A cross-party group of MPs has urged the UK government to maintain the £20 uplift to Universal Credit and extend it to legacy benefits “in order to avoid a two-tier social security system.”
The All-Party Parliament Group on Poverty, which is co-chaired by Conservative MP Paul Maynard and the SNP’s Neil Gray, has also called for a suspension of the benefit cap for the duration of the Covid-19 pandemic, which the SNP say would enable all low-income households to benefit from the £20 uplift.
The £20 a week increase, which amounts to more than £1000 a year extra for struggling households, is currently scheduled to expire in only a few short months. But the UK government is under mounting pressure to maintain the increase and extend the rise to legacy benefits.
Co-Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Poverty, Neil Gray MP, said: “This is a significant intervention from a cross-party group of MPs, including Tory MPs, which warns that slashing social security payments in the middle of an economic crisis and a global pandemic could push more people into poverty at the worst possible time.
“There must be a U-turn on this, to avoid worsening poverty and inequality across the country during this crisis – and the Chancellor must commit to this immediately so that people are given certainty in the coming months.
“It is crucial that the £20 uplift to Universal Credit is made permanent and extended to legacy benefits, as part of a wider package to boost incomes after a decade of damaging Tory austerity cuts.
“Scotland shouldn’t have to wait for Westminster to act. This Tory government’s repeated failures on tackling poverty have proven that the only way to secure a strong, fair and equal recovery is for Scotland to become an independent country.”
The report also calls on Ministers to carry out a review on LWAS after a number of the emergency funds had funding slashed and, in some cases, have closed completely.
Parliamentarians from across the spectrum, from Caroline Lucas to Iain Duncan Smith, will use the Ten Minute Rule Motion on 2 February to encourage a review of LWAS, which are designed to give people cash in a crisis.
These local schemes are for people with no spare money to pay for emergencies, such as a broken washing machine or flood damage, often through grants or loans. However, a decade of austerity has seen budgets cut to such a point that many councils now only run a threadbare scheme, while some do not run one at all.
Co-Chair of the cross-party committee Paul Maynard MP said: “We have seen the difference local councils can make in a national crisis during the pandemic with emergency grant schemes.
“But crises occur in individual lives year in and year out, and we need to ensure we learn the lessons of the pandemic to embed a better provision of emergency support for some of the most vulnerable in our society.”
Thomas Lawson, chief executive at the charity Turn2us, said: “When the government abolished the Social Fund in 2013, it was thought that it would be more efficient for local councils to deliver crisis support instead.
“However, households have been left adrift as councils struggle to provide local grant schemes due to lack of funding and lack of statutory obligations.
“The coronavirus pandemic has pushed millions of families into financial troubles, and we know something like a broken washing machine can be the start of a spiral into debt and eventually poverty if schemes like LWAS don’t intervene effectively.
“Social security does not start and end with Universal Credit, councils should be an essential part of our welfare safety net. But they need the funding and guidance from central government to make it effective.”