Universal Credit: UK government's plan to cut benefit by £20 a week would see more people using food banks – Ian Murray MP

The coronavirus crisis has hit household incomes hard. The number of people turning to Universal Credit as their income has substantially dropped or disappeared has increased by 90 per cent.

Thursday, 21st January 2021, 7:00 am
Food bank use has increased as people have lost their jobs during the Covid pandemic (Picture: Scott Merrylees)

That means there are 30,000 households in Edinburgh currently claiming Universal Credit, a sad indication of how Covid has ripped through our economy.

It’s worth reflecting on the fact that over 60 per cent of households on Universal Credit are in work. This raises questions about poor pay and conditions. One of the outcomes of this pandemic has been a deeper understanding of the impact of poor pay on our communities and the need to do something about it.

In April, the UK government introduced a £20 per week addition to Universal Credit to help claimants through the pandemic. The weekly increase, the suspension of conditionality and the minimum income floor, were necessary steps to support people and very welcomed.

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But the Tory government wanted to take it away at the worst possible time. It was not, as they claimed, being saved by people. They obviously don’t live in the real world if they think those on Universal Credit have any spare money. Research shows it is spent in shops and businesses, stimulating local economies and, subsequently protecting local jobs.

That is why we forced a crunch vote in the House of Commons this week to scrap the cut and support family incomes during the pandemic. It was just unthinkable that the government are prepared to pull away support from families and those most in need in the midst of an economic crisis.

I was struck by an email I received from a constituent who is claiming Universal Credit after being made redundant. She said, “I lost my job because of Covid. I’ve worked all my life. If the government does cut £20 a week, I will become one of the statistics needing to use a food bank. It devastates me to think that I will not be able to provide for my child should this decision be finalised.”

Unbelievably, the Prime Minister instructed his MPs to abstain on the issue so scrapping the cut was passed by parliament and we fully expect the government to change policy.

I hope the PM takes a moment to reflect on the will of Parliament and what this cut will mean to Edinburgh residents: the income uncertainty it will add in an already uncertain time; the loss it will bring when we have already lost so much; the anxiety it will cause when what people need is reassurance.

A sector where many have been forced to claim Universal Credit is the taxi trade, excluded from Scottish and UK government support until this week when a small grant was made available.

Astonishingly, the Scottish government said they couldn’t apply if they had already claimed for Universal Credit. Most had. Thankfully, this was immediately dismissed as Covid grant support has no impact on Universal Credit. I just wish both governments would work together rather than making it unnecessarily problematic. Well done to the taxi trade in their campaign.

The moral of the story? We must make it easier for people to get through this crisis. What they do not expect is their governments making it harder.

Ian Murray is Scottish Labour MP for Edinburgh South

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