Rishi Sunak must maintain a £20-per-week uplift for Universal Credit claimants beyond October to allow people who claim the payments to “live with dignity,” six former Tory work and pensions secretaries have urged.
Sir Iain Duncan Smith, who introduced the Universal Credit policy, is joined by five of his successors – Stephen Crabb, Damian Green, David Gauke, Esther McVey and Amber Rudd – in a bid to persuade Rishi Sunak to stick with the £5 billion benefits investment even after coronavirus restrictions have been eased.
The extra cash for benefit claimants was brought in as an emergency spending measure during the Covid crisis but is due to expire on October 1, having already been extended for six months at the March Budget.
Sir Iain said making it a permanent feature "should be at the heart of what makes us Conservatives".
"One of the greatest, but unremarked, successes of the Government’s response to Covid has been the benefit system," he said.
Live with dignity
"Universal Credit has held up well as a system for distributing money to those who need it, and the extra £20 added to has been essential in allowing people to live with dignity.”
He warned that a failure to keep the uplift in place permanently would "damage living standards, health and opportunities" for those that "need our support most as we emerge from the pandemic".
Research from think-tank the Legatum Institute calculates that the weekly top-up has spared hundreds of thousands of people from destitution.
Ministers told MPs in the Commons last week that there will be less need for the £20 weekly rise in Universal Credit payments once coronavirus restrictions have been scrapped, with the Government looking set to abolish social distancing restrictions by July 19.
Although the number of people claiming benefits has risen from three to six million during Covid-19, the group estimates Universal Credit has saved a further 650,000 people from falling into poverty over this timeframe.
In a joint letter to Mr Sunak, the six former cabinet ministers said: "The UC uplift has rightly been allocated into the standard allowance of UC as many have not been able to work and it has been right to protect people whilst they cannot work.
"But as the economy reopens, and the Government re-evaluates where it has been spending money, we ask that the current funding for individuals in the Universal Credit envelope be kept at the current level."