We asked our MPs to comment on the impact the UC cut would have on their constituents – here are their responses

by Ann Higgins

Some of you will be unaware that, as of 12 October, the government’s refusal to extend the £20/week uplift to universal credit (UC), first introduced in April 2020, will start to take effect.

Concerned about the effect on struggling Cornish families, we wrote to each of the six Tory Cornish MPs to draw their attention of the impact this would have on their constituents and ask for their comments.

This is the letter we sent:

Dear Cornish MP

Despite widespread protests from many quarters, including some Tory MPs, this week the £20/week UC uplift is being removed from UC claimants. I wonder if you are aware of the effect that this is going to have on Universal Credit and Working Tax credit recipients in Cornwall.

In Camborne and Redruth, 46% of families with children are in receipt of UC or WTC and will therefore suffer a drop in their annual income of over £1,000 because of these cuts.[1]

In St Austell and Newquay, it’s also 46%.

In North Cornwall, it’s 45%.

In St Ives, it’s 42%

In South East Cornwall, it’s 39%.

In Truro and Falmouth, it’s 36%.

These are families who are already suffering from poverty and deprivation. Many of them are already reliant on food banks. We know that since the pandemic started prices have increased and that inflation is currently running at over 3%. Because of these cuts they will either have less money on which to live or will somehow have to work harder just to stand still, in some cases needing to work for up to 9 hours extra a week [if they can get them] just to replace that £20.[2] Those in work will suffer the double whammy of the national insurance increases.

Do you think that it is acceptable that some of the poorest in your constituency are being made to pay for Covid? Should the burden not fall upon those who can better afford it?

I look forward to receiving your comments and hopefully an indication that you agree with some of your colleagues that this cut is not acceptable.

[1]https://www.jrf.org.uk/universal-credit-cut-impact-constituency

[2] https://www.resolutionfoundation.org/press-releases/universal-credit-hours-worked/

We received substantive replies from MPs Steve Double and Cherilyn Mackrory , and one automatic response from George Eustice, which we won’t reproduce here.


Steve Double (St Austell & Newquay)

Dear xxxxx,

Thank you for your recent correspondence about the very important matter of the Government’s welfare support.

A society is often judged by how well it looks after those who are most in need, and at this time of such economic upheaval, our society’s capacity for this is truly being put to the test.

In this regard, it is worth first of all noting that this Government has done more than any other in our country’s history to provide for the most vulnerable. From a £7 billion increase to welfare spending, to the furlough scheme, where for the first time ever the Government began to pay people’s wages, to catch up funding for schools and much more, we have implemented measures worth over £280 billion to support families on low incomes this past year.

In addition to this, the Government has also invested nearly £1 billion to lift Local Housing Allowance rates so that they cover the lowest 30th percent of local rents, providing 1.5 million claimants with an average of £600 more housing support per year than they would otherwise have received.

Of course, the Government is constantly listening to people’s needs and responding to new challenges. Whilst the Chancellor has never shied away from the fact that we will not be able to save every job, he has made clear that we will continue to do whatever it takes to help those most affected by the pandemic.

This includes extra support for those eligible for Universal Credit, demonstrated by the temporary £20 per week uplift which was implemented last March. This, importantly, has meant a standard allowance increase of around £1000 for millions of people, with 90 per cent of new, eligible claimants also expected to be paid in full and on time. The outdated, legacy benefit system that Universal Credit simplified and replaced, on the other hand, would have buckled under the pressure.

The reason for the introduction of the £20 per week uplift was the recognition that, due to the lockdown, families would be spending more time at home, which would result in higher household bills for electricity and heating. The additional money was extended for a further 6 months than originally planned due to the restrictions being extended. Now that restrictions have been lifted, however, the reasons for which this measure was introduced no longer apply, and it is therefore right it is brought to an end.

Further, in light of the unprecedented spending we have had to deliver over the last year and a half, we need to also think about our country’s long-term economic prosperity.

To extend the Universal Credit uplift, which was not in place before the pandemic, we would need to spend an extra £6 billion every year. This would mean spending outside our means, making us vulnerable in future crises, which would likely lead to greater economic hardship for those on low incomes.

The good news, however, is that our economy is recovering quickly. There are more than 1 million active vacancies in our labour market and hundreds of thousands are moving into employment every week. The job market, in fact, is better than it was before the pandemic.

Given that the best root out of poverty is helping people into work, we have good reason for optimism. Especially as this comes alongside the Prime Minister’s plan to build a high skill, high wage economy, as we make the most of the opportunities afforded to us by Brexit, such as the introduction of our points-based immigration system.

That said, the Government remains committed to maintaining the safety net for those who need it. In 2021-22, we will spend more than £111 billion on benefits for working-age people. There will also be £670 million in funding for local authorities to help with council tax support; nearly £2 billion to increase the local housing allowance and maintain it in cash terms; £140 million in discretionary housing payments; and £220 million to extend the holiday activities and food programme.

This is in addition to increasing the national living wage by 2.2% to £8.91 an hour and extending it to all those aged 23 or over. There is also the very real prospect of the government increasing this again. Any rise will be widely publicised.

I was pleased to see the Government confirm that vulnerable households across the UK will be able to access a new £500 million support fund to help them with essentials such as fuel and food costs over the winter months.

The new Household Support Fund will support millions of households in England and will be distributed by councils in England, who know their local areas best and can directly help those who need it most, including for example, through small grants to meet daily needs such as food, clothing, and utilities. Cash will be made available to Local Authorities like Cornwall Council from later this month.

Families will also continue to benefit from the energy price cap, recent rise in Local Housing Allowance and increases in the National Living Wage. In terms of support for the vulnerable this winter, the Household Support Fund mentioned above is additional funding that goes along with the Warm Home Discount which provides a £140 rebate on energy bills each winter to over 2.2 million low-income households and the Cold Weather Payment which provides £25 extra a week for poorer households when the temperature is consistently below zero.

The Holiday Activities and Food programme will continue over the Christmas Holidays and to further support for families with children, the Government has also doubled free childcare for eligible working parents, worth up to £5,000 per child every year as well as increasing the value of Healthy Start vouchers by over a third, helping disadvantaged women who are pregnant or have children under four.

Thank you once again for your copy of a campaign email.

Kind regards

Steve
Steve Double MP
St Austell & Newquay
Unit 1
Bucklers Lane, St Austell PL25 3JN


Cherilyn Mackrory (Truro & Falmouth)

Dear xxxxx,

Thank you for recently contacting my office regarding Universal Credit, I very much appreciate you getting in touch. 
 
As I am sure you are aware, this extra support was announced by the Chancellor as a temporary measure in March 2020 to support those likely to be facing the most financial disruption as a result of the public health emergency. Alongside the temporary increase to Universal Credit and Tax Credits, the Government invested over £400bn in measures to create, support and protect jobs and businesses – as well as introduced measures such as mortgage holidays and additional support for renters, and has worked with energy suppliers to protect those struggling with energy bills. 
 
I welcome that, on top of the planned uprating, the Government extended the temporary £20 per week increase to the Universal Credit standard allowance until the end of September 2021, meaning that the additional support has remained in place well beyond the end of economic restrictions. 
 
In the 10 years prior to the pandemic, employment was at record high levels, thanks to the Government’s careful handling of the economy. This allowed the Government to provide an unprecedented response during the past 18 months. Now as we open up and our recovery gathers pace, it’s right that focus is switched to getting people back into work and improving their prospects. To support this the Government announced a multi-billion-pound Plan for Jobs.
 
I am encouraged to see this already delivering for those who have been affected by the pandemic including, for example, through the £2 billion Kickstart scheme, which has already seen over 263,000 approved roles created from a range of different sectors for 16 to 24 year olds on Universal Credit, with over 50,000 young people already in Kickstart roles. This will give young people the practical experience that we know is so crucial in securing sustainable employment. Furthermore, the £2.9 billion Restart scheme will provide intensive help to over a million jobseekers who have been out of work for over 12 months. 
 
As well as our multi-billion pound Plan for Jobs, as we enter the final stages of our recovery and the country returns to normal, we are launching a new £500 million Household Support Fund for vulnerable households who need some extra support over the coming months with the cost of essentials. The new Fund will be available to councils in England from October and run over the winter. Councils will be able to distribute funding within local areas to directly help those who need it most, including for example, through small grants to meet daily needs such as food, clothing, and utilities.
 
This new support fund, at least half of which will help families with children, will bolster existing measures we have introduced for low-income households, such as increasing the national living wage, the rise in the Local Housing Allowance, expanding the £221 million Holiday Activities and Food which will be offering nutritious meals and enriching activities to disadvantaged children this Christmas, doubling free childcare for eligible working parents and increasing the value of Healthy Start vouchers by over a third. The Fund also sits alongside the Warm Home Discount which provides a £140 rebate on energy bills each winter to over 2.2 million low-income households and the Cold Weather Payment which provides £25 extra a week for poorer households when the temperature is consistently below zero.
 
This is also on top of existing benefits and discretionary funds that are available through Cornwall Council.
 
If you know of constituents who are struggling, please do ask them to get in touch and my team and I will do all we can to help.
 In the meantime if there is anything further I can do to help, please do not hesitate to get in touch.

Kindest Regards

Cherilyn

Cherilyn Mackrory MP
Member of Parliament for Truro and Falmouth
Houses of Parliament, London, SW1A 0AA
020 7219 3713
www.cherilynmackrory.org.uk


So how did they all vote?

On 15 September the House of Commons voted by 253-0 to cancel the cut, with all Tory MPs abstaining. Because the vote was on a non-binding Labour motion, it had no effect and the cut went through.