Leaders of the three devolved nations have joined calls for the Westminster Government to drop the planned cut in Universal Credit (UC) payments amid fears of a “cost of living crisis”.
The heads of the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Ireland administrations said withdrawing the £20-a-week uplift in UC would leave millions across the UK facing an “unprecedented squeeze” on their household budgets.
The temporary uplift in UC, announced last year at the start of the pandemic, began winding down towards the end of September and will finally come to an end this week.
The move has been widely condemned by charities and opposition parties while many Conservative MPs are also deeply concerned about the impact on low-income families.
In a joint letter to Boris Johnson, Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford, and the first and deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland, Paul Givan and Michelle O’Neill, said there was still time for a change of heart.
Writing as Conservatives were gathering in Blackpool for their annual party conference, they said: “Your Government is withdrawing this lifeline just as the country is facing a significant cost-of-living crisis.
“This winter millions of people are facing an untenable combination of increases to the cost of food and energy, rising inflation, the end of the furlough scheme, and an imminent hike to National Insurance contributions.
“There is no rationale for cutting such crucial support at a point when people across the UK are facing an unprecedented squeeze on their household budgets.”
They said a £500m hardship fund announced by chancellor Rishi Sunak to provide discretionary payments to the most vulnerable was a “wholly inadequate” replacement for the £6bn provided through the uplift.
“To support a meaningful recovery from this pandemic we must first ensure the needs of our most vulnerable are met,” they said.
“This cut threatens to undermine the recovery by diminishing the capacity of six million people to make ends meet.
“It is not too late for you to reverse the decision to take money out of the pockets of the poorest in society at a time when they are facing a serious cost of living crisis.”
A Government spokesman said: “We’ve always been clear that the uplift to Universal Credit and the furlough scheme were temporary.
“They were designed to help claimants through the economic shock and financial disruption of the toughest stages of the pandemic, and they have done so.
“Universal Credit will continue to provide vital support for those both in and out of work.”