Universal Credit cut set to go ahead, Prime Minister suggests

Boris Johnson has suggested the Government will press ahead with plans to cut Universal Credit despite pressure from sections of his party to change course.

Speaking to broadcasters on Thursday morning, the Prime Minister said: “My strong preference is for people to see their wages rise through their efforts rather than through taxation of other people put into their pay packets.”

His comments followed a letter from two Conservative MPs urging him to make permanent the £20-a-week increase to Universal Credit introduced at the start of the pandemic.

John Stevenson and Peter Aldous told Mr Johnson there are “no sensible voices calling for Universal Credit to be scrapped” and called for the uplift to become permanent in order to provide people with “stability and security”.

They said: “This could be one of our best legacies from the pandemic and can provide the cornerstone of a social security system of which, as Conservatives, we can be proud.”

Asked about the MPs’ letter, the Prime Minister said: “The key focus for this Government is on making sure that we come out of Covid strongly, with a jobs-led recovery, and I’m very pleased to see the way the unemployment numbers, the unemployment rate has been falling, employment has been rising, but also wages have been rising.

“That’s the crucial thing.”

The letter followed analysis from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation which showed that around a fifth of all working-age families in the country will be hit by the reduction.

In Mr Stevenson’s Carlisle constituency, 20% of working-age families will be affected, while in Mr Aldous’s Waveney constituency in Suffolk that figure is 26%.

In their letter, the MPs said most of those affected by the cut are already in work and now face losing £1,040 per year from October 6.

They added: “For those unable to work, those between jobs, including those who may take a little longer to find work, and those in lower paid or insecure work, Universal Credit should and can allow people to live with dignity and prevent people descending into spiralling situations of poor mental health, debt and destitution.”

The MPs join a range of cross-party voices calling for the increase to be made permanent, including members of Parliament’s Work and Pensions Committee and six former work and pensions secretaries.

Sir Iain Duncan Smith, who introduced Universal Credit when he was work and pensions secretary, has also called for the uplift to continue.

Labour’s frontbench said it would “maintain the uplift” if the party was in Government, and ultimately replace Universal Credit with a “fairer” system.

Shadow work and pensions secretary Jonathan Reynolds said: “The Government’s £1,000-a-year cut will be a hammer blow to millions of families, hitting the lowest paid hardest and hurting our economic recovery.

“Time is running out for the Conservatives to see sense, back struggling families and cancel their cut to Universal Credit. Labour would maintain the uplift until we can replace Universal Credit with a fairer social security system.”

A Government spokesman 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.”