Universal Credit cut ‘will breach human rights obligations’

Universal Credit was increased by £20 per week to help claimants during the pandemic.

Universal Credit cut ‘will breach human rights obligations’ iStock

The UK will be in breach of its international human rights obligations if it pushes ahead with the planned Universal Credit (UC) cut, campaigners have warned.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has written to more than 350 MPs urging them to “use your influence” to stop the proposed cut when they return to Parliament next week.

The £20-a-week uplift, introduced temporarily to help claimants weather the storm of the coronavirus pandemic, is to be phased out from the end of the month.

The increase has been described as a “lifeline” for struggling families.

The UK Government says it is the right time to focus on jobs – helping people into employment and existing workers to progress in their careers.

The cut is opposed by six former work and pensions secretaries, charities, think tanks, teachers and MPs across the political spectrum.

HRW argues removing the uplift would place the UK in violation of the UN’s International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, signed by the UK in 1968 and ratified in 1976, which sets out the rights to an adequate standard of living and to social security.

The letter, signed by HRW UK director Yasmine Ahmed, calls the move “retrogressive” and warns it will do “great harm”.

She writes: “Cutting the basic rate of support to people living on low incomes, many of whom are already in work, by more than £1000 per year would leave many in a position where the Government’s social security system cannot guarantee their human right to an adequate standard of living.”

International human rights law is clear that cuts should not occur if they would lead to human rights violations, she said.

Any cuts must also satisfy a six-part test set out by the UN, she said, adding: “In any event a government deliberately choosing to significantly retrogress its protection of basic rights, including the rights to an adequate standard of living and to social security, will be violating those rights.”

Instead of removing the uplift, the organisation is calling for policy makers to focus on ensuring the social security system arms claimants with enough resilience to withstand daily economic pressures.

It says people claiming legacy benefits from the pre-UC system, who received no uplift, should be guaranteed a commensurate increase.

Rishi Sunak has said the uplift to Universal Credit was always a temporary one. Getty Images

The Department for Work and Pensions has not published its impact assessment for the move.

Research by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation shows it risks plunging 500,000 people into poverty, including 200,000 children.

It says 413 parliamentary constituencies across Britain will see at least a third of working-age families with children affected.

The HRW letter is one of a series of interventions calling on the Government to rethink its plans.

Earlier this week, more than 100 organisations implored the Government to abandon the cut, warning it would “fundamentally undermine” the Tories’ mission to level up.

Cross-party committees at Westminster, the Northern Ireland Assembly, the Welsh Senedd and the Scottish Parliament have also called on the Government to make the higher rate of payment permanent.

A UK Government spokesman said: “As announced by the Chancellor at the Budget, the uplift to Universal Credit was always temporary.

“It was designed to help claimants through the economic shock and financial disruption of the toughest stages of the pandemic, and it has done so.

“Universal Credit will continue to provide vital support for those both in and out of work and it’s right that the Government should focus on our Plan for Jobs, supporting people back into work and supporting those already employed to progress and earn more.”

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