This pandemic has shown us that life is full of things we can't plan for, and we all need a social security system we can rely on.
We entered this crisis following years of income stagnation for low-income families and a social security system that had been eroded by years of freezes and cuts.
In March 2020, just as the pandemic was taking hold, the Government recognised that our social security system was not adequate to keep families afloat and did the right thing by implementing a £20-per-week uplift to Universal Credit and Working Tax Credit for a year.
This uplift has a been a lifeline, but the uplift is due to end in April. Our research has shown that this would mean 6.2 million low-income families would lose £1,040 from their annual income overnight, creating serious financial hardship and pulling 500,000 people into poverty, including 200,000 children.
This is why JRF has been campaigning since September 2020 for the Government to make the uplift permanent
There is now widespread consensus that it would be wrong to whip away this lifeline in April, while the storm is still raging. There is now debate around how long to extend the support or if there are alternative methods.
We believe that the uplift should be made permanent, and you can see the strong argument for doing so in our briefing, but we, the Work and Pensions Committee and many other organisations and politicians have been clear that the uplift must be kept for at least the next financial year if the Government wants to support families during the economic crisis.
Our most recent briefing shows that extending the uplift for an inadequate length of time would be short-sighted, ineffective, unlikely to achieve the Government’s aims, and leave people facing more uncertainty when what they need is stability and security.
A proposal reportedly being considered is a six-month extension to the uplift. This would mean the cut would come at precisely the time that the Office for Budget Responsibility and the Bank of England expect unemployment to peak. It would be wrong to cut the uplift in April, and it would certainly be wrong to cut it later this year, when unemployment is even higher than it is now. Sadly, the worst of our economic crisis is yet to come and low-income families will be at the sharp end.
We have shown that taking money out of the economy, by cutting the incomes of millions of low-income families in the middle of a recession, would be bad for our economic recovery. See more detail in our report.
Any extension of less than a year will fail to respond to the economic reality, instead hampering our recovery and trapping families in poverty
We have worked with politicians from across the political spectrum who support keeping this uplift, including Conservative ex-Secretaries of State for Work and Pensions, previous Prime Ministers, Lords, MPs and the leaders of the opposition parties. The breadth of support for keeping this uplift demonstrates the recognition of the severity of the impact if a cut goes ahead. Over 100 think tanks, charities, religious leaders and organisations from our sector and beyond have aligned behind our #KeepTheLifeline messaging and have shared a wealth of evidence for the need to make this uplift permanent. Many signed this joint statement in November.
The majority of the public agree that this uplift should be made permanent, with 59% agreeing in a poll by The Health Foundation. This crisis has shown us that none of us know what is around the corner and we all want a social security system we can rely on. The uplift was a strong step to improve the adequacy of the system - undoing it now would mean we go back to out-of-work support being at its lowest level since 1990.
We have also been urging the Government to fix the injustice of ‘legacy benefits’, such as Employment Support Allowance, Jobseeker’s Allowance and Income Support, having been excluded from this crucial support from the start. It is not right that these families, the majority of which include someone who is sick, disabled or caring, have not had equivalent support purely because they are in another part of the system.
What can you do?
Firstly, please sign our petition set up in partnership with Joanna, a Universal Credit claimant from Malvern.
We encourage those currently receiving Universal Credit or Working Tax Credit to write to your MP to tell them what this £20 has meant to you, and what the impact of losing it would be on you and your family. You can use our template and guide here. It is so important that MPs understand the real lives behind this policy in their constituency. If you are on a legacy benefit such as ESA, JSA or Income Support, tell your MP what impact being excluded from this uplift has had on you.
Everyone else can also write to your MP to share your concerns. You can find your MP and write to them via this link (remember, be polite, we won’t win anything by being rude to MPs and their staff!).
Together, we can make sure the Government know that implementing the uplift was the right thing to do last year, and making it permanent is the right thing to do now. Let’s #KeepTheLifeline.