This column appeared in the Friday 27th November 2021 edition of the South London Press.
I’m sure it won’t have escaped South London Press readers’ attention that the Conservative Government took away the £20 uplift to Universal Credit last month. The uplift had been in place since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, but many households had come to rely on it to make ends meet.
At an Opposition Day Debate in the House of Commons in September, my Labour colleagues and I called on the Government to do the right thing and cancel the cut. Dozens of charities and campaign groups – and even six Conservative former Work and Pensions Secretaries – agreed that the money should remain in place.
But despite our best efforts, the cut went ahead and we are already seeing the consequences.
It is a common misconception that most people in receipt of Universal Credit are not in work. In my Lewisham Deptford constituency, 41% of those in employment also receive Universal Credit (and that is far from unusual across the country). In other words, Universal Credit is as much an in-work benefit as an out-of-work benefit.
The Prime Minister and the Chancellor have repeatedly said that they would rather spend the money for the uplift on getting people into work, which shows their lack of understanding of the full consequences of their actions.
The cut amounts to an £86 reduction in monthly income at a time when people on low incomes are also facing increased energy bills, increased food costs and increases to National Insurance contributions from next year.
As some of you may remember from previous columns, I am chair of a small local charity called Deptford First. The charity was established in 1979 to provide support to people in the Lewisham Deptford constituency who fall between the cracks in help offered by other organisations. Since I was elected in 2015, I have worked hard with the other trustees to build the charity up in the face of austerity.
We have recently launched a campaign to raise funds for those who hit hardest by the cut. We want to ensure they have time to plan their budgets and do not have to go without food or heating over winter.
All of the funds raised by the campaign will be distributed via Deptford First to established local community groups and charities. They in turn will distribute funds to individuals in desperate need.
We have already raised £2000, but it would be fantastic to be able to do even more to help those in need in our local community as they struggle through what is going to be a very difficult winter.
If you would like to find out more about the campaign – including how to make a donation – please visit www.deptfordfirst.org.uk/universal-credit-campaign or email firstname.lastname@example.org.