Bishop of Portsmouth urges Government to keep uplift in universal credit for those ‘on cliff edge’

On 3rd December the House of Lords debated the Chancellor’s November Spending Review statement. The Bishop of Portsmouth took part in the debate:

The Lord Bishop of Portsmouth [V]: My Lords, I was delighted to hear the Chancellor stress that the Government would continue to support the most vulnerable, but the proof of that assertion will be in how much money the Government are prepared to provide. That will be the barometer of what and who they consider most important. I therefore join my voice to those profoundly deprecating the proposed cut in development aid. I urge the Government to think again.

I also implore the Government to think again by deciding now to maintain the uplift in universal credit beyond the spring, and for it to apply to those on legacy benefits as well. That uplift has kept many from the cliff edge. They now face a winter of uncertainty, which is not ameliorated by warm words from Ministers. Moreover, 160,000 new claimants have had a grace period and not been subject to the benefit cap. That period now comes to an end, which means dreadful uncertainty for many in the run-up to Christmas.

The justification that the cap incentivises work does not presently stand up; the jobs are not there to go to. Those who already have little risk suffering more. They are the new impoverished: resourceful, resilient and struggling; decent, hard-working, desperate people who cannot feed and care for themselves or their children. People are getting perilously near to the cliff edge.

It is good theology to attend to the voices of those on the margins. It is also good public policy. Leaving them in limbo is neither just nor kind.

Baroness Kramer (LD): My colleagues and I are shocked that the additional £20 a week in universal credit has not been locked into this spending review and the uplift has not been extended to legacy benefits, as was discussed by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth. As others have said, the most economically fragile people do not know whether, overnight in March, they will lose 20% of their weekly income.

Lord Agnew of Oulton (Con, Minister):…Several noble Lords, including the noble Baronesses, Lady Bowles and Lady Kramer, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth asked about welfare, low incomes and universal credit. The Government have supported those on low incomes through a wide-ranging package of support, of which the temporary increase of £20 a week and the working tax credit basic element forms one part.

It would be wrong to make a decision now in place of extending the temporary uplift, which is place until April 2021. As we have done throughout this crisis, we will continue to assess how best to support the economy, which is why we will look at the economic and health context in the new year.

To illustrate, extending the £20 increase by a further 12 months would cost more than £6 billion a year—the equivalent of adding a penny on income tax. As it stands, spending on working-age welfare this year is more than £100 billion and already set to be at its highest level on record, both in real terms and as a percentage of national income…

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