Leaders of the three decentralized nations have joined calls for the Westminster government to abandon the planned cut in universal credit (UC) payments amid fears of a “cost of living crisis”.
Heads of the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Ireland administrations said removing the £ 20 per week increase in UC would leave millions across the UK facing ‘unprecedented squeeze’ on their household budgets.
The temporary increase in UC, announced last year at the start of the pandemic, began to slow down towards the end of September and will finally end this week.
The move has been widely condemned by charities and opposition parties, while many Conservative MPs are also deeply concerned about the impact on low-income families.
In a joint letter to Boris Johnson, Scottish Prime Minister Nicola Sturgeon, Welsh Prime Minister Mark Drakeford and Northern Ireland First and Deputy Prime Minister Paul Givan and Michelle O’Neill said he was still time to change your mind.
Writing as the Tories gathered in Blackpool for their party’s annual conference, they said: “Your government is pulling this lifeline just as the country faces a major cost-of-living crisis.
“This winter, millions of people face an untenable combination of rising food and energy costs, rising inflation, the end of the holiday scheme and an impending increase in contributions to national insurance.
“There is no reason to cut such crucial support at a time when people across the UK are facing unprecedented cuts to their family budgets.”
They said a £ 500million hardship fund announced by Chancellor Rishi Sunak to provide discretionary payments to the most vulnerable was a “wholly inadequate” replacement for the £ 6 billion provided through the hike.
“To support a meaningful recovery from this pandemic, we must first ensure that the needs of our most vulnerable are met,” they said.
“This reduction threatens to undermine the recovery by reducing the ability of six million people to make ends meet.
“It is not too late for you to reconsider the decision to take money out of the pockets of the poorest in society at a time when they face a serious cost-of-living crisis.”
Deputy Prime Minister Michelle O’Neill
Commenting on the letter, Mr Givan said: “Removing this modest increase of 134,000 people across Northern Ireland will have a negative impact on their well-being and that of their families.
“We cannot ignore the harm this would cause, including to tens of thousands of children.”
Ms O’Neill said the planned reduction would risk pushing families into poverty.
“It’s morally wrong, it’s cruel, and it’s just not good enough.”
She called on Mr Johnson to “do the right thing”.
A government spokesperson said: “We have always been clear that the increase in universal credit and the leave plan were temporary.
“They were designed to help claimants get through the economic shock and financial turmoil of the most difficult stages of the pandemic, and they’ve done it.
“Universal Credit will continue to provide vital support to those who have and do not have a job. “