Ministers from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have called on the UK Government to scrap plans to axe the £20 increase to Universal Credit and instead make the higher rate of payment permanent.
In a letter to Work and Pensions Secretary Therese Coffey, they branded the change, which is due to come into effect in September, as the “biggest overnight reduction to a basic rate of social security since the modern welfare state began, more than 70 years ago”.
Ministers from Holyrood, Cardiff and Stormont raised concerns about the impact the reduction would have on poverty.
The Scottish Government has already voiced concerns that ending the £20 increase, brought in at the start of the coronavirus pandemic, could reduce social security payments north of the border by more than £460 million per year by 2023-24.
Claimants in Northern Ireland would lose £55.5 million in this financial year alone, Ms Coffey was told, while 280,940 people on Universal Credit in Wales will be worse off.
The joint letter, from Scotland’s Social Justice Secretary Shona Robison, Welsh Social Justice Minister Jane Hutt and Northern Ireland’s Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey said people will lose more than £1,000 a year “at time when they need financial support the most”.
They wrote to Ms Coffey to express the “grave concerns of all three devolved administrations”.
The UK Government has previously said it is focused on the “multibillion-pound Plan For Jobs” which ministers believe will “help people learn new skills to progress in their career, increase their hours or find new work”.
But in the ministers from the three devolved administrations said: “Failing to maintain the recent uplift to Universal Credit will increase hardship and poverty for people who are already struggling.
“To support the social and economic recovery, particularly as we ease out of the public health emergency, we urge you to reverse this decision and to strengthen the support offered by Universal Credit, instead of weakening it.”
A UK Government spokeswoman said: “The temporary uplift to Universal Credit 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 a vital safety net and with record vacancies available, alongside the successful vaccination rollout, it’s right that we now focus on our Plan for Jobs, helping claimants to increase their earnings by boosting their skills and getting into work, progressing in work or increasing their hours.”