to increase their earnings by boosting their skills and getting into work, progressing in work or increasing their hours.”

Alexandra Warren is a freelance journalist.

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