Cost-of-living crisis: Minister rules out restoring £20-per-week universal credit uplift

·3-min read
 (REUTERS)
(REUTERS)

A Treasury minister has ruled out restoring the £20-per-week uplift to universal credit as a measure to tackle the cost-of-living crisis.

Despite calls from senior Conservative MPs and anti-poverty campaigners, Simon Clarke, the chief secretary to the Treasury, said: “That is not going to return”.

The minister told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme it was made “explicitly clear” last autumn, when the government cut the support, it was a “temporary response” to the Covid pandemic.

However, Boris Johnson’s official spokesperson later told reporters that nothing had been ruled out as ministers draw up a package of measures to help with cost of living.

The spokesperson said: “My understanding is that we are keeping all our options open.”

He said he would not “put a particular timescale” on when the government could announce further measures.

He claimed the government took decisive action on universal credit in December to change the taper rate — the rate at which benefits are withdrawn as people’s earnings rise.

“It is precisely the kind of authentic Conservative solution to this question that we want to see,” Mr Clarke added.

However, with inflation at a 40-year high and rocketing energy bills, some Tory MPs, including the chair of the Northern Research Group, Jake Berry, have called on the government to do more to help the most vulnerable, including restoring the £20 uplift.

Speaking to The Independent last week, Baroness Stroud, a Tory peer who helped set up the universal credit system, said the initial introduction of the uplift was a “recognition that the levels of welfare are too low”.

“I never though it should be taken away, and I think it should be restored,” she added.“The fact we were able to bring it in so swiftly at the time of the pandemic demonstrates just how easy it would be to restore it now.”

But Mr Clarke said on Monday: “That is not going to return. The question is how we best now look at the next range of solutions to deal with the challenges”.

Tackled on the issue of a windfall tax on oil and gas companies, Mr Clarke stressed the governemnt is “not going to rush into action” on making a decision after weeks of deliberatons.

Asked when Rishi Sunak might decide on the fiscal policy – a measure the govenrment has not ruled out – the chief secretary to the Treasury said: “That is a question for the Chancellor.

“We obviously recognise that we are in a situation which is fast developing and we want to make sure that we are supporting people ahead of what will likely be a challenging autumn and winter ahead.

“I’m not going to set a specific timetable for that, but the chancellor is clear that we are looking at the situation with real urgency and intent.

“And it is against this backdrop that people can be reassured that the Government is on the case,” he added.

“We are not going to rush into action, but at the same time nor are we going to sit here and not provide the support that is needed given the severity of the situation.”

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