A senior government minister has defended plans to scrap the £20 a week “uplift” to Universal Credit, vehemently rejecting claims by a Labour MP that millions of children in poverty are “going to bed at night with no food in their tummy”.
DWP minister Will Quince argued that retaining the “temporary” boost past September 2021, which is when it is scheduled to end, would be too costly and that Labour were asking for “many billions more pounds to be spent on benefits after the pandemic”.
The £20 a week uplift, worth more than £1,000 a year to hard-up families, was first introduced at the beginning of the Covid-19 crisis and then later extended in the Spring Budget to the end of September 2021.
Poverty campaigners and opposition parties have called on the UK government to make this boost in Universal Credit permanent, or at least allow it to continue until the current crisis is over, over fears that thousands of more people could be pushed into poverty and left dependent on foodbanks.
They have also called for the uplift to be extended to so-called ‘legacy benefits’. A legal case to be heard at the High Court will determine if it was legal for the Government to deny almost 2 million people on disability payments the same increase as those on Universal Credit.
Labour’s Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary Jonathan Reynolds MP said the Government’s refusal not to retain the uplift showed that it wasn’t serious about its “levelling up” agenda, accusing the Tories of attacking the poor and attempting to “level down” deprived regions.
But Mr Quince dismissed the growing chorus of those opposed to ending the £1,040 a year increase, claiming it would add “billions more” to the welfare bill.
He told Labour MPs: “We fundamentally disagree with their approach, an approach that under the last Labour government left a generation trapped on benefits, trapped in poverty, incentivised not to work, children growing up in workless households.
“The difference couldn’t be clearer. The party opposite’s focus is on billions more on benefits – the government’s focus is on jobs, jobs, jobs.”
Responding, SNP MP Hannah Bardell asked the DWP minister about “those people whose jobs no longer exist”, adding that the UK government are guilty of a “complete dereliction of duty and abandonment of some of our poorest at the worst possible time.”
Labour MP Barry Sheerman asked Will Quince if the Tory government were “determined to be known as the most heartless government since the end of the last world war?”
He added: “There are four million children in our country in poverty, going to bed at night with no food in their tummy.
“What is this government going to do about that? This is a disgraceful state of affairs, particularly hitting the north of England and people in then towns of West Yorkshire.”
Mr Quince responded: “I’m disappointed in that question and I certainly don’t recognise the picture being painted by the honourable gentleman.”
He told MPs in parliament that the £20 a week boost was only ever going to be a “short-term temporary measure”, adding that the UK government had increased welfare spending by £7.4bn during the Coronavirus pandemic.
It comes after Work and Pensions Secretary Therese Coffey hinted last week that the Universal Credit uplift would not continue into the winter.
“We’re not anticipating, or I’m not anticipating, any further need to do stuff entirely out of the ordinary,” she said.