The government has ignored the pleas of six former Conservative work and pension secretaries and will press ahead with the phasing out of the £20 per week uplift to Universal Credit, MPs have been told.
At the weekend, former Tory leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith – who oversaw the creation of Universal Credit (UC) – and five of his successors as work and pensions secretary used a joint letter to urge Chancellor Rishi Sunak to make the uplift permanent.
The extra cash for benefit claimants was part of the government’s emergency financial support package when the COVID crisis began last year and was extended for another six months at this year’s budget in March.
But despite the campaign by the former Tory ministers, current Work and Pensions Secretary Therese Coffey told MPs on Wednesday the uplift would finish when the six-month extension ends in October.
“Ahead of October we will start communicating with the current claimants who receive the £20 to make them aware that that will be being phased out and they will start to see an adjustment in their payments,” she told the House of Commons’ work and pensions committee.
“I think it really kicks in largely in October but it will start to kick in I think towards late September for some people.
“So the current proposal is that we will be recognising that this was brought in in line with the temporary measures to support people during the COVID pandemic.
“It’s being phased out in line with all of the other temporary measures that are also being removed.”
Challenged by Conservative MP and committee member Nigel Mills as to whether she had lobbied the Treasury to extend the uplift, Ms Coffey said: “A collective decision was made within government to make sure that £20 uplift was extended for the six months and that is being honoured.
“But a collective decision was made that as we see the economy open up, we shift the focus strongly on to getting people into work and jobs.”
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In their joint letter, Sir Iain, Stephen Crabb, Damian Green, David Gauke, Esther McVey and Amber Rudd had told Mr Sunak: “The UC uplift has rightly been allocated into the standard allowance of UC as many have not been able to work and it has been right to protect people whilst they cannot work.
“But as the economy reopens, and the Government re-evaluates where it has been spending money, we ask that the current funding for individuals in the Universal Credit envelope be kept at the current level.”
Sir Iain has warned that a failure to keep the uplift in place permanently would “damage living standards, health and opportunities” for those that “need our support most as we emerge from the pandemic”.
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