Axing £20-a-week Universal Credit top-up would 'push people deeper into poverty', Wakefield Citizen's Advice says

The chief of Wakefield's Citizen's Advice branch has warned that many Universal Credit claimants will be unable to afford essentials if the benefit is cut back.

Thursday, 4th February 2021, 12:30 pm

A £20 a week uplift was added to Universal Credit payments at the start of the Covid pandemic on an initial one year basis. That arrangement is due to expire in March and fears have been expressed that families will be unable to cope without it.

In Wakefield, the number of people claiming Universal Credit doubled to just over 30,000 people between March and December last year, according to figures from the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP).

In an interview last week, Simon Topham, from Citizen's Advice Wakefield, said dropping the £20 uplift was "not the way forward".

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Universal Credit claimants were given an extra £20 a week at the start of the pandemic.

Mr Topham said: "Research we've done suggests that 75 per cent of those with debts won't be able to cover their weekly essential bills without the extra £20.

"If it's dropped, what will happen is a whole group of people already in debt will find themselves getting more into debt, because they can't cover their bills.

"Our concern is that the level of Universal Credit was already low. It wasn't a great level of income, though Universal Credit has its flexibility and strengths.

The chief of Wakefield's Citizen's Advice branch Simon Topham said that 'difficult times haven't ended' and that the uplift needed to remain in place.

"But it was increased at the start of pandemic to help people get through the difficult times and those difficult times haven't ended.

"At the time no-one expected it to go on this long, so you can't take away one of the key support measures until the crisis is over."

A government announcement on whether or not the uplift will remain in place is expected in the forthcoming spring Budget.

Mr Topham's comments were backed by Wakefield Council's Cabinet member for communities, Maureen Cummings.

She said: "Our plea is please make the uplift permanent. Fingers crossed they do make it permanent.

"If they take it away at the end of March lots of people will go deeper and deeper into poverty."

Local Democracy Reporting Service