Sunderland residents fear cutting Universal Credit £20 uplift payment will mean some having to miss meals
“The difference between being able to have a meal or not”.
That was the stark warning from Les Frater, 64, who’s one of thousands of people across the city set to be hit by the Government’s decision today (October 6) to axe the £20 Universal Credit uplift payment.
Les made the comments while attending a Recruitment Fair at the Stadium of Light having lost his job working with children with special educational needs after developing long Covid.
He added: “I’m losing £20 per week from today and it’s going to have a massive impact on me and other people in my situation. That extra money is vital and will be the difference between having to miss meals during the week.
"I would urge the Government not to do this as I think the costs of taking this back will end up costing them more money in the long run than what they’re currently paying out.”
It was a sentiment shared by former mental health nurse, Margaret Butler, who lives in Silksworth.
Margaret, 63, said: “I‘ve been out of work for seven years acting as a carer for my husband. I’m currently in receipt of Universal Credit but it’s not enough to live on and I need to get a job to get some extra money.
"Removing the £20 is going to have a massive impact, particularly as the price of everything including food and fuel is going up. I used to drive but I can’t afford to now.
"I appreciate it was brought in as a short-term measure but people have got used to having that bit extra.”
Peter Smith, 62, is also currently out of work after being made redundant and has criticised the Government over a lack of support for people in his situation and urged them not to go through with the cut.
He said: “I’m not in receipt of universal credit – in-fact I’m not in receipt of anything because the Government have said because I was given a redundancy payment I’m not entitled to any form of benefit.
"But I do think it’s dreadful the Government are taking away this payment from people who really need it. It’s okay politicians talking about things at party conferences but in reality people need that money.”
With the region already having one of the highest rates in the country for people living in poverty, Sunderland looks set to be one of the hardest hit with children and families bearing the brunt.
Figures provided from the North East Child Poverty Commission (NECPC) showed that in Sunderland Central, Washington and Sunderland West and Houghton and Sunderland South, 25, 27 and 26 per cent of households are in receipt of Universal and Working Tax Credit and will potentially be affected in some way by the cut.
Families with children look set to be even harder hit with the same areas showing households with children in receipt of Universal and Working Tax credit coming in at 47, 51 and 49 per cent respectively.
In a report submitted to the Government, NECPC director Amanada Bailey said: “More than one in three children in the North East are growing up in the grip of poverty, having their opportunities and ability to fulfil their potential severely limited as a result.
‘The single most important step the Government could take to achieve its levelling up objectives in our region is to put investing in children and young people – including with an ambitious, joined-up child poverty plan – at the heart of this agenda.
‘The Chancellor must make this commitment at this month’s Spending Review and Autumn Budget, starting by reversing the planned £20 a week reduction to Universal Credit.
"‘A strong social security system should both prevent and reduce poverty, but this cut will result in significant, avoidable hardship for thousands of families across our region – both in and out of work – whilst taking over £5 million a week out of the North East economy.”
Sunderland City Council’s portfolio holder for Children’s Services, Cllr Louise Farthing added: “The loss of this £20 per week is going to make things incredibly difficult for families in the city. The Government say it’s about getting people back into work but this fails to recognise that a lot of people in receipt of Universal Credit are already in work.
"It’s obvious therefore that wages are too low which is why we are endeavouring to become a living wage city.”
The North East region as a whole also looks set to be disproportionately hit by the cut with 46 per cent of households with children currently in receipt of Universal or Working Tax Credit – the highest in the country along with Yorkshire and Humber.
Responding to previous calls for the uplift payment not to be scrapped the Government highlighted “more than £9bn will have been spent on the Universal Credit uplift by the time it ends” and stressed “it’s right that economic support is wound down as we come out of this crisis and we focus on helping people back into work”.
A Government spokesman added: “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.”