An effort to stop a cut to Universal Credit for struggling families has been snubbed by Boris Johnson’s government.
A non-binding Labour motion calling for the Universal Credit top-up to be kept in place beyond 31 March passed by 278 votes to none after a Commons debate. Six Tory MPs defied party orders to abstain and voted with Labour, adding to the pressure on the PM on the issue.
Downing Street insisted no decision has been made on whether to keep or scrap the increase, and said Chancellor Rishi Sunak will update the public on the Government’s plans “shortly”.
Mr Johnson repeatedly declined to state whether or not the increase will be extended when questioned during a visit to Oxfordshire.
“What we have said is we will put our arms around the whole of the country throughout the pandemic,” the Prime Minister told reporters.
“We have already done £280 billion worth of support and we will keep all measures under constant review.”
Universal Credit – the facts
Who can get Universal Credit
Whether you can claim Universal Credit depends on your circumstances and where you live.
You can apply for Universal Credit if you are on a low income or unemployed.
You will usually only be able to claim Universal Credit if you are aged 18 or over, but some people aged 16 or 17 can get it, depending on their circumstances.
And you usually won’t be able to claim Universal Credit if you’re in full-time education or training, but people with certain circumstances can still apply.
You can use a benefits calculator to help you understand what benefits you could get. You will be asked to enter information about your circumstances, and it will tell you which benefits you might be able to apply for. One of those might be Universal Credit.
Where you live
The Citizens Advice eligibility checker will tell you if you live in an area where you can claim Universal Credit. Using this link will take you to the Citizens Advice website.
Universal Credit is being introduced in stages, so even if you can’t claim Universal Credit now, it may become available in your area in the future.
If you want to go straight to making a claim for Universal Credit visit gov.uk/universal-credit
What Universal Credit replaces
Universal Credit replaces:
- Child Tax Credit
- Housing Benefit
- Income Support
- income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA)
- income-related Employment and Support Allowance (ESA)
- Working Tax Credit
If you are already claiming these benefits or tax credits you don’t need to do anything now.
The Department for Work and Pensions will get in touch with you before there are any changes to your benefits or tax credits.
If you receive these benefits or tax credits and your circumstances change in a way that would have meant you would make a new claim to one of these benefits, you will now need to claim Universal Credit instead.
If you are receiving any of these benefits or tax credits they will stop if you make a Universal Credit claim.
If you are getting tax credits you can still choose to apply for Universal Credit, depending on your circumstances, but if you do all your benefits that Universal Credit replaces will stop.
He added: “It’s the policy of the opposition to abolish Universal Credit altogether, which I don’t think is a sensible way forward.”
Removing support could plunge a further 730,000 children into poverty over this parliament, a report by the Resolution Foundation warned.
It could cut income by 4%, or £600, in the year from April, and push the poverty rate from 21% now to 23% by 2024-25, the think tank said.
The Foundation’s Karl Handscomb said the decision on whether to keep the boost would “help define if this is a parliament of levelling up living standards, or pushing up poverty”.
The Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary Jonathan Reynolds slam-med claims Chancellor Rishi Sunak plans to replace it with a one-off £500.
Footballer Marcus Rashford, who won a U-turn on free school meals, was reportedly due to speak to Work and Pensions Secretary Therese Coffey about the benefit this month.
Plymouth Labour MP Luke Pollard voted against the cut, whereas Plymouth’s Conservative MPs Johnny Mercer and Gary Streeter failed to vote against the cut.
The vote confirms the Prime Minister’s remarks at the Liaison Committee last week that he intends to cut Universal Credit by £20 a week, or £1,040 a year, for six million families in April this year.
Labour has repeatedly called for the Prime Minister to change course and provide certainty to millions of struggling families who face a triple blow of council tax hikes, frozen pay and a cut to Universal Credit.
Child Poverty Action Group has stated the £20 uplift is essential to ensure “low-income families with children receive the support they need”.
While the Joseph Rowntree Foundation has warned that the cut could see another 200,000 children pushed into poverty.
Despite Labour winning the vote it is expected that the Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, will still cut £20 per week from Universal Credit in April.
Luke Pollard MP said: “The Government’s disastrous pandemic response has caused Britain to suffer the worst recession of any major economy. Now the Government is trying to make low income families pay for their incompetence.
“The Government must change course on their plan to cut £20 a week from Universal Credit. With a third of Plymouth’s children living in poverty this cut will make it harder for thousands of families in our city to make ends meet.
“Families in Plymouth deserve support during this crisis, not cuts.”