Universal Credit claims have more than doubled in Shropshire since the beginning of the pandemic. Latest figures show that over 20000 people are currently in receipt of Universal Credit in the county, an increase from 9431 at the beginning of 2020. Many of these people claim this benefit to top up low wages, with 43% of people claiming the benefit in Shropshire being in work.
In March 2020 the Government introduced a £20 a week uplift to Universal Credit, bringing the value of Universal Credit back in line with the cost of living, after 8 years of below inflation increases and freezes. The uplift meant the standard payment to a single adult increased from £324.85 to £411.51 a month.
This uplift is due to end on the 6th October, meaning a reduction of £1040 for a single person. New research from The Child Poverty Action Group and Action For Children shows that working parents will be hit hard by the planned cut. Analysis from the Resolution Foundation shows that if the planned change goes ahead, it will be the biggest ever overnight benefit cut, larger than the Housing Benefit cuts of 1988, only the 10% cut to unemployment support at the height of the Great Depression comes close.
Food banks across Shropshire have expressed deep concern at the impact this will have, fearing a combination of the reversal of the uplift coinciding with the end of the furlough scheme and a sharp rise in fuel prices will mean many households will struggle to cope.
“Universal Credit is a lifeline for the most disadvantaged people in our communities. Food Banks are seeing people in extreme financial hardship already, and it is unforgivable and cruel that the government is seeking to take money away from vulnerable people at a time when winter fuel bills are approaching, and the cost of food is rising.”
Debbie Brown, Cleobury Mortimer Food Bank
“ Many families and individuals across Shropshire have ‘dug deep’ to support themselves and their communities through this pandemic. It has had a profound impact, particularly on those who have hit hard times. For those who found themselves suddenly without employment and moving onto Universal Credit it was very hard to cut their outgoings quickly enough to be able to manage on a much lower income, particularly if they had little in the way of savings and had to manage the 5 week wait until their benefit application was paid for the first time. Removing the uplift to Universal Credit is likely to plunge many more people into debt, with the risks of potential evictions as people have to prioritise feeding their children and heating their homes. We are seeing many people needing to use food banks to survive because they cannot afford to live on low wages and benefits.”
Chrissie Pepler, Strettons Food Bank
“The cut to Universal Credit will definitely cause hardship to many who have been able to manage their finances without the use of a food bank. I do think this move to cut the allowance will increase pressure on the food banks and will affect families the most.”
Julia Gell, Craven Arms Food Bank
The Shropshire Food Poverty Alliance is concerned that the planned cut to Universal Credit will push more households into food poverty and increase pressure on local food banks.
“Government data reveals that 43% of households on Universal Credit in the year before Covid were food insecure without the £20 increase. The best way, most dignified way we can tackle the growing problem of food insecurity is to make sure people have enough money to be able to afford a reasonable standard of living. Charitable food aid will only ever act as a sticking plaster, it will never let us address the root causes of poverty.”
Sophie Padgett, Shropshire Food Poverty Alliance Coordinator
There are calls from across the political spectrum and from over 100 UK organisations to make the uplift permanent.