Extension to Universal Credit increase ‘will damage people’s mental health’

Jemma Crew, PA Social Affairs Correspondent

The extension of the Universal Credit increase for six months “makes no sense” and will damage the mental health of people living in poverty, groups have warned.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak said the temporary £20 rise, introduced at the start of the coronavirus pandemic, will remain in place for half a year and “well beyond” the end of the current national lockdown.

Working Tax Credit claimants will receive equivalent support over the next six months through a one-off payment of £500, due to the way the system works.

The increase has been described as a “lifeline” for struggling families.

Charities had been calling for the increase to be kept in place for at least a year or for it to be made permanent.

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They urged the Government to think again, saying families need “help and certainty, not a stay of execution”.

And the Disability Benefits Consortium (DBC) said it is “outrageous” that people who are on the old legacy benefits system will still not get an increase, calling for the Government to “end this discrimination against disabled people immediately”.

Paul Noblet, head of public affairs at Centrepoint, said: “Extending the uplift for only six months does not go far enough, given the ending of furlough and the increase in unemployment that we could face before Christmas.

“The pandemic may be slowing down but the economic impact continues to grow and all the indications are that young people are likely to remain the hardest hit.”

Action for Children’s director of policy and campaigns, Imran Hussain, said: “It makes no sense to cut this lifeline in six months when the furlough scheme will have ended and unemployment is expected to be near its highest – exactly when families will need it most. Families need help and certainty, not a stay of execution.

“There’s no faster way to push more children into poverty than by snatching £20 a week out of the pockets of our country’s poorest families.”

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The British Psychological Society (BPS) warned that the six-month extension will be “very damaging” to people’s mental health.

Dr Julia Faulconbridge, vice-chairwoman of the BPS’s Division of Clinical Psychology, said: “Psychologically the impact of a six-month extension and the uncertainty this brings is very damaging and this decision will have a significant impact on the mental (and physical) health of those already placed at risk as a result of living in poverty.

“Increased uncertainty and worry are known to be psychological stressors, and, combined with the relentless grind of trying to make ends meet, leave people just trying to survive and struggling to be the independent adults and parents that they want to be.

“People need security at this turbulent time and today the Chancellor has failed to provide that.”

Alistair Cromwell, acting chief executive of Citizens Advice, said the extension will be a “huge relief” but called the measure a “stopgap”.

He said: “A six-month extension kicks the can down the road, only to leave millions facing a financial cliff edge in the autumn.

“We urge the Government to think again.”

Anastasia Berry, policy co-chairwoman of the DBC, said: “It is outrageous that over 1.9 million disabled people on legacy benefits, including Employment and Support Allowance and Jobseeker’s Allowance, have been refused the same financial lifeline those on Universal Credit have been getting for nearly a year.

“How the Chancellor can stand up and say the Government’s response to Covid-19 has been ‘fair, with the poorest households benefiting the most’, when so many people are having to choose between heating their homes or eating, is beyond us.

“Government excuses so far have been at best feeble, and at worst actively insulting to those being pushed further into poverty.

“They must give people on legacy benefits the £20-per-week uplift, and end this discrimination against disabled people immediately.”