Universal Credit cut of ‘£1000’ for poor families blasted: ‘Opposite of levelling up!’

Chart shows impact of Universal Credit cuts across UK

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The temporary Universal Credit increase, brought in last year to help people through the coronavirus pandemic, was controversially stopped at the beginning of this month. The move was criticised by Manchester United footballer Marcus Rashford among others. In an interview earlier this month, he said millions of British families had “lost a lifeline and a means of staying afloat”. 

He claimed the cut could see child poverty rise to one in three children.

Boris Johnson pledged to do his utmost to “level up” the country in his closing speech at the Conservative Party conference at the beginning of October, branding it the “greatest project that any government can embark on”.

Under Michael Gove’s leadership, the Government has set out four objectives: strengthen local leadership; raise living standards, improve public services and give people the necessary resources to enhance the pride they feel about where they live.

However, a recent poll Redfield & Wilton Strategies found just 14 percent of Britons can confidently say they know what “levelling up” means, while 31 percent admitted they didn’t have any what it means.

Jonathan Portes is a professor of economics and public policy at King’s College London. He explained the UK is a “very unequal society and has a lot of poverty and deprivation”.

Speaking exclusively to Express.co.uk, he questioned the Government’s motives in scrapping the Universal Credit uplift: “If what you care about is people’s life chances and their opportunities, then you need to do something about inequality and poverty, and we have a Government that is choosing to take £1,000 per year away from virtually every poor family in the country.”

Torsten Bell, chief executive of think tank Resolution Foundation, tweeted on October 5: “4.4 million households, with 5.1m adults and 3.5m children, will see their incomes fall by £1,000 overnight.

“For 1 million households that will mean an immediate loss of over 10% of their income as we take the basic rate of benefits to its lowest level since 1990.

“Whatever this is, it’s not building back better.”

More than 40 percent of Universal Credit claimants are classed as being in employment.

Professor Portes asked: “How can you take a Government seriously if it’s cutting £6 billion in Universal Credit which goes to poor families in the north, in London, everywhere?

“That’s not levelling up, it’s the opposite of levelling up. That’s taking money from the people who can’t afford it and giving it to the ones who can.”

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He said reversing the cut would be a good place to start if the Government is “serious about giving people opportunities”.

The charity Citizens Advice said the average shortfall after the cut would be between £51 and £55 each month, more than £600 per year. They warned a third of claimants might now end up in debt. 

The Government has defended the decision throughout. 

The Prime Minister told Andrew Marr last month the uplift was “no longer appropriate”, and he opposed “unnecessary” tax rises which could be used to fund further support.

Prof Portes added: “If you want to be serious about helping people who need help, then the Universal Credit cut is the single biggest thing that’s facing people, and the Government seems to have decided the choice it’s making.

“It’s not an action that any government that was truly serious about levelling up would take.”

A £4.8 billion Levelling Up Fund was announced in the 2020 Spending Review.

Professor Portes chose not to speculate how much might be needed to truly level up the UK, but claimed the current amount allocated is likely to be “completely inadequate”.

The German government spent £1.7 trillion in rehabilitation funds after the fall of the Berlin Wall to level up the former East Germany.

It should be noted, however, that the Government has made an additional £500m available to local councils, through the Household Support Fund, to help struggling Britons this winter.

Money is being distributed according to size, population and need.

Birmingham is receiving £12.8m, the largest of any area, followed by Kent with £11m and Lancashire with £9.7m. Anyone who needs financial assistance will need to apply directly.

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