Boris Johnson today rejected growing Tory calls to keep a £20-a-week coronavirus uplift in the value of Universal Credit after ministers confirmed the extra cash will stop from October.
Mr Johnson said the nation must have a ‘different emphasis’ as it emerges from the pandemic and that emphasis ‘has got to be on getting people into work’.
The Prime Minister made clear that the funding boost will be withdrawn despite senior Conservative figures demanding it be permanently kept in place.
His comments came after Work and Pensions Secretary Therese Coffey said this morning that the uplift will end.
She told MPs the Government will soon ‘start communicating with the current claimants who receive the £20 to make them aware that that will be being phased out’.
The Cabinet minister said the extra cash is being removed because it was only ever supposed to be a temporary measure to help families struggling during the pandemic.
Ms Coffey insisted it had been a ‘collective decision’ across the Government to axe the extra funding as she refused to say whether she had asked the Treasury to find the money to keep the support in place for longer.
Six former Tory work and pensions secretaries, including the architect of Universal Credit Sir Iain Duncan Smith, had joined forces to demand the uplift be retained.
Boris Johnson today rejected calls for the Government to make a £20-a-week uplift in the value of Universal Credit permanent
Six former Tory work and pensions secretaries, including the architect of Universal Credit Sir Iain Duncan Smith, have joined forces to demand the uplift be made permanent
The extra cash for benefit claimants was brought in as an emergency spending measure during the Covid crisis but it is due to expire on October 1, having already been extended for six months at the March Budget.
Mr Johnson was asked during an appearance in front of the Liaison Committee this afternoon for his response to the calls to keep the uplift.
He said: ‘I want to stress that as we come towards the inflection point in this pandemic when we start to lift the non-pharmaceutical interventions, we start to lift the restraints on society, start to lift the Government-imposed diktat that told people they couldn’t go to work… as we lift that, as we go beyond that, we have to have a different emphasis.
‘And the emphasis has got to be on getting people into work and getting people into jobs and that is what we are doing.’
Asked if he would review the decision to withdraw the uplift, Mr Johnson replied: ‘Of course we keep everything under constant review but I have given you a pretty clear steer about what my instincts are.’
Earlier today Ms Coffey had confirmed the extra money will stop in October.
She told the Work and Pensions Select Committee: ‘Well, ahead of October we will start communicating with the current claimants who receive the £20 to make them aware that that will be being phased out and they will start to see an adjustment in their payments in, I think it really kicks in largely in October, but it will start to kick in I think towards late September for some people.
‘So the current proposal is that we will be recognising that this was brought in in line with the temporary measures to support people during the Covid pandemic.
‘It is being phased out in line with all the other temporary measures that are also being removed.’
Asked if she had petitioned the Treasury to provide funding to keep the uplift in place beyond October, Ms Coffey said: ‘A collective decision was made within government to make sure that that £20 uplift was extended for the six months and that is being honoured.
‘But a collective decision was made that as we see the economy open up we shift the focus strongly into getting people into work, jobs.
‘We will also be helped by considering some of the proposals coming out of the independent commission looking into in work progression because that is an important part of how we help people get up the careers ladder.’
The decision to press ahead with scrapping the uplift comes despite a growing Tory rebellion on the issue.
Sir Iain and five of his successors at the department – Stephen Crabb, Damian Green, David Gauke, Esther McVey and Amber Rudd – recently wrote a letter to Rishi Sunak calling for the uplift to be retained.
They urged the Chancellor to find the estimated £6billion a year necessary to ensure the extra payments continue after coronavirus restrictions have been lifted.
Sir Iain said that scrapping the uplift would ‘damage living standards, health and opportunities for some of the families that need our support most as we emerge from the pandemic’.
Labour said the cut ‘will hit the lowest paid hardest and hurt our economic recovery’.
Jonathan Reynolds, shadow work and pensions secretary, said: ‘Six million families are set to lose £1,000 a year while out of work support will be left at its lowest level in decades.
‘There is near universal opposition to this cut, including from prominent Conservatives. It is time the Government saw sense, backed struggling families and cancelled their cut to Universal Credit.’
The decision to scrap the uplift came as the Office for Budget Responsibility told the Government it could face an extra £3billion bill if it sticks with its pensions triple lock promise.
The OBR said the triple lock, which guarantees that the state pension increases in line with inflation, earnings or 2.5%, whichever is higher, could see payouts rise by as much as eight per cent from April 2022.
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