Universal Credit cut: ‘I don’t know what I’m going to do’

Almost 60,000 low-income Northants families will be hit by the cut

By Natalie Bloomer

West Northamptonshire Council is being asked to back calls to stop a cut to Universal Credit.

In March 2020 the government introduced a temporary uplift of £20 a week for people receiving Universal Credit or Working Tax Credit to “strengthen the safety net” during the pandemic. 

From next month the uplift will end, affecting thousands of families in Northamptonshire, including many with children.

According to research by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation around six million families across the UK will lose £1,040 from their annual income with six in ten of all single-parent families being impacted. In Northamptonshire almost 60,000 families will be hit by the change.

Lisa, a retail assistant, from the Weston Favell area of Northampton says the change will hit her family hard. 

“It’s just me and my son at home. I work hard and do as many hours as I can but I’m only ever just about covering my outgoings. £80 a month is a lot of money to lose for us - I don’t know what I’m going to do.

“I’ve already had to visit a food bank in the past, it makes me feel like I’m not good enough but I’m trying my best. It doesn’t seem fair to me.”

She says she is seeking advice from local agencies to help her manage her bills and see if there is any way to reduce her outgoings. 

“I’m not sure what else I can cut back on to be honest. We are already down to the bare essentials. There are weeks when I make the food shop stretch for twice as long as it should and I try not to use too much gas and electric. I’m dreading the winter when I need to put the heating on.”

The Labour party has now put forward a motion which, if passed, would see West Northamptonshire Council join hundreds of other organisations in calling for the uplift to be made permanent. 

The motion says:

“This Council is committed to an anti-poverty strategy by understanding impacts and taking real action to lift people out of poverty. It also believes that the government should stop the planned cut in Universal Credit and Working Tax Credit. Over 19,000 people receive Universal Credit in Northampton alone - in nearly 24 per cent of all families in the area. This is the eighth highest number in the whole of the East Midlands…

“This Council therefore resolves to join charities, local support groups and residents in writing to the government expressing its deep concern and calling for government to make the £20 uplift to Universal Credit permanent and extend it to legacy benefits, in light of the overwhelming evidence of the negative impact this will otherwise have on many within the authority’s area.”

Cllr Emma Roberts who is proposing the motion said:

“As a council who confirms a commitment to an anti-poverty strategy this motion allows them to stick their head above the parapet and join our local partners in calling for a stop to this dreadful cut.”

The Citizens Advice Bureau says frontline services are “bracing for a wave of hardship this autumn”.

Chief executive Dame Clare Moriarty said:

“A cut to Universal Credit this autumn will be a hammer blow to millions of people. It undermines our chance of a more equal recovery by tipping families into the red and taking money from the communities most in need.

“The government must listen to the growing consensus that it should reverse course and keep this vital lifeline.”

In July several former work and pension secretaries, including Iain Duncan Smith who introduced Universal Credit, wrote to the chancellor Rishi Sunak urging him to keep the uplift. 

However, current work and pensions secretary Therese Coffey has repeatedly defended the change. When asked by Sky News if she was “entirely happy” with the cut, she said she was. 

She has also been heavily criticised for saying people would only need to work an extra two hours to make up for the loss of the uplift. Universal Credit has a 63 per cent taper rate which means the amount a person receives is reduced by 63p for every extra £1 they earn - so they would need to earn around an additional £50 to receive the £20 they’ve lost from the government cut.

Labour’s motion will be debated at a meeting of West Northamptonshire Council on Thursday at 6pm